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Guest Preacher

Our minister is enjoying a break before the summer season arrives. We welcome our dear friend the Rev. Fiona Swanson back to St. Paul’s to lead us in worship.

Trinity Sunday

This week our worship is being led by the Rev. Fiona Swanson.

Wind, Fire, and Mission

We celebrate the birth of the church today on this Pentecost Sunday. With the descent, filling, and empowering of the Holy Spirit, the church was born. We celebrate and are reminded that the Holy Spirit enabled and enables the church to participates in fulfilling the mission of Christ to the world.

Authority, Advocacy, Advancement (click here)

Welcome
Hello Everyone,
Thanks for joining us for worship on this Ascension Sunday.

Call to Worship (Psalm 47:1-9)

Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.

God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted.

Opening Prayers

God of promise and purpose,
we greet you this day with thankful hearts.
As flowers open and buds unfurl around us,
the beauty of your world lifts our hearts in praise.
As children grow and students prepare to graduate,
their energy and enthusiasm encourages us toward your future.
You lifted up Jesus to be by your side,
and so we know he is always by our side as the future opens before us.
Draw close to us in this hour of worship
and show us the promise and purpose in our own lives—
how we can unfurl with new life
and move into the future with the energy of your Holy Spirit
and the abiding love of Christ our Lord.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have called all your followers
to carry the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness to the ends of the earth.
Yet we confess we cannot always find the words to tell others of our faith.
We are often silent when others criticize the church that bears your name.
We try to act out your love
but it’s hard to tell others why we do what we do for you.
Forgive our hesitation to share the gift you have given us,
and renew our courage to speak of our commitment to you.

Assurance of Pardon (Romans 8:35-39)

Friends, remember the promise St. Paul declares: What will separate us from the love of Christ? Hardship? Distress? Peril or sword? Neither death nor life, nor things present nor things to come can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Let us rejoice that, no matter what is happening around us, no matter what we have done, God’s deep love will never let us go.

Hymn: “Crown Him with many crowns” Words: Matthew Bridges. Music: DIADEMATA

Prayer for Understanding

By the power of your Holy Spirit, open our minds and hearts to receive your Word, O God, so that we may recognize your call to serve in the name of Jesus Christ, the Living Word. Amen.

Scripture:

Acts 1:1-11 Jesus’ Ascension and Promise of the Holy Spirit
Ephesians 1:15-23 Christ’s Authority over the Church
Luke 24:44-53 Jesus’ final words to the disciples before his Ascension

Sermon: Authority, Advocacy, & Advancement

In the summer of 1987, I had the privilege of assisting the Rev. Frank Breisch here at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Banff, Alberta. Frank asked me to preach the evening services, which were geared toward university students and those working in the tourist industry. During one service I was preaching from the book of Ecclesiastes and told the personal story of how I was confronted by an angry man in Calgary that scared the beggebbies out me to make the point how strong a motivator fear can be. I was about to move on to another point, but Frank’s wife yelled from the congregation asking me to complete my story, as she wanted to know how it ended. And so I happily obliged her curiosity, and finished the rest of the story before moving on.

We all like to know how a story ends. Few of us read all but the last chapter of a book or watch all but the last ten minutes of a movie. We like to know how a story ends. This is human nature to want to do this.

When it comes to the story of Jesus, many Christians would list the resurrection as the final chapter or event in Jesus’ ministry. This was certainly the climax of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but it is not the final chapter or the final event. Jesus’ Ascension marks the final chapter of his earthy life and mission.

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus spends 40 days after his resurrection on Easter and instructing his disciples before he leaves to return to heaven. Jesus takes that time to summarize his teachings and explaining the significance of his death and resurrection from the Scriptures.

Jesus also takes the time to repeat to his followers what he wants them to do after he leaves. And when that is done Jesus is taken up into heaven in a cloud.

With Jesus’ Ascension his earthly ministry comes to and end and he resumes his heavenly role of being our Lord and Advocate before the Father. In the Ascension of Jesus, his role as the Son of God comes full circle. From his descent from heaven and humble birth in a feeding trough in a barn in Bethlehem to his glorious Ascent back into heaven from the Mount of Olives, we are able to catch a glimpse of all that Jesus, the Son of God, accomplished for us. And we are once again reminded of God’s kingdom plans for his church.

You can sum up the importance of the Ascension for us in three words: Authority, Advocacy, and Advancement.

First of all we are reminded that Jesus is the primary Authority or Lord of our lives and church.

To proclaim Jesus as Lord seems kind of out of touch with our society’s emphasis on democracy, consensus building, and personal freedom. We also live in a society where once people are placed in leadership roles, they too often abuse their authority for their own ends. And as a result we become skeptical and cautious about following the lead of those in authority.

But Jesus established his divine authority to rule all of creation and the church by demonstrating God’s love for us. Jesus put the desires of God before his own needs and wants and came to serve us. The Bible says that by the virtue of what Christ accomplished for us through his humble obedience God honored Jesus’ obedience to him and put him in charge of the world for whom he suffered and died.

Therefore, we are not to march to the beat of our own drums, but to get in step with the beat of God’s kingdom rhythms that Jesus, who created and redeemed us, followed. This is the point that Paul makes in his letter to the Ephesians.

Therefore, the Ascension of Jesus is the constant reminder that we are to faithfully follow Christ our Lord, we must continually submit our wishes and desires to Christ our Lord because we trust that he has our best interests at heart. We trust our Lord, for he sees the bigger picture, he knows our circumstances, and knows where we need to go. We follow Jesus’ lead as band members who follows the tempo the drummer has set. When all the band members are following the lead of the drummer, beautiful music is made for all to join in on.

Our daily submission to Christ is demonstrated in the small ordinary decisions we make to show love, forgive others, grow in faith and share our faith with others. As a church, our submission to Christ is demonstrated when we follow Christ’s command to be a people who are blessed in order to be a blessing for others.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what we want for ourselves or for this church, but what does ultimately matter is what God wants to do in and through us for the sake of helping others know him. Therefore we need to listen carefully to the rhythms for our life and witness that Jesus is currently guiding us with and to pay attention to the ones he is preparing us to follow in a post-Covid-19 world.

The Ascension not only reminds us of Christ’s Authority over our lives, church and world, but it also reminds of Christ’s role as our Advocate before the Father.

An Advocate is one who speaks on behalf and looks to the best interest of their client(s) before another in power. The New Testament speaks of Jesus as being our priest before the Father. We are told that Jesus continues to pray for us before the Father. This is why we when we pray to God, we pray in the name of Jesus.

We do so because it is by Jesus’ death & resurrection that all of the barriers we have erected between us and God through our disobedience and rebellion against God, are removed by Christ. Through Christ we come as people who have been declared not guilty by God and who now enabled to fully embrace and live in God’s love and grace.

I find the words of the Scottish Thinker and Theologian John Duncan (1796-1870) about the Ascension of Jesus very helpful. He said,
“The dust of the earth is now on the throne of the majesty on High.”

The Ascension reminds us that Jesus is our perfect advocate or lawyer and Jesus alone is able to plead our case before God. If we think that we can stand in the presence of our Holy God, without the help of our Advocate Jesus Christ, then we are sadly mistaken. And as the old saying goes “whoever hires themselves for their lawyer, has a fool for a client.”

Christ continues his priestly role of bringing our joys and concerns to the Father on our behalf. In other words, through Jesus we literally have God’s ear and have a voice in the places of heavenly power and authority. Therefore, we can come boldly into the presence of God and enjoy his love without fear or judgment.

The Ascension reminds us of Christ’s Authority as Lord, and his role as our Advocate before the Father, but is also reminds us of one more important aspect. Jesus returns to the right hand of the Father, in order to Advance the kingdom of God on earth.

It was on the day of the Ascension that Christ gave the first disciples the Great Commission. “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Lk 24:45–48).

