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A message given to the community worshipping as Shiloh Inwood Church on June 14 2020.

Scripture: Matthew 9:35 -10:8

Sunday by Sunday we gather to worship God together. We set ourselves before an ancient text and wait to hear “a word from the Lord” in it.

Many people handle the Bible as if it is answer book for the questions that they have about God or about religion:
What is God like?

Why do bad things happen?

How does God want us to behave?

What do you need to do in order to get to heaven when you die?

What if, instead, you come to the Bible not as the answer book for our questions? What if you read the Bible as a book that poses to us the questions that God is asking us? What if you were to find in the Bible God’s questions, to which we must give answer with our lives?

When you read it that way, you may notice that there are three core questions that keep getting asked over and over again in different forms.
The first question is the one God asked Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden after they had eaten from from the tree from which God had told them not to eat. God comes looking for them but they are hiding from God. God asks, “Where are you?”

That’s the first question God asks us: Where are you? I am looking for you. Why are you hiding from me? That is the question Marie asked us to consider last week: Where are you in your relationship with God? Where do you want to be? What are the barriers that keep you from living more deeply into that relationship?

The second question that God asks is to Cain after he has killed his brother Abel. Again, God comes looking for him and asks Cain, “what have you done with your brother? His blood is crying out to me from the ground where it was spilled. What have you done with your brother?”

The biblical community very quickly knows that the question is not just about our brothers and sisters, the people with whom we share kinship. The question is bigger than that. At its heart, the question is, “What have you done with your neighbour? What have you done with those whom you share life in this Creation?” It is the question that the whole world has been wrestling with in the past couple of weeks.

The Bible has particular concern for our neighbours who are most vulnerable. The Bible names them: the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the poor, the lepers, the blind, the deaf, the lame. These are groups of people who had been pushed to the margins of society. they are people who did not have the resources they needed to live with dignity.

For us, these days, the question God is asking us, “What have you done with your neighbour who is Black? who is Indigenous? who is elderly and living in a long-term care home? who struggles with mental health issues?

The question is being asked and people are variously angry and embarrassed and regretful about the answers that we are having to give. However, because we are being asked and don’t like the answers, new possibilities are opening up to shape our neighbourhoods in different ways.

For Christians, the answer we give is shaped by our answer to the third question which the Bible asks us. The third question is the one Jesus asks his disciples as they begin to journey with him towards Jerusalem: towards his suffering, his death and this resurrection. He gathers his disciples and asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

As you read the gospel stories, you watch the Church giving its answers to that question. “What do you say that I am?” asks Jesus. The Church tells the stories of Jesus because the answer is as complex and as demanding and as compelling as the stories of his life, death and resurrection.

Today’s story answers the question, “Who do you say that I am?” by saying:
Jesus is the one who looks out over the crowds and sees people with diseased bodies and with bruised and hurt lives.
Jesus is the one whose heart breaks over what he sees; who has compassion for them.
Jesus is the one who turns to his disciples — to you and to me — and who sends us out into the crowds and gives us power to kick out evil spirits and to care tenderly for the bruised and hurt live and to tell people, “This is what God’s Kingdom looks like”.

What have you done with your neighbour? The answer we live into gets shaped by Jesus. It is his Way, his Truth, his Life that leads us in paths of justice and goodness and abundant living for all people.

A prayer offered on June 14 2020 during the worship service of Shiloh Inwood United Church.

(sung) The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
God’s mercies never come to an end
They are new every morning, new every morning
Great is your faithfulness, O God,
Great is your faithfulness.

Words: Lamentation 3: 22 -23.

God, our God,
we lean into your steadfast love and faithfulness.

We lean into your steadfast love and faithfulness
for we live in a time
where old certainties are being shattered,
new possibilities are opening up,
old scripts are being re-written
and it is a messy time.

It is your steadfast love that anchors us.
It is your great faithfulness that
keeps pulling us toward
your reign of justice and peace.

God, our God,
this day, every day,
we count on your steadfast love and faithfulness.

(sung) The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
God’s mercies never come to an end
They are new every morning, new every morning
Great is your faithfulness, O God,
Great is your faithfulness.

God, our God,
we bring to you
our fears and our doubts.
They have held us captive;
they have kept us from daring
to live the risky love
into which you have baptized us.

