Thursday, June 25
What’s in a word?
Oak Bank United Church:
rooted in community, grounded in compassion, growing in faith, reaching out in generosity
A few years ago, the United Church of Canada decided to change the designation ‘congregation’ to ‘community of faith’. I was a touch miffed. Humph! It’s three words instead of one, it’s two syllables longer, it’s awkward to say! Why?! “Semantics!”, I groused in my indignant voice.
Congregation--a group of people assembled for religious worship. That’s who we are, isn’t it? There—it’s easy to say. It labels us. But the deed was done. I decided to acquiesce with somewhat less than good grace.
I sing with Rainbow Harmony Project, Winnipeg’s choir for the LGBTQI2S+ community and their allies. During the lockdown period, I came across a recording of one of our ‘anthems’, a piece we sing with pride and a tremendous feeling of love, respect, and caring for each other.
Did you know where you were going when your journey first began?
Did you know the lives you’d touch when you walked with an open hand?
Did you ever stop to realize the strength one voice can bring?
When hearts are joined in harmony, it’s with one voice we sing.
With one voice that speaks the voice of all, our liberty resounds,
With one hand that seeks the hand untouched, our dignity is found.
With one heart that beats for hearts grown cold, we embrace our humanity.
Only as we dare to look, will we have eyes to see
that with one voice, with one song, with one spirit of community to make us strong,
we will celebrate and rejoice, as one family, with one voice.
Did you know, did you know
Did you know where you were going? Does anybody really know?
Only as we choose to reach can we expect to go.
Only as we give our hearts and in other hearts rejoice
will there be strength for our journey’s length
to sing out with one voice.
One flame that burns in a raging storm illuminates the night.
One bird that soars over mountain heights sets other wings to flight.
One seed that grows on barren grave can flower all the earth
and one voice that sings with dignity gives other voices worth.
With one voice, with one song, with one spirit of community to make us strong,
we will celebrate and rejoice, as one family, with one voice.
Suddenly, as I listened, I was struck by the word community. This time of lockdown has revealed to me how much more we are than just a group of people assembled for worship. As our vision statement says, we found other ways to connect in order to grow in faith and to support each other emotionally, spiritually, sometimes physically (but at a social distance!). Being grounded in compassion, we still reached out in generosity to each other, to the local food bank, to West Broadway, and to our wider community.
One definition of community is “…people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests…” We know that one person (one flame, one bird, one seed, one voice) can make a difference. That is eminently true, yet how much more powerful we can be when we join with that one person to form a community with a common interest.
Yes, we are a congregation, but we are not just a congregation; we are a community of faith. I’m a convert.
Let us pray:
God of our community of faith, help us open our minds to understand and accept new ideas, new ways of looking at our lives and circumstances. When things seem strange, awkward or difficult, and we long for the comfort of familiarity, help us to see the opportunities available to us. Give us strength and wisdom and the courage to explore possibilities.
Wednesday, June 24
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
One beautiful spring evening two elderly ladies were sitting on a bench outside a country church. The sun slowly sinking in the West painted the sky with hues of gold, orange and red; the air was still warm, the sounds and sights of nature were beautifully evident. Strains of the rehearsing church choir drifted from an open window in the sanctuary, adding to the ambiance of the evening.
After sitting in silence for a while, one lady said to the other, “Isn’t that a beautiful sound?” to which her friend replied, “Yes and do you know they do that by rubbing their back legs together?’ One was hearing the choir, the other the crickets!
Isn’t that the story of our lives that we can often listen to the same thing and hear a totally different message! Every one of us can have a different perception on all the issues of the day and goodness knows right now, people’s awareness and attitudes can be polar opposite. In all walks of life our attitude towards others can be painted by the opinions of many, and when we do not take time to reflect and sort out what we really think and feel, we often do ourselves and others a disservice.
