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June 13, 2021.

Message for June 13, 2021

Mark 4:1-20

          The manse that we lived in years ago in Colborne had a huge vegetable garden and I use the word huge on purpose.  Susan and I though never had the heart to grass it over and so every year we planted corn, potatoes, beans, carrots, and Swiss chard.  I have to be honest though and admit that I soon discovered that I did not have a green thumb; indeed I quickly discovered that if I were a farmer I’d starve!  I remember one occasion in particular.

It was my day off and Susan and I were planting the seeds; she was ahead of me making the troughs while I followed her on my hands and knees dropping in the seeds and covering them up.  It was a very hot and humid day and the sun was blazing down on us.  I was getting hotter and more uncomfortable by the minute and started to mutter under my breath about the stupidity of it all, noting that the seeds were so small and the soil looked so lifeless.  When Susan just ignored me, I became all the more vocal.  I could imagine the beans making a go of it but it was beyond me how the carrots ever would!  What a complete utter waste of time!  And yet it wasn’t; enough of the seeds did take root and flourish to make it all worthwhile.

In today’s scripture passage, Jesus told a story about a farmer who went out and sowed his crop.  Some of the seeds fell along the pathway where they were promptly devoured by the birds.  Some of the other seeds fell on the rocky ground where there wasn’t much depth to the soil.  Those seeds sprang up quickly but, because the soil was so shallow, those plants were quickly scorched by the sun and perished.  Yet other seeds fell amongst the thorns and other weeds and so they never had a chance.  The remaining seeds however fell on the good earth where they took root and flourished, resulting in a bountiful crop.

Later when Jesus was alone with his disciples, they asked him to explain

the meaning of the parable to them.  Jesus said that they were like the farmer in the story and that they were to plant the seeds of faith in the world around them.  Some people would hear the good news of the gospel with indifference and would have no interest in it whatsoever.  Other people would hear the good news and respond with enthusiasm.  Their faith and commitment would flourish, at least for a short period of time.  Then, when confronted by the challenges of life or when things didn’t turn out the way that they had prayed they would, they would lose heart and fall by the wayside.  Still yet other people would hear the good news of the gospel and greet it with enthusiasm, but then, when their faith began costing them, they too would be gone.

I am sure that at this point the disciples may have felt discouraged and asked themselves if there was any point to their ministry.  All of this certainly sounded discouraging and yet, said Jesus, the disciples could take heart; they could and should because of the last group of seeds, those that fell on the fertile ground that took root and flourished bringing forth an abundant crop.  Those seeds represented all of the people who would hear the good news of the gospel, respond favourably and be there for the long haul, as if it were.  It was these people who would make the disciples’ hard work and sacrifices worthwhile.

Now this of course was a supremely realistic story for both the original twelve disciples and us as well.  As the disciples of Christ, we are called to sow the seeds of faith in the world around us.  The truth however is that despite our best efforts, not everyone will respond positively.  Some people will not for whatever reason, be interested in the good news of the gospel.  Other people will be interested at first but, for whatever reason, will not be around for the long run.  Yet others will be interested as long as things go their way and live up to their expectations.  Once things don’t however, they too will be gone.   And yet Jesus promised, enough seeds will take root and flourish to make it all worthwhile.  The message of today’s passage is that we are all called to be sowers.  In fact we may sometimes even be planting the seeds of faith without ever realizing it.

I recently read about a woman in New York City who has spent the last two decades in an urban ministry in one of the most impoverished and toughest parts of the city.  A person once asked her how she had become involved in what is oftentimes a difficult and discouraging ministry.  This was her reply:

“When I was sixteen, I went with my church youth group on a working summer mission trip to Appalachia.  At the end of the week, we had worship and during the service, or maybe right afterwards, one of the adult leaders said to me, ‘Sharon, I bet you will spend the rest of your life in service to the needs of others’”.

That adult leader had no way of knowing it but a seed was planted that day that not only took root but flourished.  There is also an example of this from the life of the well-known preacher William Willimon.

Willimon, who is one of the most respected preachers in the United States today, was invited back to his home church to preach.  He eagerly accepted the invitation as he especially wanted to see one of his former Sunday School teachers.  That man had had such a powerful impact on him and played no small part in his decision to enter the ministry.  Willimon met the man and told him about the powerful influence that he had had on him.  His response was to say how inadequate he had felt as a teacher and how glad he had been to give it up.  It is so ironical that that man who had had such an influence on Willimon and helped plant the seeds of faith, never even realized it.

So it is with us.  What seeds were planted by others that have led us to where we are today on our journey of faith?  What seeds have we planted, perhaps without ever realizing it?  What seeds have we planted, that while now seemingly dormant, will sprout and flourish in the years ahead?  The truth of course is that none of us really know, and we might well wonder if it is all worthwhile.  Indeed while not pertaining to anything particularly religious, this was brought home to me during the past week.

More than twenty years ago I took a course on how to read and transcribe medieval English handwriting.  The course was a challenging one since back in the Middle Ages there was no punctuation, no standard spelling and many of the

letters were shaped somewhat differently from the ones we use today.  After I

finished the course, I then became involved in what was known as “The Logge

Register Project”.  The Logge Register contains 379 wills that were written

between 1479 and 1486 in both English and Latin.  The idea behind the project

was to transcribe the wills into modern English so that they would be easily

accessible and readable for historians today.  This was a very long and

challenging project, especially given the fact that medieval handwriting is

generally even worse than mine!  After years of work though the task was finally

completed and the register was published as a two-volume set in 2008.

 

While browsing the internet during the past week, I found mention of the register and the website even gave a list of the universities that had a copy of it.   Needless-to-say it never became a best seller!  I found myself wondering though; while I certainly enjoyed the challenge of transcribing those wills, was all of the work and labour by myself and the other transcribers worthwhile?  Did it or does it mean anything to anyone?

The truth of course is that I have no way of knowing the answer to these questions, and so it is with all of us and our lives.  Whether it be our sowing the seeds of faith or the influence that we are having on other people in general, none of us truly know what impact we are having.  This is where faith comes in.  It takes faith to sow the seeds in the first place and it also takes faith to trust God for the results; that some of the seeds will bear fruit in God’s own good time.  The truth is that we are having an impact on the lives of others and the world around us, even if it isn’t obvious now or won’t be for years and perhaps even decades to come.  But this is what gives us hope, that we and our lives really do matter.  And they do simply because no one less than Christ himself has said so.

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, as we come to you in prayer this day, we acknowledge that there is so much pain and heartache in the world around us; there is the ongoing pandemic, the residential schools with their terrible legacy, and this past week there was the horrific killings in London.  We pray for all those devasted by these events, and we pray for our society itself and the safety and well-being of all.  We pray too that we, individually and together, may shape a society where everyone may live as you desire all of your children to live, in peace and security.

In the aftermath of this past week’s General Assembly and the decisions made, we pray for the larger church of which we are a part, for her well-being, her unity, and her ministry.

We give you thanks for the ministries that you have entrusted to us.  We confess that all to often perhaps we live our lives and wonder if the things we say and do really matter.  Help us to realize that they do matter simply because we ourselves matter.  Indeed, we matter so much that you became one of us in the person of your Son, so that we might have life in all of its glorious abundant fullness.  And for this we give you thanks, for the dying and undying love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We pray this day for all for whom life is not so good and kind, for all who are ill, all who mourn, and all who simply feel overwhelmed by it all that is happening in their lives and the world around them.

Grant us and all your children, the strength, peace, and courage that only you can.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.

Amen

June 6, 2021.

Message for June 6, 2021

Acts 8:26-40

          For some people it is one of the most painful memories of school and perhaps even childhood itself.  Whether it was for a game, a spelling bee or some other activity, the teacher would pick two students to be the team leaders.  Those two students would then take turns calling out the names of the classmates whom they wanted to be on their team.  What this really was of course was a popularity contest.  The number of the unchosen would steadily shrink until the last two students were left; one of their names would be called out and the last child faced utter humiliation.  He or she was now on a team by default and not by anyone’s choice.

As I said a moment ago, this was essentially a popularity contest that made the pecking order, who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’, clear to everyone.  The fear of not being included however isn’t just restricted to children as the same fear also troubles many adults.  Do I really belong or not?  Am I an insider or an outsider?  While it may not be obvious at first, that issue is addressed in today’s scripture passage.

It was during the early days of the church and the church was wracked by debate and controversy.  The first Christians were of course Jewish and they, quite understandably, kept the laws and traditions that they were used to.  They never gave this any real thought but then when some non-Jews began converting to Christianity, the great debate began; did these Gentiles have to become Jewish and keep the Jewish laws and traditions before they could become Christians?

