Read-along Service for Sunday, July 18, 2021

Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church
Order of Worship
Sunday, July 18
Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene

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
We gather together in the name of Jesus Christ, for we are all members of God’s family. We are called to be brothers and sisters to one another. There are no outsiders here among us, we are all part of the circle of care. Each person is a unique gift, for the image of God is shining brightly in you. Come, let us shine together as brightly as the stars in the night sky. For we have been brought together by the redeeming love of Jesus. Let’s join together in worship!

Prayer of Approach
Creator God, in a spirit of 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. This is a day for praise and thanksgiving. Let our spirits soar! May our hearts sing boldly of your wondrous love. When we encounter situations in which sorrow and hurt abound, help us to be ready to bring hope and peace. We celebrate your loving presence among us. It is in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we offer this prayer. AMEN.

Hymn  O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing       (tune: Richmond)          VU 326

1.      O for a thousand tongues to sing
          my great Redeemer’s praise,
          the glories of my God and King,
          the triumphs of God’s grace.

2.      Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
          that bids our sorrows cease;
          ‘tis music in the sinner’s ears,
          ‘tis life and health and peace.

3.      He speaks, and listening to his voice,
          new life the dead receive,
          the mournful broken-hearts rejoice,
          the humble poor believe.

4.      Hear him, you deaf; you voiceless ones,
          your tongues again employ;
          you blind, behold your Saviour comes,
          and leap, you lame, for joy!

5.      My gracious Master and my God,
          assist me to proclaim,
          to spread through all the earth abroad
          the honours of your name.

Scripture Reader:       Peter Raaphorst
Ephesians 2:11-22      John 20:1-2, 11-18

Special Music

Homily “The Unforgiven Saint”

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  Come, O Fount of Every Blessing                           VU 559

1.      Come, O Fount of every blessing,
                   tune my heart to sing your grace;
          streams of mercy, never ceasing
                   call for songs of endless praise.
          Teach me some melodious sonnet,
                   sung by flaming tongues above.
          Praise the mount; I’m fixed upon it,
                   mount of God’s unfailing love.

2.      Here I pause in my sojourning,
                   giving thanks for having come,
          come to trust, at every turning,
                   God will guide me safely home.
          Jesus sought me when a stranger,
                   wandering from the fold of God,
          came to rescue me from danger,
                   precious, precious, precious blood.

3.      O, to grace how a great a debt
                   or daily I am drawn anew!
          Let that grace now, like a fetter
                   bind my wandering heart to you.
          Prone to wander, I can feel it,
                   wander from the love I’ve known:
          here’s my heart, O, take and seal it,
                   seal it for your very own.

Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn         Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour                        VU 665

1.      Pass me not, O gentle Saviour,
          hear my humble cry;
          while on others thou art calling,
          do not pass me by.

                   Refrain:     Saviour, Saviour,
                                      hear my humble cry;
                                      while on others thou art calling,
                                      do not pass me by.

2.      Let me at thy throne of mercy
          Find a sweet relief,
          kneeling there in deep contrition;
          help my unbelief.                              Refrain

3.      Trusting only in thy merit,
          would I seek thy face;
          heal my wounded, broken spirit,
          save me by thy grace.                     Refrain

4.      Thou the spring of all my comfort,
          more than life to me,
          whom have I on earth beside thee?
          Whom in heaven but thee?             Refrain

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

Postlude

“The Unforgiven Saint” – Sermon for the Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene.
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Trinity- St. Andrew’s United Church Sunday, July 18, 2021

On Thursday of this week the religious calendar says that it is the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene. This will be one of the least celebrated saints days of the year, which is a pity. Mary Magdalene is considered a saint of the church because she is a witness to the healing power of Christ. The scriptures tell us that Jesus cast out seven demons from Mary Magdalene. She is also the first person to discover the empty tomb. She is the first person to proclaim the resurrection. So she is THE witness to the resurrection. Her official title is the ‘Apostle to the Apostles’. She is a woman of great importance.

Unfortunately, Saint Mary Magdalene lived in a time which did not celebrate the achievements of women. A strong woman was to be feared and silenced. For much of our Christian history, we have put more energy into silencing Mary Magdalene than in listening to what she has to say. This morning I want to celebrate the faith and ministry of Saint Mary Magdalene, whom I believe can be a role model for us today.

Now for the first hurdle. Who wants their role model to be a former prostitute? No one. The charge of being a prostitute has been used as a way to silence Mary Magdalene for a very long time. Around the year 200 AD the church leaders started to suppress the documents which support Mary’s good reputation. They started a smear campaign by saying that the unnamed woman who wipes Jesus’ feet with her tears was Mary Magdalene. But nowhere in the Bible does it say that she was ever a prostitute. The first time she is mentioned by name, she is one of the women who accompanies Jesus. She is a supporter who goes with him on all his travels. The one thing it does say about her is that she had seven demons cast out of her. She is walking proof of Jesus’ healing power, and she told everyone she met on those travels what Jesus did for her. Sadly, even today there are significant parts of the Christian church that do not allow women to preach, teach or lead.