Now, as we hear the voices
of our neighbours in new ways,
we ask you take take those fears and doubts;
speak your freeing love into them.

We pray for wisdom to hear your call to us.
We pray for courage
to be the people you have summoned us to be
in this time
and in this place
for the sake of Jesus
whose death and resurrection
has pulled us into your
good and holy purposes.

(sung) The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
God’s mercies never come to an end
They are new every morning, new every morning
Great is your faithfulness, O God,
Great is your faithfulness.

A message for Ascension Sunday 2020.

Scripture: Luke 24: 44 -53

Christine: Since we are in a time when we are doing lots of things differently from what we normally have done, Marie and I thought we would try something else new this week.
Last week, Marie asked if there was anything she could to help with the service this Sunday. I had mentioned the idea of a dialogue sermon a few weeks before and this seemed like a good time for it. This is the first dialogue sermon either of us has done and we welcome your reflections on it afterwards.
I told Marie the scripture I had been wrestling with for this Sunday — it’s the one you heard Mary Sue read. It is one of two accounts that Luke gives of what is called Jesus’ ascension.
Marie began wrestling with the scripture as well and then sent me some questions that the story prompted in her. We had a conversation and then developed an outline of what we might say.
In part of the conversation, Marie mentioned a podcast she had been listening to last week with Dr. David Jeremiah.

Marie: A highly respected athlete emailed Dr. David Jeremiah and asked,”Is the corona virus in Bible prophecy?  Is it a sign of the end times.”
Dr. Jeremiah replied, “This is the most apocalyptic thing that has ever happened to us, but it is not a sign that it is the end of the world.
The virus has caused us to think more seriously about end times: we are learning how vulnerable we are; we are learning how uncertain life is.
Remember Jesus said, ‘In the world you will have trouble but, courage, I have overcome the world.’”
Christine: I agree with Dr. Jeremiah here. This is a time of endings but none of us knows God’s timing or what the future holds. And, this time is apocalyptic. Apocalypse means “a lifting of the veil” . In apocalyptic times, it can seems as if a veil has been lifted, revealing some things that have been hidden from our sight or awareness. The pandemic has been exposing some of the illusions we have been living by. This small corona virus has revealed that even the most powerful among us is not as in control as we thought we were. That has been a hard lesson for human beings to learn — even before the pandemic.
The pandemic has revealed how closely we have tied our idea of ‘church’ to what goes on inside a building. Christians are realizing in fresh ways that ‘church’ happens among Jesus’ people, wherever they are.
For some congregations, this apocalyptic time has revealed to them how much they have thought of ministry as being what a paid professional does; they are re-discovering that ministry is something that all the baptized do.
The endings we are experiencing and the revelations that have come through those endings, have meant that churches are having to do things differently. Shiloh Inwood has been navigating through some of those changes for a few years now. Still, we are continuing to change and adapt to the new circumstances of our day.
Marie: The Shiloh-Inwood church family has been visiting with congregants by phone. We have been offering financial assistance to those in need. This week we will add  social distance visits with elderly parishioners; a letter will be sent to the Inwood community so that those who normally attend Supper Church will know that we are thinking about them; and the weekly church service will be delivered via email, or Canada Post, or in person to those unable to participate in online worship.