This was the situation when one day an angel told Philip, who was one of the original twelve disciples, to go to the great road that went across the desert from Israel to Egypt.  On that road he met an Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t know what his name was, but he was a very important official in the royal Ethiopian court and was on his way home from Jerusalem.  He was riding in his chariot and reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah out loud.  Philip heard him and asked him if he understood what he was reading.  The answer was an honest ‘no’ and so Philip offered to explain it to him.  The Ethiopian invited Philip to ride along with him and then Philip explained the meaning of the passage, saying that it was really about Jesus.  The Ethiopian was so inspired by what Phillip had to say that when they came to a small pool of water, he asked if he could be baptized right then and there.  “Look” he said, “here is water.  What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

Well, there was a lot standing in the way.  For starters, this man most certainly was not Jewish and remember, at this point most of the Christians by far were Jews.  Above all though, the man was a eunuch.  Now this may not seem significant to us but this would have been a big factor in Philip’s decision, simply because the Book of Deuteronomy is very specific; eunuchs were not and could not be a part of the Kingdom of God.  As stated in Deuteronomy 23:1:  “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord”.  The Bible was explicit: since this man was a eunuch, he was expressly forbidden to be a part of the community of faith.  And yet, here was this man wanting to be baptized!  What was Philip to do?

We of course know the answer.  Philip baptized him and after this the Ethiopian continued his journey home where, it is claimed, he established the Christian Church of Ethiopia which still exists today.  And as for Philip?  While the Bible doesn’t say so, I don’t doubt that his actions sent shockwaves through the fledgling church.  Just who did Philip think he was anyways, baptizing a Gentile.  And to make matters even worse, he had baptized a eunuch and so defied God’s law!

Who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’?  Who is included and who isn’t?  What is core to the gospel and being a Christian, and what is not?  There is nothing new in these questions, and over the years the church has wrestled with them many times.  Not surprisingly, that debate is still going on today.

During the past few years our denomination, like many other Protestant denominations, has been wrestling with issues surrounding sexuality.  On one side of the debate are those who, based on their interpretation of scripture, believe that a marriage should only be between a male and a female.  On the other side of the debate are those who, based on their interpretation and understanding of scripture, believe that a marriage can be between two consenting adults regardless of their gender.  Both sides grant the importance of scripture but differ on how it should be interpreted and where the Holy Spirit is leading the church.

This debate has been going on for several years and after years of study and reflection, the General Assembly held two years ago (which like all assemblies, was composed of one sixth of the ministers of our denomination and an elder for each minister) decided that there are two equally valid ways of defining marriage.  A marriage can be defined as a covenant relationship between a man and woman or, it can equally be understood as a covenant relationship between two adults.  That same Assembly also decided that presbyteries and congregations may call and ordain LGBTQ1 persons whether they are married or single, the provision being that everyone has a liberty of conscience; no one whether they be ministers, sessions, or congregations, will be forced to approve of or participate in something that they believe is wrong.  These proposals of course mark a major change in our denomination’s beliefs and practices and so they, like any other major changes, were referred to the presbyteries for consideration under what is called the Barrier Act.

The Barrier Act is a part of our denomination’s church law and is designed to prevent any assembly from making a major decision that may not be supported by the church at large.  The presbyteries, which are composed of all of the active ministers and an elder for each minister in a geographical area, vote on the proposed changes.  If, and only if a majority of the presbyteries, making up a majority of the ministers and the elders, agree to the changes, can the process of approving the proposed changes continue.  This was done last year, and by a solid majority, the proposed changes were approved.  Since this approval was granted, the proposed changes have now been returned to this year’s General Assembly for final consideration.  If, and only if this year’s Assembly approves, will the changes take effect.

All of this has been a very painful and divisive experience for the larger church of which we are a part as both sides in this debate sincerely believe that their interpretation of both scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit is the right one.  Indeed, determining the will of God is not always easy.  I remember something I said years ago when I was the interim moderator of a vacant congregation that was struggling to determine who God was calling to be their next minister: “wouldn’t it be a lot easier if God simply posted the name of their next minister on a flashing neon sign in the sky?”  But of course this isn’t how God has chosen to work.  He leaves it up to us to work things out, and that includes the issue before this year’s Assembly.  Truly the commissioners have an awesome responsibility, but it is not just theirs alone.

At last month’s presbytery meeting the ministers and elders who will be attending this year’s Assembly on behalf of our presbytery were formally commissioned.  Normally this is done by the Moderator of Presbytery, but I was asked to do it this year since I am the convenor of the presbytery’s Nominating Committee which is responsible for lining up the commissioners to attend.  The commissioning included this question asked of the presbytery members:  “Do you, the members of the Presbytery, promise to pray for the commissioners attending the 146th meeting of the General Assembly?”

The answer was “we do”, but what goes for the members of the presbytery also goes for the rest of us as well.  The Assembly will be meeting from this afternoon until next Wednesday and as a part of our own ministry during the coming week, we should be offering up our own prayers on behalf of the Rev. Dr. Daniel Scott who is this year’s Moderator, the Clerks of Assembly, and all of the Commissioners, as they strive to determine where the Holy Sprit is leading our denomination and what He is calling us to do.

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, on this General Assembly Sunday, we give you thanks for all of the men and women, ministers and elders alike, who have willingly agreed to attend this year’s Assembly even when it means making difficult and challenging decisions on behalf of the rest of us.  We pray for your blessing upon them, the Moderator, and the Clerks of Assembly as well, that through your Spirit you will guide and lead them so that all may be in accordance with your will.

As our country still tries to come to grips with the discovery of the children’s remains in Kamloops, and the dread of what may be discovered at other residential schools, we pray for those devastated by the discovery and those who are still haunted by their own experiences in these institutions.  We pray as well for our very society itself as we confront the uncomfortable truth that even as we like to think of ourselves as being so caring, we permitted these things to happen.  Help us we pray, to make things right and to make sure that nothing like this will ever happen again.  We ask this especially of your church, your Son’s body here on earth, that operated so many of the schools and under whose watch so much of this happened.

We pray this day for all who are ill, all who mourn, and all who are feeling worn down as the pandemic continues, even as we hope for things to be better sooner rather than later.

We pray for your blessing, and that your compassion will be over all that you have made.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.

Amen

 

 

May 30, 2021.

Message for Trinity Sunday – May 30, 2021

Proverbs 8:1-11

I hadn’t thought of them for years until I read this morning’s scripture passage, and what am I talking about are the tinkers who came knocking at the door during my childhood.  The tinkers were traveling sales people but unlike the other salesmen they didn’t just sell one product such as vacuum cleaners, rather they sold a little bit of everything!  If the housewife (and during the daytime back then it was invariably a housewife who answered the door) showed any interest at all then the big suitcase would be opened in a flash.  You never knew what the contents might be and that was part of the tinker’s attraction.  There would be such as kitchen gadgets, cutlery, sewing accessories, dish cloths and sometimes, to a child’s delight, even toys as well.  If it was small, cheap, and easily carried then the tinkers sold it, and looking back, I think that they were a traveling version of today’s dollar stores.  And the tinkers were very good salespeople too.  They would do their best to convince the potential customer that they simply had to buy what they were selling, but they were never pushy or obnoxious about it.  They could and would take no for an answer, their rationale being “why get a potential customer mad?  Even if they aren’t buying anything today, maybe they’ll buy something the next time I come knocking at the door!”  As I said a moment ago, I hadn’t thought of these people for years but when I read today’s scripture passage, it struck me; without being the least bit irreverent about it, God is a bit like a tinker.

Today’s scripture passage says that one of the things that God really wants us to have is wisdom.  Oddly enough though wisdom is portrayed as a salesperson and the ancient equivalent of a tinker.  Instead of knocking at people’s doors though, wisdom is portrayed as a woman standing on the hilltops, at the crossroads and at the city gates selling her wares.  “Come and look at what I’ve got for sale!  Have I ever got a deal for you!  Do you want to be happy?  Do you want to be content?  Then come on over and buy some wisdom!”  And what is wisdom?  As the Bible understands it, wisdom is a fear of God, though we should really translate it, a respect for God and his ways.  And wisdom is the way to truly experience peace, joy, happiness, and contentment in life too.  Contrary to what people sometimes think, these qualities are not to be found in riches and possessions, rather they are to be found in having the right relationship with both God and the people around us.  As Jesus said when asked what religion, and by implication what life itself are all about:

“You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

 

This is wisdom and this is the key to experiencing the true happiness and contentment that we all long for in life.  Indeed this may be one of the great lessons that we can learn from the present pandemic.  In a world of physical distancing, “bubbles”, and no social gatherings, many people feel so isolated and now have a deeper appreciation of their relationships with other people.  A reflection of this are the commercials that urge us to follow the rules and to get vaccinated as soon as possible, all so that we can eventually hug one another again.  Having the right relationship with both himself and with others is what God wants to sell us, but this of course isn’t how we usually think of God is it?  We don’t usually think of God as being like a salesperson urging us to buy what he has to offer.  In fact this image of God almost seems to be irreverent and disrespectful.  One writer puts it this way.

“Last year we visited Jerusalem.  We entered the Holy City our first morning through the beautiful Damascus Gate.  What a thrill entering this place of such spiritual grandeur!

Yet the grandeur of the moment was spoiled because of the incessant hawking of the street vendors who surrounded the entrance to the city gate.

Seeing that we were Americans, they began shouting out, ‘Hey mister!  I’ve got great cigarettes here!  Want a nice scarf?  Look at what I’ve got here.  Nice price.  Not much money!’

The book of Proverbs say that ‘wisdom’ is just like those annoying street vendors.  Lady Wisdom sits at the gates of the city shouting, hawking her wares, screaming out to everyone to come get some wisdom from her.