I dislike the mass emails that have an agenda and often spout rhetoric, usually citing American examples and dare I say racist and sadly right wing Christian politics. I don’t want any part of hate speak, and often that is what those emails boil down to! If I am 100% truthful, I believe each one of us can have racist tendencies. I know I have made comments that could be construed as racist and then had to stop and examine what actually came out of my mouth or was filtering through my brain. I truly believe until we can all admit to our own prejudices and yes (those ugly words) ‘racist tendencies’, the world will not change. I do still have HOPE though and will never let that die.
Jesus was political! He stood up to the Church and State politics of the day, and yes, it was about power and politics. His message was and still is LOVE! Love, pure and simple. It is nothing else but LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR, and who is your neighbour? I’ll leave that with you to ponder…..
Let us Pray:
God of crickets and church choirs, God of us all!
You sent us Jesus to teach us to love and stand up for the underdog, to care for all in need … NO exceptions. Continue to challenge our attitudes and our privilege with grace and compassion.
In the name of love personified, Jesus the Christ.
Maureen and Kristin
Tuesday, June 23
Some of you have heard me talk about something I call ‘Angel Nudges’. I am sure many of you have experienced them too, maybe just call this experience by a different name. What ever you call them, pay attention, you will never know what blessings await you when you do.
Some of you might be asking yourselves what is she talking about? Let me explain.
An “Angel Nudge” is when you feel compelled to do something for someone or make a call or visit and you often have no idea why, but you trust that you just have to do it. When the moment happens you not only know it was the right thing to do, you know too that God was right in the middle of this action!
I followed such a nudge last week and it turned out to be a blessing to me and I know to the other person. I don’t have permission to share the story, so I won’t. Trust me though when I say, it was one of those moments that actually made me stop and give thanks for paying attention and once again confirmed to me that God is in my Angel Nudges and I mustn’t ever ignore them.
I also need a nudge sometimes in my moments of doubt and when I feel God is far away. Maybe you have been having some of those moments of doubt lately and this Covid thing is just getting to you; you would definitely not be alone. So let’s remember to pray for one another and remind each other the words of our creed and so many words of scripture, “ God is with us, we are not alone. Thanks be to God!”
A friend sent me this video, I don’t know the man in the video or where he is from, but his story brought a tear to my eye, and it might to yours too. He identifies his ‘Angel Nudges’ as ‘Shoulder Taps.’ Enjoy, and I would love to hear your responses to the video or stories of your nudge or tap experiences!
God we celebrate your mysterious ways, and ask that we will always be open to serve you, whether it comes in a Shoulder Tap and Angel Nudge, or just in your still, small, yet compelling voice. Bless us and cheer us in this different and sometimes difficult time in which we find ourselves.
In the name of Jesus we pray.
Kristin and Maureen
Thursday, June 18
A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath day.
92 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
2 To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning,
And Your faithfulness every night,
3 On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute,
And on the harp,
With harmonious sound.
4 For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work;
I will triumph in the works of Your hands.
5 O Lord, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.
6 A senseless man does not know,
Nor does a fool understand this.
7 When the wicked spring up like grass,
And when all the workers of iniquity flourish,
It is that they may be destroyed forever.
8 But You, Lord, are on high forevermore.
9 For behold, Your enemies, O Lord,
For behold, Your enemies shall perish;
All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.
10 But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox;
I have been anointed with fresh oil.
11 My eye also has seen my desire on my enemies;
My ears hear my desire on the wicked
Who rise up against me.
12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
15 To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
Early in the lockdown period, Stephen recorded Like cedars they shall stand (play mp3). Because I wasn’t familiar with Psalm 92, I didn’t recognize it.
I spent some time researching commentaries and finding other music using the psalm. Some pieces use the entire psalm. Others take several verses and repeat them many times as a chorus. The photo accompanying this version reminds me that early morning and sunset (verse 2), particularly at the lake, are times when we are often aware of God’s presence.
