If you wish to have a link sent to you via email for an audio version of this service, please email us at email@example.com PORT PERRY AND PRINCE ALBERT UNITED CHURCHES Sunday, March 22, 2020 Fourth Sunday in Lent GATHERING WITH GOD AND ONE ANOTHER
As we begin worship together, we suggest you have a battery-operated candle or a candle and matches nearby.
Welcome Love and prayers to all of you. This has been an unprecedented week. Some of us are feeling lonely; some of us are anxious; some of us are worried about our health; some of us are feeling very tired of all of this already; some of us have been laid off work or our hours have been cut back; some of us are working from home; others are still being asked to go to work and are worried about bringing home illness; some of us are worried about our business; some of us are missing choir practice; some of us have returned from travels and are self-isolating;, some of us have not been able to get home and we are scared; some of us are health care professionals busy preparing, physically and emotionally, for the work to come. Many of us are taking time to go for a walk; many of us are watching the world slowly come alive with the promise of spring. Many of us are staying inside, turning the TV or computer off and enjoying a good book. Many of us are entertaining and enjoying children. Many of us are appreciating their teens and young adults as wise and loving souls. Whoever you are, wherever you are today, greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Call to Worship One: We wait for your loving kindness, O God. (Psalm 48:9) All: Restore to us the joy of your salvation. One: Open now our lips, … All: … and our mouths shall show forth your praise. (Psalm 51:12a, 15, alt.)
As we light the Christ candle in our usual worship space, we invite you to light a candle in your space, for we all share the same Christ light.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Prelude: “Come and Find the Quiet Centre” attrib. Benjamin Franklin White (if you have a Voices United hymn book at home this hymn #374)
Come and find the quiet centre. Just now the sanctuary is indeed a quiet centre. Now more than ever, God’s people need to take the time to come together in prayer.
Let us pray together …
Prayer of Approach All: O God, we know from the gospel story how Jesus met people in their hour of deep need. He turned their despair into hope, their sorrow into joy, their anxiety into peace, and their fear into an awareness of your presence. Speak to us throughout these days of Lent. We too need your healing hand, your inner strength, and the quiet confidence that we are not alone. We pray as we journey, through Jesus Christ, our companion and friend. Amen.
Feel free to join in the hymn “God of Still Waiting”
Hymn: MV 20 “God of Still Waiting”
1. God of still waiting, God of deep longing, God of the heart’s true rest: hold us in fathomless peace, guard us with unwaning love.
2. Spirit of promise, Spirit of purpose, Spirit of ceaseless prayer: bathe us in life full and free, kindle our wonder and hope.
3. Word who comes to us, Word who lives with us, Word who disturbs and heals: silence our chattering fears, waken our unconscious faith.
4. Word true and faithful, hope-bringing Spirit, God of enfolding love: come in your fullness and grace; work through our lives for your praise.
words: Carl P. Daw, 2000 music: Alfred V. Fedak, 2000 permission to podcast obtained from ONE LICENCE no. A-727874
Call to Silent Confession For some of us, it has already been a very quiet week. Yet still it is good to come before our God with intentional silence, knowing that God will hear our confessions and bring us healing, forgiveness, patience, and strength.
These and all our prayerful thoughts we gather together in the words that our Lord teaches us, as we pray, saying: …
The Lord’s Prayer Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Now let us assure ourselves of God’s healing love. Assurance of God’s Healing Love One: The loving-kindness of the Lord is from everlasting unto everlasting. All: God wishes nothing less than for each one of us, God’s beloved people, to know a greater measure of healing and wholeness. One: God meets us on our way home; … All: … God gladly extends to us welcome, and pardon, and peace.
LISTENING FOR GOD'S WORD Let us now turn our thoughts and hearts to scripture. Psalm 126 seems to recall a time gone by, when people’s days were filled with laughter and joy, a time gone by when people freely and easily acknowledged God’s evident goodness to them. But now they are no longer in that time, and their days are instead filled with tears. And they express the hope that God will once again restore their fortunes, like a river flowing through a parched and arid land.
Psalm Reading: Psalm 126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Reflection, Part 1 Most of the contents of our Bible witness to God’s word for us. But the psalms differ from the rest of scripture, in that they contain our words to God. Through the psalms, the Hebrew people gave voice to their deepest feelings, telling of those feelings in worship of God, telling of those feelings in prayer to God. Sometimes those feelings were of thanksgiving and at other times they were of need. Sometimes those feelings were of celebration, even exultation, and at other times they were of profound sadness or lament.
And in the psalm that we just heard, those same people gave voice to their feelings at a time when they found themselves removed from their everyday lives and their everyday activities of work and play, of learning and socializing, of being and growing together as a community. Removed from all that. They were exiled to a foreign land. And they wished for a return to a time with which they were familiar and comfortable and content. And they asked God, beseeched God, begged God, “Restore our fortunes again!”