Jesus knew his stay on earth would be temporary. This is why Jesus poured out his life in teaching and equipping the disciples with the necessary teaching, skills, and resources to accomplish the Great Commission.

The Church would be Christ’s body on earth to declare that Jesus leaves the earth entrusting the ministry of proclaiming the Good News to us his followers. Jesus leaves the earth with promises to his disciples that the next stage of God’s divine plan for our world will be accomplished through them with the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through them.

There is an ancient Christian legend says that on the day of Jesus’ Ascension, he was met in heaven by an angel who wanted to know how Jesus’ mission was to continue. “I have twelve friends who will be my witnesses,” Jesus said. “Is that all?” the angel asked. “What if they fail? What other plans do you have?” Jesus looked at the angel and said, “I have no other plans.”

From the witness of the 12 Apostles and the other disciples of Jesus, the advancement of God’s plans, purposes, and goals are placed into our hands to carry out. This huge and scary task is only possible as we submit our lives to Christ’s Authority to direct his church and as we continually depend on Christ our Advocate to continually pray for us and provide for our needs to proclaim him through our lives and words.

The Ascension of Jesus is the final chapter to Jesus’ earthly ministry. The mission of the church of glorifying God, loving our neighbors/communities, and making / nurturing followers of Christ within a faith community that Jesus began continues through us. The Mission of the church continues as we faithfully submit our lives, both personal and communal as a church, to follow our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord. I hope we all feel honored that the one who reigns over us, who advocates and prays for us, also invites and calls to participate in God’s Mission on earth. We do so not with our own limited strength, or abilities, or wisdom or vision, but with promise of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave to his disciples and which was fulfilled on the seven days later

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

As we prepare for the next adventure of participating with Christ in this time and and in the post Covid-19 world, let keep our hearts, minds, and spirits attuned to the beat of Christ’s Kingdom of God rhythms as we rely on the empowerment and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Amen!

Special Music: “Send me” sung by Denise Graves
from the Maranatha Music Presents: Lord I lift your name on high, March for Jesus CD

Closing Prayer

O God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all life,
You have begun the work of creating a new world,
a world where justice is known,
where freedom and healing are available to all people.
We pray for the places in the world that are caught up in violence,
where people are held captive or struggle under oppressive powers,
and where sickness prevails, and medical resources are scarce.

Grant those affected courage and perseverance through your Spirit.
May people everywhere find the fullness of life you intend for us all.

You have begun the work of creating a new community,
a community where love is shared, and all find a sense of belonging.
We pray for groups who are made to feel like they don’t belong,
for families that caught up in tension or strife,
and for those who feel isolated or desperate because no one seems to care.

Grant them all courage and comfort through your Spirit.
May people everywhere find the fullness of life you intend for us all.

You have begun the work of making a new creation,
a creation where all that has been broken is being restored,
where all that has been distorted is made right,
and what has been polluted or damaged is renewed.
We pray for the earth, the places where its natural balances are threatened
and species put at risk by human exploitation.

Send your healing Spirit to renew the earth and make us wiser stewards.
May creatures everywhere know the fullness of life you intend for us all.

We pray for the leaders Israel and the Palestinians leaders of Gaza
to stop the violence, to put pride aside, and to work out a peace agreement
that will help all to be safe and thrive in that region.

As you work towards making all things new,
we pray for renewal in our churches and ministries,
for leaders tired out by the responsibilities of coping with pandemic demands,
and for church members who have drifted away in the months of distancing.

Send your energizing Spirit to gather the church in ways both familiar and new.
May your servants in every church know the fullness of life you intend for us all
and be empowered to bear witness to Jesus in refreshing ways.
For together we offer the prayer he taught us:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.

The Offering

Donations for St. Paul’s can be sent by mail to St. Paul’s, Box 1264, Banff, AB, T1L 1B3. If you want to make an e-transfer, then please contact the church (stpaulsbanff@telus.net) for instructions as to how to do this.

Pastoral Charge and Blessing (Romans 15:13)

The risen Christ is with us.
Let us give thanks for God’s eternal presence with us.
Let us go forth, witnessing to the good news of God’s blessing and healing.

And may the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Mission Moment –Transform Online Course

Last fall, ministry leaders from across Canada came together for The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Transform online course. Over four weeks, Rick Morse—co-creator of the New Beginnings church renewal program and author of Making a Congregational Plan that Makes Sense—challenged leaders to imagine what it means to faithfully respond to God’s mission and engage others to be missional. The course, which was made possible through gifts to Presbyterians Sharing, equipped leaders with the transformative tools, principles and insights necessary to discern God’s call for their ministries’ futures and create plans for moving forward.

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, May 16 (Ascension Sunday) We give thanks for creative faith formation programs that congregations have developed to nurture people’s faith.

Monday, May 17 We pray for the Cariboo House Churches in B.C. and their pastor, the Rev. Mark Carter, as they reach out to those who live in remote areas of the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

Tuesday, May 18 We thank God for opening eyes to racism against Indigenous people in Canada, and for moving hearts to turn knowledge into action.

Wednesday, May 19 We pray for the Canadian Council of Churches and the unity of the whole church as its governing board meets over the next few days, and we give thanks for presbyteries who serve the Council in a variety of ways.

Thursday, May 20 We pray for Winnipeg Inner City Missions (WICM) in Manitoba, and pray that healing hands provide health and well-being for the residents of WICM who struggle to make ends meet.

Friday, May 21 We pray for people who have been hurt in the church. May they all find a spiritual home within the broad unity of the body of Christ.

Saturday, May 22 We unite in prayer with KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, seeking change in Canada and around the world through advocacy, education and research programs in Indigenous rights, ecological justice, women of courage, and migrant justice.

Surprised by Joy (click here)

Welcome
Hello Everyone,
Thanks for joining us for worship today
on this 6th of Easter / Mother’s Day / Christian Family Sunday.

Call to Worship (Psalm 98:1-3)
“O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The LORD has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.”
Let us worship God

Opening Prayers
Holy God,
The power of your love is beyond comprehension,
the breadth of your compassion without measure.
In Jesus Christ, you have met us in the midst of life’s joys and challenges
and shown us what it means to love and be loved.
You have entrusted us with the greatest commandment
to love one another as Christ has loved us.
In this time of worship, we offer you our love and loyalty,
seeking to learn more of what love and loyalty mean for us
in the midst of our joys and challenges.
Receive our prayers and praise,
and through the power of your Spirit, draw us closer to you
and closer to each other as friends and followers of Christ, our Risen Lord.

Merciful God,
We confess we often find it difficult to love others as you commanded.
Though we intend to do your will, our priorities lead us in other directions.
We seek our own security before the well-being of others.
We fulfill our own desires rather than act for the common good.
We justify our own interests
and fail to understand the cost they take on the earth and other people.
Forgive us.
Redirect our priorities and renew our commitment to live out your love
even when it demands more of us than we expect.

Assurance of Pardon
Hear the good news! Who is in a position to condemn us? Only Christ—
And Christ died for us; Christ rose for us; Christ reigns in power for us; Christ prays for us. Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.
In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and made new by God’s generous grace.

Prayer for Understanding
Lord, we long for your wisdom and truth. Send your Holy Spirit to guide us as we listen. Prepare our ears to hear your Word and our hearts to receive it. Amen.

Scripture:
Psalm 98 A Song praising God for his salvation, mercy and judgments.
1 John 5:1-6 Faith conquers the world.
John 15:9-17 Jesus continues to speak to his disciples about loving one another.

Hymn: Come Children Join to Sing – Words by Christian H. Batemen. Music: MADRID

Sermon: Surprised by Joy

“Surprised by joy” is the title of a book by C. S. Lewis. There is a three-fold play on words in this brief phrase. The first Surprise, Lewis recounts, was to be converted as an adult who had question and even mocked religion. His conversion to Christianity came at age 31, which surprised many of his scholarly friends who knew him as a determined skeptic and critical scholar. Lewis had been surprised by the joy of knowing and following Christ.