I was particularly interested in the metaphor of the righteous as trees, like a palm or a cedar of Lebanon. “The Lebanon cedar is mentioned several times in the Hebrew bible. Hebrew priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon cedar in the treatment of leprosy. Solomon also procured cedar timber to build the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah used the Lebanon cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world, with the tree explicitly mentioned in Psalm 92:12 as a symbol of the righteous.” (Wikipedia)
For me, the best part of this psalm is verse 14. They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing. William Jay (1769-1853), an eminent English Congregationalist Minister, wrote, “The young Christian is lovely, like a tree in the blossoms of spring: the aged Christian is valuable, like a tree in autumn, bending with ripe fruit. We therefore look for something superior in old disciples.” I am gratified to know that I can still ‘bear fruit in old age” and be “fresh and flourishing”.
Let us pray:
God, we thank you for your loving kindness and faithfulness. Help us to put down roots in our faith so that we may remain straight and tall in the storms of life. Guide us as our branches grow, reaching out to those around us, providing shade and shelter. Let us be generous with the fruit of our years, wisdom, understanding, and compassion.
Wednesday, June 17
A few weeks ago we all remember a man crying for the breath of life to be restored to him, and we all know the outcome.
Just a few days ago in London England the tables were turned. A peaceful protest turned violent and one of the white far right activists was knocked to the ground, and as the crowd surged forward, his life was saved by a group of ‘B L M’ protesters. The courageous actions of a certain black protester named Patrick Hutchinson showed him swooping the injured man over his shoulder and carrying him to safety.
This reminds me of the story of the Good Shepherd who scoops up the lost sheep, places him on his shoulder and returns him safely to the ‘flock’.
I can’t help wondering whether the white anti Black protester will have a change of heart, knowing that he could have been severely injured or killed if Patrick and his group of black friends had not acted out of kindness and compassion? In the words of Patrick Hutchinson, “We just stopped someone from being killed.” Patrick also said in the interview following the incident (which incidentally was captured on video and has gone viral), he didn’t stop to consider who he was rescuing; the man on the ground was a ‘human being’ about to be trampled underfoot and in his mind there was only one option.
This is a moving story and I for one give thanks for people like Patrick Hutchinson who continue to strive for justice for all people of the human race. We are called to do no less!
How many times have you heard me quote my favourite verse Micah 6v8, “He has shown you O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” To me this is one of the most important instructions for the Christian faith! May each one of us through God’s grace live this verse boldly.
Let us Pray,
You are my wholeness; You O God are my completeness, my soul, my thirsty soul must rest in the depth of your love; and when my soul is sufficiently rested may I, may we, live out boldly the urgent message of your gospel.
Blessings from Kristin and Maureen
Tuesday, June 16
Jesus said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."
Jesus said these words before he sent his disciples out on a mission, to proclaim the good news, to heal and to offer God’s peace to those they met. In other words, they were doing Jesus’ ministry, just as we are called to do his ministry today. When we think about our Christian calling, I don’t think we normally think of ourselves as labourers in a harvest. Harvest is labour, it is hard, hands on work, and particularly in Jesus’ time, before the introduction of machinery, it took a lot of hands working together, for it to happen.
Sometimes being a Christian in our world can be hard work, and we can feel overcome with anxiety and sorrow when we see all the pain we want to respond to, and people we want to help. Recently, it has felt especially hard to know where our focus should be. There are many who are suffering because of the effects of the pandemic, either with health concerns, grieving losses, feeling the effects of continued isolation, or struggling with finances. The current Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted for us again the prejudice and violence suffered by racialized people.
It is Pride Month, a time to celebrate and continue our support of people of the LGBT2SNBQIA+ communities, and in the news there have been new threats to some of their rights. Recently we have been hearing a call for immigration rights for the migrant workers who are often literally the labourers of our harvests, and who have been even more vulnerable due to Covid-19. And of course, there are many people living in poverty, in our own community and around the world, there is war, and violence, and abuse, and much pain.
