Read-along Service for Sunday, July 11, 2021

Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church
Order of Worship
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 11

Prelude

Words of welcome, announcements

Lighting the Christ Candle
We light this candle as a sign of God’s Spirit which is present in the world. May its flame brighten our spirits. May it ignite our passion, our hope and our joy as we share in God’s mission to brighten the world.

Call To worship
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it! From the east to the west, from the north to the south, God’s Spirit moves across the face of the earth. From the east to the west, from the north to the south, we gather together, united by God’s Spirit, to celebrate the gospel of Christ and proclaim God’s goodness which shines for all to see! Let’s worship God together!

Prayer of Approach
Creator God, in praise and adoration our spirits dance before you today. You have created this wondrous universe and all the magnificent things within it. You have blessed us with so much throughout our lives, even to this day of praise and thanksgiving. Let our spirits soar! Let our hearts sing boldly of your wondrous love. We celebrate your love and presence with us, and it is in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we offer this prayer. AMEN.

Hymn  This Is God’s Wondrous World                                 VU 296

1.      This is God’s wondrous world,
          and to my listening ears
                   all nature sings, and round me rings
          the music of the spheres.
          This is God’s wondrous world;
          I rest me in the thought
                   of rocks and trees, of skies and seas,
          God’s hand the wonders wrought.

2.      This is God’s wondrous world:
          the birds their carols raise;
                   the morning light, the lily white
          declare their Maker’s praise.
          This is God’s wondrous world:
          God shines in all that’s fair;
                   in the rustling grass or mountain pass,
          God’s voice speaks everywhere.

3.      This is God’s wondrous world:
          O let me ne’er forget
                   that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
          God is the ruler yet.
          This is God’s wondrous world:
          why should my heart be sad?
                   Let voices sing, let the heavens ring:
          God reigns, let earth be glad!

Scripture Reader:       Chuck Ross
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Special Music

Homily “The Gift and the Response”

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 We Sing of Your Glory                                      MV 58

1.      We sing of your glory, we praise you again,
          for you are eternal. Amen. Amen.

2.      We sing of your power and honour again,
          for you are eternal. Amen. Amen.

3.      We sing of surrender to you, God, again.
          Your power is eternal. Amen. Amen.

4.      “Glory in the highest, on earth,” sing again.
          Glory, alleluia. Amen. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn Come, Let Us Sing of a Wonderful Love                  VU 574

1.      Come, let us sing of a wonderful love,
                   tender and true, tender and true,
          out of the heart of the Father above,
                   streaming to me and to you:
          wonderful love, wonderful love,
                   dwells in the heart of the Father above.

2.      Jesus the Saviour this gospel to tell
                   joyfully came, joyfully came,
          came with the helpless and hopeless to dwell,
                   sharing their sorrow and shame,
          seeking the lost, seeking the lost,
          saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

3.      Jesus is seeking the wanderers yet;
                   why do they roam? why do they roam?
          Love only waits to forgive and forget;
                   home, weary wanderers, home!
          Wonderful love, wonderful love
          dwells in the heart of the Father above.

4.      Come to my heart, O thou wonderful love!
                   Come and abide, come and abide,
          lifting my life till it rises above
                   envy and falsehood and pride:
          seeking to be, seeking to be
          lowly and humble, a learner of thee.

Benediction
God’s love for you is real. It is alive in your hearts today. Go in peace, knowing that the Lord of Love and Life is with you. Bring the peace of Christ to all you meet, this day and always. AMEN.

Postlude

“The Gift and The Response”
Text: Ephesians 1:3-14  Mark 6:14-29     Sunday, July 11, 2021
by Rev. James Murray at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church, Renfrew.

John the Baptist is one of the most interesting figures in the New Testament. John was a devout Jew who was a popular preacher. He wasn’t afraid to call people out for their sinful behaviour. He was a social critic who challenged the political leaders of the day for their self serving behaviour. He baptized Jews, which was very unusual. Usually only someone converting to the faith, or a really bad sinner needed to be baptized. John wanted people to be reborn, so they could turn their country into a new Promised Land where everyone gets to fully enjoy the benefits of living in a land flowing with milk and honey.

John never considered himself a Christian, but the Christian church does regard him as one of our saints. Some of his followers started a new religion called Mandaeism, which is still going today. He is also a revered figure in Islam. John inspired people to lead righteous lives which have the power to transform this imperfect place into a promised land once more. While his words inspire hope in people of several different religions, his words inspired fear in the palace of King Herod Antipas. The political leadership saw John as a critical threat to their control of the country. Today we heard the gruesome consequence of those fears. John is executed as the result of a plot hatched by Herod’s wife.

This is not a part of the gospel message we usually pay attention to. Many Christians see this as the first time Christianity is persecuted by the principalities and powers who rule the world.  Even today, there are governments around the globe which see Christianity as a threat to their power. Christianity can be a threat because it teaches us that this is God’s world. We are to live by God’s rules of how to treat each other. We Christians have God as our ultimate authority, and not the government of this nation.  While there are places where Christianity is persecuted and even illegal, over the past few decades there is a growing story that Christianity is being persecuted here in North America.

