Worship for November 22, 2020

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

Thank you to Brenda Barnes, Carolyn Dunlop and Judy Kennedy for sharing the gift of music with us. 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.

In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 25: 31-41
Music: ‘Til the Storm Passes Over; Go Make a Difference

The passage is one of my favorites. The context was that the tension was peaking between Jesus and the religious authorities. The plan was underway to have him arrested. This is the last parable that Jesus tells so it is highly significant. In it he tells a story that the people could relate to about sheep and goats.

When I lived in Bethlehem, I ran into herds of sheep and goats in strange places. Sometimes they even caused traffic problems. (No, they don’t seem to pay much attention to traffic lights.) But, my favourite was on Friday’s when we would go to the village of Al Masara about 15 km outside of Bethlehem to serve as a protective presence for Palestinians at a weekly demonstration. The villagers would leave the worship service at their mosque and walk up the hill toward the fields that their families had used for thousands of years; land that had been illegally seized by the Israelis. At the top, they were always met by a platoon of armed Israeli soldiers.

If the Israelis didn’t immediately start to tear gas the crowd, the scene turned into theater; someone would read a poem, or share a piece of writing, occasionally there would be a play or a dance or a piece of music. The soldiers usually stood there just resolute.

But then a little piece of magic would happen, a herd of sheep and goats would come up the hill and the Palestinians and their international supporters would step aside to let the animals through and then the soldiers would do the same. Once the animals passed, the line of Palestinians would reform and then the soldiers. . . .  It moved from being theater to being theater of the absurd for me. The sheep and goats were allowed to pass through to the pastures they had grazed on for thousands of years but the people were not allowed to return to their lands they had farmed forever.        

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about an email from Desmond Tutu, I didn’t tell you that I got his personal address from a mutual friend, Rev. Naim Ateek, the founder of the Palestinian Liberation theology school of thought. A group I belong to recently asked Naim to preach on the text we just heard and in his sermon, I was really struck by something that hadn’t really occurred to me, Naim points out how God gathers together all the nations, all the people, are there they are standing together. Picture it, people across all the divides coming together; black and brown, Indigenous and people of colour, all races and ethnicities, all religions and no religion, all sexual orientations and political stripes, rich and poor, all alike, gathered together.

It strikes me that regardless of the differences that I, or our society, or our culture may create, God sees past those human constructs and gathers all the people. For, God does not see the divides we see, God only sees our hearts and souls.  

After the people are together, God separates them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats: “All you who are blessed come to my right hand. I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. When I was alone or sick or in prison you cared for me.” The people are surprised and they ask, “When did we do that?” The answer that comes, cuts to the chase of the message Jesus preached, “Whenever you cared for the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you cared also for me. In caring for them, you were loving me.”

God invites us into relationship with each other and with the creation. We are told in many different ways to love God, ourselves and our neighbours; neighbours who we know and don’t know. Caring, compassion, generosity, love – those are the things that God has created us to offer to others.

If I look at the pandemic and the effect on our community, I believe we are fortunate for two reasons. We have not experienced high infection rates and what truly stands out for me is the compassion, caring, concern shown by so many.

When this began, eight months ago, people just started helping people. There were those who volunteered to pick up groceries or other necessities for complete strangers. People were willing to put themselves at risk to prepare and deliver food to school kids. People were willing to check in on those who were alone. That is all still going on. In this place, this church, I looked at our financial status at the end of Oct and I was shocked to see, that even with deaths of some generous givers and illness and some being in difficult financial circumstances that givings are within $100 of the same time last year. I was surprised. The list goes on and on of people engaging in acts of generosity and compassion.

What also surprised me was the concern expressed by many, including some of you, about the various, larger structural and systemic issues in our community and country. Issues like; inadequate housing for the homeless, the poor and for those in care, food insecurity, racial discrimination, violence against women and children. Those voices that expressed those concerns and others also reflect caring, compassion and generosity.

I am reminded of something said by Hélder Câmara, who was a Brazilian, Roman Catholic Archbishop who is quoted as having said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

Jim Wallis, an American Baptist theologian, puts it in a different way when he tells a story about people in a village next to a raging river standing by the banks and pulling person after person to safety and then one of the villagers decided to go upstream to figure out who is throwing all of these people in.     

Yes, thankfully, there are those who do engage the bigger picture like Viola Davis, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg and their followers. To quote Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

But it is not just those who focus on the more complex issues that make the difference. I also know crafting a pair of mitts for someone without is a gift of love. Offering a donation for White Gift is a gift of love. Justice, compassion and charity are all rooted in love.

Friends, it is sort of like a bird isn’t it, both the left and right wing need to flap in order to take flight.

Remember what Jesus said, “You fed me when I was hungry, you gave me drink when I was thirsty, you visited me when I was sick or in prison or suffering in silence.”

As followers of Jesus, we are invited to be the hands and feet and voice of Christ in our ministry to others. As you look back over the past year may you see the blessings that have been offered to you by the saints and may you see the way that you have blessed the lives of others. As you look forward to the coming of the Babe of Bethlehem once again, may your heart grow in the knowledge that God loves you and you are invited to share that love generously in many, many ways.

For we are not alone, we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God.

Link to the United Church Creed

Pastoral Prayers
Eternal God, in the Risen Christ we learn about your vision for us and your world, your story of love and transformation reflected in our stories of struggle and joy.

We hear today that your kingdom is at hand, your vision of our created purpose: to grow in relationship with you and with one another; to care for each other; to seek out the lost and lonely, the restore the last and least. We give thanks not only for the abundance we enjoy, but for the ability to share it, for this, too, is a gift. Help us to discern how we can be helpful – to our neighbour, this community, and your world – and how to live graciously with those of other faiths and beliefs who seek to do the same.

God of Mercy, we pray for your world in all its beauty and brokenness. We give thanks for the wonder of the created world and for the diversity of your people. We pray for the places in your world where anger and hatred dominate, where persecution and injustice oppress, and where lives are distorted and disrupted by fear.

We pray especially for places where cases of coronavirus continue to escalate, for the millions who have died and for the many millions more who have suffered illness and loss. We give thanks, therefore, for our relative safety; for the work of countless nurses, doctors, researchers and frontline workers who continue to devote their energy, discipline and care for the health and safety of others.

God of Healing, we pray also for our loved ones and neighbours.
For those who are ill in body or in spirit…
For those in hospital, in care home, or awaiting placement…
For those who have joined your promise of peace, and those who grieve…
May we know your presence and love, O God.
Give us strength enough to meet this week,
patience enough to be a source of strength for others,
honesty enough to know when we rely on the grace of others,
and joy, in unequalled measure, at the great gifts of life which grace our every day.
We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, your love revealed,
who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father… Amen.