Sometimes all this can feel overwhelming. Perhaps that’s why Jesus likened this ministry to a harvest which is plentiful and in need of many labourers, working together to accomplish what needs to be done.
We are not in this ministry alone. We are part of a church community. It’s amazing to think of all the great outreach ministry that happens in our church community - Days for Girls, support for both the Springfield Food Bank and the West Broadway Community Ministry, the Affirming Task Group, the Refugee Project, and the many ministries that our Outreach committee supports, and I’m probably missing several things (I told you it can be overwhelming!) All this, not to mention the support offered to people in our own community of faith. No one person is involved in all these things, but together we make a lot of great ministry happen. And we are only one church family - thanks be to God, there are other labourers working away at the harvest around the world.
Of course, we have more than our fellow labourers to help us. As our New Creed says: God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray:
God, who has called each one of us to this harvest work of ministry, guide me, show me the place in the field where I am best suited, and where my work is needed. May I and my fellow labourers do this work gladly on your behalf, so that this world may draw closer to your kingdom, and all in this world may enjoy your harvest.
Maureen and Kristin
Thursday, June 11
My Star Word: Truth
On the first Sunday Service In January, each of us was invited to pick a word at random from a pile of words typed on star shapes. This would be our personal word, a word on which to meditate for the whole year and to see how its relevance to our lives played out. Mine was truth. As I pondered initially, I really didn’t see how this would provide any moments of insight for me; after all, I try to live a truthful life. In writing these meditations, however, and in wrestling with world events lately, I have become much more aware of the need for me to speak truth.
It’s based on the following poem written by a prisoner on a wall in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. (or so I thought)
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining;
I believe in love even when feeling it not;
I believe in God even when he is silent.
Probably all of us, at one time or another, have played the game of Telephone, in which a sentence is whispered from person to person. The last person speaks it out loud, usually resulting in hilarious laughter at the transformation that has transpired along the ‘telephone wire’. I discovered that this poem had just such an evolution. In fact, it has such a complex history that Everett Howe has devoted a series of four posts to it in his online blog, The Humanist Seminarian. I encourage you to read the posts and to follow his links to other material.
Sometimes the quotation is attributed to an anonymous prisoner in a cell, sometimes to a person in a concentration camp, other times to a member of a Jewish group being sheltered by Roman Catholics in a cellar, and most unusually to a twelve year old girl who escaped the ghetto and died in a cave next to the poem she had scrawled on the wall. As the story traveled, it gained colourful details and variations on the words.
The most striking variation is in the order of the phrases. The earliest known existence of the poem was in the late spring of 1945, and this translation reads:
I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.
I believe in love, even when it is not apparent.
Notice not only the difference in words about love, but also the order of the second and third lines. “Changing the order of the three sentences in the quotation completely alters their meaning, because, rhetorically, the first two provide evidence or motivation to support the third. The quotation as commonly given today encourages us to believe in God, just as we believe in the sun and in love. The quotation from [the Quaker publication,] The Friend encourages us to believe in love, just as we believe in the sun and in God. We are asked to have faith in humanity, justified by our faith in God, instead of the other way around.” Everett Howe (bold emphasis is mine)
If I had programmed this music in a concert, I would likely have quoted the poem and its attribution as I wrote it at the beginning, with God as the ultimate conclusion and a concentration camp as its location. Howe has made me think long and hard, however, about searching out the truth, not merely using versions of a story to suit what I want to say. It’s about integrity.
PS—Now that I’m taking a photo of my ‘word’, I realize that it says ‘true’, not truth! Obviously, I still have work to do. LOL
Let us pray:
God, in whom I believe even when I cannot feel or hear you, help me always to seek truth, to speak truth, even when it doesn’t suit me.
Wednesday, June 10
Today is a special day. Ninety-five years ago on June 10, 1925, over 8000 people - Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and members of Union churches - all gathered to worship together as the United Church of Canada for the first time.