While Christianity has lost its place of privilege in our society, it is not persecuted. People in this province are not tortured for being a follower of Jesus. You will not go to prison in Canada for coming to worship. You won’t lose your job simply because you have faith in Jesus Christ. The government of Canada is not involved in a secret plot to shut down all the churches.

This persecution narrative has been gaining ground in evangelical churches across the country over the past twenty years. Last week a Catholic archbishop in Western Canada claimed the Roman Catholic church is being because of its involvement in the Indian residential school system.

While Christianity is not being persecuted today, it is being held accountable for the harm we have done to others. It is not persecution when someone wants to hold you responsible for the wrongs you have done. It’s easy to learn from your successes. It is much harder to learn from your mistakes, especially if you feel that your actions were part of a divine mandate.

We are all products of our past, both as individuals and as a society. But we don’t have to be prisoners of what happened in the past. The Christian gospel teaches us that we can repent and change our ways so we can build a more hopeful future for the good of all. One of the ways we can change our ways is to learn to tell a different story of who we are.  I believe we as Christians and as Canadians are beginning to realize how much we need to be able to tell that better story of what is happening so we can learn from the past and build a more hopeful future as a result.

I learned about the need for a better story to tell about ourselves when I visited Ireland two years ago. Christine and I spent two weeks travelling through the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland we attended a retreat that introduced us to a number of people who are involved in the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland.

We met some of the religious figures who helped bring the warring sides together for the dangerous first conversations which eventually laid the foundation for the formal peace talks. The Good Friday Peace Accord of 1998 was the result of those first risky conversations, and the humble faith of devout Catholics and Protestants who still dare to believe the gospel has the power to end centuries of oppression and conflict.

At the retreat we met several Irish poets and writers who are also doing the hard work of reconciliation that leads to the healing of those deep wounds which are still quite visible.

We were taken on a walking tour around Belfast where we were shown the Peace Walls. During the Troubles, the government often had to put up a thirty foot tall wall topped with barbed wire in order to separate Catholic neighbourhoods from their Protestant neighbours. The Peace Walls are tall enough to stop people from throwing bricks and bombs at each other. These walls are all over the city, and many have been painted with murals which feature strong propaganda messages. 

Sadly, even twenty years after signing the Good Friday Peace Accord, the residents of Belfast are not ready to take down these walls that divide them.  The Peace Walls are a not so silent witness to those wounds that are not going to be soon forgotten.

One of the writers we met told us that the challenge facing the people of Ireland is learning how to tell the better story. The Irish have a strong belief in the power of story to communicate their deepest feelings and beliefs. And Ireland has a big story to tell. Ireland has endured 800 years of conquest and exploitation by England. The English have used armies, language, religion, economics and even starvation as tools to subjugate the Irish. So the Irish have a very long list of well rehearsed grievances that are the story of their struggle to survive. But they know a story of anger and resentment won’t get you to the promised land. To get to the promised land you have to choose life. You need to learn how to tell a better story about yourself, the story that gives you hope. The Irish people are starting to learn how to tell that better story together. They admit it will take a few generations for this better story of peace and reconciliation to emerge. But they believe a good story is worth telling, even if it takes a long time to tell it. The purpose of a good story, you see, is to take you on a journey where you get to discover something about yourself. By sharing in the adventures of others, we discover a sense of courage which helps us to face our own challenges.

One of the writers we spoke to gave us an example of the transformative power of the better story. He reminded us how in the novel “The Lord of the Rings”, it is the servant Sam Gamgee who gives Frodo the courage to finish his great task. Sam believes in the power of a good story to inspire us.  At a crucial moment Sam says

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.  The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?”

The faith of Sam Gamgee shows us how the stories we tell about ourselves have to address that darkness and danger otherwise they are neither true nor helpful. But the story doesn’t end with the darkness or danger, does it?  As Sam goes on to say

“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

Sam says

“Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

We need to tell a better story about ourselves so we can learn from the past and find a more hopeful future together. We desperately need a better story if we are to find a way forward with the many troubles we face in our world today. This is true of our need for reconciliation with our indigenous and racialized brothers and sisters. A better story is needed if we are to heal the environment.

We can respond to such problems with a story of fear and danger. Or we can tell the better story that builds up hope.  

When we tell a story of fear, the focus is on the threat that we are afraid of. In the better story the story is about the hero’s efforts to overcome those fears. And you are the hero who makes the better story happen.  The better story is grounded in the fact you are loved, precious, and included, just as you are. It doesn’t matter what label others have put on you. This better story reveals what you are capable of becoming. For in this better story, we are the hero who doesn’t turn back. We can become the hero who gives of themselves so everyone can be set free.

We’ve all been there in the darkest places where the light of hope does not shine. The story of the death of John the Baptist is of a grave injustice. But the story doesn’t end with his death. His hopeful message of redemption lives on in the three great world religions. For a new day has come and the sun is shining out.  This is a story of a love that is stronger than death itself. So come, choose life. Help make this land a new promised land where all can stand tall together. 

We can choose the better story,
for it is the story of God’s love,
given for you,
for the healing of the world.

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