We too are now in a strange and unsettling place, an exile of sorts. A community of empty school classrooms and empty movie theatres, locked offices and shuttered shops. Fewer cars on town streets, and many more cars parked in driveways, reflecting a work force that in some households is by force of circumstance working from home, and in other households is by force of circumstance no longer working.
For a time we could suppose that the crisis was overblown. Once we acknowledged its reality, still we held out hope that somehow we might be spared. Now we know that that will not be so.
There have been relatively minor inconveniences in all of this. There is no NHL hockey to watch on television, no major league baseball. There is NBA basketball, but only if you’re a fan of last year’s Raptors and you don’t mind re-runs. Communal worship has been supplanted by on-line alternatives prepared by technologically-challenged clergy.
And there have been much more serious consequences of COVID-19. Our residents of Port Perry Place, the Port Perry Villa, the West Shore Village, and other similar care facilities in the area are locked down to visitors. National economies are moving into recession, as our government scrambles to counter the effect. Health care workers are anxiously preparing for coming contingencies of unknown scope. Investment portfolios on which retirees depend have taken a heavy hit. And households are facing layoffs and lost work hours and an uncertain future.
All of this to say nothing of individuals who, as the virus spreads will be facing serious illnesses and in some cases death. All this we know. We don’t know how long this new “normal” will last.
Our North American way of life, rich and diverse and distinctive, with an array of activities always available to us, and to fill our days with, that way of life that we have unthinkingly taken for granted, we now realize that it was deserving of our appreciation and also dependent upon our contribution. And we wish that we could go back to the way we were, our old “normal.” And we ask God: “Restore our fortunes again!”
And as did the Hebrew people of ancient times, so today it is wise and healthy for us to engage in a communal lament, for what we have lost, and fear that we will not soon recover, and may perhaps lose forever. This lament is not to be just an anguished wringing of hands. It is an implicit acknowledgment of the reality of the “other,” the spiritual dimension of our lives. As we come together in lament, we acknowledge our collective humanity and we ponder the spiritual dimension of our lives that has been sometimes relegated to the background or crowded out of our picture altogether, because our lives did not seem to need it. It is an implicit acknowledgment of the reality of the spiritual, its power, and its power to effect good.
What does that mean for us? It means a willingness to venture close to the divine in prayer. It means a willingness to bring our anxieties and our fears and our questions. Asking that God “hear the voice of our complaint.” Asking, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
In short, lament is good for our collective soul. It does not sugar-coat reality. At the same time, it opens a space for God to act.
Let us listen to a time when the closest friends of Jesus were being literally tossed about in the storms of life. Theirs was a cry for help, a lament amidst the storms of life. Following this reading, we invite you to read the words of “The Stranger of Galilee”
Jesus had begun to teach by the seashore. And a large crowd had gathered around him, listening to him teaching in parables. At the end of that busy day, Jesus and his disciples sought out some quiet time away from the crowd … a kind of self-isolation. But that could not shelter them from the inevitable storms of life.
Gospel Reading: Mark 4:35-41 On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Music: “The Stranger of Galilee” 1. In fancy I stood by the shore, one day, of the beautiful murm’ring sea; I saw the great crowds as they thronged the way of the stranger of Galilee; I saw how the man who was blind from birth, in a moment was made to see; the lame was made whole by the matchless skill of the stranger of Galilee. refrain: And I felt I could love him forever, So gracious and tender was he! I claimed him that day as my Saviour, this stranger of Galilee.
3. I heard him speak peace to the angry waves, of that turbulent, raging sea; and lo! at his word are the waters stilled, This stranger of Galilee; a peaceful, a quiet, and holy calm now and ever abides with me; he holdeth my life in his mighty hands, this stranger of Galilee. R
4. Come, ye who are driven and tempest-tossed, and his gracious salvation see; he’ll quiet life’s storms with his “Peace, be still!” this Stranger of Galilee; he bids me to go and the story tell– what he ever to you will be, if only you let him with you abide, this stranger of Galilee. refrain: Oh, my friend, won’t you love him forever? So gracious and tender is he! Accept him today as your Saviour, this stranger of Galilee.
words: Lelia N. Morris, 1893 music: Lelia N. Morris, 1893
Reflection, Part 2 Christians acknowledge not merely the reality of the “other,” the reality of the divine, but indeed the lordship of Christ, over and above all the other powers of this world, powers that may have held sway in those carefree days before the onset of this unseen enemy.
This unseen enemy is throwing up all sorts of barriers to human contact, human interaction, so necessary for the production of goods and services on which we depend, so necessary for the building of healthy communities in which we thrive. This unseen enemy is a for-instance of those many metaphorical storms of life, both inevitable and daunting for people of faith equally for people of none.