Now what if she did have a shady past? Let me ask you this- what is more important- what you were doing before you met Jesus, or what you did with your life after you met him? Do we hold it against Matthew that he was a tax collector? No. So why do we hold what might have been in Mary’s past against her? Why do we have an unforgiven saint? If all we can say about Mary Magdalene is that she was a whore, then we are guilty of failing to practice the most Christian of virtues, which is forgiveness. Jesus accepted her, and he put her to work for him. So why can’t we? Because just as Jesus accepts Mary and sends her out as one of his disciples, Jesus wants to do the same with you. Regardless of what happened in your past, Jesus wants you to be a disciple who will go out and be a witness to the healing power of the gospel. 

The fact Saint Mary Magdalene is finally starting to be recognized for the good work she has done is the result of new scholarship and archaeological discoveries.  About seventy years ago a group of archaeologists found a cave full of early Christian manuscripts in the deserts of Egypt. They discovered letters and gospels which had not been included in our bible. These long forgotten documents have given us a rare glimpse into the great diversity of beliefs and practices in the early Christian church.

In the Gospel according to Philip, Mary was the disciple Jesus loved the most, which made the other disciples quite jealous. In the Gospel according to Thomas, Peter gets so jealous of Mary that he asks Jesus to get rid of her since she isn’t a man. Jesus steadfastly refuses his request. Later in the Gospel of Thomas, Mary Magdalene and Salome are named as being among the disciples of Jesus.  In one work that is called the “Dialogue of the Saviour” Mary Magdalene and John are listed as being the greatest of the disciples. It goes on to say that Mary was “the woman who knew the ALL”.  A common theme of these forgotten gospels is the fact Jesus shared significant teachings with Mary that the other disciples did not receive. I think the boys were a little bit jealous.  In several of these unheard Gospels, it is Mary who first preaches to the disciples on Easter Sunday. Her sermon gives them hope, helping them to believe in the resurrection.  According to the Christian tradition, Mary Magdalene eventually leaves Jerusalem and travels to the south of France, where she spreads the gospel and founds several churches.  Church historians now agree she was a prominent disciple and an important teacher. She was an influential leader of the early Christian movement who wasn’t afraid to promote women’s leadership.

As the Christian movement became more widely accepted across Europe, one of the consequences was that the role of women diminished in the church. The cultural expectations of women to be subservient began to weaken the gospel vision of equality. And so the smear campaign against Saint Mary Magdalene began. In Renaissance paintings, they all show her as a prostitute. In the United Church of Canada, there is not a single church named after her.  Today her name is most often found on buildings which are homes for unwed mothers or shelters for prostitutes. Most people do not even count her as a saint, that is how far the ‘apostle to the apostles’ has fallen from favour.

One of the reasons Mary Magdalene fell out of favour is her understanding of the resurrection. She understood it to be a spiritual event in each believer’s heart. She believed every believer can have spiritual experiences of the risen Christ which are just as important as the historical experiences of the original disciples.  This teaching undermines the authority of the newly formed hierarchy of leaders in the church. And so the struggle between the importance of religious experience and the need for religious order began. It is a struggle which continues even today. 

Saint Mary Magdalene is starting to come back into fashion today, as many groups try to legitimize the religious experience of women, and to re-open the door to the full participation of women in the religious enterprise. If Mary was a disciple who was present at the Last Supper, the traditional argument against the ordination of women completely falls apart.  We need to learn to see the image of God in both men and women, for God’s spirit has always been poured out equally on all believers.

About twenty years ago Mary Magdalene got caught up in the public spotlight for all the wrong reasons when the author Dan Brown released his best selling novel The DaVinci Code. In the DaVinci Code, Dan Brown claims that Jesus fathered a child with Mary Magdalene. The plot centres around the idea that this royal bloodline continues to this day. This fanciful work of fiction assumes the most radical thing Mary Magdalene could do is give birth to Jesus’ son. In truth, Saint Mary Magdalene did something far more important. She carries on Jesus’ teachings after his death. Following the resurrection she is one of the disciples who builds the movement we call the Christian Church. She is not the mother of Jesus’ child. She is, however, the mother of Jesus’ church.

The writer Oscar Wilde once said that ‘Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Saint Mary Magdalene shows us how Jesus can use every one of us to be a witness to the healing power of the gospel. She is a shining witness to the strength that comes from trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is good new for us, because we live in an age where we all need the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. We live in a world which was not imagined by the writers of the Bible. We face situations which Jesus never dreamt of. While the scriptures and our traditions can give us general principles to go by, they do have not explicit advice to give us on many of our current issues. We need new spiritual guidance when dealing with topics like evolution, pollution, science, politics, war, technology, genetics and sexuality.  We need to be rooted in our past, but not limited by it.  Saint Mary Magdalene shows us how to trust the power of our religious experience to guide us. When we are open to what the Spirit is saying, then everyone gets a say in how we build this house of faith. The Christian movement is still in the process of becoming all that it can be. Our goal when we come together is for this community to become a holy place, where everyone can find God’s redeeming grace.

I’d like to give the final word to our unforgiven saint. From the Gospel of Mary, here is the blessing she gave to the other disciples on that first Easter morning.

“Do not weep or grieve or be in doubt, for his grace will be with you all and God will protect you.”

 Amen.

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