Read-along Service for Sunday, May 2, 2021

Trinity St. Andrew’s United Church
Order of Worship
Sunday May 2, 2021 – 5th Sunday of Easter

Prelude
Words of welcome, announcements

Lighting the Christ Candle
Bless this light, O God; may it restore our vision. Rekindle our faith we pray.  May it renew our hope in your kingdom that gives life for us all.

Call To worship
Spring is upon us and the time for planting new seeds is at hand. For God is the Gardener of this world, and God is planting something new. God is nurturing us with water and Spirit, that we might blossom. In this time of worship, may we grow in faith, hope and love.  For God’s creative wisdom is seeking to take root in you.  Come, let us join together in worship. Let us praise God, who is growing something new in us.

Prayer of Approach
God of love, plant us in the soil of your grace. Nurture us with the strength of Christ, for he is the vine of everlasting life. Enlighten us with the wisdom of your Spirit, which flows through us every day, so we might grow in understanding. Abide in us, that we may abide in you and live in your love. Amen.

Hymn               Let Us Build a House (All Are Welcome)                    MV 1

1.      Let us build a house where love can dwell
          and all can safely live,
          a place where saints and children tell
          how hearts learn to forgive.
          Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
          Rock of faith and vault of grace;
          Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;
                   All are welcome, all are welcome,
                   All are welcome in this place.

2.      Let us build a house where prophets speak,
          and words are strong and true,
          where all God’s children dare to seek
          to dream God’s reign anew.
          Here the cross shall stand as witness
          And as symbol of God’s grace;
          Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
                   All are welcome, all are welcome,
                   All are welcome in this place.

3.      Let us build a house where love is found
          In water, wine and wheat;
          A banquet hall on holy ground,
          Where peace and justice meet.
          Here the love of God, through Jesus,
          Is revealed in time and space;
          As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
                   All are welcome, all are welcome,
                   All are welcome in this place.

4.      Let us build a house where hands will reach
          Beyond the wood and stone
          To heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
          And live the Word they’ve known.
          Here the outcast and the stranger
          Bear the image of God’s face;
          Let us bring an end to fear and danger:
                   All are welcome, all are welcome,
                   All are welcome in this place.

5.      Let us build a house where all are named,
          their songs and visions heard
          and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
          as words within the Word.
          Built of tears and cries of laughter,
          Prayers of faith and songs of grace;
          Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
                   All are welcome, all are welcome,
                   All are welcome in this place.

Scriptures
          Bible Story: Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40)
          John 15:1-8

Special Music
Homily “Change Isn’t the Problem”
Musical Response

The offering
We give thanks for everyone who continues to support TSA during these challenging times. Your gifts of
support and encouragement mean a lot to us. As so many of our traditional fundraisers have had to be put on hold, your donations are vitally important. For all the gifts you share, for all the people you bless by your serving and giving as a disciple of Jesus, we give thanks.

Hymn                  Love Is the Touch                             MV 89 (tune Slane)

1.      Love is the touch of intangible joy;
          love is the force that no fear can destroy;
          love is the goodness we gladly applaud:
          God is where love is, for love is of God.

2.      Love is the lilt in a lingering voice;
          love is the hope that can make us rejoice;
          love is the cure for the frightened and flawed:
          God is where love is, for love is of God.

3.      Love is the light in the tunnel of pain;
          love is the will to be whole once again;
          love is the trust of a friend on the road:
          God is where love is, for love is of God.

4.      Love is the Maker and Spirit and Son;
          love is the kingdom their will has begun;
          love is the path which the saints all have trod:
          God is where love is, for love is of God.

Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn                 Come and Seek the Ways of Wisdom               MV 10

1.      Come and seek the ways of Wisdom,
          she who danced when earth was new.
          Follow closely what she teaches,
          For her words are right and true.
          Wisdom clears the path to justice,
          showing us what love must do.

2.      Listen to the voice of Wisdom,
          crying in the marketplace.
          Hear the Word made flesh among us,
          full of glory, truth, and grace.
          When the word takes root and ripens,
          peace and righteousness embrace.

3.      Sister Wisdom, come, assist us;
          Nurture all who seek rebirth.
          Spirit-guide and close companion,
          bring to light our sacred worth.
          Free us to become your people,
          holy friends of God and earth.

Benediction
Go now, and love one another, because love is from God. Proclaim God’s salvation to every generation. Remain in Jesus Christ, like branches of a vine, growing strong as you reach out. May God the vine grower watch over you and make you fruitful; May Christ Jesus abide in you and give you life; And may the Holy Spirit cast out all fear and fill you with God’s love  so you may grow and change to meet the challenges this new week will bring. Go now in peace, this day and always. Amen.

Postlude

“Change is Not the Problem”          Texts: Acts 8:26-40    John 15:1-8.
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church, Renfrew on May 2, 2021

Over the past few weeks I’ve heard a growing number of people voicing their dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the world around us. People everywhere are tired of the pandemic lockdown and the constant isolation which is taking its toll on us all.  Some people are fed up with the public health measures and have started to protest against them. They believe they have the power to make the whole unpleasant situation just go away just by expressing their disapproval. Such tactics have worked in the past to stop other unpopular developments from happening. I think we all wish we had such a magic wand that would make this virus disappear.  Unfortunately even the most influential people on this planet don’t have this kind of power over the forces of nature.