It’s not a very uplifting image of Wisdom.”

Truly this may not be the most uplifting image of God either and it may almost seem beneath him.  Even so it is an accurate one that perhaps we need to be reminded of from time to time.

Today is Trinity Sunday and this is the one Sunday of the year when we think about the nature of God, and more specifically, about the holy, mysterious wonder that is God:  one god and yet still three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Today’s emphasis is usually, as the theologians like to say, on God’s ‘otherness’.  We can think of the words of the hymn “Holy, holy, holy” which we would have sung if we had been able to worship together this morning.

“Holy, holy, holy, all the saints adore Thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea,

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,

Who wert, and art and evermore shalt be.”

and

“Holy, holy, holy, though the darkness hide Thee,

Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see,

Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,

Perfect in power, in love and purity.”

This hymn captures some of the power, majesty and mystery that is God and yet … To return to today’s scripture passage, God is also the one who, so-to-speak, stands at the city gate or comes knocking at the door of our lives, offering us what we truly need in life.  If we don’t think so, then all we have to do is remember some of the stories that Jesus told when trying to illustrate the nature of God.

There is for example the parable about the shepherd who had a flock of one hundred sheep.   When one of them went missing he didn’t say, “Oh well, at least I still have ninety-nine”.  No, instead he went out looking for the lost one and knew no peace until he had found it.  And then there is one of Jesus’ most famous stories of all, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  According to this story, a father had two sons, the youngest of which left home and made a total mess of his life.  When that son finally mustered the courage to return home, his father rushed out to greet him and then gave him a welcome home party.  Later when the older, stay-at-home son was full of anger and resentment and refused to join the celebrations, the father went out to him too.

What we have in these stories is not the holy mysterious God of the Trinity; rather we have the image of a god who loves us, comes after us and who wants us to ‘buy in’ to what he is offering.  The choice however is left up to us. God does not force himself upon us; he will not because, as St. John wrote, “God is love”, and love by its very nature does not force or compel.  Love means respecting the other person’s freedom to choose, even if disagreeing or disapproving of the choices made.  Indeed the nature of love, and even God himself, is captured well in one of the greatest religious paintings of all time.

Years ago while touring the United Kingdom, Susan and I visited St. Paul’s cathedral in London.  The cathedral is incredibly beautiful but as great as the building is, one of its main attractions is the painting, “The Light of the World” by Holman Hunt.  This well-known painting is the inspiration for countless stained-glass windows including one at Omagh. The painting depicts Jesus wearing a crown which indicates that he truly is God.  He is standing in the gloom holding a lantern and this reminds us that he is the “Light of the World”.  Jesus is also knocking at an ivy-covered door that has obviously not been opened for quite some time.  What is most noteworthy about the door however is that it doesn’t have a handle; it can only be opened from the inside.  Truly this painting is, as one person has said, a “sermon in a frame”.  Jesus comes knocking at the door of our lives wanting us to let him in so that he might share with us what he has to offer. However, he doesn’t force himself upon us.  It is up to us whether we open the door or keep it shut, whether or not we will ‘buy in’ to what he is offering us.

Today is Trinity Sunday and today is the day when we remember the holy mystery that is God.  God however is also like the woman who stood at the city gate selling her wares.  Do you want to be happy?  Come and buy what I have to offer!  Indeed this is the true holy mystery that is God.  God is the one who, while far removed from us, is at the same time the one who comes after us.  Why?  Because, as St. John said, “God is Love”.

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Almighty God, on this Sunday after Pentecost, this Trinity Sunday, we remember the holy mysterious wonder that is you; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We remember that you are God; that you and your ways are so far removed from us.  And yet, at the same time we remember that you are also so close to each and every one of us; that you come knocking on the doors of our lives hoping that we will let you in.

You who are the Way, the Truth, and the Life, help us we pray to be open to your presence in our lives.  Help us to accept what you so freely offer, for our sakes and the sake of the people around us.

With the lower case counts and increasing number of people being vaccinated, we see light at the end of the tunnel.  We thank you for the hope of a return to a more normal lifestyle.  We pray too that we may learn from this horrible experience, that we may cherish the relationships, the activities and all the rest that all too often perhaps we took for granted.

We pray for all in authority as they strive to make the best decisions possible.

We pray for all on the front lines, those who are ill, and those who mourn.

We pray for your church, your Son’s body here on earth, as she strives to minister in these challenging times.

With the discovery of the remains of the 215 bodies of the indigenous children at the former residential school in Kamloops, we pray for the sake of all those devastated by this unspeakable tragedy.  Grant healing to the survivors and grant that we may confront the truth of what happened so that such things may never happen again.  Help us we pray to build a society that reflects the values of your kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.

Amen

 

May 23, 2021

Message for Pentecost Sunday – May 23, 2021

Acts 2:1-13

          It was a summer day more than a hundred years ago and with horror a father realized that his young daughter was drowning.  He frantically pulled her out of the water and tried to revive her.  The life-saving techniques of the day dictated that a person should try and revive a drowning victim by either squeezing their ribs or else by pumping their arms up and down in an effort to force the water out and suck the air in; Victorian prudishness prohibited mouth to mouth contact.  The father tried both of these techniques, but when neither one worked he decided to ignore convention.  He opened his daughter’s mouth and started blowing air in.  Perhaps to his own surprise and certainly to his relief, she came to, and so the concept of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was born.  That father gave his daughter the breath of life and that in a sense is what today itself is all about.

Today is Pentecost Sunday and is the day when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The coming of the Spirit meant many different things, not the least of which being that the world would never be the same again since God had joined his people in a whole new way.  I like the way one writer describes it:

‘They are filled with new wine.’

Which is a polite way of saying they were drunk.

Certainly these weren’t believers, were they?

Disciples in fact.

And some thought they were drunk.

Maybe we should say bombed since the word has

a sense of power and it was the power of the

Spirit that led them to this behaviour.

The word ‘power’ in Greek is dunamis from

which we get our word ‘dynamite’.

In a sense that is what happened on that Pentecost Sunday so long ago when God ‘breathed’ upon the disciples through the wind and the fire.  The power of God was let loose and a powerful charge was set off that shook the foundations of the world.  Pentecost was the beginning of the Church, it was Christianity’s big-bang as if it were, and the world would never be the same again.  Despite the hatred and persecution of the Christians by the religious authorities in Jerusalem, the new faith did not disappear.  Instead it grew ever stronger and spread out into the world beyond Palestine.  Then, despite the hatred and persecution by the Roman emperors, the new faith grew even stronger.  The faith shook the foundations of the empire until, some three hundred years after the resurrection of Jesus, it even became the official religion of the Empire itself.  Even when the Roman Empire fell, Christianity did not.  It continued to thrive and slowly but surely what is now the rest of Europe and Russia were Christianized.

At the end of the Middle Ages came the great Age of Exploration.  The missionaries followed in the footsteps of the explorers and they were dedicated to winning the world for Christ.  These missionaries aren’t very popular with a lot of people nowadays and are, with some justification, blamed for introducing new diseases to the natives and being responsible for the destruction of their cultures but nevertheless, their intent was good.  Through them Christianity continued to transform the world.  Indeed while it may be incredible to believe nowadays, such was the growth of Christianity that some people even seriously spoke of the day coming when virtually everyone on this planet would be a Christian.  But that was then, and now is now.

To us today the idea of everyone in the world being a Christian may well sound very naïve and perhaps even a little bit silly.  In fact, far from winning the world for Christ, the church now seems to be in a full-fledged retreat.  During the past few decades fewer people have been attending worship services on a regular basis, if at all.  At one time, and not all that long ago, when the churches spoke about the various issues of the day, people at least listened even if they didn’t agree.  But nowadays?  The prevailing attitude seems to be who cares what the churches think?  In many ways the church now seems to be a pale shadow of its former self and it is no wonder that some scholars proclaim that we are now living in the post-Christian era.  But while this may be true of North America and Europe, such is not the case in many and perhaps even most other parts of the world.  Consider these three questions and answers.

Which language do most of the Christians in the world speak today; English, Russian or Spanish?  The answer is Spanish, mainly because Christianity is flourishing in Central and South America.  Moving on, where is Christianity spreading the fastest today, in the United States, Africa or South America?  The answer is Africa.  In fact, statistically speaking, the ‘typical Christian’ in the world today is a Black African woman.  Lastly, what country sends the most missionaries out into the world today; the United States, the United Kingdom or Korea?  The answer is Korea; indeed, while in years past we in the West sent missionaries to Christianize the Third World, they are now returning the favour and sending their missionaries to Christianize us!  Truly while we may be living in the post-Christian era here in Canada and the rest of the Western world, this is certainly not the case elsewhere; there power from the Pentecost explosion is still being unleashed.  But why is this?

There is no shortage of explanations.  One of the most popular is that, generally speaking, we who live in the West are too well off; that far from being a blessing, our possessions and living standards have become a barrier between us and God.  We have so much materially that we have lost sight of our dependence upon God.  In short, these words of Jesus apply to many of us:  “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into the kingdom of God”.  There is I suspect, a lot of truth to this but I also believe that there is another reason.

