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Reflections on Wednesday’s Tragic Events (click here)

Welcome

Thanks for joining us for our online worship for January 10, 2021

Call to Worship
Speaking words of love, God creates us, calls to us, and claims us as God’s own.
Speaking words of love,
we too can create, call, and claim God’s beauty and glory in the world.
Let us worship God!

Opening Prayers
Majestic Jesus,
we come into presence humbly and yet confident of your love and friendship.
We worship you as the King and Head of the Church.
We acknowledge and surrender ourselves
to your lordship over all the kingdoms of this earth.
All glory, honor and praise belong to you from all of your creation.

Righteous God,
We confess first and foremost in your holy and loving presence,
that you are God and we are not.
You have crowned Jesus Christ as Lord of all.
But sadly confess that we have not bowed before him,
and are slow to acknowledge his rule.
Too often we give into the values and attitudes of the powers of this world,
and we fail to be guided and directed by your values of love, justice, and sacrifice.
Like our ancient spiritual ancestors Adam and Eve,
we cling to our deep seated desire to determine what is right, true, and worth treasuring for ourselves.

Lord in your mercy,
forgive us our foolishness and our betrayals of your authority and love.

Remind us as we bow before your throne of grace and truth,
that Christ the King came to bring truth into our confusion,
peace into turmoil, and joy into our sorrow.
And the truth is that in Christ’s Kingdom,
there is no condemnation for those who put their trust in Christ.
Help us to believe in the God News and be at peace you and with one another.
This we ask in the name of Christ our Lord,
whose name we pray. Amen.

Hymn: “Rejoice the Lord is King” Emu Music

Prayer for Understanding

O Lord, as you have given us the gift of your Son and the gift of your life giving Word. So now O Lord, we give you the gift our attention and openness to be led by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Scripture
Ecclesiastes 8:1-9
Psalm 146
John 18:33-38
John19:16-22

Sermon: Reflections on Wednesday’s Tragic Events

This past Wednesday, we witnessed the tragic, horrible, and once thought impossible events in Washington, D. C. where individuals loyal to the current President of the United States broke into Capital building to stop and disrupt the lawful process of counting the votes of the Electoral College to officially make Joe Biden the President Elect of the USA. It was a sad day for democracies around the world who joined in denouncing the persons and events that led up to it and violence that ensued.

I am heartbroken for the land of my birth, upbringing, the nation that helped to shape my values and ideals along with my family and my Christian faith. I am grieved and lament that so many have bought into lies and misinformation spread those in authority.

The way I am currently making sense of it is to return to the wisdom of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes. Our passage today focuses on “How do you live with kings” or in our case politicians “who frustrate us and drive us crazy?” Every generation has had to wrestle with this issue.

In Israel’s and Judah’s history of having kingly rule, only 24% can be said to have ruled wisely, followed God’s ways, and whose rule benefited the people of God under their care. The rest of the kings, or 76% of the kings were scoundrels, who ignored God’s ways and who brought harm to God’s people under their care and rule. These kings also gave the prophets much to speak out against just as our current leaders give our comedians much to comment on as well as to lament about as Stephen Colbert so eloquently and insightfully did on Wednesday night on his TV show.

It is any wonder that the Preacher, who has surely reflected upon the leaders of God’s people in his day and over Israel’s history, looked the current ruler of Israel and asks the question in verse Eccl. 8:1 …
“Who is like the wise man?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
Wisdom makes one’s face shine,
and the hardness of one’s countenance is changed.”

The Preacher asks the question because he doesn’t see the current king as having any wisdom, vision, or much character. And hence the introduction to his observations and reflections on how to live with a frustrating and power-hungry king in Eccl. 8:2-9

So what is frustrating the Preacher about the current king or political leader or political climate that he and his congregation are facing?

First, the Preacher knows that he, along with the rest of the God’s people, are supposed to obey the king because they agreed or vowed to do so when the king was installed as king. It was their sacred duty to follow that king as God’s chosen leader.

Well that is fine when the king serves and rules as he is supposed to under God’s guidance. But what happens when the king is a power-hungry, arrogant, foolish, and perhaps even wicked king as the current king of the Preacher’s time seems to be?

I get a strong sense that the Preacher is trying to do his best to obey the king along with his people, but it is frustrated because the king is a royal jerk.

As Christians we know that we too are supposed to obey our civil authorities and pay our taxes as Paul reminds us in Romans 13:1-7. But we also know how hard and frustrating it can be to follow political leaders and their policies when we strongly disagree with them and see them harming others in our society.

The second thing that frustrates the Preacher about the current king is found in Eccl. 8:3-4.
“Do not be terrified; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is powerful, and who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’”

The Preacher has resigned himself to the fact the current king is going to do whatever he pleases. The king knows he can do whatever he pleases, because no one is going question anything he says or does.

Are things any really different in our world today? No! How many current world leaders could be characterized by the observations of the Preacher? Wednesday was tragic reminder of following a leader who only follows his own wisdom and who condemns anyone who opposes him.

Thankfully in our free societies we have a free press, the freedom of speech, to dissent, and the freedom of assembly. We have access to our political leaders and we get to choose our political leaders. However, nowhere is there a Biblical injunction to support the acts of an unruly mob that we witnessed on Wednesday. I gasped when I saw a sign on the steps of the capital that read “Jesus / Trump.” The personal, moral, ethical differences between the words and actions of these two men is staggering and immense.

But the sad and frustrating part of democracy is that it doesn’t guarantee that our leaders will listen to the voice of the electorate. Well, perhaps only at election time and even that is no longer a given as we have seen lately.

The Preacher is frustrated by the king for these reasons and for two more reasons. The Preacher is frustrated by the current king’s lack of vision for the future and lack of listening to wise advisors.

In Eccl. 8:7, the Preacher says…
“Indeed, they (the king) do not know what is to be, for who can tell them how it will be?”

The king doesn’t know what the future holds because he refuses to listen to wise people who have a sense of the what the future holds. A king’s foolishness and arrogance are again seen in the leader’s inability to listen and follow anyone else’s opinion other than their own. They do not listen to wise voices who can map out the consequences of their actions and how they will affect placed under their care by God.

I know it is difficult to predict the future, but if you incite people to violence as leaders have done throughout history, you can safely predict that some will respond in kind and be violent. On the other hand, if a leader encourages his people to work for something good that positively affects people’s lives, you can also safely predict that some will respond to that kind of positive encouragement.

Can you hear the frustration the closing remarks of the Preacher’s in Eccl. 8:9,
“All this I observed, applying my mind to all that is done under the sun, while one person exercises authority over another to the other’s hurt.”

The frustration of the Preacher comes in knowing that God has told the people what he expects from the kings of Israel and Judah and the actual reality of the leadership that is experienced.

God told the leaders of Micah’s day that what is required of all of us is “To do justice, to love God’s unfailing -merciful-all inclusive-graciousness, and to walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)

I suspect our frustration with our political leaders is similar to that of the Preachers. We know things can be better and must be better.

So what is the Preacher’s response to his frustration and what advice does he have for the people of his day?

In Eccl. 8:5, the Preacher implies the wise will learn how and when to make the best of the situation.

The Bible is full of examples in both Old and New Testaments of people who acted wisely at the right time taking advantage of the opportunities God gave them.

The obvious Old Testament example is Esther, who used her influence with King Ahasuerus to save her people from harm. She knew the time and way to affect positive change.

Or in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, when he was arrested in Jerusalem for causing a disturbance, used his Roman citizenship to get himself to Rome to preach the Gospel at Rome’s expense. This shows that Paul also knew the time and way around the political system of his day.

In the last US Federal election close to 160,000,000 Americans took advantage of the opportunity to vote for the candidates of their choice. Many became involved because of wanting to vote out incumbent leaders who did not share their values. Many helped to register new voters despite the obstacles of a pandemic to do so. It was the right time to get involved in a positive way.

In the Gospels, we are told that at the right time and in the right way, God chose to enter our world to establish His kingdom on earth. The Kingdom that God establishes through his Son, stands in contrast to all human kingdoms where citizens are frustrated by their leaders in different ways.

In the Kingdom of God, we do not fear the authority of Jesus as King, for he uses his authority to love, to heal, to restore, to help, to save, to serve, to unite, to forgive for the sake of others. This is the high standard we and our leaders must strive for.

Jesus was open to all people and welcomed all people to him including those who were rejected by the political and religious leaders of his day.

Jesus chose to follow his Father’s guidance and direction at every step of the way. He chose to do what was pleasing to his Father in Heaven and what was good for those around him. He informed his disciples what he was doing and why. He expressed his Lordship in humility when he washed his disciple’s feet. He demonstrates the greatness of his kingship in his sacrifice on the cross.

The powerlessness of human leaders that the Preacher speaks of in Eccl. 8:8 points us to the person and work of Christ and the kind of authority that he has as King.
“No one has power over the wind to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death; there is no discharge from the battle, nor does wickedness deliver those who practice it.”

Jesus proved his power over creation including the wind when he told the wind to stop blowing on one particularly dangerous boat crossing on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples stood in awe that Jesus could do that. (Mark 4:35-41)

We are told in the Gospels and by Jesus himself that He chooses the time of his death and not the Jewish leadership or Pilate. Jesus has control over his death.

When Jesus announced “It is finished” he also releases us from our battle of having to prove ourselves to God. In his work we rest.

And on the cross, Jesus as our King defeated the powers of wickedness and delivered us from the power of the evil one and his associates. Jesus offered us God’s forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life.

I love this important contrast between Jesus and all earthly rulers. It is huge. It is significant. And it is noteworthy.