As people of a particular faith, we look to Christ to lead us. Not, however, to lead us back to where we were, but rather to lead us forward.
So we must ask: where is Christ leading us today? How is Christ building his kingdom, his new world, through us today? What is our faithful response to COVID-19?
Already we see signs of a faithful response, both around the world and close at hand:
~ the simple and selfless act of self-isolating on returning from a trip abroad or if displaying symptoms; ~ friends, and strangers too, delivering grocery orders or running errands for those who are unable or unwise to go out of their homes; ~ people staying in touch with one another by text message and telephone conversation; and neighbours singing to one another from apartment balconies, as we have seen in Italy.
We too commit to acts of kindness and consideration, of caring for one another’s health along all its dimensions–physical, emotional, social, spiritual–while this crisis continues.
As faithful Christians, however, we do not stop there. In the first place, we must remain committed to participating in the re-establishment of what has been put on pause. This begins by our becoming aware of what we are missing, and of what we truly value in life and not being tempted by inertia or by giving up. This also means holding the Christ-light for one another when we have our moments or days of worry or sadness or fear. In the second place, our challenge and call as Christians is to take our faithful responses and ensure that they do not remain temporary measures only. This crisis, like many crises, embodies both danger and opportunity. It presents an opportunity for building and bringing a better world than the one we have been missing. Already we can see this to be so in the following ways:
~ we are learning to acknowledge and indeed celebrate our interdependence on one another, to accept the reality that our decisions have consequences for those around us, near and far. We are realizing that the selfishness that we have regarded as our right bears with it a cost, for others and for ourselves; ~ we are intentionally caring for the vulnerable and easily forgotten members of our community, of whom we have now been reminded; ~ we are forming small groups for mutual support, reaching intentionally and regularly, by telephone or on-line through resources like Zoom, fostering new and life-giving relationships that we will later continue and strengthen in person.
In all this–acts of caring while the COVID-19 crisis lasts, and beyond; our commitment to participating in the re-establishment of what has been put on pause; and our desire to usher more and more of the ways of the kingdom into this needful world, we are able to face, and to face down, the storms of life and the straits of fear. For
We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll; fastened to the rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!
RESPONDING TO GOD'S WORD Once again let’s now bow our heads and join our hearts together in prayer. A prayer written by the Moderator of The United Church of Canada, the Right Reverend Richard Bott.
A Prayer during Times of COVID-19 In this time of COVID-19, we pray: When we aren’t sure, God, help us to be calm; when information comes from all sides, correct and not, help us to discern; when fear makes it hard to breathe, and anxiety seems to be the order of the day, slow us down, God; help us to reach out with our hearts, when we can’t touch with our hands; help us to be socially connected, when we have to be socially distant; help us to love as perfectly as we can, knowing that “perfect love casts out all fear.”
For the doctors, we pray, for the nurses, we pray, for the technicians and the janitors and the aides and the caregivers, we pray, for the researchers and theorists, the epidemiologists and investigators, for those who are sick, and those who are grieving, we pray, for all who are affected, all around the world... we pray for safety, for health, for wholeness.
May we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and house those without homes; may we walk with those who feel they are alone, and may we do all that we can to heal the sick– in spite of the epidemic, in spite of the fear.
Help us, O God, that we might help each other.
In the love of the Creator, in the name of the Healer, in the life of the Holy Spirit that is in all and with all, we pray.
(Rt. Rev. Richard Bott, Moderator, The United Church of Canada)
GOING INTO THE WORLD
Feel free to join in singing “Will Your Anchor Hold.”
Hymn: VU 675 “Will Your Anchor Hold” 1. Will your anchor hold in the storms of life? When the clouds unfold their wings of strife; when the strong tides lift and the cables strain, will your anchor drift or firm remain? refrain: We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll; fastened to the rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!
2. It will surely hold in the straits of fear, When the breakers tell that the reef is near; though the tempest rave and the wild winds blow, not an angry wave shall our bark o’erflow. R
4. When our eyes behold, through the gathering night, the city of gold, our harbour bright, we shall anchor fast by the heavenly shore, with the storms all past for evermore. R
words: Priscilla Jane Owens, 1882 music: William James Kirkpatrick, 1882
Commissioning and Benediction Now let us return to our lives, knowing that we remain connected in spirit. Knowing that in Christ we have an anchor that surely holds in the storms of life.
And may the peace of God be your peace; may the love of God be the love you know; may the joy of God be the joy you show; and may the world that God would see be found in you. Amen. (Neil McLaren, alt.)
Postlude: “Blessed Assurance” Phoebe Palmer Knapp
(Thank you for “Worshipping Together at Home” today. Don’t forget to extinguish your candle!)