Our service tomorrow continues with the theme of faith and fear. After Moses dies, Joshua is anointed his successor and is repeatedly urged by God to be strong and courageous in leading the people of Israel to possess the ‘Promised land’. The Biblical text suggests that God’s promises are not automatically realized. They require an active response on our part to God’s initiative.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus is dismayed by the disciples lack of faith. In the face of a great storm that blows up in the Sea of Galilee, they are terrified, but Jesus speaks, and suddenly the water is as smooth as glass. Modern people tend to see a storm as a natural phenomenon meteorologists can explain. I think that Matthew wants us to see something more going on: the storm involves a struggle with demonic powers. In the Book of Revelation there are two references to “the sea of glass” near the throne of God. The Jews were a non seagoing nation and identified storms at sea with the demonic forces of danger and chaos that disrupt creation – forces that are tamed by Jesus and the One who sits on the throne in the New Jerusalem. This may strike us modern people as far-fetched, but imagine how you might feel if you were on open water in a fishing boat as hurricane Fiona approached. Might it not strike you as an evil and malevolent force bent on your destruction?
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 321: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” Prayer of Adoration and Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 91 Anthem: Psalm 91 Joshua 1: 1-9 Matthew 8: 23-27 Hymn 325: “Eternal Father, strong to save” Sermon: “The sea became smooth as glass” Hymn: “If You But Trust in God to Guide You” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 633: “Who would true valour see” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
Transitions are often difficult. They often involve a sense of loss, even a kind of death. They can be disturbing and leave us bewildered about the shape of the future. Old routines and habits are disrupted and new ones not yet established. All sorts of fears can begin to crowd in, and questions about faith become acute. What do we really believe – as opposed to what we thought we believed (but which may have just been part of the furniture of our life, a matter of words and habits). Transitions may trigger a disorienting crisis – perhaps like what we are experiencing at the moment.
The painting is of a dying Moses looking at the promised land, which he has been told he will not enter himself.
Tomorrow, we have two stories about the children of Israel being on the banks of the Jordan about to cross over to possess the land promised to them by God. The first story took place not long after the Exodus from Egypt. But they were intimidated by reports of huge walled cities and giant soldiers who defended the land. They listened to their fears, decided that conquest was impossible and turned back to the wilderness, where they continued to eke out a meager existence for the next thirty eight years. However much they may have thought they believed in God’s promises to provide them with a land of their own, when push came to shove, they failed the test. Their faith did not enable them to take decisive action. Only after the generation that had refused the challenge of faith had died out, did another opportunity to enter the Promise Land arise. The circumstances were complicated by a change in leadership: a dying Moses is succeeded by Joshua. But human leadership is not the key factor. The texts emphasize that what is essential is the conviction that God is with them, and deep faith in God’s promises. Given sufficient faith, nothing is impossible. The human factors (great walled cities) and the size of those who defend the land pale into insignificance in comparison to the power of God operating through faith.
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 313: “O worship the King” Prayer of Adoration and Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 27 Anthem: Psaume 27 Numbers 13 (selected verses) Deuteronomy 31: 1-8 Hymn 641: “The God of Abraham praise” Sermon: “Transitions” Hymn: “If You But Trust in God to Guide You” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 685: “How firm a foundation” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
I hope that you all had a good vacation and feel rested. Summer is now over and we are back to whatever our post-COVID routine looks like. Hopefully it includes church attendance! This week also saw the death of Queen Elizabeth. The birth and death of monarchs is a very ancient and personal way of measuring time. The events in the Old Testament are dated in reference to the reigns of Israel’s kings. Isaiah, we are told, experienced his call to be a prophet while serving in the temple “in the year that King Uzziah died.”
In the many tributes and obituaries to Queen Elizabeth, much is said of her sense of duty and the seventy years of service to her subjects. However, I haven’t yet seen references to her Christian faith, which was undoubtedly real and at the centre of her remarkable life. As we look back, there is much to be thankful for the way in which she graciously presided over the end of the empire and the declining place of Britain in the world. The Suez crisis, a few year after her coronation, made obvious to all that Britain had been displaced as a world power by the United States. Current events in Eastern Europe remind us that declining powers do not always accept their reduced place in the world with such good grace. It requires faith that the rise and fall of empires is not a matter of political will and force of arms but lies within the providence of God. Our role to find our place and fulfill the duties that God places before us, as Queen Elizabeth so conspicuously did.
Tomorrow, our subject is God’s joy that Jesus points to in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. We are summoned to be share in a community bound together with joy rather than one spawned out of common grievance and resentment.
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 65: “All people that on earth do dwell” Prayer of Adoration and Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 98 1 Timothy 1: 12-18 Anthem: Psaume 98 Luke 15: 1-10 Hymn 422: “Sing a New Song unto the Lord” Sermon: “God’s Joy” Hymn 787: “The kingdom of God” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 324: “Be still my soul” Benediction /Go now in Peace Postlude
We finish our short series on the early prophets of Israel: Elijah, Elisha, Amos and Hosea. One thing they all had in common was pronouncing God’s anger at Israel’s unfaithfulness. They all warned people in very strong language that God’s righteous judgment would soon fall on Israel’s ingratitude and sin.
