Do Not Be Afraid (Sunday, March 22nd, 2020): Lent 4
Welcome to worship!
In the light of the good advice from health authorities that we practice ‘social distancing’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are not worshiping in person at the church.
However, Jesus promises that where two or three are gathered, He will be there. So, we can gather in spirit, sharing the Word, hymns, and prayers that bind us together as followers of Jesus and people of God.
We may not be in the same room, and we may not even be doing this at the same moment in time; but, along with millions of people around the world in any number of languages, we are worshiping God and caring for one another.
What follows is my first attempt to put together an ‘online’ worship service. You’ll recognize lots of the elements, while a few others may be unfamiliar. It may seem odd to be sitting in your jammies and watching the computer screen as you move through worship, but always remember that God is present, regardless of where we are, what we're wearing, or what burdens and joys we bring. (A couple of things in this were contributed by members of the congregation: Irmine sent me the video, and Joyce the poem / prayer at the end. Please send me things like this, and I'll try to include them in future online worship).
In preparation, you may want to have a candle handy (either a real candle or one of those little battery-operated ones). We always light candles in church because they remind of the presence and beauty of God.
Let’s pause before we begin (take a couple of moments to quiet yourself before proceeding further).
We are your people, yet we don’t always show this to the world.
We are your children, yet we turn our backs on you.
We are your voice, yet too often we are silent.
We are your body, yet we easily walk away from you.
Forgive us for not trusting you.
Forgive us for ignoring you.
Forgive us when we cannot find the strength to speak up.
Help us praise you.
Help us find peace in you.
<<take a few moments in silence>>
With the love of God, the compassion of the Son, and the healing power of the Spirit, our weeping will be turned into laughter, our sorrow into joy,
and, in death we will find life.
All who are lost will be found, and the sick and the aggrieved will be healed.
All that is broken will be reconciled.
And, in this promise, may we find the peace of forgiveness, for in Christ we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
If you have a candle, this would be a good time to light it, using these words:
I light this candle, with the prayer that Jesus, the light of the world, will be my light; today, tomorrow, and always. Amen.
Today’s scripture is taken from Matthew, chapter 6. In times of crises and change, we are easily tempted to worry and fret. Jesus reminds us to have faith. (don't be shy -- read it out loud!).
Matthew 6: 25 – 34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Reflection / Homily:
”Wow, how the world has changed in just a few short days! It seems not so long ago that none of us had heard of Coronavirus or Covid-19 – now it’s almost the only thing on the news, and our every-day lives have been dramatically changed. This past Sunday about 20 of us gathered at St. Paul’s for worship, and shared some of our concerns and fears about the pandemic.
Fear is absolutely understandable. When find shelves in the supermarket empty, hear that we should ‘self-isolate’ and not gather in groups of fifty or more, and learn that the virus is spreading rapidly across the country and indeed the world, fear seems a very reasonable response.
I often think it is one of the paradoxes of God’s plan that fear is as much a part of our God-given nature as the colour of our eyes or our ability to love, and then God spends so much time, energy, and effort assuring us to not be afraid. You may remember that ‘Do not be afraid’ is the most common phrase of the Bible; so, there must be something to it! Listen!!
On Sunday we listened to the words and wisdom of Deuteronomy: “God will never leave you, nor forsake you, so do not be afraid or discouraged.” And everyone’s favourite Psalm, “Though I walk through the darkest valleys, I will fear no evil because You are with me.” Then Jesus speaks to his followers and says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.”
And if you want further assurances from today’s modern oracles, I saw this on Facebook: “Worry gives us something to do, but never takes us any place worth going.”
As a community of Christians, as followers of Jesus, our faith strengthens us and binds us together – and faith is both the opposite and antidote to fear. Even in this current dark valley through which we are walking, God is with us.
Last Sunday the Board made the difficult decision to close the building. But note, it is only the building that is closed – the bricks and mortar at 200 McIntosh. The church itself continues because our faith is grounded not in a building, but in God and our church family. During this crisis – regardless of how long it lasts – we will continue to be church: to the community, to one another, and to God. As Paul said, "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, not powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
While there are tough times ahead, we can rest assured that this too, like so many trials, will also pass. Our faithful response in this crisis is not fear, not worry, not even hoarding TP; it's doing what Jesus would do: care for one another, pray for the world, be a blessing in the face of the trial, and be confident that nothing -- not even a virus -- can separate us from the love of God.
Prayer (you may want to read this silently or aloud).
Calming and loving God, we are living in difficult times. We don’t know what the morrow will bring, and worry and anxiety are filling our hearts. Things are changing so fast and sometimes the changes are more than we can follow let alone grasp. Help us, O God, in these times to feel your calming presence. Help us to listen to Jesus loving words that worry and care will not save us, and will, in fact, move us away from you. Help us live the gift of your grace, and not be afraid.
Healing God, we pray for all those who are in need of your sustaining strength:
· those of us who are ill, in body, mind, and spirit;
· those of us who are isolated and alone;
· those of us who suffer on the edges of society, who are hardest hit by this pandemic: the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the outcasts;
· those of us working to slow the spread of the virus, and those of us who are taking care of us: our friends and family, doctors and nurses, ministers, and pastors, city workers and government officials.
And we pray for the world beyond our homes and walls, where this crisis adds to other crises of famine, refugees, war, and climate change.
And, we pray for our church, our friends and family here at St. Paul’s. May your care, O God, knit us together even more tightly as a Christian community committed to follow in the steps of Jesus, working for a healed world.
And so we continue to pray in the words of Jesus:
Our Father, who are in heaven,
hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us today 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, the power and the glory, forever and ever.
Our offering is a both a practical and symbolic act of our commitment to serve Christ and build His church. Although we can’t actually ‘pass the plate’ online, you are encouraged to continue your gift to the church, as the work of the St Paul’s and the staff continue:
· Drop your envelope (cheque or cash) at the church;
· Mail your cheque to the church;
· Go on PAR (call Rosie for details);
· Use the Donate button at the top of the page (it will take you to SPUC’s Canada Helps page where you can donate online and get an instant tax receipt).
May my gifts of time, talent, and treasure generously and lovingly offered be used faithfully to do build God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven!
Let us listen closely to God’s assurance: “Do not be afraid! For I am with you always.”
Therefore, let us go into the world, full of God’s love, knowing that we are blessed and a blessing. Let us go into the world, to love and serve the Lord. Amen.
· Don’t forget to extinguish your candle!
· As an exercise in keeping in touch with your SPUC family, we’re inviting everyone to open their Church Directory, find your own name and then count down the list by 3 names and call that person. They might be a good friend, they might be a casual acquaintance at church, or they may be someone you don’t know. Give them a call and wish them peace in the name of Christ, and just see how they’re doing.