To return to today’s scripture passage, the Holy Spirit is all about the power of God, and as mentioned earlier, the Greek word for power is dunamis which is where we get our word dynamite from.  Like dynamite, the Spirit and the power of God have the potential to upset us, disturb us and make us uncomfortable.  As with real dynamite, the power and Spirit of God are also unpredictable too; we don’t know where they will lead us and this can be frightening.  We may pay lip service to the idea that God is a living present reality in our lives but the truth is that many of us prefer to confine God solely to the realm of ideas.  Though we don’t always like to admit it, our attitude when it comes to God is that if you leave me alone, then I will leave you alone.  That is why so many of us are uncomfortable with the Holy Spirit; he is simply too unpredictable and that scares us.   We may prefer to think that God and Jesus are safely tucked away up in heaven or in our Bibles, but God refuses to be confined.  God insists on being involved and so he is.

In the person of the Spirit, God is here and now, present, active, involved and sometimes even challenging.  We may sometimes prefer to be left alone but God isn’t prepared to do this.  God wants to be, and even demands that he be a living reality in our lives.  He does so simply because even as he loves us the way we are, he also loves us too much just to leave us the way we are.  This however should not perturb us because we should never ever forget that in the Spirit, God may not just push us and disturb us, it is also through the Spirit that God comforts, guides, strengthens, and reassures us.  God, the one who loves us and redeems us, is also the one who is always with us, at all times and in all circumstances, now and forever.  And if God is with us and for us, then what do we have to fear?

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, we thank you for what it is that we remember today; that with the sound of a rushing wind and what appeared to be tongues of flame, you joined your people in the person of the Holy Spirit.

We thank you not just for what happened but also for what it means; that on that day you called your church into existence to continue your Son’s work and ministry here on earth.  We thank you that even now through your Spirit you are present and active in our lives and in the life of the world around us.  Help us we pray to be open and discerning of your presence.  Also, on this day that is your church’s birthday as if it were, we pray for her ministry during these challenging times.  Grant that she, and we, may be fitting instruments of your will in the workshop of your world.

We pray this day for your presence in the lives of all who are ill, who are mourning and who are hurting.

We pray this day for your presence in the Middle East and all the other troubled places of your world wracked by violence, disease, poverty and natural disasters.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, we give you thanks for this long holiday weekend and what it means for so many people; the unofficial start of the summer season.  Even with all the restrictions, people are still out and about and so we pray for the well-being and safety of all, praying too that the summer may be better than last year’s.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.

Amen.

May 16, 2021.

Message for May 16, 2021

John 21:15-19

          “The Bones of St. Peter” is the title of a book written by a John Walsh, and it is made up of a little bit of Bible study, history, and a whole lot of archaeology.  While the Bible doesn’t say so, ancient tradition claims that the apostle Peter went to Rome where he became the leader of the local church.  Tradition also claims that Peter was crucified during a persecution incited by the emperor Nero, and was then buried in Rome.  His gravesite became a place of pilgrimage and in fact so many Christians went to his grave to pay their respects, that a church was built on the site.  That church eventually evolved into the present-day St. Peter’s Basilica which is the home church of the Roman Catholic Pope.

It has long been said that Peter’s bones lay under the high altar in St. Peter’s, but this was just tradition and there was no proof of this whatsoever.  Back in 1939 some archeologists were given permission to investigate and the great hope of course was that they would discover the long-lost bones of St. Peter.  The results almost read like a mystery novel; there were mysterious inscriptions on ancient walls, and bones were discovered which were said to be Peter’s but then it was realized that they were actually those of a woman.  Then came the discovery of yet more mysterious bones which made up half a skeleton.  The investigation of them lasted for almost thirty years and involved scholars, archaeologists, and forensic scientists.  In the end it was concluded that these are in fact the remains of Peter, though of course not everyone agrees with this conclusion.   This book makes for fascinating reading but I realized that it was all about Peter the saint, but what about Peter the man?  What was he like and what can we learn from his life?

The gospels tell us that Simon, or Peter as he is better known, was a fisherman in Galilee and possibly a follower of John the Baptist.  Peter’s brother Andrew was one of the first to follow Jesus and he introduced Peter to him.  Up to this point Peter had lived a very ordinary life, but after meeting Jesus his life would never be the same again.  We don’t know what Peter thought when he first met Jesus, but Jesus was certainly impressed by him.  Jesus invited Peter to follow him and even gave him a new name.  No longer would he be called Simon, from now on he would be called Cephas which we translate as Peter.  The name Peter simply means ‘rock’ and Jesus gave him this name because, as he said, Peter was the rock upon which he was going to build his church.  Rocky however is also a good description of Peter’s personality and even his ‘career’ as a disciple.

Peter quickly established himself as the leader of the twelve disciples and was second only to Jesus himself, but even so his path was rocky indeed.  Peter for example was the first disciple to realize who and what Jesus is.  One day when Jesus asked the disciples who everyone thought he was, they all had an answer.  Then, when Jesus specifically asked them what they thought, the only one who would answer the question was Peter.  Peter said that Jesus was the Christ or the Messiah.  So far so good but when Jesus went on to talk about his upcoming trial and death, Peter took him aside and told him off.  None of these terrible things could possibly happen to the Messiah!  Jesus in turn told Peter off and implied that Peter, in his ignorance, was acting like an agent of the devil.

There was the time when Peter and the rest of the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  They saw Jesus walking on the water towards them and Peter’s response was to jump out of the boat and start walking to meet him.  This of course was a tremendous demonstration of faith but then, when he realized the sheer impossibility of what he was doing, his faith failed him and he began to sink like a rock.  He may well have drowned if Jesus hadn’t lifted him up.  And there is also the Last Supper when Jesus predicted that he would be forsaken by all.  Peter’s response was to brag and say that “Even if everyone else gets scared and runs away, I won’t!”  In the crunch however, he denied knowing Jesus, not once but three times.

Truly we may call Peter a saint but he was so very human too.  He did have faith, but sometimes not quite enough.  He thought that he was so brave and committed to Jesus, but he wasn’t as brave or as committed as he thought he was.  Truly Peter may have been the rock upon which the church was built and yet, he was also so weak and fallible.  But while Peter may have been all of these things, positive and negative, he was something else too and that was forgiven.

In his gospel, John says that after the resurrection, the disciples returned home to Galilee and resumed their old careers.  Peter went back to fishing and one night he and his companions caught nothing.  A stranger on the beach called out and told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat which they did, and much to their surprise they caught the catch of a lifetime!  It was then that they realized who that stranger was; it was Jesus.  Ever the impulsive one, Peter promptly dove into the lake and swam to shore, leaving the others to bring in both the boat and the catch.  They all shared breakfast with Jesus but then something odd happened.  Three times Jesus asked Peter if he truly loved him, and each time Peter’s answer was ‘yes’.  But what was the point of this?  It was simply to make up for the three times that Peter had denied knowing Jesus on that first Good Friday.  Jesus did this to make it clear that Peter truly was forgiven, and it was knowing that he was forgiven that set him free and enabled him to move on without being haunted by the mistakes of his past.  And this is what Peter did; while not perfect, he became the rock upon which the church was built.  And in a sense, the story of Peter is our story as well.

Have we ever been like Peter and been so very sure of ourselves?  We know who and what Jesus is.  We know what is right and what is wrong.  We know what God wants of us and we are so full of good intentions too.  The things that we are going to do for God, the church, and others.  We feel so faithful and committed; we feel as solid as a rock!  But while we may sometimes feel along these lines, how often have we felt the exact opposite?

If we are honest, we realize that sometimes there is a gulf between our ideals and our reality.  Too often perhaps, we say and do things that we know we shouldn’t and neglect to say and do the things that we know we should.  As St. Paul wrote:  “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”  Far from being like an immoveable rock, sometimes we are more like the sand, swirled here or there by the wind or the current.  But if and when we feel like this, we should remember that as it was with Peter, so it is with us; God loves us, forgives us, and restores us.  And this sets us free.

D. Williams is the pen name of a lay person who once wrote a series of devotions for the devotional magazine, “These Days”. In one of his devotions, he wrote about how he felt about being a virtual invalid at the age of forty-nine because of a heart condition.  He wrote:  “I feel like a china vase dropped on the concrete, as the owner carefully gathers the pieces and glues them together. Then Jesus picks me up, observes my cracks, and hands me to God.  When God’s hands hold me, I look at my body and observe no cracks.  Our weaknesses do not prevent us from performing valuable tasks for the kingdom.  Yes, we can be instruments of God’s love with our cracks.”

This was something that Peter discovered for himself.  Who was he with all of his failures and shortcomings to be the rock upon which the church would be built?  Who are we to be a part of that same church, carrying on his ministry, and even that of Christ himself?  And yet despite our sins, imperfections, and other shortcomings, this is what we do.  We do because of who and what we are.  In the words of Peter himself:

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were no people but now you are God’s people.  Once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.”

And so we have.

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, we give you thanks that you are a God of love, mercy, and redemption.

We give you thanks that even as great as you are, you have called us with all of our weaknesses and frailties to be your people and to do your work.