This past week there was lots in the media about confession and penitence and humbly imploring God (and those wronged) for forgiveness. Not so much about prophetic anger from those who spoke on behalf of the church. (That was left for some of the media commentators.) But Divine anger is there in spades in the prophets. That is not all that has been revealed about the God we worship, but it is part of it. What do we imagine God feels in relation the residential school catastrophe? Suffering and pain, yes; grief, certainly. What about deep anger at the grievous abuse of children that still traumatizes their descendants?
Righteous anger, whether God’s or our own, is often a good place to begin the healing journey. It is closely tied to God’s judgment (which might be a good way of characterizing what the church is living through in this generation.) Only after we have heard the word of God’s anger and judgment are we open to receiving the grace of God’s loving kindness and forgiveness – a particular emphasis in Hosea.
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 73: “Praise to the Lord/Louez l’Eternel” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 107: 1-9; 43 Hosea 11: 1-11 Anthem: “10,000 Reasons” (Matt Redman) Luke 12: 13-21 Hymn 508: “Your word, O God, awoke” Sermon: “God’s Anger Management” Hymn: “I was there to hear your borning cry” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 324: “Great is Thy faithfulness” Benediction /Go now in Peace Postlude
This week we are on to another prophet of the doomed northern Kingdom of Samaria, the prophet Hosea. It is a vivid and unusual book. Last week, Amos hammered home the sin of economic injustice and the great polarization of wealth that betrayed God’s intention for his people and so led to social collapse. (Many people today share his concern and worry about a similar outcome.) Tomorrow, the prophet Hosea also warned the ten northern tribes of Israel (Samaria) of coming judgment. But he pointed to an even deeper cause: the conjunction of worship, sex and intimacy. Economic injustice was a manifestation of this deeper malaise. Israel’s sickness was both sexual and religious promiscuity, the one mirroring the other. Prostitution, both physical and spiritual, was rampant and had destroyed the covenanted marriage relationship between God and his people. The goodness and faithfulness of God had been ungratefully rejected by faithless and promiscuous Israel, who was now to be abandoned to her enemies.
Hosea knew whereof he spoke from bitter experience. Right at the outset of the book, we are told that he was instructed by God to marry Gomer, a prostitute. (It is the only time such happens in the Bible!). Maybe Hosea didn’t quite hear God correctly but, in any case, it turned his life into an emotional roller coaster that transformed his understanding of God and turned him into a prophet with a distinctive voice. He began to comprehend what it must be like to be God bound in a covenanted marriage to faithless Israel. God’s love for his people was complex, like his own disastrous marriage to Gomer. Later on, the phase. “Israel whoring after other gods” became a cliché among the prophets. But, in the Book of Hosea, the torment and agony of what it meant were real and fresh. How can relationship continue with a partner who is serially unfaithful? What sort of love does it imply?
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 459: “O servants of God” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 85 Hosea 1: 1-11 Anthem: “Psaume 85” Luke 11: 1-13 Hymn: “Lord, rebuke me not in anger” Sermon: “A Passionate God” Hymn 696: “In suffering love” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 371: “Love divine, all loves excelling” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
We hear much talk about the global economy and the polarization of wealth it has generated. Are we outraged about this? Or does it just seem normal or not something we can do anything about? The parties on the political left, who used to denounce the wealthy and defend the interests of ordinary workers, have turned to the causes of wokeness; the global economy has been left to the billionaires. The Biblical prophet, Amos, faced a situation not unlike ours. The northern part of Israel (Samaria) had expanded to control some lucrative trade routes. The nobility and the merchant class capitalized on this economic opportunity, but hoarded the new wealth. Amos was outraged at the injustice he observed and channeled God’s righteous anger in denouncing it. This was not how the people of God were to live! And so he preached doom and disaster on the Kingdom. Samaria was, in fact, destroyed within a generation, and its inhabitants sent into exile, never to rise again. So does Amos have anything to say to us? Is righteous anger in God’s name sometimes O.K? Are there situations in which it is even required? Can we imagine ever saying, “So listen to God’s Word.”
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 39: “God of Mercy, God of Grace” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 82 Amos 7: 7-17 Anthem: “Psaume 146” Luke 4: 16-24 Hymn: “Let Justice Flow Like Streams” Sermon: “An Amateur Prophet” Hymn 648: “I’m gonna live so God can use me” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 592: “I, the Lord of sea and sky” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
Last week, Elijah was carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire, and Elisha found himself left alone. But the story continues. Not even a great prophet like Elijah is irreplaceable. (Although according to Jewish tradition, Elijah had the unique and special task of returning from heaven to herald the arrival of the Messiah.) The renown of Israel’s prophets extended well beyond its boundaries. Just as Elijah had anointed the king of Aram (Syria) before departing, the great Aramean General (who, we are told, God used to defeat Israel) seeks healing from Israel’s prophet, Elisha. (Think of a Russian General travelling to Ukraine to seek out a monk for physical and spiritual healing and you get a sense of how unusual it is.) The God of Israel moves between borders and peoples and above military conflicts with sovereign power and in surprising ways. Naaman has learned of the prophet, or perhaps been reminded of him, through his wife’s slave girl who had been captured in a border skirmish with neighbouring Israel. She says to her despairing mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his skin disease.” (Samaria was the name of the northern Kingdom of Israel.)