The second surprise was in coming late to another unexpected wonder. He met and married Joy Davidman Gresham later in life, at a time he had thought that the joy of marriage had passed.

The third surprise was the joy in Christ that he rediscovered after his wife Joy died and after a long difficult period of grief.

Anyone who has come to faith in Jesus as the Christ has in one way or another been surprised by joy of knowing him. Jesus declared that if we abide or remain or stay connected to God in love, then we would experience God’s joy. The joy of which Jesus speaks is a deep seated gladness that is not dependent upon circumstances, but flows from of a committed relationship with Christ.

I suspect many of us enjoy and love a good comedy, whether it be a good story, play, or movie that are filled with humor and resolved by a happy ending. The best comedies are not simply playful, but have twists and turns of plot and some reflection on the tragic elements of life. But, in the end, the tragic is upset and the story takes a happy turn. Comedies, too, are joyful surprises.

The gospel story is so called because it is basically a comedy. It is good news. It begins with a birth, an almost universally happy occurrence. It is filled with intrigue, with surprising turns and twists. It contains humorous stories and those that touch the darkest aspects of life. It nearly ends tragically, but finishes with one impossibly joyous event: the resurrection of Jesus. In that way the Gospel of Jesus is pure comedy.

This lesson from John’s gospel provides a glimpse of the whole nature of this comedic story. In John chapters 13-16, Jesus teaches his disciples once more, he gives a kind of farewell address which includes examples, assurances, and challenges. One of the surprises that farewell address is where Jesus declares his disciples to be his friends. This is rather remarkable joyous occasion for those who have been his missional students who have called Jesus their Lord/Master.

I grew up in a time when as a child, teen and young adult you addressed adults of a certain age as Mr. and Mrs. It was a big deal when a family friend or an adult invited you to call them by their first name. It was a change in the relationship from a formal one to a deeper friendship. I have to confess that even into my forties I still wanted to refer to my parent’s friends as Mr. or Mrs. as a sign of respect and love for them. I still consider it an honor, even in our informal age, the privilege of talking to someone using their first name.

When Jesus announces to his disciples or his students if you will, we realize from our perspective, even they didn’t fully comprehend this change of status in their relationship with Jesus that they have been through moments both tragic and comic as Jesus their teacher and Lord has led and taught them. They have walked long dusty roads and visited countless villages and homes together. They have shared miraculous moments and have seen the power of God at work in impossible ways. And now, in this final address, Jesus summarizes his lessons:
• These men are chosen to continue the journey.
• They are to act in love and to bear good fruits.
• They may even be called upon to lay down their lives for other people.
• They will not be alone. They have God’s love to sustain them.
• They have God’s promise that whatever they ask in Jesus’ name, they shall receive.

And, in the midst of this summary of his teaching, Jesus says the one of the reasons he told them these things is …
“so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11)

There it is, the happy twist, the comedy.

But there is a problem. It sounds wrong, doesn’t it? If his disciples remember Jesus’ teaching about love, they know that it will be a tremendous burden. Turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, thinking of others first, forgiving every wrong. Following God’s commandments is tough, even painful. Where is the joy in that?

Still, Jesus assures them that, although this life is one of sacrifice and pain, it is also a life of joy. The gladness comes for his followers, just as it did for Jesus, in living into the promises of faith.

Joy in faith is a promise of trusting God at his word and moving forward in life with those promises in mind. But it will not ring true if it is a promise only for others. Everyone knows the emptiness of the words, “I am happy for you.” How can we be deeply glad when something wonderful befalls another while we are left wanting? It is here we discover the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness has an aspect of selfishness to it. I am happy when I get what I want. But happiness is too often short-lived. When that which has made me happy or fulfilled disappears, I go back to being unfulfilled or unhappy.

Joy on the other hand arises out a love of God, that is unselfish and sacrifices for others. It is a sense that what has filled you, or others or me with something wonderful and good and need is worth celebrating. Our joy or gladness is made complete when others and ourselves experience the love, mercy, provision, glory and presence of God in their lives. This joy sustains us in the high and low moments of life.

The Rev. Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and author of many books writes in his book Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale that the gospel is more than tragedy and comedy. He says it is also fairy tale.

Tragically, Jesus dies. In comedic tradition, there is the joyous of endings: Jesus is risen. But, even more, the death and resurrection are for us. That, he says, is too good to be true. That is the fairytale quality of it all. It is something too wonderful to hope for. It is not just some happy couple living happily forever after; it is we who live with a joy that sustains us into eternity.

One might expect, then, that the followers of Christ would be a joy-filled people. Indeed, they were. Imagine the joy of those whom Jesus healed. Imagine joy of Lazarus’ family when Jesus tells him to come of his tomb. Imagine the joy of the first followers of Jesus whose sorrow is turned to joy on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Imagine the joy of first gentiles Christians when they are embraced and included by the early church. There is the great joy in being loved by God, being wrapped in God’s plans and desires for our world.

Going back to C. S. Lewis, who I talked about at the beginning of the sermon was not only surprised by joy, he could also describe the feeling of deep gladness that comes through an encounter with Christ.

In a series of books Lewis wrote to explain the Christian faith to children, beginning with the “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” Lewis speaks of the joy Christ offers us in this way.

Please note that Lewis used the character of a Lion named Aslan to represent Christ and the names of Susan and Lucy are two of the four children in his story who encounter the Christ-like Aslan.

“Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream, it feels as if it had some enormous meaning – either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again.

It was like that now. At the name of Aslan (that is Jesus Christ) each one of the children felt something jump in his inside…. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer. (C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe [New York: Collier/Macmillan, 19701, pp. 64-65].)

We are reminded today, that Jesus calls us no longer servants, but his friends. We have come to know the something of the completeness of God’s joy in our lives as we come to . . .
Know Christ more each day,
Show our love for Christ by following his commands and making sacrifices for others,
Bear the fruit of his love in our lives and witness for him each day.

My prayer for us today is we will never stop being surprised by God’s joy that God gives to us in and through the life and work of Christ our Lord and Friend. I would encourage you each day this week to reflect upon when you have experienced God’s love and joy throughout your day. Offer those moment to God with gratefulness and love.

To the One who has created us, redeemed us, and empowered us to be
his voices, feet, hands, and people in this time and place.
Be all glory, praise, and honor.
AMEN!

Closing Prayer
God of our lives and our loving,
We thank you for the signs of resurrection that are all around us,
showing that life is stronger than death.
Give us the grace to recognize and embrace the gifts of new life
that your love makes possible for us all,
as we pray for your resurrecting power to renew the world amid all its challenges.

God of home and family,
today we thank you for our families,
especially for our mothers and grandmothers.
We are grateful for their love and attention, their hard work
and the deep hope they have cherished for each one of us.
We honour before you each mother, grandmother and great grandmother
who has died;
and we pray for all those who have felt isolated from their families
in these months of pandemic.
Reunite us in your love.

God of connections and compassion,
Today we thank you for our friends and relations,
for the neighbours and fellow citizens who help to make our lives complete.
We thank you for smiles shared, helping hands offered, commitments honoured. And we pray for all those around us who are facing particular challenges this day…
(Keep a brief silence)

Restore our hope with your love.

God of courage and new possibility,
Today we pray for all those who have felt life or love slipping through their fingers in the times of distancing we’ve had to endure,
and for those who have struggled with their physical or mental health,
whatever the reason.
We pray for communities trying to sort out how to recover from the pandemic
and for all those worried about their personal future.
Encourage us with your love.

God of forgiveness and renewal:
Today we pray for those whose relationships are need of repair
and for all who work for peace and reconciliation in the face of deep divisions.
We pray for families, churches, communities and countries facing conflict,
and ask that your Spirit open hearts and minds to deeper understanding.
Reconcile us through your love.
As friends and followers of Jesus, we offer the words he taught us,
precious to the whole family that claims his love:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.