Jesus is the kind of king, who once we get to know him, we want to follow and obey him. He drew us and others to himself in positive non-manipulative ways.

And what is even more amazing is Jesus our King has given us a glimpse of what to is to be so that we can live our lives in the assurance that He is ultimately in control of our world. That is a hope that we have to hold on, to act upon, and to give witness to with every breath we have in this life.

May we take comfort in knowing that even though we suffer under foolish leaders in our time, our Eternal King continues to rule and govern this world with his truth and grace.

May we continue to pray for our leaders both wise and foolish in their role asking that the Holy Spirit keep them humbly listening to wise voices that both confirm and challenge their thinking and leadership, so they govern justly, compassionately, and humbly as respect God’s ways.

And may we be wise enough to take advantage of the opportunities God gives to us to raise our voices in both affirmation and protest, and to seek and work for the peace and welfare of our towns, province and nation (Jer. 29:7).

These things we do faithfully and practically in response to Christ our King, to whom all glory, honor and praise be given now and always.

Amen!

Hymn: “For the healing of the nations” Sung by Kristen Young

Moment for Mission – PCCWeb Presence for Congregations and Ministries

A website extends the ministry and mission of a congregation beyond church walls, giving members the ability to make the most of their church experience and allowing visitors the opportunity to learn more about a congregation. A great church website should share details about your congregation’s ministry, highlight news and events, offer online worship services, and let people know about upcoming activities, mission projects and fundraisers. Your gifts to Presbyterians Sharing equip congregations and groups of the PCC with simple and easily maintained websites through PCCWeb—a free web hosting and technical support service provided by the Communications Office.

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

We thank you Sovereign God…
• that Christ defeated the powers of sin and death, conflict and destruction, bringing into being new order, new peace, and eternal hope.
• that you have established Christ forever, and given him universal power and authority.
• that the salvation of Christ’s kingdom is cosmic and all-inclusive, that we may live as devoted subjects, accessing his power for life.

We offer our words of thanks for God’s blessings to us this week.

We pray …
• for those who yet say, “We have no king, but Caesar,” that they come to know the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives.
• for those who lack confidence in Christ’s supreme, saving power, and who fear death and the powers of this world.
• for the protection and strengthening of those easily influenced by strong, evil powers still rampant in this world.
• that ours be lives of thanksgiving knowing we are numbered among the citizens of Christ’s kingdom, safe under his reign.
• that our words and ways convey our certainty that Christ is the victorious Lord over all.
• that the church exemplifies Christ’s new kingdom of peace, love, freedom, and joy.

As the pandemic still haunts lives and nations, we pray for
• those struggling with COVID-19 and its lingering effects,
• those who are offering medical, psychological, spiritual, grief support, continue to strengthen them and watch over their families,
• those who are ill and those who need your healing touch upon their bodies, minds, emotions, relationships, and spirits.
• those whose emotions are raw from fear or isolation,
• those exhausted by caring for others and serving the public day by day, rescue them from the temptation to give up and walk away,
• for all churches as they continue to lead worship, teach, care for their members, and reach out to their communities,
• Give each one the hope and courage they need to face this new year, .

We pray for the United States as it recovers and moves forward after the tragic events of Wednesday
• That an orderly, violence free transition of power may take place on January 20,
• That those who planned, incited and carried out the violence and unlawful acts on Wednesday will be brought to justice.
• That you would protect and guide President elect Biden, and Vice President elect Kamala Harris, the new congress as they seek to govern a nation that is divided.
• That the divided nation may be healed and set on the road toward reconciliation, toward justice for all, and where all have an equal voice in shaping the destiny of the nation with your divine guidance and assistance.

We offer the concerns on our hearts to you now…

We offer you these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ,
using the words he taught us to pray…

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..

Hymn: Jesus shall reign

Charge and Benediction (Rom 15:5)

We go into this new week
To be servants, reconcilers, witnesses of our King Jesus.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement
Grant you to live in such harmony with one another,
In accordance with Jesus Christ,
So that together you may with one voice
Glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

* * * * * * *

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, January 10 We thank God for technical tools for worshipping and building community online, and for the people in our churches with the skills to help us use them well.

Monday, January 11 We give thanks for Presbyterian World Service & Development programs that bring sanitation aid to countries recovering from flooding.

Tuesday, January 12 We pray for leaders of Canadian churches gathering in the coming days, hosted by the Canadian Council of Churches, to support one another and share the experience of their important and challenging ministries.

Wednesday, January 13 We pray for the work of Cornerstone, an outreach ministry of the Presbytery of Niagara, and its minister, the Rev. Nicole Reid.

Thursday, January 14 We pray for members of the International Affairs Committee as they prepare the committee’s report to the 2021 General Assembly.

Friday, January 15 We pray for wisdom and love for congregations supporting family members, friends and neighbours who wrestle with addiction.

Saturday, January 16 We pray for those who live and work in prisons, as well as for those who volunteer and work to bring God’s Word of love and grace to these facilities.

Moving into a New Year (click here)

Welcome

Hello Everyone,
Thanks for joining us for St. Paul’s online worship
for January 3, 2021, the first Sunday of the Year.
I trust you had a good Christmas.

Call to Worship

This is the day of new beginnings.
Today, God dwells with us.
Today, all things are made new.

Opening Prayer

God of majesty and mystery,
we come to you this day in wonder.
As the year opens before us, we wonder what it holds in store.
We wonder where you will lead us,
how you will call us to follow in the days ahead.
Your purposes are beyond our comprehension, O God,
but your presence is always with us.
So we offer you our trust for the days ahead,
as we seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ, our newborn King.

God of light and life,
you have come to us in Christ Jesus to open a path to new life.
Yet once the New Year has begun,
we long for things to get back to normal, especially this year.
We confess that our resolutions for change often don’t last long.
Old habits draw us back to familiar ways.
It is so hard for us to make a new beginning, O God,
even with the best of intentions.
Forgive us, O God, and renew our determination
to know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day.

Remind us as St. Paul’s does that
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.
Everything old has passed away; See, everything has become new!

Enable us to make a new start as we gather for worship
on this first Sunday of the New Year.
All praise, glory and honor be to You.
Amen.

Hymn: Crown Him with many crowns

Prayer for Understanding

Almighty and Eternal God, you make all things new in Christ. Guide and direct our progress toward a deeper faith and broader witness in you in 2021 as we ponder and apply your Words of Life to our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Scripture Texts for New Year’s Day
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15
Psalm 139:1-3, Psalm 139:23-24
Revelation 21:1-6a

Message: Moving into a New Year

Happy New Year Everyone, I think we are all ready for a new year and ready to move beyond the crazy roller year we call 2020.

Before barge into 2021, which sounds so good to say, I want us to pause and reflect on the year past. I think there is a lot of wisdom in doing this. I would hate for the important moments, the important lessons learned, and important pushes of the Holy Spirit to be left behind.

I read once of a family that greets the new year by gathering together before midnight around the fireplace with the family calendar. They go month by month looking at the events of the past year remembering the joys and the sorrows. They laugh, celebrate, and remember the birthdays and the accomplishments.

They also remember the painful and sorrowful times which in discussing them make them a little easier to accept. After each month has been reviewed and prayers have been said, the month is thrown into the fire. Month by month they remember God’s faithfulness to them in joy and in sorrow.

They close their year by taking a new calendar and hanging it on the wall. They again pray together and ask God to guide them as they begin a new year. Their review of the past year renews their hope for the coming year.

That to me sounds something that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes would have approved of doing.

One could review 2020 by going each month through the 14 pairs of moments that Preacher lists for us.

For example, when I read the Preacher’s list of paired positive and negative moments, one cannot, but respond emotionally to “A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” (Eccl. 3.5b). This has been one of the hardest parts for so many of us during this pandemic. One of things that I hear people looking forward to when we are safely able to do so is to hug people who they have not touched in so many months. We have missed the physical connection with each other.

It would be interesting to have a person close to you to do the same and then compare your responses.
The Preacher’s poetic reflections on the moments of our lives are concluded with the Preacher’s affirmation that God is ultimately in control of our times and God in God’s own way makes the times fit into God’s plans for us.

John in his Revelation affirms that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the One who is bringing about God’s plans for our world. Jesus is the One who makes all things new.

Even a difficult year like 2020 taught us the things that we have needed to learn about relationship with God, ourselves, each other, and our world.

David in Psalm 139 affirms God’s complete knowledge of him, which moves David to ask God to search out his thoughts, emotions, motives, to learn what he needs to let go of and what he needs to embrace to be faithful to God.

400 years ago, a Roman Catholic Priest named Ignatius of Loyola crafted a way of prayer that helped his fellow priests to reflect back upon their day and their life in terms of how one experienced God. He developed a prayer called, The Daily Examen. It is both a challenging and comforting way to trace the movement of God in one’s life. I share it with you today as we reflect upon the year past and look forward to a new year.

The Prayer begins by focusing on God with a Centering Prayer like this:

God, I come into your presence.
Father, I long for more of you.
Jesus, I place you at the center.
Holy Spirit, come and fill this time of remembering, reflecting, reviewing and rejoicing with your presence.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Help me to be fully present here, to your word, to one another, and to the world you love. Amen.

The Prayer then moves to Thanksgiving

What am I especially grateful for in the past year?
• The gift of another day…
• The love and support I have received…
• The courage I found in the midst of a difficult year…
• An event or events that took place this year that were meaningful
• Something I learned about myself, my faith, my relationships …
• Something I learned I could live without and something I learned I could not live without

The Prayer then moves Review the year.

