February 28, 2021 Service

ORDER OF SERVICE FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2021

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT / BLACK HISTORY MONTH

Due to copyright limitations, we are unable to print the words to the songs.  However, our musicians have chosen music to fit the scriptures.  We invite you to look up the words in your worship book and ponder them.  If you do not have a worship book, ponder the words to one of your favourite hymns and listen for God’s voice. Those who have internet may find the songs on YouTube.

Parts of our liturgy today are taken from the Black History Month Celebration “It Takes One Voice to Initiate Change”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”
                                                                                ― 
Abraham Lincoln

BEFORE WE WORSHIP, WE REFLECT…

From generation to generation, God is steadfast. No matter how many ages pass or how often we turn away, God remains faithful. This is the great hope of our faith—no matter how often we stray or how great our sin, God persists in loving us. Jesus Christ binds us to God through our baptism into his death. In worship—especially through confession, affirmation of baptism, and communion—we continually remember the lengths to which God goes to keep covenant with us. The promise of salvation extends even into the future, as the psalmist reminds us: Our children and our children’s children will proclaim God’s salvation to generations yet unborn.

CALL TO WORSHIP ~Alydia Smith, from “God’s Glory Cannot Be Hidden,” a Black History Month worship service

The gospel is for all people.

Yet sometimes we hide the gospel, keeping the good news to ourselves.

Sometimes we proclaim our own version of the story;
a version that excludes those who challenge our comfortable understandings;
a version that does not remind us of our complicity with forms of human oppression.

Forgive us, God, when we change history to feed our egos.

Forgive us, when we celebrate an end result, without remembering the long and difficult journey.

Forgive us, God.  Amen.

 

CHILDREN’S SONG   WOV 783  Seek Ye First

CENTERING PRAYER

Loving God, bring peace to places of unrest, love to places of hate, joy to places of fear, hope to places of loss, and equal rights and justice for all.   In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen

A NEW CREED

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:  who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:  to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

CHILDREN’S TIME

What does love look like?  Well, we can say hugs are an expression of love.  Love is a feeling, so it is difficult to say exactly what love looks like.  We can feel love, express love, but not really say what love looks like.

Jesus wants us to follow him and do as he does.  But what did he do when he walked the earth?  Well, he loved people, healed people, accepted them, ate with them, served them, washed their feet, blessed them.  These are just a few examples. 

For me, love looks like this pair of gloves.  These are gardening gloves.  They have obviously been used.  I help a friend who lives on a farm and raises cattle and chickens.  Sometimes I help clean the barn.  Other times I help move hay bales for the cows to eat.  Other times I help crate chickens, or plant flowers or weed the garden.  My love for my friend is expressed when I put on my gloves and help her around the farm.  I follow Jesus and serve my neighbour.  The gloves don’t get dirty if they just sit on a shelf.  You have to put them on and get at ‘er!

How do you express your love for your neighbour?  Is Jesus calling you to help in a specific way?  Take some time to sit quietly and listen for Jesus’ voice.  Then talk with your parents to help you figure out what Jesus wants you to do.  Who knows…you may need to get your own pair of gloves and dig in the dirt!  Whatever you do, do it with love and with thanks.  It is a great gift to be able to help others.  Go, love, go!!

ROUND THE TABLE

ALLIES NEED TO SHOW UP ~ by Peter Haresnape

I was wondering if you might be available to write a Bible study for Black History Month?

“There’s no way I can do this,” was my first thought when asked by those at the United Church General Council Office to contribute a Bible study for Black History Month. Me, a White guy, from England?

What do I know about Black History? I ought to be taking a course, not writing a resource. And even if I did, this is the sort of thing that I hear bitter jokes about — a White person posing as an expert on another culture. I don’t want those jokes being made about me!

At best, I would be exposing myself to criticism for accepting the assignment; looking for cookies and kudos for being a “good ally” while taking up space intended for Black people. At worst, I might make mistakes, misrepresenting or obscuring the Black realities that the month is meant to explore.

“Why would they ask me?” I wondered. I had to consider it seriously, laying aside my fears and re-reading this request from people I trusted.

…we wanted to include worship resources this year written from the perspective of being an ally…

The first thing I know about trying to be an ally is that I need to be willing to show up when asked. That can be hard, because I like to get things right first time, and I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake. But if I’m not going to show up when I am asked, my solidarity is abstract and absent. In this case, asked to write from my “ally perspective,” my own discomfort was no excuse.

…since you are part of the working group on the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent, and since you already have some good experience with anti-racism work…

In studying the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent, I’ve read of the generations-deep roots of Black communities in Canada, which are nevertheless perceived as newcomer or transient compared to the white majority. Portraying people of African descent as “without history” is an old dehumanization tactic of imperialism and the slave trade, and explains the significance of Black History Month.

Today, anti-Black racism and Afrophobia in North America are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There is no legal or ethical justification for racism, and yet oppression and dismissal of Black bodies, psyches, and communities continues, in fields as diverse as housing, healthcare, policing, and sports.

What can I meaningfully offer? My own experience of learning, of recognizing the implicit racism in the societies (and the church) that I call home, and committing to change.

Saul was a man who followed the rules of his society — to a fault. He approved of the violence meted out on the scattered members of the bizarre sect. Then, in a blaze of light outside of Damascus he was transformed into Paul, Persecutor-No-More, a leader in the church and a champion of Christ!

Except it’s never that simple. Our personal experiences of transformation may have moments that feel like a Damascus conversion, but there is always a deeper reality, a history, proceeding without our awareness. Acts 9 draws back the curtain somewhat to show us the courage and care of Ananias in reaching out to the stricken Saul. The Bible study invites us to consider what it was like for Ananias, and acknowledge the patient work of those who experience oppression, and still hold the door open.