Charge / Benediction: Rom. 15:13
As Friends of Christ,
We go to love God
to love our neighbors and one another.

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Have great week. Stay safe!
Be a blessing to someone this week!

Mission Moment – Ministry of Hope and Care

Fernando’s dream of becoming a police officer seemed out of reach when he and his brother were children living on the streets of Miscke, a rural village in Romania. Twelve years later, he attends university and is closer to fulfilling his dream thanks to Samuel House, where Fernando and his brother found a welcoming home. Samuel House is a Christian social ministry of the Reformed Church in Romania, Királyhágómellék District, providing nutritious food, education and after-school care to children from disadvantaged families. Presbyterians Sharing has been supporting this important ministry of hope and care since 2014.

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, May 9 (Christian Family Sunday) We pray for the health and well-being of families, and that the relationships within them are marked by peace, love, trust and care.

Monday, May 10 We pray for the members of the Ministry Committee of the Presbytery of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. May they feel a strong sense of God’s presence.

Tuesday, May 11 We pray for rural and remote congregations, and for those who serve them.

Wednesday, May 12 We pray for the students graduating from Knox College today, who are looking forward to ministries in congregational leadership, spiritual care and psychotherapy, and theological teaching.

Thursday, May 13 (Ascension Day) We give thanks to God for Christ who was “manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 CSB).

Friday, May 14 We pray for the Rev. Maurice Davantin, Director of Formation Biblique et Théologique à Maurice, an ecumenical Theological Education by Extension program in Mauritius.

Saturday, May 15 We pray for people around the world who are striving to rise above poverty with educational opportunities and livelihood support through Presbyterian World Service & Development programs.

God’s Love Embodied through Us (click here)

Welcome:
Hello, I am glad you are worshipping virtually with us today.

Prayers of Adoration and Confession:
Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, you are the vine, and we are the branches.
Your love is our strength.
Your energy is our joy.
Your attentiveness is our hope.
Your power can transform even the most difficult situations.
You nourish our faith and imaginations so that we can bear fruit in many ways.
You promise we can dwell in you because you are dwelling in us.
We offer our praise to you,
and bring glory to God the Father, through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Fill us with the love you know as God, ever Three and ever One,
so that our love will honour you each and every day.

God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
We confess there are so many ways we fail to love you fully.
Forgive us for our lack of reverence for the earth
and for using up more than our share of its resources.
Forgive us for ignoring the cries of others
who know pain or discrimination which we dismiss as mere complaint.
Forgive us for seeking praise from others
yet failing to encourage them in their endeavours.
Forgive us, O God, and root our lives more deeply in your love.
This we pray and confess in the name of Christ our Redeemer.
Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

St. John records that God is love, and that God’s perfect love casts out fear.
Friends, we are promised that those who abide in love abide in God
and God abides in them. Claim your hope in this good news:
God’s perfect love abides in you through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymn: Love divine all loves excelling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPsxqQsnzJA

Prayer for Understanding

Holy Spirit, move in us and among us as we listen to the scriptures be read and interpreted. Open our minds and hearts to receive the Living Word so that we may be transformed to live as your Easter people. Amen.

Scripture:

Deuteronomy 10:12-22 The Essence of the Law
1 John 4:7-21 God is Love

Message: God’s Love Embodied through us.

The Book of Deuteronomy contains Moses’ final sermons to the people of God before they moved from 40 year wilderness journey into the land that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants.

The people of God who were once slaves in Egypt have needed 40 years to develop into a new nation with a common identity, a common history, and a common set of laws. A whole new generation has grown up in the desert and have heard the stories of what Egyptian captivity was like. They have heard stories of the older generation’s failure to be obedient to God. This has led the older generations to be prevented by God from entering the Promised Land. Sadly, Moses will be one of those who does not enter the Promised Land because of his disobedience.

So if you are Moses, what do you teach and what do you share with the generation that is about to fulfill their destiny as the People of God in the Promised Land? What do you want the generation headed for the Promised Land to remember and do?

Moses takes this opportunity that God has given him to remind the people of God in chapters 1-4, of the events that shaped and created them as a people. They take with them their primary confession that will guide all they do which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is God alone.” They have been reminded that their primary responsibility is to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

Moses reminds them in the context of his final series of sermons of the important commandments that will govern their individual and communal lives with each other and with the people they will encounter in the Promised Land. The living out of these commands will witness to the nations of their love and loyalty to God who has saved them from slavery.

Whereas some of the laws that direct how they are to love God and live with each other in Deuteronomy sound odd to us today, like not farming with an ox and donkey yoked together (Deuteronomy 22:10) when farming is done with tractors today. On the other hand, some directives from God make perfect sense for every age, for example, the law in Deuteronomy 24:17-18 declares that Israel should not deprive anyone in their society of justice. This law, as Moses reminds the people, comes out of God’s merciful and redemptive action of freeing them from slavery. The command to love their neighbors by showing and doing justice to all still applies today as much as it did in Moses’ day. Many laws spell out how to do this.

The laws that required the people of God to leave part of their crops for the poor are still worth following today. When we support the food banks of Banff and Canmore, we faithfully follow not only the Deuteronomic law to look after the poor, but also the teachings of Jesus who said we when we offer help to the least we have done it unto to him.

These laws were meant to keep Israel ever humble and mindful of the fact that God heard their cries for help and has and continues to show his great mercy to them and specifically chose them because they were the least of all nations. Therefore, they were not to overlook anyone especially the least in their society.


Harold Kushner in his book “Who Needs God” tells the short story about the wife of a British colonel in India. She was expecting important guests for tea one afternoon. She looked out from her front porch after lunch & was horrified to see that the man who swept the leaves off her stairs every morning had not shown up for work. When he finally got there, she tore into him. “Don’t you realize what you’ve done to me? Do you know who’s coming here in an hour? I ought to fire you and see to it that you don’t get another job anywhere in the city!”

Without looking up the man said, “I’m sorry. My little girl died during the night and we had to bury her today.”

For the first time, the colonel’s wife began to see this man as something more than just a device that swept her stairs every day. [Harold Kushner, Who Needs God (New York: Summit Books, 1989), p. 100.]

What an important eye opening experience it was for this particular woman. The ability to see people as people, who are in need of the of grace and mercy of God as much as we are. This is an act of love for God that is inspired by God.

The story of the colonel’s wife reminds us of how the “Black Lives Matter” and “the Me Too” movements, the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Calls to Action” and other groups that advocate for those have not been seen or heard in our society. The call to love God who is unseen by loving the neighbor who is before us is in our midst is a theme that is present throughout the Scriptures.

The numerous laws that were given by God to God’s people flow out of God’s love for people. There is a love expressed for those who are part of God’s family, those who live among and with God’s family (the stranger /alien), those on the fringes of society (the poor and widows), and a concern for animals who share the same day of creation with humans.

This important theme and directive of God loving us and us in turn loving one another is highlighted in 1 John 4:11-12, 21, we read
“Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
What John declares here, must surely have come out of his memory of what Jesus said when asked by the Pharisees “What is the greatest commandment?” John would have remembered that Jesus boiled down all the hundreds of laws in Exodus to Deuteronomy to two:
1) love God
2) love neighbor as self.

I don’t know about you, but I like that. I like simple. Simple is good. Simple memorable principles are better at guiding us that a whole bunch of detailed laws.

I appreciate that Jesus simplified the application of how to love neighbor by telling us to treat others as we would have them treat us. But just because something is simple and easily remembered doesn’t mean that it is easily done. We know we are to love our neighbor and treat others with justice, mercy, and love, but have you caught yourself in one of these situations:

• Paying for items at a store without ever noticing the store clerk or noticing their name is or asking them how their day is going or blessing them with “Hope you have good day?

• Becoming impatient at someone in line ahead of you at a store or fast food restaurant, who places a special order?