• When did I feel joy in being faithful to God this year?
• What troubled me this year? When did I feel anxiety? Fear? Loss?
• What has challenged me year? Which challenges did I face, resolve, overcome? Which ones did I shy away from?
• Where and when did I feel close to God? When did I feel furthest away from God?
• Where did I grow in my faith? Where did I grow in my witness to Christ? When didn’t grow in my faith and witness? What was the difference between those responses?
• Looking back, do see where God was active in your life when you didn’t know it at the time?

In faithfulness to Christ we Look Ahead to Respond to the Spirit moving within us.

• In light of my review, what is my response to the God of my life?
• As I look ahead, what comes to mind? Where do I feel God moving, disturbing, pushing me as I start 2021?
• What is one aspect of faithfulness to Christ and I want to see made stronger in 2021?
• What is one thing I read and reflect upon to deepen my faith and witness?
• What is one area of my witness to Christ that I want to grow in?
• What is one good thing I want to see happen in 2021 and how will help to make it happen?
• Who is one person I need to connect with and support in concrete ways in 2021?
• Imagine what challenges and blessings might await you in the coming year.
• Think of important relationships, major (and minor) decisions to be made,
o skills to learn,
o habits to build,
o healing to seek,
o good work to accomplish.

Make a simple list of highlights—matters that you expect to take prominence in your life in the new year.

Bring them to God now, and ask for the graces you will need to move into the new year.

Spend some time of submitting your life to God in the new year in a spirit of humility, honesty and a desire to honor God as all faithful followers of Christ are asked to do.

More information about the Prayer of Examen can be found online.

Our God who knows our past, present and future invites us to spend time courageously and faithfully reflecting with Him about year the gone by as we move into a new year.
May we honor God at the beginning of this new year by doing that.
To Father Son and Spirit, be all glory, honor and praise. Amen.

Let us come before God in prayer, shall we pray.

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

God of all time and space, as we gather in prayer,
we recognize that our lives are but small details
in the vast expanse of your universe.
So we thank you for attending to the details of our lives.
We thank you for the year just past,
for walking through the hard days and uncertainties with us,
and for the gifts of encouragement and friendship that cheered us.
We give thanks for accomplishments in ministry and mission,
for generosity offered to those in need,
and for new possibilities explored in online worship, education and outreach.
As your spirit guides us into the future,
Our hearts kneel before you, O God;
Receive our humble prayers.

The year just ending has held so many sorrows and challenges for so many.
We remember dear ones who have died
and pray for those who look ahead in loneliness or sadness…

We pray for those who have faced challenges in health,
in their families or at work…

Support each one who needs you close by.
Our hearts kneel before you, O God;
Receive our humble prayers.

God of light and love,
As we face the year ahead, we are aware that much around us is still uncertain.
We seek your strength and guidance in each challenge we will face.
Draw near to each one who must confront illness, loss or changing circumstances.

Guide those for whom new opportunities appear and choices must be made…
Our hearts kneel before you, O God;
Receive our humble prayers.

God of community and commitment,
We pray for wisdom and courage in the year ahead.
Strengthen us as a congregation to be a committed witness to your love.
Help us reach out to our community in creative ways,
and make us effective citizens in these challenging times.
Guide leaders in our nation and in nations around the world
so that justice and peace may prevail,
resources to meet health and hunger needs be shared,
and understanding and respect grow among divided peoples.

Receive our humble prayers and encourage us onward
in the name of Jesus our Christ who taught us to pray, saying…

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.

Hymn: One more step along the world I go

Benediction (Eccl 3 & Rev 21)

Go forth, rejoicing that our God is with us
in all times and places,
and in all the seasons of our lives.

Go forth into the new year,
trusting in God’s promises.
And may God, the Alpha and the Omega,
be with you always.

Here Am I!

Welcome

Thank you for Joining us St. Paul’s “online worship.”

Announcements
We have a link posted on the slider on the Home Menu for
1) An invitation to St. Paul’s Christmas Eve Service.
2) A Link to the Banff Ministerial Community Christmas Eve Service.

Call to Worship
God comes to us in the cry of a child:
Let every heart prepare a welcome.

God comes to us in the whisper of a loving mother:
Let every heart prepare an embrace.

God comes to us, abides in us:
Let every heart prepare to receive the Christ.
Let us worship the God who has come, who is here and who will come again.

Prayer of Adoration and Confession
God of majesty and mercy,
Creator, Christ and Spirit,
you are powerful, you are holy, and you are loving.
You come among us not as a warrior or tyrant,
but as a child. new life born among us and for us.
And so we come to worship you this day,
trusting your wisdom with Joseph,
pondering your mystery with Mary.
We offer you our love for all that you have been,
all that you are,
and all that you will be,
one God. Holy and loving, now and forever, Amen.

God of mystery and mercy,
you came to be with us and offer us new life in Christ,
and yet we often stray from your side.
You came to offer us love,
but we confess that we can be stubborn and selfish in the ways we live.
You came to reconcile all people,
but we confess that we often resist repairing relationships and so remain divided.
Forgive who we have been,
amend who we are,
and direct who we shall be.
through Jesus Christ who reaches out to us from the manger and the cross. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon
Words from Christina Rosetti fit the Advent theme for today:
“Love came down at Christmas; Love all lovely, love divine.
Love shall be our token, Love for plea and gift and sign.”
We meet God’s gift of love in the Christ Child,
whose forgiveness restores us for whatever lies ahead, giving us reason to rejoice.
Thanks be to God for this hope!

Carol: My soul gives glory to my God

Prayer for Understanding
Living, loving God, the stories of this season are familiar, so open our minds and hearts by the power of your Spirit to hear your Word afresh. Make us attentive to Jesus, the Living Word, and gift he brings to our midst. Amen.

Scripture

Isaiah 52:3-12 Good News for Exiles

Psalm 98:1-9 Sing to the Lord a new song

Luke 1:26-38 Mary responds to God’s divine intrusion in her life

Sermon: “Here, Am I!”

While attending seminary at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, I lived in student housing. Student housing was conveniently located just a block from the school, close to the downtown core of Pasadena, and just twenty minutes away from Dodger Stadium.

Unfortunately, it was also located next to an area of the city with a high crime rate. One of the realities of living in that section of Pasadena was that you had to think a lot about personal safety. If you didn’t, there was a high probability that you would become a crime statistic.

The apartment complex I lived in was surrounded by a high fence, with locked gates, with a locked parking garage, and other security measures. These security measures were necessary to provide us with a safe and secure living area.

These measures were a very welcome because when you live in that kind of environment, you need to feel some sense of security to keep your SANITY.

Even with all the security measures in the world, the REALITY of living in an area with a high crime rate has a funny way of creeping in. I remember one night coming back very late from work. I drove to the parking garage under the apartments, inserted my magnetic card which allowed me entrance to the garage. I drove in and found a parking spot next to one of the doors. I took out my groceries and went to one of the locked doors. I inserted a key opened it, grabbed my groceries and started walking up stairs to my apartment. I came out one door to the court yard, then went to another locked door, inserted a key, opened it and started to climb the stairs up to my apartment.

As I turned one of the corners I was startled and shocked to see a spray painted gang logo tag on one of the walls. The person or group who had managed to elude the many security measures had spray painted their gang name on this one wall.

It was as if they wanted to send a message to those of us, who called this place home, “We have managed to invade your safe little world and we are here.”

I was shocked and horrified when I saw that ugly, unnerving spray painted gang logo on the wall. I knew that my safe and secure living area had been violated by one of the local gangs. The gang logo was a sign that proclaimed that this was their territory now. I felt violated and angry because of it. I thought how dare these gang members invade and disrupt my safe world.

That experience taught me that my safe little world was not as safe and secure as I thought. Someone had entered my world to disrupt it, to catch me off guard and had changed it in ways that changed how I lived.

This taught me the valuable lesson that at any time, at any place something or someone has the potential of entering our world and changing it forever.

Have you had a similar kind of experience? Perhaps it was an act of crime, an accident, an illness, or incident that was beyond your control or imagination. Perhaps you have learned this during the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Israel was aware of this fact. They quickly came to understand how quickly their fortunes could change with the invasion of an unwanted army. The great Babylonian Army invaded Palestine. They had taken Israel captive for no important reason other than they just happened to be in the way between of their goal of claiming the Egyptian empire as their own.

With the invasion of the Babylonian Army, Israel’s safe and seemingly secure world had been turned upside down. Israel was left wondering, “Where was God? Why had God allowed this terrible thing to happen?” All of their preconceived ideas about how God should act towards them had vanished into thin air.

It is into the midst of those dire and depressing circumstances that God called the prophet Isaiah to announce another invasion of sorts. This time it would be an invasion by God.

God announces to the people through the prophet Isaiah and through the invasion of a foreign nation…
“Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; HERE AM I.”

Following that announcement, God tells Isaiah to get up to a high mountain and announce the Good News that…

“Your God reigns….
“The Lord has comforted his people…
“He has redeemed Israel…
“See the return of the Lord to Zion…
“The Lord had bared his holy arm…
“The Lord will go before you…

This is the good news announcement and celebration that God was intruding into their world of sorrow and despair to accomplish His great redemptive purposes. Like the spray painted gang logo on the wall of my apartment complex, God was announcing his loving and faithful presence among them,

Here am I! (Is 52:6)
all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Is. 52:10)

I used to think that the Christian faith offered a great deal of security, like the high fences and locked doors of my apartment complex. But then I read something that changed my perceptions about life.

I read it with new eyes and with new understanding thanks to the insights of a Presbyterian Pastor name Frederick Buechner, who wrote a wonderful book entitled “The Hungering Darkness.” It is a book of short meditations on the Christian faith.