We thank you for your promised presence with us on life’s journey.  As we will remember next Sunday at Pentecost, no matter where we go or whatever happens, you are present with us and for us.

We pray for your loving, forgiving, redeeming presence in the lives of all your children this day, even as the pandemic continues.  We remember all who are ill, who mourn and those who simply feel so isolated and overwhelmed by it all.

We pray too for that land that we like to call holy, as once again the strife escalates between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  We pray for the safety and well-being of all and that there may be a just resolution to the conflict, that all your children both there and everywhere, may live in peace and security without fear.  May the day come when your will will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and until that day comes, may we, secure in your love, do our best to live the lives and be the people you have called us to be.  We ask these things in your Son’s name.

Amen

Message for Mother’s Day and Christian Family Sunday: May 9, 2021.

Mother’s Day & Christian Family Sunday

May 9, 2021

Mark 3:20-21, 31-35

It was late in the evening and a wife noticed that her husband was standing looking down at their baby’s crib.  As she stood there silently watching, she noticed that a whole host of emotions could be read on his face; disbelief, scepticism and amazement.  He repeatedly stood back, shook his head and said “amazing”, all the while beaming from ear to ear.  The woman was deeply moved by his rather unusual display of emotions.  She quietly entered the room and put her arms around his waist and whispered:  “A penny for your thoughts?”.  And what was his reply?  “Isn’t it amazing!  When you take the time, really look close and think about it, how can anyone make a crib that like that that sells for only $200!”

There can be no doubt about it, mothers and fathers can be very different!  Today of course is Mother’s Day and this is the one day of the year when, if we can, we are to show our love for our mothers and let them know how much they mean to us.  Some people of course think that Mother’s Day is just another ploy to get people to spend money and perhaps it has become a bit too commercialized.  Even so, the intent is good.  Mothers like to know that they are loved and appreciated, but of course what goes for mothers also goes for the rest of us as well.

Some time ago I read an interesting article about the changes that we go through as we age, and the author noted how our needs change as we go through life’s stages.  Babies for example are totally dependent upon their mothers and others for absolutely everything; food, warmth and protection.  Babies couldn’t possibly survive without adults to protect and provide for them.  But then, as the infant grows older, their needs change.  While the child is still dependant upon adults for protection and the necessities of life, he or she also needs more.  The child needs to be taught life’s skills for example.  The child also needs to be socialized too and this includes having good role models to follow.  And on it goes. What a teenager needs in life is very different from what a person in his or her seventies needs.  And yet, as the author said, there is one constant or need in life that never ever changes; that is the need to be loved and to know that we matter.  It makes no difference whether we be a newborn, ninety-nine years old or somewhere in-between, we all need to be loved and to know that our lives are of value to someone.  This is the one constant through all of life’s stages and that is the message of this old Irish poem:

 

“Am I a burden, now I am old?

My deaf ears force you to shout.

My wobbly legs force you to clean for me.

My bent fingers force you to sew for me.

My twisted back forces you to dress me.

My fading eyes force you to lead me.

My toothless mouth forces you to make soup for me.

Yet you tell me you love me.

You enjoy listening to my stories.

You ask me my advice.

You make me feel important.

I still need to be needed.

If you are deceiving me,

God bless you for your deception.

 

No matter how old or young we are, we all still need to be loved and valued or, to put it another way, we need to be part of a family, however we may define that term.

In recent years there has been a lot of debate about what constitutes a family and even when we have decided what a family is, what qualities or characteristics make it a Christian family?  There are many answers to these questions but perhaps the best one is to be found in today’s scripture passage.

One day while Jesus was in a house teaching, there was a bit of a commotion outside.  His mother and brothers had come looking for him and wanted him to come home.  But what was Jesus’ response?

He said that whoever does the will of God is his brother, sister, and mother.  And as Jesus said at numerous other times, more than anything else, God’s will is that we love.  Yes, Jesus knew that our family are those whom we live with or are related to but in effect what he did was broaden the definition of family.  Our family is everyone whom we love and since we are supposed to love everyone, that means that ultimately everyone is a member of our family!  Of course, some people might object that this all sounds so very nice in theory but to be realistic, we can’t even like everyone else, never mind love them!  But what we have to remember though is what Jesus meant by the word love.

According to the gospels, when Jesus said that we should love one another, he used a very specific word; agape.  Now the word agape does not refer to a romantic type of love at all.  In fact agape doesn’t even require that we like the other person.  What agape does require however is that we seek what is best for the person.  And this, as the Bible understands it, is what love is.  Love is more than a feeling; it is a choice or conscious decision.  Now this is not for one moment to deny the reality of the love we have for such as our children, or the passion of romantic love as expressed in the words of a song, “I can’t help falling in love with you”.  And yet while such feelings may start or kindle a relationship, they cannot sustain it.  The love only lasts if we choose to love, and this is acknowledged in the marriage service.

Imagine for a moment a couple who are about to be married standing in front of the minister.  What brought them to this point?  They are of course, sometimes wildly so, in love with one another.  The marriage service however strives to move beyond the romance and that is the whole point of the vows.  The couple join hands and then, one after the other, repeat:

“I ______, now take you ______, to be my wife/husband, according to God’s holy ordinance; to share my life, from this day forward, whether better or worse, whether richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, to be faithful to you alone, for as long as we both shall live; and now, to you and to God, I make this solemn vow and promise.”

 

Obviously, there is nothing in the least bit romantic about these vows or promises; in fact they are supremely realistic.  The couple may be hopelessly romantically in love at the time of their wedding, but there will be days when the sun won’t shine and the skies will be grey.  Even so, they promise that they will still love one another.  And as it is with our spouses or significant others, so it is with all of the important people in our lives whether they be our children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters.  In fact this is the way it should be with everyone else too; we choose to love the people around us.  Is it always easy to do this?  No.  In fact sometimes it can be very hard, especially when we feel hurt, disappointed or let down.  If or when we feel this way though, perhaps we should think of God and Jesus himself.

I sometimes wonder if we talk and sing about the love of God and Christ so much, that we take it for granted.  What we must always remember though is that there is nothing inevitable about God’s love for us at all.  God did not have to love the world so much that he gave his one and only son; he chose to.  Jesus did not have to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation; he chose to.  And God and Christ have chosen to love us, not because we deserve it or are so loveable; rather they have chosen to love us despite our failures and shortcomings.  And so it is with us.  We are called to try and make a conscious choice or decision to see the best in other people and to seek what is best for them, despite their failures, shortcomings or how ‘unlovable’ they may seem to be.  And in the end, love is what it is all about.  One person who certainly knew this was St Paul.  As he famously wrote:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have all knowledge, and a faith so as to move mountains but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have and deliver my body to the flames but have not love, I gain nothing.”

 

But because we have chosen to love, we gain everything.  Our decision to try and love others just as we are loved by God himself, is what we affirm on this Mother’s Day and Christian Family Sunday.

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, hear us now as we come to you in prayer on this Mother’s Day and Christian Family Sunday.

On this day when we remember not only our mothers but all of the people so dear to us, we give you thanks for all that they have meant, mean and always will mean to us.  We thank you too for the many ways that love comes into our lives, and help us we pray, to love even as we are loved.

We pray for all for whom this is a day of pain.  We pray for those who so desperately miss a loved one.  We pray for those estranged from family members for whatever reason.  We pray for relationships where distrust has replaced trust, where love and affection have been replaced by indifference or worse.

We pray for all who are feeling overwhelmed by what is happening in the world around them, fearing for their own health or that of a loved one, their livelihoods and the very future itself.

When we feel overwhelmed by it all, help us to put our faith, our trust, and our hope in you.  Grant us and all your children, the strength, courage, and peace that only you can.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.

Amen

 

 

May 2, 2021.

Message for May 2, 2021

Galatians 5:19-26

It was a hot summer day and Susan’s mother had asked me to go through a large bag full of old books that had belonged to Susan’s grandmother.  No one in the family was interested in them and she said that I could help myself to whatever books I wanted.  I started the task with enthusiasm but as time passed by my enthusiasm steadily dwindled.  I was hot, the books were musty and, to top it all off, most of them were romance novels.  I was at the point of giving up when I quite unexpectedly discovered a real gem.  It was written by a Marcia Hollis and is entitled “Down to Earth:  Thoughts about God and Gardening”.

Marcia Hollis was the wife of an Anglican minister and an avid gardener.  She wrote several books and, as the title of this one suggests, it compares the Christian life with trees and life in a garden.  It is a simple book but that is not a put-down because sometimes the simplest things in life are the best.  Indeed this book is full of insight and what I would like to do for this week’s message, as we glory in what is truly a beautiful spring, is share some of Hollis’ insights while adding a few of my own.  And where else to begin but with the roots.

In her book, Hollis stresses the importance of the roots.  They may be hidden in the ground and out of sight but even so they are absolutely crucial.  They are simply because they nourish and support what is above.  As we all well know, no plant or tree can exist without them and of course the deeper and stronger the roots are, the better.  We can think for example of what happens in summer during a dry spell.  After weeks with little or no rain, the first to suffer are the annuals and the grass.  They fade first because their roots are relatively shallow and close to the surface.  The perennials, bushes and trees on the other hand can go for weeks before they begin to stress.  They can simply because their roots are deeper in the earth where the water wells up.