• Pointing out what a person hasn’t done, before you’ve acknowledged the good work they have done?

• Tuning out or ignoring opinions that disagree with your views or individuals or Scripture that you have a difficult time with.

• Focusing more on your response to a person your opinions rather than truly listening, hearing and understanding what they have said?

We all do foolish stuff like this all the time without even thinking about it. We normally do the uncaring stuff like this when our focus is off of what God has done for us and what God requires of us. Is it any wonder that Moses continually calls upon Israel to remember what God has done for them and who they are in relation to God?

Jesus, during his last night with his disciples gave his final instructions to them before his suffering and death. Jesus spoke numerous times about love that evening just has he had throughout his ministry. He spoke of staying connected to God as a vine does with a branch. He reminded the disciples of God’s redeeming, sacrificial, and saving love for them and the world. Jesus shared that the world would identify them as his disciples by the way they loved each other and those around them.

It is our everyday acts of love, inspired by God’s love for us, that point the people of our lives to Him. For example . . .

• Looking for ways to serve and help those you encounter throughout your day.

• Wearing a mask to keep others safe and getting vaccinated.

• Letting our eyes show the covered smiles on our faces as we walk by someone.

• Hearing the perspective and stories of those whose pain has not been heard or responded to before.

• Calling, e-mailing, texting, writing someone to say you’re thinking about them today.

• Doing something extra for somebody or part of someone else’s job, not because you have to, but because you know it will make their life a little easier.

It is those simple acts of love and kindness that mean so much to others and to us. These acts of love give witness to the fact that we are followers of Jesus. Our loving words and actions are the visible and tangible evidence of God’s love in us. Just as God’s love took human form in Jesus the Christ, so God’s love continues to take human form in our loving words and actions.

We need to remember that the most of the of the ministry and mission of the church does not happen on Sunday or in the church building, but rather it happens in the places where we live, work, play, socialize, and interact with people who have yet to connect to Christ in a meaningful way. It is in those places where by the grace of God we bring and demonstrate God’s love to a hurting and struggling world one person at a time.

John reminds us that we are God’s loved ones so let us
love one another,
because love is from God;
everyone who loves
is born of God and knows God.
(1 Jn 4:7).
AMEN!

Prayers of the People:

Lord Jesus Christ, we draw near to you in prayer this day,
trusting that your love changes lives
and your resurrection brings hope into the world God loves.
You have drawn near to us and walk with us through every challenge.
We are so grateful for signs of hope even in the midst of the pandemic,
for vaccine distribution and recovery plans,
for generosity and creativity offered in so many surprising corners.
As we lay before you the concerns on our hearts today,
draw near to those we name, and bring the gift that is needed.

We lay before you, Lord, those who are in the news headlines this week
and situations in the world where justice and renewal are desperately needed:
(pray in silence)

We lay before you, Lord, those who are in hospital or care
and all those who struggle with illness, pain or health burdens of any sort:
(pray in silence)

We lay before you, Lord, families under stress, relationships that are strained,
and friends and neighbours in need of reconciliation:
(pray in silence)

We lay before you, Lord, people seeking food, homes or jobs in these hard times,
and those worried about economic recovery from the pandemic:
(pray in silence)

We lay before you, Lord, those who face discrimination daily,
and who lack respect and opportunity because of their identity,
or fear violence in their daily lives:
(pray in silence)

Lord Jesus, we believe that you hear our prayers
and will be faithful to our requests and concerns.
Help us seize the moments you give us to reach out to our neighbours
and show them the love you have to share.

And so we pray together the words you taught us:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.

Pastoral Blessing (1 Thess. 3:12-13)

We go into this new week to embody the love of God
In our words and actions just as Jesus did.

May the Lord make your love
for one another
and for all people
grow more and more.
May God strengthen you
and make you perfect and holy
in the presence of our God and Father
when our Lord comes with all who belongs to him.
Amen.

* * * * * * * *

Mission Moment – May 2, 2021 – Empowering Youth in Malawi

The people in Malawi’s Mzimba District face many challenges. School dropout rates are high and teen pregnancy is on the rise. More women are experiencing gender-based violence, and there is a lack of knowledge about HIV transmission and prevention. To help address and educate the community about these issues, Presbyterian World Service & Development’s local partner, Livingstonia Synod AIDS Programme, has trained 20 community facilitators to teach parents how to nurture adolescents. The facilitators help parents engage youth on issues such as sexual and reproductive health, teen pregnancy, early marriage and the transmission of HIV. The project has been successful in encouraging adolescents to return to school after dropping out.

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, May 2 We pray for Eastern Orthodox Christians as they celebrate Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord.

Monday, May 3 We pray for the candidates for ministry and the guidance counsellors who will gather to engage in dialogue and reflection about vocation and discernment during the Guidance Conference this week.

Tuesday, May 4 (Asian Heritage Month) We give thanks for Asian cultures and people in Canada, and pray that their rich contributions to our history and our nation be honoured and remembered.

Wednesday, May 5 We pray for graduating theological students who are beginning the process of seeking a call to a congregation.

Thursday, May 6 We give thanks and pray for clerks of Session as they, with ministers and fellow elders, provide leadership and pastoral care in congregations.

Friday, May 7 We pray for the ministries and mission of the Presbytery of Western Han-Ca.

Saturday, May 8 We pray for the safety of LGBTQI2+ refugees seeking sanctuary in Canada, and give thanks for the congregations and sponsors supporting them.

Shepherding us through challenging times

Welcome:
Hello everyone and thanks for joining us for worship today.
There is no video for this week due to my illness.

Opening Prayers:
Lord God, our good and loving shepherd,
You nourish our lives and lead us into green pastures.
You restore our souls with rest and peace.
You give us true joy so our cup overflows with goodness.
You walk with us through the darkest valleys,
offering us courage and compassion.
At all times and in all circumstances, you are with us,
Creator, Redeemer and Guiding Spirit,
so we praise you, Holy One, now and always. Amen.

Patient God, your mercy is abundant and your love endless.
Trusting in your mercy,
we confess that often we have not shown your love to others,
even though we claim it for ourselves.
You have called us to show compassion,
but too often we are quick to judge others.
You have been called to follow Jesus,
yet we are distracted by our own plans and desires.
Forgive us for falling short of your hopes for us
and renew a right spirit within us.

Assurance of Forgiveness:
Hear the words of the risen Christ: Peace be with you.
Receive the peace and forgiveness of Christ,
and rejoice in his gift of new life this day and every day. Thanks be to God.

Prayer for Understanding:
God of Story and Song, through the scriptures you have taught us of your love,
and lifted our hearts in praise. Send us your Holy Spirit as we listen to the witness of your people, so that we may claim the story of your redeeming love again and praise you with our lives through Christ, our Lord and Guide. Amen.

Hymn: Saviour like a shepherd lead us

Scripture:

Psalm 23:1-6, A Song Praise of God the Shepherd
John 10:1-18, Jesus the Gate and the Good Shepherd

Message: Shepherding us through challenging times.

The Good Shepherd is one of the most beloved images of Jesus. Many artists have portrayed Jesus as the Good Shepherd on canvas, stained glass, and sculpture. One of the earliest pictures I have of Jesus is that of him holding a lamb in his arms.

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd brings to mind images of a lonely Shepherd on a green hill side watching over a flock of sheep. Perhaps we think of the shepherds who were the first visitors to Jesus’ birth. Perhaps you have an image of Jesus as the one standing guard over the sheep at night with his staff at the ready to protect the sheep.