This book brought to light some things I had overlooked in the Christmas story so many times before. Today I pass on these insights to you.

As Buechner reflects upon the Christmas story, he reminds us that the Christmas story revolves around a whole cast of unlikely characters in a very unlikely place. He reminds us of how we have become so familiar with the story that the characters and the setting to the point where we have become quite comfortable with the story of Jesus’ birth. All seems as it should be. But this is not the case. Everything in the story points to a God who invades our world, who shatters our every attempt to pigeon hole Him or to tame Him. The Christmas story reminds us that God chooses to act as God wishes to act. God doesn’t act in ways that we want or expect God to act.

When the Christmas story is read with that underlining assumption, we can never be sure
HOW God will act,
HOW God will come to us,
WHO God will use to carry his message
WHOM God will deliver his message to.

We can never be quite sure of what God will do next and we can never be totally sure of God again.

In Luke we read how the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce her role in God’s plan of salvation for her people. A surprising intrusion if there ever were one. And through the angel, God reveals that in his wisdom chooses to enter our world as a person. Not as an adult, not as a mighty warrior, not EVEN as an angelic being. God chooses to have his Son born into the world as a baby, a baby who is helpless and dependent upon its mother and earthly father for its needs.

The woman and her husband do not live in palaces, they have NO title, NO power, NO money, NO influence. Rather, they are poor, common people, who live in one of the most desolate places in the entire Roman Empire, and who are of a race of people despised by the ruling people.

Then Luke tells us that the King of kings is born in a stable, wrapped carefully in rags to keep him warm and placed in a feeding trough.

There in the stable the Son of God lies cooing along with the smell of the dung of the animals. Can anything ever be the same again?

The first visitors are not heads of state, nor kings, nor popes, or priests, nor anyone with title or privilege. The first visitors are shepherds, people of questionable reputation, people who do the work that no one else wants to do. It is these simple shepherds who the Angelic choir announce the birth of Jesus, God’s only son, the Christ, the Saviour. Societal outcasts and bums are given the honour of being the first to witness and to praise God for the birth of Jesus. Why not Caesar, or Herod or the Governor of Palestine, or the chief priests and scribes? Weren’t those people of greater importance than a bunch of bums watching sheep at night? Surely God is doing things the wrong way, or is He?

God demonstrates that no place is safe anymore. There is no place that we can hide from his love. There is no one, no group of people who are outside of God’s care. The Christmas story says this loud and clear.

Fred Buechner writes…
“Those who believe in God can never be in a way sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of man. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present to this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too. And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place that we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully.” (Hungering Dark, pp.13-14)

During this season, we are reminded that the God who invades our safe little worlds as an innocent baby, who lies silently in the manger is also the one the who turns our world upside-down-and-right-side-up (Luke 1:46-56). We are reminded to that this child who starts off life in humble surroundings, whose is name means “God Saves” will end up dying humbly on a cross, promises a kingdom where God’s invading love rules all.

One of the important truths we are challenged to consider as we celebrate the birth of Jesus is how do we respond to God’s many intrusions into our safe little worlds?

Do we respond with questions, or anger, or a reluctance to embrace God’s many intrusions into our lives?

Or do we respond as Mary did in humble and obedient faith that is expressed in her word . . .
“Here, Am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

It is when we say “Yes” to God’s many intrusions that God continues to use us to boldly announce his Good News that HE is HERE. And that is an intrusion that we can truly embrace with all that we are!
Amen.

Moment for Mission – Preparing a Place of Welcome
Being forced to flee from one’s home and ending up in a foreign land is terrifying. There are often language, social and cultural barriers in the new place that make settling very difficult. Rani Ibrahim, the leader of the Newcomer Mission at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Peterborough, Ont., sees it as his calling from God to make this transition easier for those in his community. He does this through social programming, accompaniment services and prayer gatherings. With support from Presbyterians Sharing, this mission has helped hundreds of people experience the love of God and provided people with a sense of belonging in Canada.

Prayers of the People
Spirit of Hope,
whenever the world seems confusing and bleak,
you pierce the darkness with light, bringing hope and vision for the way ahead.
This has been a difficult and confusing year of pandemic,
and so we thank you for lessons learned and changes of heart,
for new discoveries and hope restored.
As nature around us prepares for the long sleep of winter,
we pray for those who are ill or dying,
and for those who are bereaved or feel any burden of loss.
(A silence is kept.)

O God, reach out to all of us in Christ,
and give us hope for the living of these days.

O God of Peace,
within our lives and relationships, and in communities around the world,
there is conflict and antagonism, mistrust and resentment.
We pray for all places where violence has done its worst,
where cruelty and suspicion appear to win the day,
and where the vulnerable live in fear and despair.
(A silence is kept.)

O God, reach out to all of us in Christ,
and give us peace in these times.

O Creator of Joy,
we thank you for moments of joy and celebration in our lives,
for pleasure given and received,
for quiet times spent in reflection and remembering,
and for happy gatherings, even if they had to be small.
In these colder, darker days,
we remember those who feel left out or neglected,
those who have found the months of pandemic restrictions a heavy burden,
and those we find difficult to love, even at a distance.
(A silence is kept.)

Be their light and their warmth,
O God, reach out to all of us in Christ,
and give us joy to share in the days ahead.

O Love Come Down at Christmas,
you call us to live in communion with you and one another.
You form us into families, circles of friendship, and communities.
Today we pray for our family members, whether we’re close or estranged,
for our friends, whether nearby or far away,
and for neighbours who share our community, like minded or not.
(A silence is kept.)

Help us express both our love and concern in gentle words and kind actions.
O God, reach out to all of us in Christ,
and strengthen our love for you and for one another.

And now we pray together, using the words that Jesus taught:
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..

Carol: Go tell it on the mountain

Charge and Benediction (Romans 16:25-26)

Now to God who is able to strengthen you
according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ,
according to the revelation of the mystery
that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed,
and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles,
according to the command of the eternal God,
to bring about the obedience of faith—
to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ,
to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Stay safe! Have a great week! Reach out to someone this week.

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, December 20 Jesus said: “Those who welcome the stranger, welcome me.” We give thanks for the Kalunba refugee ministry in Budapest, Hungary, and for Director Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy.

Monday, December 21 We pray for the Rev. John Wilson who serves as the convener of the Ministry and Church Vocations Committee for the Presbytery of Algoma and North Bay.

Tuesday, December 22 Gift-giving God, we pray that you move us to greater generosity with all the gifts entrusted to us so that we might bear witness to your love.

Wednesday, December 23 We thank God for people who pray, opening their hearts to God’s direction, trusting in God’s faithfulness, and holding others up in care.

Thursday, December 24 (Christmas Eve) Christ was born as one of us and in him God shows how much the world is loved. We pray that the light of God’s love bless and fill the world with peace.

Friday, December 25 (Christmas Day) For Christ there was no room in the inn: we pray for shelter for those who are homeless. Christ had to flee his birthplace: we pray for the safety of all refugees. Christ read scripture in the synagogue: we pray for God’s wisdom to guide us.

Saturday December 26 God of love in whom we hope, we pray that you send your peace to the vulnerable, unemployed, anxious, hurting and to those who experience violence.

The Gift of Good News

Welcome

Thank you for Joining us St. Paul’s “online worship.”

Call to Worship

One: In this time of worship, we remember that God is with us.
All: God is with us in joy and in sorrow.

One: In Jesus Christ, God reshapes the past, the present and our future.
All: We wait with God for something new to emerge.

One: In this time of worship, we await the birth of Jesus.
All: We wait with hope, preparing to rejoice in Jesus’ name.

Opening Prayers
Loving God, Compassionate Son, Healing Spirit,
Holy One in Three and Three in One,
You approach us with such kindness and tenderness.
You look kindly on us, no matter what our state or condition,
Your care for this world is greater than we could ever ask or imagine:
You bring order from chaos.
You turn weeping into laughter.
You turn sorrow into joy, and death into new life.
You redeem all that appears lost, making all things new.
And so we come to you in joy,
resting from our work and responsibilities,
trusting you to bring peace amid our anxiety
and hope into these uncertain times.
Receive our worship this day
as we anticipate the difference your gifts will make to us
through Christ, your Son and our Saviour. Amen.

Generous and gracious God,
We confess the smallness of our love and the narrowness of our concern.
These days we easily become preoccupied with statistics and case numbers.
Opportunities to say thanks, to offer encouragement,
to remember each other in friendship slip by.
Anxiety turns us inward and anger can make us lash out.
Forgive us for neglecting the joy at the heart of the Advent season.
Turn our hearts back to you,
and inspire us with your love made flesh in Jesus Christ. Amen.

In Jesus Christ, we are a new creation. There is nothing we have done, nothing we could ever do, that can separate us from the love of God shown to us in Christ.
Know that you are forgiven, and with this joyful truth, have the courage to forgive one another.

Carol: Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

Prayer for Understanding

God of wisdom, by the inspiration of your Spirit, open our hearts so that we may hear and understand your Word, speaking in the scriptures. Open our minds to your renewing grace, at work in Jesus Christ, your Living Word. Then open our eyes to see what you are doing in the world. Amen.

Scripture

Isaiah 61:1-11 – Good News for exiles returning home.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – Final words from Paul to the church at Thessalonica

John 1:6-8, 19-28 – The Ministry of John the Baptist

Sermon: The Gift of Good News
In the name of the father the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
This year our understanding the familiar texts of Advent are being shaped by our individual and communal experience of a global pandemic.
We have a longing for some good news about our futures.
We have a longing for healing to come those who are ill and suffering.
We have a longing for those hurting financially from this pandemic to receive some relief.
We have a longing for those suffering emotionally, spiritually and relationally to be comforted.