Christine: We are journeying through a time of endings and new beginnings. The Church has been here before. One of the ways that the Church finds its way through such a time is to tell its stories, especially the stories that remind us of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Those stories guide us in finding the courage and the hope we need for such a time as this.
The story of Jesus’ ascension is one such story. The resurrected Jesus has been accompanying his disciples for 40 days. You may remember that ’40’ is a significant number in the Bible.
How long was the Flood? 40 days. And then God renewed the earth.
How long did the Hebrews wander in the wilderness? 40 years. And then God led them across the Jordan River into a the Promised Land.
How long was Jesus tempted in the wilderness? 40 days. And then he began his ministry.
Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus is getting his disciples ready to move into a new world.
The first thing he does is to tell them the stories of God’s people: the stories of God working faithfully and redemptively throughout all that happens, even through the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Jesus tells those stories and then he puts his disciples into that story. They learn that they are not merely living in a chaotic time when much that they had counted on was falling apart. They were not just living in a time when the world was thrown into upheaval. They were participants in a larger story. In that larger story, God leads a tribe of slaves into freedom. In that larger story, God brings life out of a tomb. That same God takes human endings and turns them into new beginnings.
That is the story we are in as well. It has chapters where there is much that is confusing and uncertain but even those times are taken up into God’s good and holy purposes. It is a story that ends marvellously with a new heaven and a new earth and God’s shalom and grace prevailing over all.
The second thing Jesus does is give his disciples work to do as they journey through the time of endings and new beginnings. We are not victims in all that is happening. We are a people who have been claimed by the living God for good and holy work, even in the midst of a pandemic.
If one way of living is ending, a new way of living is already being formed. Disciples of Jesus have a creative, life-giving word to speak about how that new way of living can be formed.
Jesus’ Way shows us how to create communities and neighbourhoods where all people are treated with dignity and compassion.
Jesus’ Way shows us that we can deal with conflict and the hurt we do to each other through reconciliation and forgiveness.
Jesus’ Way forms communities where the most vulnerable and weakest among us still find a place and a purpose whereby they find life in all its fullness.
“You are witnesses of these things,” says Jesus. You have the word of Life, you carry the life-giving practices of community that our world desperately needs to hear.”
The third thing Jesus does is to promise his disciples that they will received ‘power from on high’ — God’s own Holy Spirit — so that they have the courage and the strength they will need for the holy work that is ahead of them. Much of your navigating through times of endings will be a matter of leaning into that promise. Much of your working towards God’s new creation will be a matter of trusting with all that is within you that God provides everything you need — even in those times when it doesn’t feel like it.
One of the questions Marie asked was, “When Jesus left, why did the disciples return to Jerusalem with joy. Why weren’t they sad? Why did they return to a place that was so dangerous for them?”
There are many answers to those questions but one answer has to do with what ‘heaven’ is. We tend to think of heaven as a sphere separate from earth. It exists at a great distance from us.
The Bible, however, does not depict heaven as a far-off place. It is another sphere that overlaps and interlocks with this world. It is God’s dimension of our reality. When Jesus is carried into God’s dimension of our reality, he takes all humanity with him. Jesus brings us with him into the great dance of love that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is where we live now, each day, every day, wherever we are. And, when we worship together — even in an online meeting room — we celebrate with joy that our life is part of that great dance of love.
That is the kind of story we are in. That is the dance Jesus is inviting you and me and all people into. Thanks be to God.

What a beautiful thing, Lord Jesus,
to be part of the company of your people
giving you thanks,
singing your praises,
announcing your love each day.

What a beautiful thing, Lord Jesus,
to follow where you lead us:
for you take us with you into the heart of God,
the heart that breaks for the broken-hearted,
the heart that seeks us when we are lost
however far we may roam
the heart that moves in all our endings
and speaks your new beginnings into our lives.

What a beautiful thing, Lord Jesus,
to be included in your story
to be given a part to play in your holy purposes
to be offered strength and courage and hope
for the life you have called us to live.

We bring to you those times that,
in the midst of trouble
we lost sight of that beauty;
those times that,
in the midst of worry
we sensed only the brokenness,
not your healing presence;
those times that,
in the midst of weariness,
we forgot to rest in your strength
that holds and sustains us.

Trusting in your power
to speak new life
new hope
new joy
into our lives,
we submit our stories to you.
Do your holy work in us,
that we may begin again
to love
to hope
to risk great things for you.

Today You Weep

A prayer for Good Friday in the midst of a pandemic

This is mystery beyond our comprehending
that you, Lord of the cosmos,
have entered into our suffering:
today you weep your fierce sorrow
for the brokenness of our world;
today you lament
the victims of greed and hatred;
today you grieve for the damage
we have inflicted upon your beautiful creation.

Drawn to you,
who lived and died and was raised to new life
by the power of God,
we gather together our cries fr your help:
the cries of those who are ill
the cries of those who are helping them
with resources inadequate to the task;
the cries of loved ones grieving those who have died.

We bring them to you
trusting that you are present with us and with them;
trusting that your powerful mercy will keep both us and them;
trusting that, by your death,
you have defeated death’s power.

We wait at the foot of your cross
for strength and hope
for love and justice in our world
for your victory and healing power
for your Life and resurrection joy.