Likewise, as Hollis noted, it is best that the roots be deep for support as well.  How often after a tremendous storm have we seen a massive tree that has been blown down with its roots up in the air?  That tree was able to survive under normal conditions with shallow roots, at least until the storm hit.  Then it didn’t have a chance and down it went.  And as it is with plants and trees, so it is with us in our spiritual lives.  Just as a plant or tree depends upon its roots to anchor and support it during a storm, our spiritual roots give us the strength to cope in times of drought or trouble that we all face from time to time.  Shallow spiritual roots are of little support when the storms of life rage around us, and this is something that I have often seen during the course of my ministry; the difference between a person with a strong faith and a person with little or no faith at all.  Not always but often when a crisis strikes, the person with faith may bend but is far less likely to break than the person with no faith or spiritual roots at all.  Truly we need to have deep roots for both nourishment and support.  But what do our spiritual roots consist of?

Things such as the time we spend in worship, prayer, Bible reading and the reading of other religious literature.  Our roots also consist of such as the music we listen to, the shows that we watch and the time we spend just thinking about God and life.  Activities such as these spiritually nourish us and the effect is cumulative too.  Consider this analogy.

Years ago, a magazine called “The British Weekly” published the following letter.

“Dear Sir,

It seems ministers feel their sermons are very important and spend a great deal of time preparing them.  I have been attending church quite regularly for 30 years and I have probably heard 3000 of them.  To my dismay, I discovered that I cannot remember a single sermon.  I wonder if a minister’s time might be more profitably spent on something else?”

This letter unleashed a storm of debate.  Are sermons a waste of time?  Can and should a minister’s time be put to better use?  The debate went on for several weeks but it finally came to an end with the following letter.

“Dear Sir,

I have been married for 30 years.  During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals – mostly my wife’s cooking.  Suddenly I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal.  And yet I have the distinct impression that without them I would have starved to death long ago.”

It may not be obvious at first, but our religious activities do have an impact on our lives.  The past year for instance has certainly been a challenging one for many of us but the deep roots of our faith have helped sustain us.  But just as there is more to plants and trees than their roots, so it is with us.  There are also the leaves.  And what do the leaves of a plant or tree correspond to in our spiritual lives?

Our good works.  Just as the leaves are nourished by the roots, so too does our worship, prayers, and such manifest themselves in our day-to-day lives.  While plants and trees consist of both roots and leaves though, they often have something more; seeds, nuts or fruits.  And once again as it is with them so it is, in a manner of speaking, with us too.  But what are these fruits that we will hopefully bear?

The fruits of the Spirit, and as St. Paul said, “The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.

These are the goals that we strive for in our spiritual lives.  It is these qualities that hopefully characterize our lives as followers of Jesus.  But of course these qualities or characteristics don’t just spring up overnight.  They take time, persistence, and patience to cultivate, and this sadly, goes against the grain for many people nowadays.  It does because we live in a world of instant gratification.  To use one example, for lunch or dinner we can pop a prepared meal in the microwave and behold, in mere minutes we have a meal ready to eat!  Commercials on TV promise us instant relief from head aches, stomach aches, back aches or whatever else our ailment may be.  Our expectation of instant gratification is strengthened by the technology that is a part of daily life such as computers, tablets, smart phones and smart watches; we send someone an email or text message for example and then many of us impatiently wonder why there is no reply a minute later.  Truly we live in a world of instantaneous gratification where patience is not valued, but the truth is that not everything in life can be rushed.  Some things in fact may even take a lifetime to cultivate and amongst them are the fruits of the Spirit.  But the fruits of the Spirit, those personal qualities or characteristics that are to be desired above all others, are why we have our roots and leaves; in fact the fruits are the whole point of our spiritual lives and good works.

“Down to Earth” is a simple book but it is also a good one.  In it Marcia Hollis draws a parallel between plant life on the one hand and our religious or spiritual lives on the other.  Roots and leaves; our spiritual lives and our good works are all dependent upon one another and they are also geared towards producing something very special; the fruit.  And what are these special fruits, the fruits of the Spirit that are the object of all our labour and patience?  Once again, they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and last but certainly not least, self-control.

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, we give you thanks and praise for the glorious wonder and beauty of this spring season; for such as the flowers, the budding trees, the greenness of the grass and the sound of the birds.

We thank you that you have called us to be your people.  Help us we pray to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit; may our lives be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And when these qualities do not characterize our lives and our dealings with others, help us to remember that you are the God of love, forgiveness and compassion.

As the pandemic continues with all of its pain, heartache, grief and fear, not only in our own country but elsewhere, we pray that your love and compassion will be over all.  We pray that the sick may be healed and the grieving comforted.  We pray for all who live in fear, and all who strive to care for others.

We pray that when this is all over, we will have learned from this experience.  We pray that individually and as a country we may be more understanding and caring for all of the people around us.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.  Amen

April 25, 2021.

Message for April 25, 2021

Acts 9:10-19

          A young man named Leonard Waggoner was backpacking through the Rockies with two friends, and when they came to the summit of one mountain they noticed a large boulder perched near the edge.  Without giving it much thought, they decided that it would be fun to push it over and see what happened.  They sent it rolling down the mountainside and to say that they were shocked by what happened would be an understatement.  The boulder steadily picked up speed and when it hit some rough patches of ground it bounced up to fifty feet in the air.  Then when it hit the tree line, the pine trees snapped like match sticks; long after the rock was out of sight they could still hear the noise as it continued its destructive path.

The next day the three young men retraced the boulder’s path and were shocked by what they saw.  On its way down the mountainside, the rock hadn’t just destroyed a large number of trees but had also sent other smaller rocks on their own paths of destruction.  And to think that they had brought about so much damage through one thoughtless act!  And then it occurred to Waggoner; suppose there had been someone in the boulder’s path?  Or suppose that someone up above them decided it would be fun to do the same thing?  As Waggoner later said, it was then that he truly realized that choices and decisions, as small as they may seem to be, have consequences.  A decision made by one of the characters in today’s scripture passage certainly had consequences that are still with us today.

The background to today’s passage is the famed conversion experience of Saul when he was literally blinded by the light while on the road to Damascus.  Saul, or Paul as he is better known, hated the Christian faith in his early years.  Paul for example was the one who stood by and urged the mob on when Stephen, the first of the martyrs, was killed.  In fact Paul’s great ambition in life was to rid the world of all of its Christians and this explains why, when he had finished persecuting the church in Jerusalem, he decided to move on to Damascus.  As he journeyed there though he had a most dramatic experience when he was blinded by a tremendously bright light and encountered the Risen Christ himself.  Jesus called upon Paul to follow him and told him that he was to carry on to Damascus where he would be given further instructions.

Turning to today’s scripture passage itself, there was a man in Damascus named Ananias.  Ananias was a Christian who had been forced to flee from Jerusalem because of Paul’s persecution.  One night Ananias had a dream or vision in which God told him to go to a particular house in the city where he would find Paul; he was to lay his hands upon him and cure him of his blindness.  Well, quite naturally, this command filled Ananias with dismay.  He wondered if God had forgotten who Paul was and what he had been doing.  Why Paul was the one who had persecuted the Christians in Jerusalem and had come to Damascus to do the very same thing!  Did God really want Paul cured?  Wouldn’t it be better if he was left blind and helpless?  God’s answer however was to say that he had special plans for Paul.  And so off Ananias went.  He entered the house, greeted Paul as a brother in Christ and then healed him.  Upon being healed Paul was baptized and we all know what followed.  Paul became one of the greatest missionaries of all time and even wrote a large part of the New Testament.

This then is what happened when Paul was converted, and quite understandably it is Paul’s being blinded on the road to Damascus that usually captures our attention.  I sometimes wonder though if the story of Ananias is really the more meaningful for us.

To start with, it took a lot of faith for Ananias to go and heal Paul.  To be sure God had told him to do this, but how could Ananias ever be certain that it was God who had spoken to him in the vision?  It might have been some sort of test because the instruction to heal Paul certainly defied all common sense and logic!  The simple truth is that Ananias had no way of being absolutely certain that it was God’s will that he heal Paul.  All he could do was have faith, and as it was with him so it is with us.

Like Ananias, we may sometimes wonder about what is right and what is wrong.  Likewise, we might also wonder how we can know what God’s will for us is.  Life would certainly be easier if God would just tell us what to do by putting a great big flashing neon sign up in the sky, but he doesn’t.  Instead God leaves it up to us to figure things out and often there is no easy or straight-forward answer.   Indeed, it often comes down to faith and doing what we in our heart of hearts believe is right.  One way of doing this though, and perhaps the best way, is by asking ourselves the simple question; what do we honestly think that Jesus would do if he was in this situation?  Keeping our eyes fixed on Christ lessens the odds of our going wrong.  Consider this analogy.

It was a Sunday night years ago when we lived in Colborne and I got a phone call from the nearest hospital, which was in Cobourg, asking me to come in; it was a pastoral emergency.  It was a very rainy and foggy night and while it was a bad drive going to the hospital, it was even worse heading home.  Part way home though, I caught up with a stream of cars.  We followed one another through the fog and the trick was to keep close enough to see the car in front but not too close in case something went wrong.  I have no idea how fast we drove but it seemed as if we raced through the night.  Indeed I did not even dare look down at the dashboard for fear of losing sight of the car in front of me.