The portions from Isaiah that we reading this year are addressed to the people of God who have either been exiled and in living in Babylonia for over 150 years or who are returning to their homeland that has been devastated by war and famine. They are a people in desperate need of some comfort, some good news, some hope, and some concrete actions that will give them the strength and the motivation to rebuild their homeland and lives.
The Prophet Isaiah speaks to these weary people about salvation and about mission. These two themes dominate our Isaiah text for today.

Typically we think of salvation as something that is in the future after we die. If we think of salvation merely in that way, then we will tend to think of mission as exclusively evangelistic, with social action as playing a role to help people come to faith in Christ.
But when you read through the words of Isaiah 61, especially verses 1-2, you realize that this was the passage that Jesus’ used for his first sermon, where he outlined his mission. The salvation that Jesus speaks of and which defines and guides his ministry and mission is focused both on the here and now and in the future.

The spirit of the Lord is upon me
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the oppressed
to bind up the broken hearted
to proclaim Liberty to the captives
and released to the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18-19)

The salvation that Jesus proclaims and demonstrates was a one that was always focused on one’s mind, body, emotions, and spirit. In other words, the whole person. His mission healed one’s relationship with God, others and themselves.

Jesus spoke of his mission as Isaiah does in terms of the year of Jubilee language that we read about in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15. Here God orders to give the people and land a break from their hardships. Debts were cancelled. Slaves were set free. Land was returned to the original owners. The land was not farmed for that year. All of the commands God give to Israel were rooted and grounded in God’s merciful actions of freeing Israel from their Egyptian enslavement. God’s mercy and salvation are offered to all, especially the least and most vulnerable in their society.

Jesus used this text Isaiah 61:1-3, along with Isaiah 29:18-19, 35:5-6 to reassure his imprisoned cousin John the Baptizer that he had not been wrong to point others to Him as the Messiah. The Kingdom of God Jesus spoke of was the fulfilment of hopes, dreams and revelations of the prophets like Isaiah.

So here we are 9 months into this horrible pandemic,
still trying to survive it,
still trying to care for others and others are care for us,
still trying to carry out God’s mission to the people around us as Jesus did.
Thankfully, we received the good news that one of the Covid-19 vaccines is beginning to be distributed around the world. I am grateful for the all the hardworking folk that have worked tirelessly to get the vaccine developed and those who will get the vaccines out and distributed.
At this point we needed to hear that Good News.

I pray that the voice of reason and divine common sense will speak louder and longer to convince people to be vaccinated for their own good and for the good of the larger society. Surely love of neighbor includes being vaccinated for the sake of the larger community.

The call “to bind up the broken-hearted” is ever present with us. I hear a call to listen in those words and to bring whatever emotional, financial, spiritual resources God has blessed us with to help a family member, a neighbor, or a stranger who stands before us at any given moment. I believe Jesus told us a parable about doing just that (Luke 10.25-37).

In these long months of social distancing and mask wearing, the call “to proclaim release to the captives” are words that I pray for all who we have not been able to see, or touch, or gather without love for them and their safety. These include, loved ones in hospitals, in nursing homes, in other parts of the country, those who are vulnerable to disease because of the pandemic.
So too, I believe this is call to action to anyone to assist in whatever way we can those who are struggling psychologically through this pandemic. The question “How are you?” continues to be three important words that need to be asked again and again. I pray that you have someone in your life for whom you can answer that question honestly and unfiltered.

One of the world’s great need is to “release prisoners” those bound by their selfish, sinful, common sense denying foolishness that is so present in our time. Sadly, Christians have not been immune from this kind of foolishness and have regrettably been communicators of it. Unfortunately, more than ever we need to fact check what people say and share. This includes so many passages of Scripture that are quoted without understanding their Biblical, historical, or theological contexts. As a preacher, I hate it when Scripture is used an as excuse for not loving our neighbor as Jesus taught and demonstrated.

In the midst of so much troubling and concerning news, I want to close with a story that reassured me, gave me some much needed hope and joy this week. It also helped me to understand how to live out this passage. Many of you know that I have been spending a lot of time with my wife at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary lately. It has been an eye opening experience for me on many levels. I have witnessed simple and truly remarkable acts of caring of individuals to hurting people.

This week, I witnessed a caring son looking after his feisty (to put it mildly) mother with dementia getting ready for a radiation treatment. He caringly answered his mothers’ same questions again and again. He compassionately consoled his mother every time she asked him, “Why is this cancer happening to me? He found moments of humor to lift his mother’s spirit, recalling good times they had shared. He joked with his mom about the trials that they were facing together.

I saw and heard in this son’s loving words and behavior a living and breathing example of the Year of Jubilee – Kingdom of God – mission that Jesus and proclaimed and demonstrated. And in the midst of everything that seems to be going wrong in our lives and in our world, I heard good news. I saw a woman broken heart being healed. I saw a woman being released from her worries in brief and significant moments. I saw a herald and missionary of good news caring, serving and helping someone he loved at a time when that person needed love, assurance, and hope the most.

Whether the son knew it or not, he pointed me and I hope you as well, once again to the One whose birth we prepare ourselves to celebrate. And he reminded me of our roles as John the Baptists, who are called to point others to Christ. And this brings me comfort hope, and joy, as I hope it does for you in the midst of your circumstances.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon each of us as Christ’s Messengers of Good News in this Season Advent. May we join in following Christ’s Jubilee / Missional actions so that the people we encounter may experience God’s ever present salvation of our whole selves in Christ.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be all glory, praise, and honor. Amen.

Song: That boy-child of Mary


Moment for Mission – Halidu’s Shop Equips Others

In Ghana, Halidu manages a prosperous and bustling training centre where he teaches kente weaving and dressmaking. When Halidu was young, he developed a sore that led to his leg being amputated. During his recovery, Halidu enrolled in a Presbyterian World Service & Development-supported program that equips people with disabilities with skills to obtain a livelihood. During workshops, he learned vocational skills that included weaving, tailoring and dressmaking. Today, Halidu is using what he learned during his recovery to lead a healthy, productive life and run a successful business.

Prayers of the People

Come, Christ Jesus, be our guest
and enter our lives today with your blessing.
We are lonely for you and the peace you bring.
Draw near to us in friendship and faithfulness
so that in this season which combines celebration in the face of uncertainty,
we may know your presence …
and sing with all your people:
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Come, Christ Jesus, be our guide
and show us the way to wisdom and gratitude.
We are thankful for the kindness we know in friends and good neighbours,
in warm houses and warm smiles,
which hold off the darkness and fear for the future.
Encourage us to reach out to those who need your embrace and ours…
so that together we may sing of your presence:
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Come, Christ Jesus, be our hope
and touch us with your healing and grace.
We remember before you all those we know and those know to you alone
Who are living with loss or illness this season,
those who face depression or discouragement,
and all who will find it hard to be merry this year.
We share their names who we are concerned about today.
Shine the light of your comfort into their lives…
as we sing of the hope that dawns in your love:
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Come, Christ Jesus, be our king
and claim your rightful place in our hearts.
Our world is struggling for the justice and mercy you bring.
Draw near to our leaders and all citizens working for peace and justice,
and those striving to contain and heal the effects of the pandemic.
Encourage honourable action and co-operation on all sides.
Give hope to people under oppression
and to those who live with fear or hunger day by day.
Hasten the day when the world’s peoples will live as neighbours
reconciled in your truth and freedom.

We offer you these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ,
using the words he taught us to pray…

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.

Song: People in darkness are looking for light


Charge and Benediction (words of hymn “May the God of hope”)

May the God of hope go with you every day
Filling all your lives with love and joy and peace.

May the God of justice speed you on our way,
Bringing light and hope to every land and race.

Praying let us work for peace,
Singing, share our joy with all.
Working for a world that’s new,
Faithful as we hear Christ’s call.
Amen.

Go in peace! Have a great week! Reach out to someone this week.

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, December 13 We give thanks for the Garu Community-Based Rehabilitation program in Ghana, which provides training to people with disabilities, helping ensure they have the necessary resources to lead healthy and productive lives.

Monday, December 14 We pray for the wisdom to understand and be thankful for what it means to have enough during the consumer-driven Christmas rush.

Tuesday, December 15 We pray for the people, ministries and mission of the Presbytery of Essex-Kent in Ont.

Wednesday, December 16 We pray that God fills us with the wisdom of the scriptures, the grace of Christ and the understanding of the Holy Spirit so that we may be a church of people with vision who are at work in the world.

Thursday, December 17 We thank God for financial and prayer support received from congregations for Presbyterians Sharing in 2020 to support the ministry of the General Assembly and its committees.

Friday, December 18 (International Migrants Day) We pray for the safe and just treatment of foreign temporary workers in Canada, as well as for organizations and individuals working for the humane treatment of migrant workers and members of their families.

Saturday, December 19 We pray for the cold and hungry, that they not only find local meal and shelter programs, but also compassion during this winter season.

Messengers of Comfort

Announcement:
In person worship services have been temporarily suspended until Jan. 10, 2021. We do so out love for our neighbors and in support of our hard working medical staff in the Bow Valley.

Call to Worship:
One: Now is the time to get ready:
All: Let us prepare the way of the Lord!

One: Now is the time to be changed:
All: Let us repent and seek forgiveness.

One: Now is the time to welcome God into our midst:
All: Let us worship God in humble expectation.