In John 10, Jesus declares himself to be the Good Shepherd. Jesus contrasts himself to the leaders of the Jewish community who had argued with him over the healing of a man born blind in Chapter 9. The leaders who should have been rejoicing in the miraculous healing of the blind man, had instead used the healing as an opportunity to condemn Jesus for healing on the sabbath. In doing so, they reveal their spiritual blindness to who Jesus is as One who comes from God to bring wholeness and salvation to mind, body and spirit. They reveal an outrageous lack of empathy for anyone who doesn’t meet their criteria for who is faithful and who is unfaithful, who belongs to God’s sheep fold and who is excluded from God’s sheep fold. They reveal a lack of understanding of God’s gracious plans, purposes, and mission in the world. Jesus provides a glaring gracious and loving alternative to the “I am right. You’re wrong. Don’t care about you or your questions” focus of the Pharisees and Scribes.

In response to the harsh and critical treatment the Jewish leaders have displayed to the blindman, his family and to himself, Jesus makes the bold declaration that he is the “Gate for the Sheep” in verses 1-10 and the “Good Shepherd” in verses 11-18

In using the language of “I am the. . .” declarations of himself, as Jesus does throughout John’s gospels, he links and connects himself to God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and declared “I AM the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6). And further when Moses asks God for his name, God replies to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14)

Jesus’ “I AM the . . .” declarations were clear self-revealing proclamations to his listeners, both friend and foe alike, that He was God’s obedient servant. In doing so, Jesus declares himself to be more in line and in sync with Gods plans, purposes, and mission than the Pharisees and Scribes who are accusing him of being a sinner and unfaithful to God in his words and actions.

Jesus announced that as Gatekeeper, he and not the Pharisees and Scribes was the protector and guardian of God’s people. He came to offer God’s people the abundant life of God’s grace and provision which heals and draws us close to God. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day had acted like thieves and bandits who hurt, harmed, and stole people away from God and his gift of abundant life.

Jesus also declares that the Pharisees and Scribes who have been trained to know the Scriptures have not understood the merciful nature of God’s plans, purposes, and mission to include all into his family. Why would you not rejoice in the miraculous healing of blind man, unless you continued to deem him outside of God’s favor. Why would you not embrace the man, unless you deemed him unworthy to be a part of God’s family.

Jesus gives the man the abundant life God offers through his mercy and welcomes him into God’s family as Jesus has done with other sheep the Pharisees and scribes have rejected.

Jesus declares himself to be the One who stands at the door or gate of the place where God’s people find security and protection from the predators who want to harm them and / or to take advantage of them.

It has been interesting to me how many conversations I have had with colleagues across denominational lines over the role of the pastor, church leadership, and members during the past year. Much of the discussion has focused on our role to be communicators of factual, up to date, verified information about Covid-19 and to encourage the people of our congregations to live wisely and safely during these times. With so much misinformation and conspiracy theories being shared in numerous ways, our role of helping people to discern what is helpful and what is harmful. I know we don’t always agree on what information is helpful or harmful, but it always important to check the source of the information. Is the source of information motivated out of love for the community or out self interest? What sacrifices has the source of the information made for the common good? These standards are ones I see in life and work of Jesus who corrects misinformation about God, provides a better alternative to human foolishness, and who loves and sacrifices for other’s well being.

Jesus declared that the sheep would follow Him because the sheep know his voice, know it so well, that when anyone tries to mimic it or tries to lead them away, they will run away from it.

This made me think of a voice that very present in my life growing up. The Los Angeles Dodgers posted on their Facebook the long time and now retired announcer Vin Scully wearing his new World Series Champion ring. For those who grew up listening to Vin Scully announce Dodgers games as my grandparents, parents, my siblings and my children have, Vin Scully is the kind, gentle, informative voice of the Dodger organization. Dodger fans who listened to him love him with his recognizable voice and love the way he pastored the Dodgers and us in good times and low times.

In a much greater way, those who know Jesus as their Good Shepherd know his voice and can discern his voice from the multitude of voices of our time that cry out for attention. We can trust his voice, because it is voice that embodies the grace, forgiveness, empathy, community building, protective and self-sacrificing voice of God in our midst.

In his role as the Good Shepherd, Jesus’ voice guides us in these troubled times to look not to our own interests, but to the interest of others. His voice calls us not to insist upon our rights, because Jesus didn’t do that although he could have when he lived among us. His voice calls us to love one another, forgive one another, serve one another. Jesus’ voice encourages us to worship and praise God with one another, to show empathy to another. His voice inspires us to refrain from judging one another, to embrace one another as people who all fall short of God’s desires for us, and to understand that we all stand on equal ground before the cross of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

I test every bit of information and guidance that comes my way by the against what Jesus taught and did. Jesus emphasized that as Good Shepherd he was different from every other leader of his day (as well as ours) because he was willing and would lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus stuck around and stood up for those who were abused, rejected, and excluded from the faith community.

Many leaders fell into the category of hired hands, leaders who were out for personal gain, status in their community, who spent the minimum in taking care of God’s people, and who sacrificed little or nothing of themselves for the sake of others. Jesus by contrast was the One who knew his people, who called them to follow him, who sought them out, and who included them in God’s flock. There were more sheep to be rounded up and included into God’s family under his loving, guiding, protecting, feeding, life offering shepherding presence.

And where is Christ the Good Shepherd guiding us today?

There is a deep fear of the future that haunts us and the church. What will the church locally and globally be like when we move beyond the pandemic? Many speculate that the need for people to gather together will be greater than ever. The church with its emphasis on community is in the perfect place to respond to the need for community. When we are able to gather again unhindered, our past history of showing hospitality to members, locals and visitors will kick into high gear. I believe we will be ready and willing to do so as we have always done. The Good Shepherd will continue to guide us in our ministry of community building.

The Good Shepherd also reminds us that there are other sheep who do not belong to the flock, but who know the voice of Jesus, and who must be sought out. We have learned in the past year that worship, ministry and mission are not contained to a specific building, but happen in the caring, loving, informed ministry and witness of God’s people wherever they are. I believe we must intentionally focus our attention on showing up in the community where people gather. We are called to gather as Christ’s followers, but then we are always sent out into the community to be witnesses, servants and agents of healing for Christ. Lost sheep will be encountered as they have always been in the community outside of Sunday worship. We must trust the Good Shepherd to lead us to where we need to be present and to lead us to those we are to embrace and welcome in His name.

Lastly, the is passage reminds us that we need to continue know to the Good Shepherd intimately as he knows us intimately. Jesus has set the bar high for how we are to lovingly interact with another and care for one another. We have all missed the face to face interactions with one another during the past year. We have adapted to our circumstances and have learned to care for each other from a distance. But we know it is not the same as being together. I believe it will be important for us to spend some more time together to get reacquainted with each other to make up for lost time. Some creative thinking and dreaming by each of us would help us to know each other better in the future.

I am assured that Jesus the Gate of the Sheep and Jesus the Good Shepherd, who loves, knows, and sacrificed his life for us, will continue to protect, guide, and nourish our minds, bodies and spirits as we to listen to and follow his caring voice that gathers us together and who sends us out into our community.
To Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be all praise, honor and glory. AMEN.

Prayers of the People:
Gracious and loving God,
as a shepherd cares for the flock, so you care for each one of us.
Move in our hearts and minds, our congregations and communities,
and lead us to care for one another for the sake of Jesus,
our Good Shepherd.
Today we thank you for the gift of rest.
We pray for all those who are tired from work or worry,
especially in these days of pandemic.
Grant peace to those who are worn out with anxiety or frustration,
and rest for all those who are weary from the responsibilities of their work.
Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God our Guide,
we thank you for the gifts of truth and wisdom.
We pray for those who cannot discern truth in the midst of conspiracy theories,
and for all who suffer under authorities who distort reality for their own ends.
Grant wisdom and common sense to all who must make decisions
in these confusing days of competing arguments.
Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God our Strength,
we thank you for the ways you refresh our souls.
We pray for those whose lives are burdened with poverty
or with uncertainty about the future beyond the pandemic.
We remember all who face any sort of trial or difficulty,
those who are sick, in pain, or facing death,
and those who are bereaved by the loss of someone dear.
For all of these precious souls, be their source of healing and peace.
Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God our Shield and Defender,
we thank you for staying with us when we face danger or death.
We pray for all those who live in fear:
prisoners, exiles and refugees,
victims of oppression, racism and hatred,
those who know the threat of violence day after day.
Be for them a steady companion and their source of courage.
Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God our Provider,
we thank you for all the ways you fill our cup to overflowing.
Thank you for offering peace and calm in the midst of turmoil,
for the return of happiness after times of strife,
and for insight emerging after confusion and indecision.
Help us recognize your redeeming gifts which guide us and give us hope.
Show us how we can be part of your redeeming work
unfolding in the world around us,
and bless the ministries undertaken through The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
Bless those who serve in challenging missions in Canada
and around the world.
Equip them well to reach out in love and respect, together with local partners,
to accomplish your will in Jesus’ name.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.
Amen.