Do you know what the words on the outer edge of our Church Crest mean (see attached UCC Crest)? The Latin words “ut omnes unum sint” mean "That all may be one", a good motto for a church that is United, but also wants to continue to unite in Christ’s name. These words are taken from John 17:21, and are part of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples on the night before he died. Jesus prayed not only for his followers that were with him on that night, but also for “those who will believe in me through their word” - which means us as well! So his prayer is not only for us to be united as one with our own community of faith, or even with the world wide Church today, but also with our ancestors in faith.
Since 1925, other churches have joined the United Church of Canada, including the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. In 2012 our Crest was updated in order to recognize the presence and spirituality of the Indigenous peoples of this land that had also been a part of our church since before union, but which we didn’t recognize at the time. The Mohawk phrase "Akwe Nia'Tetewá:neren" [aw gway -- nyah day day waw -- nay renh], which means "All my relations", was added alongside “That all may be one”. The two phrases match, but the wording of the Mohawk phrase helps us remember that we are not only united, but that we, and all peoples, and all of Creation, are interrelated.
We would not be the church family we are today if it was not for all of our “grandparents in faith”, including those first faithful souls who chose to see the members of the other churches as their relations, as their siblings in Christ, and boldly worked to bring us together as one. Let’s give thanks today for their vision.
Our prayer for today was written by our Moderator Richard Bott, and based on the prayer offered at that inaugural United Church of Canada service on June 10, 1925. As you pray these words, bring to mind all the people who have prayed, that day and in the days since, and remember that though in different times and different places, we are united, we are all related, we are made one by our God.
at Pentecost, you gave your Holy Spirit
to a waiting church -
disciples divided in so many ways,
but one in their love for Christ;
95 years ago, you brought together
a union of unions,
disparate, but not dis-Spirited,
United in spite of differences,
by the oneness of their love for Christ;
United and united again through the years,
with congregations, and with the EUB;
gathered as we are now, today -
together, though separated by no desire of our own...
we ask that you would pour that same Spirit
upon your church, in this time and place,
upon all who worship you,
upon all who live for you,
wherever we may be...
that we would expect great things of you,
and do great things for you,
and, one in you,
we might share with the world,
the love that Christ shares with the world,
and, in that sharing,
bring you honour and glory,
always and forever.
Tuesday, June 9
Now the Lord said to Abram and Sarai, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
We are now in the Season after Pentecost, which stretches from end of the Season of Easter all the way to the beginning of the Season of Advent, and which is sometimes called “Ordinary Time”. Of course, the times we are living in right now feel anything but “ordinary”, although I know many of us are eager to get back to normal.
The colour of this season is green, which represents growth. In the world around us, as summer approaches, green emerges more and more, as the leaves on the trees become full, and the plants in fields and gardens grow.
The scripture readings during this season get us thinking about growth, too; we often get a continuous line of stories that trace part of the ancient history of the Hebrew Scriptures. Today’s scripture reading is one of the first readings that tell the story of Abram and Sarai (later called Abraham and Sarah) and their descendants: Isaac and Rebekah; Jacob (also called Israel), Leah and Rachel; and Joseph of the famous coat of many colours. By reading this Biblical history, we witness the growth of our ancestors in faith, from one couple sent on a journey to a new land, to the “great nation” that God promised to make of them, the people of Israel.
One thing I’ve always loved in today’s passage from Genesis is that God promises to bless Sarah and Abraham and their descendants, in order that they will be a blessing, so that all the families of the earth shall be blessed. What a great way to think about the blessings we have- how can we use them to be a blessing to others?
Let us pray:
Loving God, we thank you for the blessings of scripture, and how it brings our ancestors in faith to life. Bless us during this season after Pentecost, this extraordinary Ordinary Time, may it be a time of growth for us, and may we find ways to bless others as we have been blessed.
Kristin and Maureen