Carol: On Jordan’s Bank

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

God of all times and places, you are holy and loving.
You create pathways where there is no path.
You prepare us to receive wonders beyond imagining.
In every time and every place, you have raised up leaders
who point to your glory and honour your greatness.
You have called us by name, baptized us with water and with the Holy Spirit.
You bless us for abundant living, and set us in the world to serve you.
We are your people, and so we worship you
as our Creator, our Redeemer, and the Breath of our lives,
one God, now and always.

John the Baptizer called people to repent
and so we join together in confession, seeking God’s grace.

God of mercy,
We confess that we resist changing our hearts and minds,
even when your Word compels us to reconsider cherished opinions.
We are more comfortable remaining as we are than taking up your challenge.
Forgive us for being set in our ways,
and seeing others only in light of inherited ideas and past experience.
Forgive us our reluctance to forgive each other as we have been forgiven.
By the power of your Holy Spirit, transform us by your great love and mercy.
Give us new eyes for seeing, new ears for hearing.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Assurance of Pardon
Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ Friends, trust that peace and forgiveness are God’s gift to you this day.
Be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit that moves with you into each new day. May the peace of Christ be with you all.

Prayer for Understanding
God of grace, still our busy minds so that we will hear your Word speaking through the scripture. By your Spirit, create a space within us to receive your wisdom your mercy, and your invitation to live for you. Amen.

Scripture

Isaiah 40:1-11 Isaiah announces the comforting news that God is providing a way home to the Exiles in Babylon.

Mark 1:1-8 Mark begins his Gospel with John the Baptist’s ministry in the wilderness of the Jordan River.

Sermon: Messengers of Comfort

On this Second Sunday of Advent we hear the beginning words of Mark’s Good News of Jesus Christ. He begins with John the Baptist in the wilderness. He quotes from Isaiah chapter 40, . . .

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”

This is the Good News announcement that in Jesus Christ, God was fulfilling his promise of building a divine highway through the deserts and wildernesses of our lives. This divine highway is one that leads us back to God and to our rightful home with Him.

It is typical during the season of Advent and Christmas for us to experience a deep sense of longing to be home. This sounds strange this year as many are living in places where no stay at home orders have been issued by local health authorities. Perhaps that is why we hear more than ever people who long for a better kind of home than they experienced growing up in homes disrupted and destroyed by violence, abuse, or neglect. Regardless if our experiences of home have been positive or negative, there is this natural and deep and abiding longing to be home.

More than in any other time of the year it seems that we are able to relate to the familiar words of the prophet Isaiah in the midst of our own wilderness wanderings and our personal and communal exile.

When we hear the prophetic words of Isaiah, when we hear the anxious cries of a people in exile, and when we hear the challenging words of John the Baptist, we are apt to hear within our souls our own deep longing to be home. There is something in their words that makes us long to experience the kind of home that God has revealed in the words of the Prophets, the Apostles and most fully in words of Jesus.

Like our spiritual ancestors, the wildernesses and sense of exile of our lives be they of our own making or imposed upon by forces beyond our control, are places and situations where we lose our way, wander from the path, and get lost. Exile is always that time when we become enslaved to false gods, dreams, and values of an alien empire. The time of this pandemic has certainly been one of those important times in our lives and world.

Our experiences of Exile and Wilderness be they real or imagined, physical or spiritual, recent or in our past, are places foreign to us. They are places that unsettle us and promote us to long for a place of peace, love, and comfort. In other words, to long for home.

Which of the familiar words of the carols and the familiar words of the Christmas story, have you heard over and over, which stir your memory, gnaw at your soul, and beckon you to come home to God?

Could they be just a simple coincidence or a result of creative advertising by the media? Or could it be that God desires that we all rediscover a sense of home that can only be found in going home to Him and found in being at peace with one another?

St. Augustine, a Christian leader of the 4th Century A.D., rightly expressed this sense of longing to be home with God in one of his prayers . . .
“Our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in you.”

Could it be that St. Augustine was thinking about Isaiah’s words . . .
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

In the midst of this Advent Season, we are once again reminded that God has sought us and paved a new way back to HIM through Christ in the midst of our own wildernesses and exiles.

We are reminded that the God, who was present with His people in their wilderness wanderings, and present with them in their forced exile in a foreign land, continues to be present with us through His Son, who became John in his Gospel said became “flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood of our world” (John 1:14, The Message).

Both Isaiah and John the Baptist boldly declare the Good News that we can always come home to God. The They boldly invite us to come home to God no matter how long or how far away we have been away from Him. They boldly call us to come home no matter how many detours we have made in trying to get home. And they boldly encourage us to come home no matter how long we have avoided making the important steps to be at peace with God.

Let us also be bold in joining with Isaiah and John in announcing this Good News to others through our gracious our words and actions.
Therefore, let us as Isaiah challenges us to do to . . .
Get up to the high mountains,
and let us lift up our voices with strength,
not being afraid to lift them up;
and let us say to the people of the Bow Valley,
“Here is your God!
Now is the time to come home!

To Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be all praise, glory and honor.
(Please note: This sermon was inspired by and from a sermon “Returning” by Rev. Dr. William Willamon)

Special Music: Comfort, Comfort ye my people
First Plymouth Church of Lincoln, Nebraska

Mission Moment – Youth Clubs Make a Difference

In Malawi, 20-year-old Layton had been engaging in unsafe sexual behaviours. Several of Layton’s friends attended Presbyterian World Service & Development-supported youth clubs, where they would get together and discuss how to achieve a world without AIDS. His friends warned him about the consequences of his actions and shared information they learned at the youth club. Layton never thought to attend these meetings until one day when his friends persuaded him to get an HIV test. Anxious about the results—which eventually came back negative—Layton knew he needed to change his life. Deciding to join the youth club himself, he reflected, “I think my friends from youth club saved my life. I joined them so that we can save many from such behaviours.”

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

God of Wisdom and Patience,
In this season of Advent, we wait for your gifts of hope and peace
to claim the world once more.
We wait on you in prayer, knowing you hear us even before we speak.
Prepare our hearts and minds to welcome the coming of your Son once again,
and prepare our courage and conviction to follow the way of the Lord.

Thank you for leading us on the Way, especially in these difficult days
when the pandemic still threatens, and people are so divided.
We are grateful that we can rely on your strength and comfort
when so much around us has become uncertain.
Comfort those who are troubled in mind or spirit as the days grow shorter.
Strengthen the bodies and spirits of those who are tired or suffering.
Embrace those who are living with loss,
and protect children and young people
for whom the future seems confusing and unimaginable.

God who makes all things new,
Turn our lives upside down
and shake out the unnecessary distractions of this season.
Focus us on what is truly important and who truly matters to us.
Turn our lives upside right
so that our priorities and purposes match those we have learned from Jesus.
Shape and reshape us until we conform to his way of living and his likeness.

Turn us upside down, O God,
so that we value what is hidden and small more than what is showy and grand.
Open our eyes to the needs of the most vulnerable in our community
and help us speak out with them and for them,
even if we must challenge those who usually get their way.
Turn us right side up, O God,
so that we can see we have more than enough resources to share
with those who have much less than they need day by day.

Hear us now as we name places, people, and situations that need your care:

God, you are Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end.
Strengthen us with your Spirit to build your kingdom,
here and now, now and always.
Hear us as we pray together, using the words that Jesus taught:
And now we pray together, using the words that Jesus 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.

Carol: Hark the Glad Sound

Charge and Benediction (Eph.6:23-24)

We are sent into new week by Christ
To be his messengers of peace to those who discouraged, fearful, and anxious.
We go announce the Good News that in Christ we find our peace and rest.

May peace be to you, the whole community,
and love with faith,
from God the Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be to you with all
who have an undying love
for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, December 6 We pray for Hamilton Banda and volunteers at the Ndirande Handicapped Centre in Malawi who provide support to people with physical and mental disabilities, especially to children and their families.

Monday, December 7 We pray for all in the church as we seek to be in communion with people holding differing theological views. We pray for compassion and understanding to keep us as one in Christ.

Tuesday, December 8 We pray for the health and safety of people serving and worshipping in ministries with Indigenous Peoples.

Wednesday, December 9 We pray for chaplains who serve in correctional facilities, and for the Rev. Glenn McCullough, our denominational representative to the Interfaith Committee on Chaplaincy for Corrections Canada.

Thursday, December 10 (Human Rights Day) We pray for individuals and organizations defending human rights in Canada and around the world. We pray for their safety and the safety of those they support and protect.

Friday, December 11 We pray for the people of Palestine-Israel who work for peace.

Saturday, December 12 We give thanks for all those who are restless for peace throughout the world, those who inspire others to resist injustice and defend inequality.

Wounded Waiters

Call to Worship:
The heavens are trembling with anticipation,
And we wait for Jesus.

The nights are long and the days are short,
And we wait for Jesus.

Our redemption is drawing near,
And we wait for Jesus.

Let us hope in God and worship as people ready to see the salvation of our God!

Carol: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Creator God, You made the heavens and the earth.
You set the planets in their courses, lit the sun with fire,
caused the stars to shine and the world to turn.
Life springs up wherever your breath moves.
In Jesus Christ, you brought hope into a world full of fear and despair.
You sent your Spirit to enliven our hope and guide us on the way.
We are waiting now in anxious times for the world to be made new.
We wait for new life, and we wait with deep hope.