Now this so-to-speak is the way it is with us.  As we make our way through life’s storms and disorienting fog, we must seek to keep our eyes focused on Christ and his teaching.  As the disciples of Christ, we should always ask ourselves what Christ would do if he were here right now?  Ananias in fact may well have asked himself this very question.  If Jesus had been in Ananias’ shoes, would he have cured Paul or would he have left him blind?  We know the answer of course.  Faith demands that we follow the example of Christ, even if it leads us to do the most improbable and perhaps even the most distasteful of things.  The story of Ananias however doesn’t just illustrate the demands of faith, it also reminds us of the importance of the little things.

As I have already said, it is usually Paul’s being blinded by the light that captures our attention but while God can, and sometimes does use the dramatic to achieve his aims, more often than not he does the opposite.  Paul for example was blinded by the light but God used Ananias to cure him.  And what if Ananias had refused; would Paul have ever been healed, baptized, and then become the greatest missionary of all time?  Quite possibly not.  Rather than through the spectacular, God more often achieves his goals by working through ordinary people like Ananias and even us as well.  That is why it is so important that we use our faith and try and follow the example of Christ.  Who knows what God is trying to achieve through us?  This is something that Willard Scott, best known for being the weatherman on NBC’s “Today’s Show” years ago, once discovered.

Scott happened to be in Washington D.C. during the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as he was to play the role of Ronald McDonald at the opening of a new McDonalds restaurant.  The police advised him not to go, warning him that they could not guarantee his safety as a white man in a black neighbourhood with racial tensions being so high.  Scott however decided to go anyways, and then forgot all about it.  Then, about twenty years later, Scott was back in the city.  He got into a cab and the driver thanked him.  Scott asked why and the driver replied that twenty years earlier he’d been a member of the Black Panthers and had hated all whites with a passion.  He had taken his son to the opening of the new McDonalds.  The boy’s shoelaces were undone and when Scott came up to the boy in the crowd, he had knelt down and tied them up.  It was a little thing and Scott never remembered doing it.  Even so, that small deed of kindness had changed the cab driver’s outlook on whites and even on life itself.

And so I wonder, what impact have we, knowingly or unknowingly, had on the lives of others?  What impact will we, knowingly or unknowingly, have?  Make no mistake about it, all of us do have an impact.  To return to Ananias, did he ever realize that by striving to follow Jesus, even if it meant doing something that he really didn’t want to do and that seemingly defied all common sense, he was going to change the very course of history and the destiny of thousands, millions, or even billions of people for the better?  Probably not, but he did.

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, we give you thanks that you have, in the words of a hymn deigned to make us thy co-workers, in the kingdom of thy grace.  Too often perhaps we think of our lives as being of little value, purpose or meaning but the things we say and do do matter, even if we don’t always realize it.  With this in mind, help us as best we can, secure in your love and forgiveness, to try and live the lives and be the people that you have called us to be.

This past week, even though it was overshadowed by other events, we marked Earth Day.  We give you thanks for this good earth with all of its beauty, praying that we may use it wisely and well, that your creation may be all the better for our being a part of it.

We pray this day for this world in which we live, for the safety and well-being of all as the pandemic continues.  Grant wisdom to our leaders, strength to those who care for us and provide us with what we need, courage and comfort to all whose lives are in a state upheaval or worse.

We pray that the day may come when this scourge will be a thing of the past.  We ask this in your Son’s name.

Amen

 

 

April 18, 2021.

Message for April 18, 2021

Acts 12:1-17

There is a story about a teenaged boy who was getting ready to go on his first date with a very attractive classmate.  He wanted everything to be perfect and decided that giving her a box of chocolates would be a good way to end the evening.  With this in mind, he went to the local candy store and asked the man behind the counter for a $5, $10, and a $20 box of chocolates.

The man was curious and asked him why he wanted three boxes and the boy told him about his big date that evening.  He said that if the date was just okay and all that the girl would do was shake his hand good night, then he would give her the $5 box of candy.  If the date went better and if she hugged him at the end, then he would give her the $10 box.  And if the date was great and she gave him a passionate goodnight kiss, then he would give her the $20 box of chocolates.  The man behind the counter didn’t say a word and just quietly rang in the sale.

That evening when the young man showed up at the girl’s house she invited him in for dinner, an invitation that he eagerly accepted.  The family was sitting at the table waiting and the father asked the boy if he would please say grace.  They all bowed their heads in prayer and the young man offered up a very long, eloquent and sincere prayer.  When he was finished, his date leaned over and whispered to him, “I never knew that you were so spiritual” to which he replied “I had no idea that your dad owned the candy store!”

This is an amusing story but it does raise some questions.  As the people of God and the disciples of Jesus, we are expected to be a praying people, but why do we pray?  Does God answer our prayers and if so, how?  Do we always even realize it when he does?

It was during the earliest days of the church and King Herod, a grandson of Herod the Great who was ruler when Jesus was born, sat on the throne.  As it happened, Herod was caught between a rock and a hard place.  He only ruled because the Romans let him but his subjects on the other hand wanted to get rid of the Romans and despised him as a collaborator.  Herod had to walk a fine line between the two sides but then he had a wonderful idea; persecute the Christians!  The Christians after all were disliked by both the Roman and the Jewish authorities!  And so the government-sanctioned persecution began.  The disciple James was arrested and put to death, while Peter too was arrested and thrown into prison, destined for the same fate.  Peter was guarded very securely; he was chained to two soldiers who were on either side of him.  There were also two other guards at the door.  It appeared that there was no earthly way he could ever escape.

While Peter was in prison awaiting his fate, his fellow believers gathered together and prayed for a miracle because that is what it would take to free him.  Then, according to Luke, an angel appeared in Peter’s jail cell filling it with light.  The angel woke Peter up and then the chains just fell off.  The angel told Peter to get dressed and follow him, which he did.  They walked past the sleeping guards at the door and then, when they came to the iron gate that barred the prison shut, it miraculously opened on its own accord.  Out they went and then the angel disappeared.

For his part Peter wasn’t sure what had just happened.  His initial reaction was to think that it was all some sort of dream or vision but then, standing out on the street, he realized that it was all for real.  Of course Peter also knew that he had to get to safety as fast as possible since the authorities would soon be after him.  Accordingly he made his way to the house where he knew his fellow Christians would be gathered, praying for his release.

When he got there, Peter frantically knocked at the door, no doubt glancing up and down the street to see if anyone was after him.  A maid named Rhoda came to the door and recognized Peter’s voice but instead of letting him in, she rushed back into the house to tell everyone that Peter was at the door.  Their reaction was disbelief.  “You’re mad” they said, “you’ve seen an angel!”  They then proceeded to get into a debate over who was really at the door while Peter continued to stand outside frantically knocking, desperate to get in.  When they finally decided to let Peter in they were so excited to see him that he had to tell them to quiet down because they were making so much noise; did they want the whole world to know where he was?  Peter told them about his miraculous escape and then he left, knowing that he had to stay one step ahead of the authorities.

So goes today’s scripture passage and it almost sounds like a comedy:  Peter frantically knocking on the door begging to be let in while the maid, instead of letting him in, left him outside while she rushed back to tell the others.  They in turn, instead of promptly letting him in, proceeded to have a debate as to whether he was really there.  The whole episode sounds rather slapstick and yet there is a serious, if not ironical point to it all.  There were these Christians gathered together praying with all of their heart, mind and strength for Peter’s release but when they were told that their prayer had been answered, their response was stunned disbelief.  Truly this is so ironical and one has to wonder; even as they prayed for Peter’s release, did they really believe that God could and would grant their request?

The Bible tells us that we are to be a praying people and prayer of course is simply sharing with God whatever is most on our minds.  In prayer for example we may tell God about what makes us happy and what makes us sad.  And when we pray, we may sometimes make requests too and tell God what we hope may or may not happen.  We pray for all sorts of different reasons but the important thing is that regardless of why we are praying, we believe that God is listening and that there is at least the possibility that he will grant our request.  This means that we should pray with faith and not be like the people in today’s passage, praying so earnestly and yet all the while not really expecting anything to happen.  The truth is that God not only hears all prayers but also answers all prayers as well.  Of course, as we all well know from first-hand experience, the answer may not always be what we hoped for or even wanted to hear.  Prayer then requires faith, faith to pray in the first place and faith to accept the answer.  It is like this old and perhaps familiar story.

Once upon a time there was a man who was driving his car far too fast up a winding mountain road.  Suddenly he lost control and the car plunged over the cliff.  Somehow he managed to get out of the car but was left clinging to a small bush in the cliff’s face.  He could neither go up nor down; all he could do was hold onto the bush for dear life.  “Is anyone there” he repeatedly cried out as the hours passed, but there was no answer.  Then, with a mounting sense of desperation he turned to God:  “Are you there God?” he called out.  “Yes, my son” came the reply, “what do you want?”  “Save me” the man screamed, “I’ll do anything you want!  Just save me!”  “Then let go” said God, “Just let go”.  The man paused for a moment and then called out, “Is there anyone else there?”