A message based on John 11

I was having a conversation with some people about the gift that faith is, especially in the midst of a pandemic and all the confusion and suffering and unknowns that are part of our lives these days. At one point in the conversation, someone asked, “What do you say to someone who has little faith or even no faith?”

Most of us have lived our lives in a world that often speaks of faith as if it is something which some people have and some people do not have. The discussion is framed this way: if you have faith, then you believe certain improbable or impossible things. If you do not have faith, it is because you deal with ‘the facts’. The facts are considered to be true, not just someone’s opinion.

Yet, even that way of framing the issue is a faith statement. You were not born believing that only the facts are real. Somebody taught you to believe that. At some point, you chose to believe that that is the best way to describe the world. Everyone lives by faith in something or someone.

The real question is, “In what or in whom are you trusting?” And, perhaps the follow-up question should be, “How is that working for you?”

When someone says, “I don’t have faith”, there is behind that statement some idea or belief about God or Jesus or life, that they think they are supposed to believe. I know someone who, when people say to him, “I don’t have faith” or “I don’t believe in God”, responds with “Tell me about the god you don’t have faith in.” After they describe for him what they don’t believe about God, he often says, “Yes, I don’t believe in that kind of God either.”

People operate with all sorts of ideas about who God is and how God acts. They may think that those are the things that Christians believe but they are not.

Have you watched, “The Good Place?” It is a television series about four people who have died. They end up in what they think is “the Good Place”. The show operates from the faith that, if you do enough good things in your life, you will end up in the Good Place. If you don’t do enough good things, you end up in the Bad Place. It’s kind of an extended version of “God as Santa Claus”. How many people do you know who think that that is what Christians believe?

It is not. At the heart of Christian faith is the conviction that we are all saved by God’s grace, not by the good or bad things we do. What saves us is God choosing to rescue us from the grip of death in all its forms. What saves us is God choosing to rescue us by God entering into our suffering and death and overcoming their power to define our lives.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus raises Lazarus from death not because Lazarus did the right things but simply because God is a God who loves us; simply because God is always moving us toward resurrection; simply because God works without ceasing to move us towards life.

Pay attention to Mary and Martha in this story and you see that faith is not something you have or do not have. Faith is the way you navigate through life. It is constantly growing, changing, and, hopefully, deepening your grounding in truth.

When you navigate through life in the company of Jesus, you find that every event, everything that happens, can draw you deeper and deeper into the mystery of who God is and what God is doing.

Pay attention to Mary and Martha in the story and you see faith facing disappointment with God when God doesn’t meet one’s expectations. The further you go in faith, the more honest you are about life, you will come to a place where God does not show up when you need God the most. In that place, you discover that God is not your servant. God is utterly beyond your control. God’s ways are not our ways. God’s wisdom is deeper than our own. In that place, faith becomes a matter of holding on past the point where it makes sense to do so. It means discovering, instead, that you are being held fast by God’s powerful mercy and grace.

Pay attention to Mary and Martha in the story and you see faith facing up to the illusion that having faith will keep you safe from pain and suffering. When that happens, you bring your disillusionment to Jesus. He says, “God is not a God who promises you a life free from pain. God enters into your pain and suffering and resurrects you from the dead.” From the outside of that space, it is hard to understand what Jesus means by that. However, as you live into it, you discover that God has the power to lead you beyond the point where you have lost all hope. God has to power to redeem the worst that happens to you. God has the power to give new life that is permeated through and through with God’s grace.

Mary has faith in resurrection as something that happens after you die. Jesus says, “I am resurrection. I am life.” As you trust him, you see God’s power loose in the world, stronger than death; stronger than our fear of death. As you live into that experience with whatever little bit of faith you have, God gives hope for even the darkest times and carries you when you have no strength of your own to go on.

What do you say to someone who has little or no faith? You ask, “Tell me about the faith you don’t have.” You listen, carefully and generously; listening for the disillusionment about God or the disappointment with God that they are working with. It is there that God is at work, refining them, refining their faith, inviting them to let go of ideas about God that are not who God truly is; inviting them deeper and deeper into the mystery of God’s great love for them.
You listen. You tell the story of Jesus meeting you where you are at, using your disillusionments and questions and doubts to expand and refine your imagination of who God is and what God is up to.
Then, you leave the rest up to God who is even now loose in the world, redeeming this dangerous time.