Redeeming God,
We confess that waiting is difficult for us.
We want to be comfortable in this festive season,
but the pandemic keeps us anxious and unhappy.
We complain about our own troubles
and close our eyes to the suffering of others,
Forgive us for ignoring truths do not want to see.
Forgive us for seeking our own comfort at the cost of others.
Give us eyes to perceive the great need within our community.
Give us eyes to see the deep need within our own lives.
Turn our hearts to you again and again.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon
Friends, the good news of Jesus Christ is for all people. There is nothing we have done, nothing we will ever do, that will separate us from the love of God made known in Jesus Christ. This love is yours! So live in love as forgiven and forgiving people.

Prayer for Understanding
God of grace, you speak words of hope in the midst of our fear. Send us your Holy Spirit to open our ears to that hope. Guide us to interpret the signs of these times through the lens of your grace, so that we may find comfort and courage in your promises through Christ, your Living Word. Amen

Scripture

Isaiah 64:1-16 “Tear open the heavens and come down,” cries the prophet. Israel is in exile and needs deliverance.

Mark 13:24-37 While at the temple in Jerusalem with his disciples Jesus speaks of the end times and tells them a parable meant to give them insomnia.

Sermon: Wounded Waiters

For many of us waiting is not something we like to do. We have spent much of our adult lives rushing from one appointment to another, one errand to another, only to find that once we get to our destination we have to wait to be served, wait to see the person we wanted to see, or wait for our children’s activity to finish. We wait for this and for that.

I have to confess that I am an impatient “waiter.” I want to get to my destination and appointment “on time,” I want things to happen “on time” at their appointed times. I dislike waiting, which my wife will gladly attest

So here we are 8 months plus into a global pandemic and we are exhausted from waiting for it to be over. As a result I believe we all have a better understanding of Isaiah’s cry of impatience to God in the midst of Israel’s forced exile in a foreign land.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,”
(Isaiah 64:1)

The prophet cries out to God to intervene and deliver God’s people. He openly confesses that Israel has made bad choices that led to their exile. Israel needs and is impatient for God’s deliverance in the midst of their difficult situation.

Isaiah’s sentiments and laments resonate within me more than ever during this Advent. This pandemic has been hard on everyone in so many different ways. I want some relief as I am sure you do as well. I want God to step in and deliver us as God did of old too like Isaiah cries out for. And like Israel, I want God to have done so, not today, but yesterday.

I can relate to Isaiah’s frustration with his fellow citizens being foolish as I continue to hear people argue over mask wearing, social distancing, and personal rights versus social responsibility. What about God’s call to love, serve, forgive, encourage one another? What about God’s call to the puts needs of others before our own and to look after our weaker brothers and sisters?

I can feel the agony of the prophet feelings that God is absent from their situation. I have shared those feelings from time to time throughout this pandemic. One thing that I have learned to do in this pandemic is to lament and cry out for help like the Psalmists and the Prophets do.

In the middle of Isaiah’s cry for help, Isaiah reminds God, which is also a reminder to himself, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:10)

When I come across a verse that mentions “clay and a potter,” I am all over it with a name like mine. Isaiah reminds God (and himself) that God is the Creator / Parent of us all. God is the one who is continually shaping of us into the people God wants us to be, be they good or difficult times. This echoes what we heard from David’s reflections in Psalm 139:1-18 that we looked at a couple weeks ago.

God shaped Israel as a nation profoundly through their time exile just as God shaped and formed Israel through its difficult 40 year wilderness journey. Both exile and wilderness journeys were times of waiting on God, calling on God to help, calling on God to intercede on their behalf, and learning what it meant to be the people of God as they waited on God in those times.

Jesus spoke to his disciples about the end times in what was to be his last visit there before his trials that lead to his death. Jesus described a world was that seemed out of control naturally, relationally, and religiously. When Mark wrote this gospel as Peter’s scribe and editor, the world was falling apart, the was being persecuted, the Jerusalem temple had been destroyed, many had fled to the hills to avoid the deadly fate of those who stayed in Jerusalem under the Roman siege of it. Many of the events Jesus has shared had literally come true.

Jesus’ word to those who are remaining faithful in uncertain times, as we are doing now, is to stay alert for the signs of the kingdom in our midst, those very small but important acts that reveal God’s presence with us. Bless all of you who are doing your best to keep connected to and encouraging family, friends and neighbors. You are much needed signs of the kingdom that people need right now. Bless all the wounded angels among us who care and support others as they themselves are hurting. Two such angels dropped off food for my family this week.

Jesus also reminds us to keep awake and to stay active in carrying out God’s mission in the world (i.e. 1. Bring honor to God, 2. love God and neighbor, 3. be and make faithful followers of Jesus). Until Christ returns, we are on the front lines of being God’s agents of God’s Grace, Love, and Good News.

As our wonderful and tired and exhausted frontline health care workers know so well, you can’t let down your guard even especially when the Covid-19 numbers are going in the wrong direction. A COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon and has not arrived yet, but it’s coming. This along with a great love for others, a desire to fulfil their mandate as healers and helpers pushes them on to the get job done of healing and protecting others done.

On this first Sunday of Advent, in the midst of a global pandemic, we are given new ways to relate to the laments and desires of Isaiah and Israel for God the Potter to “come down and intervene” in our midst. We continue our laments and prayers for our world as a people of faith who love our world be it our neighbor next door or the person on the other side of the world who is hurting in various ways as we are in this pandemic .

And as we begin this Advent season reminded that the signs of our times continue to point us to the One who did “come down and intervene” on our behalf and who promises He will come again as sure as we see signs of spring each year. But in the meantime, there is still work to be done on our Master’s behalf during this season, even as we are tired and exhausted.

May God help us all to be his faithful wounded waiters as we bring comfort and hope to those who are struggling under heavy burdens this season.

To Father, Son and Spirt, be all glory and praise.
Amen.

Mission Moment –Responding to COVID-19 Globally

As COVID-19 continues to affect people and communities around the world, Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D) is responding to some of those most impacted. After initially supporting lifesaving and urgent care projects, PWS&D is now helping provide long-term COVID-19 relief through Canadian Foodgrains Bank and ACT Alliance. Given the enormous risk of food insecurity, food aid is being provided. PWS&D is also helping ensure families have access to clean water and sanitation, and that COVID-19 prevention messages are being shared. Additionally, psychosocial support is being offered to help cope with the effects of the pandemic.

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Merciful God, the signs of our times are worrisome.
We gather in your presence, aware that the earth groans in pain and many people are suspicious of each other.
We thank you for your comforting presence in times of suffering and uncertainty, and for your promise of life beyond death, and hope beyond fear.
As the longest night of this year draws nearer, comfort those who dread the darkness and direct those who have lost their way.
Wherever people are overwhelmed by the demands of this season and the complications of COVID-19, let them hear your still small voice within all the clamour and confusion, and catch a glimpse of your light shining in the night.

God of all our days and nights, we remember that the days leading up to Christmas are difficult for many, especially this year.
We pray for those who are hungry and cold.
Alert us to the ways that we can set a feast for those in our community and beyond whose cupboards are bare.
Warm them with your love.
We pray for those who are grieving.
Make us patient and compassionate companions to those in mourning, even when we’re not sure what to say.
Fill emptiness with your comfort.

We remember those who are feeling very isolated this year.
Inspire our hearts with ideas of how to reach out in friendship.
Bring hope to the lonely with your friendship.

We pray for those who feel like the world is ending; whose lives have been uprooted by fire, flood, or storm, illness, job loss or death.
Steady us amid the upheavals of this year of pandemic and remind us that you alone are constant.
Your steadfast love will see us through.
Heaven and earth may pass away,
but you are the source of everlasting life and undiminished hope.
Help us trust in you, no matter what is happening.

And now we pray together, using the words that Jesus 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.

Carol: Come thou long expected Jesus

Charge and Benediction (Rom. 15:13)

We are sent into new week by Christ
To be his agents of hope, comfort, and encouragement
to those who we reach out and encounter

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.

Weighty Mediations About God (click here)

Welcome
Thanks for reading the following worship service.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances there is no worship video this week.

Call to Worship (John 1:14)

And the Word became flesh and lived among us,

and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

No one has ever seen God.
It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Let us worship God who has lavished us with His Grace!

Opening Prayers
Transforming God,
you take the night and give us day.
You take our strife and give us peace.
You take our sadness and give us joy.
You take our fear and give us courage.
You take death and give us new life.
You give grace beyond all expectation;
you give love beyond all imagination;
you give and you give and you give.
So we praise and adore you as Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit,
One God, Three in One.

Compassionate and loving God,
we confess we have not always lived faithfully.
We fill our days with things that do not matter.
We seek simple answers to complex issues.
We are weighed down by many tasks
yet we cannot sort out our priorities.
We fail to hear your call on our lives.
Hear our silent confession and forgive us, merciful God,

(A time of silence is kept.)

In Jesus’ name we offer our prayers and ourselves to you in worship. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Friends remember the promise St. Paul declared:
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.
Thanks be to God!

Hymn: Seek ye first

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things
Shall be added unto you
Allelu, alleluia!

Ask and it shall be given unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and the door shall be
Opened unto you
Allelu, alleluia

We do not live by bread alone,
But by ev’ry word
that proceeds
From the mouth of God
Allelu, alleluia

Prayer for Understanding
Eternal God, in the reading of scripture, let us hear your voice;
in our reflections on your Word, let us know your will.
Then, in the living of our lives, let us show your love,
we pray in the name of Jesus, your Living Word, Amen.

Scripture

Luke 15:20-32 A father welcomes his two lost sons

Psalm 139:7-18 Psalm of David – No where to escape God.

SERMON: Weighty Meditations About God

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

WE continue today to look at David’s meditations about God in Psalm 139. The first part of the Psalm David shares his meditations of God how knows and our situations completely and intimately. This leads David to exclaim…
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it. (v. 6)

We move on from David’s reflections on the God who knows us intimately in verses 1-6 to his reflects on how God who is always present with us in verses 7-12.

