You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Mark 4: 26-34
Music: Creator God You Gave Us Life; Soil of God, You and I
In 1859, the French acrobat Charles Blondin announced he was going to walk across a tightrope suspended across Niagara Falls. Thousands of people gathered to watch. Blondin was a celebrated showman, and so he not only walked across the tightrope, he then pushed a bag of cement in a wheelbarrow along the wire, fifty metres above the raging waters. Each time he arrived safely, there was a great cheer. A reporter who had been watching said to him, “Mr. Blondin, that was incredible. I believe you can do anything.” Without skipping a beat, Blondin pointed to his wheelbarrow and said, “Would you like to get in and see?”
“Trust me.” “Take my word for it.” “Believe you me.” We have all kinds of phrases by which to declare our certainty of something and our desire that others should take it on faith that we’re right. But there’s a lot in this life that we cannot predict.
When I was graduating high school, almost nobody thought I would become a minister, including me. After years of study to become a minister, I also couldn’t have predicted that one of the most life-giving experiences of my ministry would be to play a cajon in support of a youth worship band – our very own Up Ahead – or that I would enjoy making music with that amazing group of people as much as I have. Life is full of surprises.
Jesus frequently speaks in parables, which are stories, that aren’t concerned so much with creating a tidy moral lesson, but with turning up the soil, causing us to think for a moment. Many of Jesus’ parables remind his listeners that our future is neither within our control, nor is it completely random. Rather, that God, who is love, intends a life for us – for all of us – which is filled with love and joy, even when the way is rocky.
Today, in Mark’s Gospel, we hear a story about a gardener – it’s not a long story. In fact, if it was a composition for English class, it would likely be sent back to the student to do again, this time with more detail and description of how the gardener is felling. What we hear is that the gardener sows seeds and they flourish, and that he doesn’t know how. He rises day and night, to watch over his garden, to watch the seeds grow, but just how it does is a mystery even to him.
The traditional way of understanding many things in life – education, work, relationships, hobbies – is that, over time, we become better at the things we do; perhaps, even, successful. And like many things in life, this is both true and not true. We do acquire more knowledge by studying, more skill by practicing, more healing through forgiveness, more joy through creation.
The risk of seeing only this side of the equation, however, is that we diminish the importance of also learning from our making mistakes; or having the experience that rest restores our energy to do the things we want and need to do; or that silence between friends is sometimes a healthy pause for reflection.
The great illusion of life today is that we can become masters of our own lives, that we can control our future. We’re encouraged to master the skills related to our work and so to control our destiny; and to believe that the reward for our endless work is financial security. Mastery, control, security.
And yet, we’ve all experienced disappointment, or even been undermined, in our work. We’ve all suffered hurt, even betrayal, in a relationship. We’ve all, at some point, worried whether we’d have enough to do the things we want to do. Our experience tells us that we cannot control our lives, the lives of others, or our life together. So, what’s the alternative?
The sower rises, day and night, and the seed grows he knows not how. There are a couple of ways we could understand this. First, that all life is a mystery and we shouldn’t bother trying to understand our place in it. It’s an option, perhaps, though I tend to think that the world’s poetry, art, music, philosophy, and late-night conversations with close friends over a glass of cheer, suggest otherwise. This life is fascinating, and worthy of reflection.
Second, we could say that nothing happens apart from God, but then we’d have to have a much longer conversation about what we mean by God. For surely, if everything is God’s doing, then that would include everything bad that happens, as well as the good. That, too, is an important discussion, but not (I think) what the parable of the sower is saying.
A final possibility is that, somehow, the seeds of our hope, our love, our curiosity and creativity, these seeds of life planted in each one of us continue to grow, to fade at times and to flourish in due season; and, we continue to rise, day and night, attending to those seeds, not because we control them, but because watching them grow – in ourselves and in others – is the purpose and great joy of life.
The gardener watches the seeds grow and knows not how, but is also not afraid of his lack of knowledge or his uncertain future. Instead, he trusts in God. He abides in God’s presence at all times, through all things, knowing that the dark is not always menacing; that not knowing can be the cause of anxiety, but also, eventually, leads to self-discovery.
In closing, I want to speak to our graduates. You are people of great talent and love. You have each, in your own way, shared these gifts with this community, with your school and town, and with your friends and family. We have been blessed by you.
And so, our blessing for you is this: may you know today, and remember always, that God is with you, wherever life takes you and come what may; and, that this community loves you and supports you. May you enjoy and share the abundance of this life, and the abundance of God’s love, always. Amen.
Loving God, on this day of transitions: of new beginnings and endings, we give you thanks.
We thank you for graduation and the opportunity to celebrate this accomplishment.
We also give you thanks for those who have helped and cared for all of us along the way,
for teachers and teachers aids, for bus drivers and coaches, for custodians and counsellors, for librarians, vice-principals and even principals.
And the many others who help us all to learn and grow in church and in school.
We give you thanks for memory that enables us to build upon our experience of the past.
Help us, O God, to hold onto what is good and let go of all that is troubling.
– For imagination – that opens our mind to wonder, to ask questions, to see new ways and to envision the wider world.
– For foresight that helps us to plan the future.
We give you thanks for families who nurture us and offer us love and tenderness, strength and determination, and for all of their idiosyncrasies that make them special and unique and our own.
We give you thanks for St. Paul’s and for all churches who welcome and value all people whether they be – young or old, straight or LGBTQ, of different backgrounds, races and beliefs.
In these days we continue to give thanks for those who are on the front lines and especially health care workers. Continue to be especially with those in places where the threat of the virus is very significant.
Encourage world leaders to provide access to needed vaccines across the globe.
We give thanks that many are receiving second doses of the vaccine so that some aspects of our life together as a community can return – so we can stand next to one another, to not worry about an embrace rooted in love or concern.
Loving God as we continue to be rattled by the reality of systemic racism against indigenous people, we are shocked and sickened by the news from London, Ontario where someone would intentionally attack and kill members of a family because they are Muslim.
Grant us strength, courage and grace to work to eliminate all forms of hate and racism. Be with the indigenous people of this land and with our Muslim neighbours and help us to learn to live together with compassion and a love for all of our neighbours.
We ask that you be with those who are in need:
We pray for all who are ill in body and spirit. We remember especially those in hospital or care facilities, we think also of those too afraid to seek out help for fear of a diagnosis.
We remember all who are grieving and feeling a sense of loss and separation. On this day we think of all who died in residential schools and their families and all who have died because of racism.
We pray for those who do not really have a place to call home, those who did not have adequate food.
We ask these things in the name of Jesus who teaches us to pray,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.