God, you are our refuge and our strength;
you are a very present help in trouble.

This is the truth your people have trusted
through the ages
when the world seems to be falling apart,
spinning towards the cliff-edge.

To this truth we turn
in these days
when fear and anxiety grow hour by hour
when the unknown looms large and threatening,
when faith is pushed beyond its usual horizons.

We lean into this truth today.
We lean toward you
whose faithfulness
and mercy
and grace
have chased after us
all the days of our lives.

Open our eyes,
our minds,
our hearts,
our spirits
to your healing, redeeming presence,
to your crazy, holy grace.

We ask in Jesus’ name
who promises to send
your Holy Spirit,
the Comforter,
your own self.

A prayer for Transfiguration Sunday

Holy Mystery,
you are the God who is with us always,
the God who is for us in love and truth,
the God who gives us glimpses of
the glory and beauty and joy
that are the gifts of your presence.

And yet, God,
there are times when
you are present to us
only as an ache –
a deep yearning
that haunts our souls.

There are times when
the world’s pain
echoes so loudly in our hearts
that we cannot hear
your Word.

There are times when fear and anxiety
overwhelms our confidence
in your love
your mercy
your grace.

We gather
and we wait —
for your good news
for your healing touch
for your word that
raises us up again and again,
that transforms us,
that marks us with the love of your beloved Son, Jesus.
It is in his name that we pray. Amen.

Words of Assurance

The prophet Isaiah spoke this message from God:
“I live in the high and holy places,
    but also with the low-spirited, the spirit-crushed,
And what I do is put new spirit in them,
    get them up and on their feet again.” (Isaiah 57:15, The Message)
Some days, you will live into that promise with confidence and joy;
some days you will live into the promise only with yearning and hope;
some days you will not remember or trust that promise at all.
In all our days, God is faithful. God’s Spirit is at work, leading us home. This mystery; this is truth. Thanks be to God.

A prayer for Baptism of our Lord Sunday (Matthew 3: 13 -17).

Jesus, God’s beloved Son,
God’s delight:
you are light for our blindness;
you are food for our hunger;
you are grace for our living.

We sing your praise;
we offer our prayers
and then we wait —
we wait for that moment
when you show up.

We wait
because we know we cannot
keep on this journey of faith on our own.
There are times when the path ahead
is uncertain
or rocky
or seems blocked altogether.

There are times when
we wonder if your promises are true:
if your grace is real;
if your strength will be enough in our weakness;
if your love is stronger than our fears.

We wait

We choose to trust
in your care for us
in your resurrection power
that your truth will set us free
and give us life.

We choose to trust and to hope,
grateful that you have called us by name,
that you have made us part of a people
who have waited before
and have been met by you,
surprised by you,
summoned by you to holy work.

With them we sing our joy
in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

Emerging from praying Jeremiah 18: 1-11, Psalm 139, and Luke 14: 25 -33
Used with the sung refrain: “Take, o take me as I am” (Words John L. Bell and Graham Maule)

You have invited us in, Jesus,
into this community,
into your loving presence,
into a life shaped by God’s grace.

We have come
singing praise to you for all your goodness.
We have come
bringing our real selves
sometimes joyful
and grateful
and filled with hope
but also sometimes
broken
and hurt
and anxious.

We come
looking for healing
and purpose
and a place in your love.
We come
because you have promised to meet us here.

(sung) Take, O take me as I am . . .

You know us, God,
you know us through and through.
You know our minds
when they are clear
and when they are muddled.
You know our hearts
when they are overflowing with love
and when they are smothered by hate.
You know our spirits
when they are restless and searching
and when they find their rest in you.

Here, in this time of worship,
we open ourselves
to your Spirit’s transforming power.
Take us as we are.
Make us what you have created us to be
Draw us closer into your heart
till like your Son Jesus
we love beyond limits
and live to your glory.

(sung) Take, O take me as I am,

Assurance of God’s grace

Our God is a God of grace and transformation.
What we have offered into God’s good care,
the Spirit will redeem and renew and make into
an instrument of Jesus’ grace. You are the Body of Christ,
the community of his Life, sharing God’s peace and love and hope with a hurting world. May the peace of Christ be with you.