Pastoral Blessing (Heb. 13:20-21)

The God of peace,
who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great shepherd of the sheep,
by the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you complete in every good gift
so that you may do God’s will.
May God work among us
all that which is pleasing in God’s sight
through Jesus Christ,
to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
.
* * * * * * * *

Mission Moment – April 25, 2021

Arising
ARISE Ministry offers compassionate outreach and spiritual care to survivors of sexual exploitation living in the Greater Toronto Area. Inspired by Jesus’ healing of the woman who was afflicted for 18 years with a condition that kept her bent over (Luke 13:10–17), ARISE aims to help those who have been living “bent over” by exploitation, trauma, abuse and addiction. Staff and volunteers work with vulnerable women, youth and children by providing one-on-one, goal-oriented support. As relationships strengthen, hope and empowerment are fostered, making it possible for futures to be reclaimed. Like the woman in the gospel of Luke, several women that ARISE has helped are now standing straight and tall, and God continues to do amazing things in their lives. This is a reason to rejoice!

Prayer Partnership
Sunday, April 25 (Mission Awareness Sunday) We remember in prayer and give thanks for all former and current mission staff who, in faith, accepted God’s call to participate in God’s mission in Canada and globally.

Monday, April 26 We pray for the people, ministries and mission of the Presbytery of Montreal in Que.

Tuesday, April 27 We pray for congregations that are concerned about finances, and that God will provide the resources they need to continue the ministry they are called to do.

Wednesday, April 28 We pray that congregations that are searching for a new minister will be filled with hope, wisdom and patience.

Thursday, April 29 We pray for the Forum for Intercultural Leadership and Learning as it works to build a society and churches that fully honour diversity and God’s unequivocal welcome.

Friday, April 30 We pray for university students completing the academic year, that God brings them peace as they complete this part of their journey and move on to the next.

Saturday, May 1 We pray for those who are grieving the deaths of loved ones who they were not able to comfort and say goodbye to because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Grace in the darkness: walking in the light

Our minister is off sick this Sunday. His friend the Rev. Ena Van Zoeren of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Salmon Arm, British Columbia is providing this week’s sermon based on Easter 2, Year B Lectionary texts. Thanks Ena for for sharing God’s word with us this Sunday.

Lord of the Dance

Welcome:
Hello everyone and thanks for joining us for worship today.
There is no video for this week.

Opening Prayers:
God of new life,
we come to you, rejoicing in the mystery of the Risen Christ,
present among us always, even when we least expect him.
We marvel at your constant love,
your victory over evil and death,
and your resurrecting hope which embraces us in every circumstance.
Trusting in these gifts, we seek to live as Easter people in every place and time.
Strengthen us with the gift of your Holy Spirit in this time of worship,
and bless us with your peace through Christ, our Risen Lord.

Yet even as we delight in Easter’s promise,
let us confess the ways we fail to live it out:

Merciful God,
we confess there are times when our trust in you weakens,
and we become anxious about many things.
We talk about love,
but we are gripped by fear of those who differ from us.
We cling to our personal agendas
and forget you call us to live as a community of believers.
Forgive us for seeking our own interests before the needs of others.
Open our eyes to the many signs of your love for us.
Through the power of your Holy Spirit, rekindle our passion for you,
so we can work together to witness to your love.
Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness:
Hear the words of the risen Christ: Peace be with you.
Receive the peace and forgiveness of Christ,
and rejoice in his gift of new life this day and every day. Thanks be to God.

Prayer for Understanding:
Breathe your Holy Spirit upon us, O Lord, as we listen to the scriptures.
Open our minds and hearts to receive your Living Word, and be filled with renewed hope.
We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Song: Lord of the Dance

Reflection: “Lord of the Dance”
(Note: Bible passages are included throughout this reflection)

As Christians with a Presbyterian / Reformed bias, the hymn and spiritual songs are second only to the scriptures as being the most important source of the inspiration and content of our worship and spiritual growth.

On the first Sunday after Christmas I typically reflect upon Christmas carol or two, exploring their history, theology, themes, and their meaning for us. I explore these mini-sermons / poems put to music to enable us use their words to worship God and encourage one another in new and deeper ways.

On this first Sunday after Easter I thought I would explore with you the song “I danced in the morning” or sometimes called “Lord of the dance.” It was written by English poet and songwriter Sydney Carter and was published in 1963. He also wrote another song we know “One more step along the world I go.”

The tune for his song was based on the American Shaker tune “Simple gifts.” The Shakers are a Christian sect that was founded in England 1747 and organized in the United states in the 1780’s. Shakers were known for their ecstatic behavior when they were filled with the Holy Spirit where they would literally shake, hence the name Shakers. The Shakers lived communally holding all things in common. They were an egalitarian faith community whose leadership was shared equally between men and women. They were known for their simple living, their architecture, technological renovations, and their furniture.

Their worship services included dance, marches, singing that were accompanied with symbolic movements. Carter chose the Shaker tune as it inspires one to move or dance as one sings the words of this song about Jesus’ life and work. The tune to “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness” has the same effect on inspiring us to sway with the music as we sing about the work of the Holy Spirit in the formation, life, and witness of the church.

Carter also drew inspiration for his song from an image of the Hindu dancing deity Shiva.

The words of “Lord of the Dance” were inspired by a medieval song entitled “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day.” If you look up this song on Wikipedia you’ll find many similarities to Carter’s song.

Carter’s song, like the one that inspired it, portrays Jesus’ life and mission as a dance and is told by Jesus in the first person. The use of comparing Jesus to a dancer and his message to a dance fits in well with the use of allegory and symbolism that the Shakers and others have used to communicate the story and message of Jesus throughout the years.

Two prime examples of others who have used allegory in a powerful way are Puritan preacher Paul Bunyan’s 1678 allegory of the Christian life “Pilgrim Progress” and Calvin Miller’s “The Singer” trilogy published in 1975, where Jesus is portrayed as a singer and the gospel as a song. These symbolic and allegorical stories help us to connect us the story of Christ emotionally, visually, and imaginatively.

The church from its beginning has used symbolism, imagination, and the arts to share the story of Christ’s life and work among ourselves and with the world. Our use of the monitors in our worship, showing images as well as words has helped both right brained (creative / image focused) people and left brained (verbal / fact focused) people to deepen their worship experience of God.

Now for the content of the song.

Verse 1 points to Jesus as the creator of the universe and to his incarnation as the child of Bethlehem.

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had My birth

This verse has John 1:1-14 and Luke 2:1-7 reflected in it. John uses symbolic language to communicate how Jesus, the eternal Word / logos / wisdom of God became human and moved in our neighborhood to reveals God grace and truth to us. Luke, the historian of Jesus and the Early Church gives us the details of Jesus’ birth.

Carter points us to the beginning of the dance of God’s creative and redemptive activity in our world. It is the dance that we are invited to join in as we follow the lead of Jesus who is the Lord of the Dance.

Dance then wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said He
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the dance said He

Jesus is the Creator, Choreographer and Co-dancer with us in the dance of faithfulness to God that he creates and demonstrates for us.