This story is humorous but it does contain a very important truth.  The man had enough faith to turn to God but then, when the answer was not what he expected or desired, he turned away.  But what of us?  How often do we pray so- to-speak with our fingers crossed?  How often do we pray like those people of long ago, asking God for something but deep down not really expecting our prayer to be granted or even answered?  And what if the answer is not the one that we want to hear?  What it comes down to of course, as it so oftentimes does, is faith.  To return to the members of that congregation in Jerusalem, they had enough faith to pray for Peter’s release in the first place but then reacted with stunned disbelief when their prayer was granted.  And perhaps the question for us then is what do we truly expect when we pray?  Anything?  Something?  Everything?

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, if we had been able to gather together in person to worship you today, we would have undoubtedly sung “What a Friend we have in Jesus”, a hymn that reminds us that we can and indeed should bring everything to you in prayer.

We thank you that we can do this for it is a privilege to do so.  You are God, the Almighty, so holy and removed from us and yet, as great as you are, you still want us to talk to you and share whatever is on our minds, especially at times such as these when we may well feel weak and overburdened, loaded with a load of care.

Grant us faith, so that we can without fear or reservation, put our hope and trust in you, especially during these difficult and challenging times.

As the pandemic continues, we pray for the safety and well-being of all, remembering those on the front lines, those whose jobs are essential, those who are waiting for their vaccinations, those who are in positions of authority.  We pray for healing for all who are ill, comfort for all who mourn and reassurance for all who feel overwhelmed by fear and trepidation.  Grant us all we pray the courage, strength, and peace that only you can.  We ask this in your Son’s name.

Amen.

 

April 11, 2021

Message for April 11, 2021

John 20:19-29

One thing that has long fascinated me are some of the “folksy” expressions that people commonly use that don’t seem to make a great deal of sense at first.  Take “to turn a blind eye” for example.  We all know what this expression means, to pretend that something isn’t there or is not happening, but where did it ever come from?

It is said that this phrase originated with the great naval hero, Horatio Nelson.  It was during the pivotal naval battle of Copenhagen and Nelson was ordered to retreat, an order that he strongly disagreed with.  Nelson’s response was to hold his telescope up to his eye that had been blinded in a previous battle and then claim that he couldn’t see the signal; hence the origin of “turn a blind eye”.

Another common expression is to “shed crocodile tears”.  This of course refers to a person who says that they feel sorry or sympathetic when they really don’t.  This phrase originated 600 years ago in the Middle Ages and comes from a popular book; “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville”.  The book told the adventures of a man who claimed to have traveled all over, and in it Mandeville falsely said that serpents or crocodiles cry when they kill and eat their prey.  The truth of course is that they feel no pity at all for the creatures that they are about to eat, and this is where that expression comes from.

To turn to another common expression, the phrase “to paint the town red” dates back about 200 years.  One night an English aristocrat, the Marquis of Waterford, along with some friends got riotously drunk in the town of Melton Mowbray.  They got up to all sorts of mischief and literally painted the tollgate and some people’s front doors red.  They thought that this was all great fun but later a very contrite Marquis paid to repair all of the damage.  Even so the expression “paint the town red” stuck.  And similarly so, a common expression is associated with a principal character in today’s scripture passage and it is all because of one action.

It was the evening of the very first Easter Sunday and Jesus appeared before the disciples.  Thomas however was not present and so he missed seeing the Risen Christ.  Naturally when he returned, the rest of the disciples couldn’t wait to tell him all about it.  But what was Thomas’ response?  He was skeptical to say the least.  He didn’t come right out and say that the others had imagined the whole thing but nevertheless he certainly wasn’t going to take their word for it either.  As he famously said: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nail marks were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe”.

A week later the disciples once again gathered together and this time Thomas was there.  Once again Jesus appeared and when he did so, he spoke directly to Thomas.  “Put your finger here:  see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe”.  Thomas’s response was to stand there utterly shocked and dumbfounded.  Then, when he had found his voice, he uttered what many Biblical scholars say is the climax or high point of John’s entire gospel: “My lord and my God!”  This is the climax of John’s gospel, but what is Thomas best known for today?  Not these tremendous words of faith.  Rather he is best known for his skepticism; indeed we sometimes refer to a skeptical person as being a “Doubting Thomas”.  Truly Thomas’ reputation is not the best but, like many other less than wonderful reputations, it’s not entirely deserved.

The gospels do not tell us a lot about Thomas but what little they do say gives us a good idea of what he was like.  We know from today’s lesson that he was skeptical by nature, but we also know that he sought the truth and wasn’t afraid to ask questions either.

There was the time for example when Jesus was talking to the disciples and spoke about there being many dwelling places in his Father’s house and that he was going on ahead to prepare a place for them.  The rest of the disciples wouldn’t admit that they didn’t have a clue as to what Jesus was talking about, but Thomas didn’t hesitate to ask, “Lord, we do not know where you are going so how can we know the way?”  This prompted Jesus to utter one of his most famous statements of all: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by me”.  And there was also the time when Jesus announced that he had to return to Judea because his good friend Lazarus had just died.  The rest of the disciples did their best to talk Jesus out of going: didn’t he remember what had happened the last time he had been in Judea?  He had almost been killed by a mob!  All of the disciples but one tried to talk Jesus out of going fearing for both his and their own safety.  The one exception was Thomas.  “Let us also go” he said, “that we might die with him”.  Thomas was a man of courage and of the twelve disciples, he was the only one willing to go with Jesus.  In fact it was because of his courage that Thomas even missed seeing the resurrected Christ on that first Easter evening.

After the death of Jesus, the disciples were terrified and for good reason; the authorities had killed their master and who was to say that they wouldn’t come after them as well?  The disciples then went into hiding and were afraid to venture out.  Once again however there was one exception.  Only Thomas was brave enough to walk the city streets.

In the eyes of many people Thomas has a bit of a bad reputation because of his skepticism on that first Easter evening but a lot of it is not deserved.  Thomas was brave, loyal and even willing to die for what he believed in but belief was the key.  He wouldn’t believe something just because he was told to; he needed to be convinced.  But once he was convinced, there was no reserve or hanging back.  The disciple Thomas may be forever associated with the phrase ‘Doubting Thomas’, and that is certainly not a compliment, but there is a lot to admire about the man.  In fact the noted Scottish scholar of days gone by, William Barclay, even held Thomas up as a role model for all of us:

 

“He absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand, or that he believed what he did not believe.  There is an uncompromising honesty about him.”

 

Barclay went on to write:

 

“There is more ultimate faith in the man who insists on being sure than in the man who glibly repeats things he has never thought out and which he may not really believe.”

 

When it comes to religious beliefs people sometimes take a stern line and say that in order to be a ‘real Christian’, a person must believe certain things without question.  There can be no doubt that Christianity does involve holding certain core beliefs.  It would be hard if not impossible for example to be a Christian if the person did not believe that Jesus ever existed or that the resurrection, however it may be understood, did not take place.  So often though people seem to fear questioning, failing to realize that God’s truth will withstand any questions that we may ever ask.  Indeed I sometimes wonder if our fear of questioning may reflect a lack of security and faith on our part.  Growing in faith and developing a strong faith that will withstand the storms of life, including the one that we are now caught up in, is a process and a part of that process is questioning and wondering, working things out for ourselves.

To return to today’s lesson, who was the one who uttered the words said to be the climax of John’s gospel?  It wasn’t Peter, the rock upon which the church would be built.  Nor was it any of the other ten disciples either.  Rather it was Thomas who was the first to dare proclaim who and what the Risen Christ is, and he didn’t do so because of what the others told him.  He did this because his questions and doubts were answered.  He did this because he had worked things out for himself.  In fact it was his deep faith and conviction that, according to ancient tradition, motivated him to become the very first missionary to go to the land we now call India.  It is said that he was martyred there for his beliefs about forty years after the resurrection, and for this reason many Indian Christians call Thomas the patron saint of India.

It is very ironical then that to this very day Thomas is referred to as ‘Doubting Thomas’ and that this term is often used to describe people who are unduly skeptical.  The reality is that despite his initial skepticism, Thomas developed a tremendous faith and can show us the way to a stronger, better faith, a faith that we certainly need today in these difficult, challenging times.

 

 

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, on this Sunday after Easter there is so much for which we can and should be grateful for.  There is this early spring; the warmth and longer days; all that nourishes our minds, bodies, and souls; our families and friends; all the people so dear to us.

We thank you too for the promise of what we celebrated last week, giving thanks that the resurrection is not just about what happened in Jerusalem so long ago  nor is it just about what will happen some time in the future.   We thank you for what the resurrection means for us here and now; that through the Spirit your Son is a living, present reality in our lives here and now.

With this in mind, we pray for healing for those who are ill; comfort for those who mourn; strength for those who fear what the future may or may not have in store.

As the Third Wave tightens its grip, we pray for those on the front lines and those in position of authority, that you will bless them with your courage and strength.  We pray too for a swift, effective roll-out of the vaccines.

Grant us all the courage, strength, and peace that only you can.

We ask this in your Son’s name.  Amen