For Naaman it is the beginning of a education in the humble paths of the God of Israel, which contrast sharply with the pomp and majestic expectations of the court in Damascus where he holds an elevated and favoured position, despite his disease.
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 814: “Morning has broken” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace The Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 30 2 Kings 5: 1-18 Anthem: “Purify my heart/Refiner’s fire” Luke 17: 11- 19 Hymn “Give thanks/Merci” Sermon: “The foreign General in need of a cure” Hymn: “Healing river of the Spirit” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 374: “O for a thousand tongues to sing” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
For the third Sunday in a row (and next week, too) our Old Testament lesson is about the prophets Elijah and Elisha who lived during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (roughly 800 years before Jesus.) They are some of the best stories in the Bible, but not as well knows as they once were. Here is an icon of Elijah taking off to heaven in a chariot of fire, leaving his anxious disciple, Elisha, wondering how he will carry on without his mentor. It is a story about transition; about the end of an old order and the beginning of a new one. It also reminds us, perhaps, of Jesus at the top of the Mountain of Transfiguration conversing with Moses and Elijah, in a cloud of heavenly glory. Or of Jesus’ Ascension as the disciples stare up into the clouds that separate heaven and earth, feeling bereft as Jesus returns to the Father and leaves them behind. What will they do now?
Before his master leaves, Elisha requests a “double portion” of his spirit; (a “double portion” the inheritance of an oldest son) so that he can continue the prophetic ministry of Elijah – despite his misgivings. He also receives a physical gift of Elijah’s cloak (or “mantle”). The disciples, however deserted and inadequate they feel when Jesus departs from them, also receive a “double portion” of the spirit at Pentecost which empowers them to continue Jesus’ ministry. It is the story of the church in every generation. How do we carry on after past leaders have left us and the present seems so naked and pitiful in comparison?
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 187: “We have come at Christ’s own bidding” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace and Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 2 Kings 2: 1-14 Anthem: “Deep River” Luke 9: 36- 50 Hymn 445 “Open our eyes, Lord/Ouvre nos yeux, Seigneur” Sermon: “Left Behind” Hymn: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn: “God of the prophets” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
Is there anything wrong with people behaving properly, decently and in order? The obvious answer is ‘no’. Simon the Pharisee prides himself on being a stick-to-the-rules sort of guy, even when standards are slipping all around him. He is a good citizen and a man of integrity, who has avoided scandal and the obvious sins. He cares about his reputation and wants to maintain his good standing in the Pharisees club. He has invited Jesus to dinner as his guest. Then a hysterical woman somehow breaks into the club dining room and throws herself at Jesus’ feet. But instead of reproving her for her bad manners and putting her in her place, Jesus holds her up as an example of gratitude for divine grace. And he suggests that the extravagance of her love mirrors God’s own. God’s generous love overflows all the bounds of normal propriety; the appropriate response is generous extravagant gratitude. But it all leaves Simon cold and uncomfortable and bewildered. He just thinks that some people need to learn good manners. All he wants is to be a member of the club in good standing and wonders what Jesus is getting at.
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 321: “Praise to the Lord” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession Declaration of Grace The Lord’s Prayer Responsive reading: Psalm 5 1 Kings 19: 1-21 Anthem: Kyrie Eleison (Taize) Luke 7: 36- 50 Hymn 229: “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love” Sermon: “Grace and gratitude” Hymn 635: “Brother, sister, let me serve you” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 335: “Give us, O God, the grace to see” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude
This week we are going with the Old Testament reading about the prophet Elijah. His public triumph over the prophets of Baal has been short-lived. Queen Jezebel vows revenge and he flees for his life. He also sinks into depression. Exhausted and despairing of the future, he just wants to die. He travels into the desert where he mostly sleeps under a broom tree, waiting for death. Instead, he is awakened by an angel who provides the bread and water to sustain life – nourishment that he is too weary to make for himself. Again he falls asleep, but is awakened and fed and second time. This time he is sent on a journey to Mt. Sinai, where he encounters God and is given specific instructions about what to do. The antidote to overwhelming fears about a future – a future we cannot control – is focusing on specific and manageable instructions that are within our power.
Order of Service
Prelude Call to Worship Hymn 26: “As pants the hart” Prayer of Adoration Prayer of Confession and Declaration of Grace Responsive reading: Psalm 42 1 Kings 19: 1-18 Anthem: Psaume 42 Ephesians 6: 1-4 Matthew 28: 16-20 Hymn 64: “Be still and know that I am God” Sermon: “Transitions” Hymn 451: “Dear Father, Lord of humankind” Offertory Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession Hymn 328 – “This is my Father’s world” Benediction Go now in Peace Postlude