I remember taking a ballroom dance class at university because my parents loved to dance and thought I might meet my future bride on the dance floor. It was a process of listening to the teacher, learning the steps with others in my class, and then dancing to the music both in class and whenever the occasion arose at weddings and family gatherings. There is something mystical and spiritual as the Shakers knew about being in step God as symbolized in their dances and marches.

Verse 2, highlights those who embraced Jesus as the Lord of the Dance, who participated in it with who did not join in and missed on the joy of dancing with Jesus. As one reads through the gospels, one sees this division of those who dance and those who refuse to dance with Jesus.

I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee
But they would not dance and they would not follow Me
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John
They came with Me and the dance went on

Some don’t always like the Jesus dance that the church is promoting and dancing to, while some can’t but help be moved to celebrate and appreciate the life giving and life affirming dance of Jesus. Carter reminds us that regardless of those who refuse to dance, the Dance / Gospel continues on through the actions and faith of Christ’s followers.

You’ll note in Carter’s poetry that lines 1-2 and lines 3-4 rhyme. We find an intentional pattern of rhyming, repetition, comparing, and restating ideas throughout the poetry of the Psalms and Prophets in their songs.

This creative poetic and musical form lend themselves to be easily remembered and easily brought to mind when we need to remember God’s words to us. I suspect we know the Christmas story because the carols we have sung over many years.

Verse 3 encourages us to recall the compassionate ministry of Jesus that often got him into trouble with religious authorities. Luke 5:12-39 provides some occasions where the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (Carter’s “holy people”) are angry with Jesus. This and similar incidents lead to the death of Jesus by crucifixion.

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame
They whipped and they stripped and they hung Me on high
And they left Me there on a cross to die

I wonder if Carter in this verse is wanting us to recall our own reactions to Jesus’ compassionate ministry. During Lent we looked at how people who encountered Jesus responded to Him. The Church has always struggled with how broad, wide, and high is the compassion and mercy of God? We have struggled with when do we embrace change and when we do oppose change within the church and within the larger society? When do we dance with Jesus to his compassionate and inclusive rhythms and when do we oppose Jesus and dance to the tune of our own drums? This is the question we typically ask on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday, but we cannot and should not limit this important question to a single Sunday or season of the church calendar. As Carter rightly reminds us, Jesus as the Lord of the Gospel dance, leads us in it “wherever you may be.”

Verse 4 directs more directly to the events of Good Friday.

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried My body and they thought I’d gone
But I am the dance, and I still go on

Carter pulls from the narrative and symbolism of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and then burial on Good Friday to be found in Mark 15:16-39, John 19:38-42

The image of the devil dancing of Jesus back brings to mind the great struggle Jesus had the devil from the time of temptations to the sacrifice Jesus makes for us. In the larger context of the life of the church, the “devil dancing on your back” points us to harsh treatment of Christians, around the world who have been persecuted, arrested, mistreated, and killed for their faith and in standing up for the least in their communities as well.

We are reminded to in Carter’s playful and insightful poetry that despite the death of Jesus and other set backs we face as a church in our time, the Gospel dance of Jesus continues and many continue to be inspired by Jesus’ grace and mercy under fire.

Verse 5, wraps up the song with a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

They cut Me down and I leapt up high
I am the life that’ll never, never die
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in Me
I Am the Lord of the Dance said He

I love the image of Jesus being cut down and then leaping high in the air as do many Irish Step Dancers do in their dance routines. It is a symbolic gesture of life and triumph depicted for us just as the jumping up and down of an athlete or sports team that wins their game or match.

This echoes for me the words of Paul in Romans 8:35-39
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And Jesus declared to his friends Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died, in John 11:25-26…
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

This verse highlights and celebrates the triumph and the assurance that resurrection brings to us that we celebrate on every Sunday, the day of Christ’s rising.

Whether we call our faithfulness to Jesus as discipleship, or following Jesus, or being born again, or our walk with God, or our dance with God, the focus is always to be on joining with God in his ongoing compassionate and redemptive mission in the world. We are to keep looking to Jesus the Lord of the Dance, the Head of the Church, the Alpha and Omega, the One who leads us in dance of faith and who calls to invite others to join us in this amazing dance of creation and recreation.

In this coming week may you “Dance then wherever you may be” Jesus, the Lord of the dance! AMEN.

Sources:

Lord of the Dance


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_of_the_Dance_(hymn)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomorrow_Shall_Be_My_Dancing_Day

Prayers of the People:

Thank you, loving God, for your renewing presence in our lives,
and for the many ways you make yourself known to us:
in words spoken in peace,
in actions that embody love,
in creation that awakens wonder within us,
and in worship that inspires faith and understanding.
With memories of the grace you have shown us,
and with confidence in you will yet show us more,
we pray that all people will come to know the life-giving joy we find in Christ.

We pray for those who are feeling fearful, worried or overwhelmed,
especially as the months of pandemic restrictions stretch on.
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for those who face violence and unrest each day,
in countries around the world and at home in our own community.
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for our national, provincial, and municipal leaders
as they lead planning for our communities to recover from the pandemic.
Give them wisdom and compassion,
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for our congregation, for churches in our community,
and for Christians around the world, especially those who face persecution.
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for our neighbours, especially for those who live in poverty
and those who know rejection and discrimination.
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for those who are ill, in pain or in grief.
We remember before you, silently or aloud, those on our hearts today:
(Keep silence for 20–30 seconds.)

Bring them comfort and strength,
Lord Jesus,
Reveal to them your risen presence.

God our Maker, hear our prayers,
and use us in ways we may not yet even imagine
to respond to those around us with the love we see in Jesus Christ
and the confidence we draw from his resurrection.
With hopeful hearts we offer the prayers to you this day.
In Christ we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Blessing (John Calvin)
We go into this new week to follow the lead
of Christ, the Lord of the Dance,
who leads us to experience, follow, and share
his Gospel dance he gives to us.

The grace of God the Father
and the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
dwell in us forever.
Amen.

* * * * * * * *

Mission Moment – April 11, 2021

Annakala Finds Answers at Shining Hospital
In Nepal, Annakala Nepali was living in significant discomfort. Severe problems with her fingers, along with loss of sensation in her legs and tingling in her body were followed by vision problems. In Annakala’s community, many people prefer traditional healers to address their medical problems—Annakala decided to do the same. However, she still suffered after the visit. Her daughter-in-law, on seeing her in pain and suspecting that it might be due to leprosy, encouraged Annakala to visit the Presbyterian World Service & Development-supported Shining Hospital. Once she was admitted to the hospital, she was officially diagnosed with leprosy and started treatment, which has improved her symptoms and pain. Annakala is very grateful for the Shining Hospital’s care, love and support.

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, April 11 We pray for all those who are suffering from illness or long-term health conditions. May Christ’s healing be received and experienced.

Monday, April 12 We pray for those in the Order of Diaconal Ministries who serve the church in areas of Christian education, pastoral care and social ministry.

Tuesday, April 13 We pray for our Muslim neighbours as they fast and pray during the month of Ramadan.

Wednesday, April 14 We pray for the ministry of congregations and missions receiving grants this spring, that their programs and initiatives will share the love of Christ in their communities.

Thursday, April 15 We pray for the Continuing Education Grants Committee as they meet this month and consider applications from ministers seeking to enrich their ministry with further study.

Friday, April 16 We pray for the ministries and mission of the Presbytery of Central Alberta.

Saturday, April 17 We pray for farmers in Guatemala receiving support from Presbyterian World Service & Development to improve their harvests by protecting their soil and water resources.

You are the Resurrected and Resurrecting One


Mark’s ending of his Gospel is surprising. It reminds us fear and bewilderment are associated with Christ’s resurrection as well as joy and praise. Since God raised Jesus from the dead, you never know how God’s will raise us from our sorrow and anxieties.