Other people are coping by looking at the calendar and they are asking when will things get back to normal. They want to go back to the way things used to be as quickly as possible. They want to undo all the changes the virus has unleashed on the world.  They view change as problem that needs to be solved as quickly as possible in order to minimize any disruptions to their life.

A much smaller group of voices are expressing their dissatisfaction with the way things are going by asking how we can come out of this global health crisis in better shape than before. We saw one such group this week start to ask how we can improve our Long Term Care system so seniors are not left so vulnerable. This is a hard question to ask, and the government of Ontario has responded to this question in a spirit of fear by blaming everyone else for the problem. They have shown no leadership in how we can actually answer this difficult question. We need to find a way to make things better for our vulnerable seniors and the people we pay to look after them for us.

Before we can start to answer such difficult questions we have to realize just where we are at the moment. And for most of us, we are lost.  The Church historian Diana Butler Bass notes that we’ve lost many things. We’ve lost our sense of time as it existed before the pandemic. How often have you thought: What day is this? What time is it? Did I miss an event?  We have also lost our sense of where we are in the larger story of who we are both as individuals and as a society. In uncertain times, people turn to conspiracy theories because they offer people an alternative explanation as to why things aren’t working anymore. We’ve also lost the familiar physical connection with family and friends. Our electronic connections like this video worship service have been a life saver, but they are not a replacement for actual physical connection with other people. Diana Butler Bass believes religious communities today need to be about the work of finding what has been lost, repairing what has been broken, and re-grounding us so we can move forward together. Butler Bass is not alone in calling for this work of finding ourselves again. 

This past week the Moderator of the United Church asked a group of clergy a similar question about our denomination. The Right Reverend Richard Bott asked us what we have learned about ourselves as church over the past year. Reverend Bott also asked what hope do we have that will help to move us forward. I responded to his question by saying that my biggest learning is that we can change every aspect of our life together as a church overnight, if we have to. The fact we have been so resistant to change over the past thirty years shows it was because we didn’t want to change. But we need to realize that Change is not the enemy. Change is not a problem to be solved. Change is a natural part of life. To change well is to evolve. I concluded my response to his question by saying “This pandemic is an evolutionary moment in our society. It is an evolutionary moment for us as communities of faith, and as individuals.”

This is not the first time we have faced such an evolutionary moment. And it won’t be the last time either. When we give of ourselves in love, we know that powerful new things can happen. We can see one such evolutionary moment play out in the story of Philip and his meeting with the Ethiopian Eunuch. The way things used to be, Philip should never have spoken to that Ethiopian Eunuch. The man is an outsider. The Torah is very explicit in saying people like him are not be allowed in to the Temple. Deuteronomy chapter 23 verse one says quite plainly he is not welcome in the family of God.  He will never be welcomed into the temple. He will never be welcomed anywhere.

Yet God sends an angel who tells Philip to go speak this man. This man is the royal treasurer of Ethiopia. He is wise and pious. He has travelled four thousand kilometers, looking for where he might belong.  He must have felt very lost that he would travel the distance between Renfrew and Vancouver just to find out what God thinks of him.  Such a long journey is important to him, because being a eunuch, he will never have a family. He doesn’t belong to anyone. Yet here he is, reading passages from the prophet Isaiah. These verses are speaking to him of the one who is cut off, without children or hope. Philip explains how these verses apply to Jesus. Jesus was cut off. Jesus had no family of his own. He left no children behind, and yet Jesus has created the largest family in the world.

The Eunuch asks if there is any law which would prevent him from joining this new family. He wants to know if he can be baptized, right then, right there. At this moment, Philip has crossed a line, and he knows it. He will be breaking every rule in scripture by baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch. By accepting this much despised man into the Christian community, Philip will boldly redraw the definition of who is acceptable in the sight of God. It is an evolutionary moment that has a revolutionary impact. Philip is being asked by God to redefine who is lovable.  Philip has good reason to be nervous as he looks around the desert. The eunuch then spots a pool of water in the barren landscape. At this point Philip must have thought to himself, “Man, they were upset when I baptized that group of Samaritans last week. Wait until Peter hears about this one. What will God think of next!” So right there, in the middle of a desert, there is water. Philip baptizes the Eunuch. In this new family, the waters of baptism are thicker than blood. 

This courageous act of faith happens because Philip is secure in knowing this daring act of inclusion will not diminish his own status of being loved by God. He knows Christ abides in him just as he lives in Christ. He knows the love of God will grow because someone who has been historically considered to be deviant, defective and different is now for the first time being included in the list of those who are loved by God. Like those first disciples, we too are called to redraw our maps so that those who are lost and outside the sheep fold can find a way in.

Love is the evolutionary power that helps us to create such new life.  The whole world evolves through this creative power of love. This is why Jesus wants us to abide in his love just as a branch is rooted in the vine. He knows we need to be grounded in a life giving force that gives us the tools we need to face this ever changing world.  Remember that change is not the problem we need to solve. The problem is whether or not we have enough love for others so we can do a good job of adapting to these challenges we are facing today for the good of us all. 

As Jesus says, “if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon in a spirit of love.”  Such a love can redeem everything we’ve lost and help us to find a home where everyone truly belongs.

Source: https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/religion-after-pandemic

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