David begins his reflections by asking two important questions in verse 7:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence? (Ps 139:7)

By asking the questions you get the feeling that David had attempted to try and get away God or to hide from God at various moments in his life.

Is David reflecting upon being chosen by God to King of Israel when he 10-15 years old while the current King still reigned.

Was this one of those times when David wanted to pack his bags and leave town to avoid his calling?

David was not alone in wanting to flee from God at that point. A reluctant prophet named Jonah would not just think about leaving town after God called him to a difficult task, but would actually run away from God.

Jonah discovered as David did that that there is no place one can flee from the presence of God.

Or I wonder when David shares his questions if he was thinking of how God caught up to him and confronted him through the Prophet Nathan for having an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and for having her husband Uriah killed.

Here David followed in the footsteps of his ancestor Adam who tried to cover up his sins and hide from God in the garden after disobeying God.

The two simple questions David asks in verse 7 are loaded with examples from David’s life, other Biblical personalities, and I suspect from our own lives too, when we have tried hide ourselves from God for various reasons.

Where can we go from God’s spirit?
Or where can we flee from God’s presence? (Ps 139:7)

Think for a moment how and when you have tried to hide from God or to flee from God’s presence?
• Was it a new challenge or commitment?
• Was it a sin that the Holy Spirit was pressing you to face up to?
• Was it a time when you were tired of following God?

We all try to flee from God emotionally, spiritually, and physically as others in the Bible did and others who we know or read about. We can justify our distances from God by making excuses or by blaming God or others or our circumstances or avoiding the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

You can try to distance yourself from God, but as David learned and others like him have learned, there is no place to flee or hide from God.

This like God’s complete knowledge of us and our situation can be either comforting or disturbing for us.

David follows his initial question of whether one can escape God’s loving, ever searching and knowledgeable gaze with three poetic statements of God’s persistent presence in our lives.

When David mentions Heaven and She’ol it suggests there is no place in the spiritual world to hide from God, be it the spiritual realm of God in heaven or the spiritual realm of the dead in a place called She’ol.

One can try and flee from God spiritually by relating to God as an object of study rather than God to be known personally.

Or one can distance themselves from God by asking a ton of questions about God and not pursuing truthful answers to those questions.

One can distance themselves from God by resisting any urge or impulse of the Holy Spirit who works to push us toward God.

One e can simply reject God outright or ignore God as if God were dead.

David reminds us that God refuses to let anyone distance themselves from Him in any way through spiritual or non-spiritual means.

The beloved parable of the Lost Sons in Luke 15 reminds us how our God lovingly invites both prodigal and older sons into his Kingdom party, both of which are both lost and distant from Him in their own ways.

David mentions the wings of the morning or the farthest limits of the sea, David is referring to the belief people had in his day that the sun literally flew across the sky and rested at the furthest place they could imagine.
David is saying that there is no place physically you can imagine where you can hide from God.

But we know people who don’t believe that.

One of things I have observed over the years is that one of the hardest times for people to be in church is after the death of a loved one. I understand the emotional reasons why some want and need some distance from God and God’s people after a death.

Some have a difficult time showing emotion before others or they feel the pressure to get over their grief quickly. Some don’t want to be in a place that reminds them of the loved one. Some blame God for not making their loved one well.

It was hard for me to get back to leading worship after my Mom died before Christmas in 2010. All I wanted to do was to get away from everything and everyone and just grieve.

And yet I also came to know that despite part of me that wanted to flee from God and from God’s people for a time, that what I needed was to be reminded of God’s caring presence through God’s people.

And my prayer for people after the death of their loved one is that the time away from worship will be temporary. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case. Sadly, sometimes people never come back to church and continue to put distance between themselves and God after a death of loved one.

They think they can hurt God by staying away. But we know that the only person who gets hurt doing that is the one who distances themselves from God.

David also in the midst of reminding us that there is no place to flee from God mentions light and darkness as potential hiding places.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Ps 139:11–12).

This is a reference to the dark moments in our lives life when we feel that God is distant from us. Perhaps life is not headed in the right direction as you had hoped. The struggle to stay faithful increases when you don’t see the results of personal and spiritual growth.
Or you look at the foolishness of our world and wonder when are people going finally realize we have make sacrifices for each other for the Covid infections to drop? Feeling distan
ed from God increases when fatigue of all kinds sets in as many of us are currently experiencing.

Where God is in all this? Where is God in our world? Where is God when we need Him?

David counters those thoughts and feeling of trying to flee from God by shifting his focus on how God fearfully and wonderfully creates us all. David declares in verses 14-16 that God is one who knew us before we were conceived, knew us as we were being formed in our mother’s wombs, and knew our lives before we would experience them.

When our minds start to drift if God cares or not about us or if God doesn’t care about what is going on, then we would be wise to consider David’s meditations about God’s care for those whom He has fearfully and wonderfully made.

The Son’s invasion into our world announced loud and clear that there is no place we can hide from God’s seeking glances, compassionate embraces, and eternal perspective of our lives at any point on our journeys in this life and the next. This is where our ultimate comfort lies.

May we join with David this week in his meditations about God…
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you. AMEN!

Mission Moment – Together, We are Making a Difference!
Presbyterians Sharing is about mission. It’s about ministry. It’s about working together, to share the good news of the gospel in Canada and around the world. Through our gifts to Presbyterians Sharing, we revitalize churches and support innovative worship. We empower young people to grow in their faith, and prepare leaders to serve the church. We care for God’s creation and advocate for human rights. We walk with Indigenous Peoples on a journey of healing and reconciliation. We work with international partners to support leadership development, Christian education and evangelism. And so much more! When we work together, we can accomplish more than we can imagine. Together, we are making a difference.

Prayers of the People

We thank you, God of all life and each life,
that you are with us every day, in each challenge and opportunity.
In our weakness, you are strength.
In our darkness, you are light on the journey.
In our questions, you are wisdom for our choices.
Stay with us in these days when so much seems uncertain,
and help us to serve you faithfully, when and as we are able.

God of loving kindness:
we give you thanks for moments of joy and celebration in our lives
even amidst the ongoing pandemic,
for love given and received,
for friendships which bring us meaning and happiness,
even at a distance,
and for family members who show us glimpses of unconditional love.
In all our relationships and interactions,
keep us mindful of your call to see you in one another.

God of the nations,
we pray for our country and the countries of this world,
as we all struggle to face the choices COVID-19 sets before us.
Guide those who frame laws and shape policy,
and those who keep the peace and administer justice.
There are so many new challenges to consider
and we pray your wisdom will open our leaders’ minds and hearts
to develop more equitable ways of ordering our communities.

God of peace,
we remember with sadness the dangerous divisions between nations
and the games leaders play to get the better of each other.
By your Holy Spirit, move in places torn by war and violence,
to protect the vulnerable
and those who advocate for justice to prevail.
Show us how to be peacemakers in troubled times.

God of healing:
we pray for those who are suffering in these difficult days of pandemic,
for those who mourn the loss of someone or something dear.
Draw close to all who fear the future.
Surround each one with your love
and show us how to bring comfort and support
into situations of hurt and pain.

God of life:
you hold all souls in your loving care, the dead as well as the living.
We thank you for your saints of every age who continue to inspire us,
and for all who have meant the world to us and now live with you.
Keep us in communion with them
and, at the last, bring us all to dwell together in your light.

And now we pray in the words that Jesus taught us, saying:
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.

Song: Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go

1 Forth in your name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labor to pursue,
you only, Lord, resolved to know
in all I think or speak or do.

2 The task your wisdom has assigned
here let me cheerfully fulfill;
in all my work your presence find,
and prove your good and perfect will.

3 Thee may I set at my right hand,
whose eyes my inmost secrets view,
and labour on at your command
and offer all my work to you.

4 Give me to bear thy easy yoke,
in evrry moment watch and pray,
and still to things eternal look
and hasten to thy glorious day.

Charge and Benediction

We go into this new week,
With the Blessings of the Father,who formed us in the womb,
Of Christ, who seeks and redeems us,
Of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to praise God
in times of trial and time of rejoicing. Amen.

Congregational Blessing
“The Peace of Christ be with You”


Prayer Partnership

November 15 (Legacy Giving Sunday) We give thanks for and remember the many faithful stewards who have believed in God’s church and seeded new missions and ministries through legacy gifts.

Monday, November 16 We pray for the ministries and mission of the Presbytery of Cape Breton in N.S.

Tuesday, November 17 We give thanks for the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, and pray that their work to address the healing of victims, offenders and their communities as they strive for justice is blessed and fruitful.

Wednesday, November 18 We pray for seminary students, staff and faculty at St. Andrew’s Hall in Vancouver, B.C., Presbyterian College in Montreal, Que., and Knox College in Toronto, Ont.

Thursday, November 19 We pray for children and young people who must think about the future in uncertain times.

Friday, November 20 (Universal Children’s Day) Kisemanto—Great Spirit, we pray for wisdom to understand the spirituality of Indigenous ancestors of Turtle Island, who thought of Earth as our Mother and preserved her gifts for the next seven generations of our grandchildren.

Saturday, November 21 We pray for Samuel House in Micske, Romania, a safe place—supported by Presbyterians Sharing—where disadvantaged children can come to play, study, eat nutritious meals and receive Christian care.

The God who Searches for us and knows us

David reflects with wonder and amazement over God who searches and knows us intimately. We are encouraged to do the same especially when we feel overwhelmed by our circumstances.