In my life, the truth-telling of Indigenous people first opened my eyes to the ways colonialism has shaped my national history and culture. It was the challenge of Jewish people that helped me see the antisemitism in parts of my faith tradition. It has only been through the patient work and witness of people of African descent that I have been able to see the ways that racism has benefitted me, and the ways that I am complicit.

With each lesson I have been urged to continue on, to understand more how racism persists and perpetuates, and pass this challenge and knowledge on to others, working with them to dismantle systems of oppression. I understand this to be part of the work of God’s people on earth. So, I aim to show up.

— Peter Haresnape is a White, cis man from the United Kingdom, and a permanent resident (Settler) in Canada. His work with the Indigenous Solidarity Project of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) brought him to Turtle Island in 2010. CPT operates at the invitation of communities who welcome accompaniment in their nonviolent struggles against injustice, violence, and fear. CPT’s work in Turtle Island largely focuses on supporting Indigenous Nations taking nonviolent direct action to assert their rights to land, livelihood, and liberty. Peter is a member of Toronto United Mennonite Church, and since 2016 has worked with the Student Christian Movement of Canada. See the Bible study, “The Conversion of Saul: A Bible Study for Talking about Allyship and Race, Peter wrote for Black History Month.

 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION

Come, O Holy Spirit:  come as Holy Fire and burn in us, come as Holy Wind and cleanse us within, come as Holy Truth and dispel our ignorance, come as Holy Power and enable our weakness,             come as Holy Life and dwell in us.  Convict us, convert us, consecrate us, until we are set free from the service of ourselves, to be your servants to the world. Amen.

                                              (Adapted from Eric Milner-White 1884–1963, Voices United 197.)

Readings and Psalm

First Reading: Genesis 17:1-17

As with Noah, God makes an everlasting covenant with Abraham and Sarah. God promises this old couple that they will be the ancestors of nations, though they have no child together. God will miraculously bring forth new life from Sarah’s womb. The name changes emphasize the firmness of God’s promise.

  • 1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
  • 9God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
    15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
  • Psalm 22:23-31

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord. (Ps. 22:27)

23You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
  Stand in awe of the Lord, all you off spring of Israel.
24For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;

      neither is the Lord‘s face hidden from them; but when they cry out, the Lord hears them.
25From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
  I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
  Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever! R
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
  all the families of nations shall bow before God.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord, who rules over the nations.
29Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
  all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before the Lord.
30Their descendants shall serve the Lord,
  whom they shall proclaim to generations to come.
31They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
  saying to them, “The Lord has acted!” R

  • Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25

Paul presents Abraham as the example for how a person comes into a right relationship with God not through works of the law but through faith. Though Abraham and Sarah were far too old for bearing children, Abraham trusted that God would accomplish what God had promised to accomplish.

     13The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

  16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what God had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

  • Gospel: Mark 8:31-38

After Peter confesses his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells his disciples for the first time what is to come. Peter’s response indicates that he does not yet understand the way of the cross that Jesus will travel.

31[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

  34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

SERMON

It was the eighth day and the relatives were gathering in the family room.  The kitchen and dining room table were covered in Kosher food.  The Rabbi was getting ready and the parents were scared spitless!  This was the bris, the day their newborn son was to be circumcised. 

I was a nanny for the summer.  The family were devout Jews and I was to look after the two-year old daughter while all the excitement was going on.

First, the Rabbi put a hollow soother in the baby’s mouth.  He then filled it with wine, to induce sleep. The father was holding his son.  At the sight of the circumcision tool he became extremely pale and had to sit down. 

The Rabbi placed the infant on the table, placed the foreskin over the tool.  One quick movement, one squawk from the baby and it was all over.  Someone handed the dad a glass of wine.

Would that Abraham had it so easy!

For those who believe that God is only interested in what we do during the light of day, this reading points out that our very beds, indeed, even our private parts, belong to the one who brought life from dust!

Why circumcision?  Some consider it a barbaric practice to this day.  Yet for the Israelites, it was not for health reasons but for covenant reasons that circumcision was done.  The living bond between God and Abraham, including future descendants, purchased and born slaves, was literally in the skin. 

It was one thing for God to change Abram and Sarai’s names.  It was quite another to insist on a physical guarantee of commitment to the covenant.  Simply put, God was serious about the promise of nations of descendants and wanted a way to make certain Abraham understood the promise was true.

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed

According to the apostle Paul, Abraham never doubted God.  I don’t know…falling on one’s face and laughing doesn’t necessary boost confidence that one is being believed!

To fall on one’s face in the Hebrew Bible is to take a posture of obedience or worshipfulness, as at Genesis 17:3, when Abraham’s falling appears there to be a sign of assent to the covenant. In v. 17, the falling is joined with laughter, and obedience mixes with incredulity. [1]  It is as if Abraham’s body knows what to do upon hearing this news, but his mind can’t quite catch up.

Hmmm…a large part of me is on the ground with Abraham, laughing, thinking, “OK!  You go, God!”

It always must be remembered that when the most ancient references to that covenant are proclaimed, the Hebrew says quite literally “to cut a covenant.”[2]

What is the point of all this?  The point, dear people of God, is that with God, all things are possible.  Out of earth and breath, came life.  Out of two people who were close to 100 years of age – near death, comes the birth of a son – new life, out of Good Friday comes Easter Sunday – Resurrection!  What better way to prove God can do anything, promise anything, than using Sarah and Abraham to fulfill a covenant for descendants more than grains of sand on a beach!

What about Sarah?  If Abraham has his covenant in his skin, obviously, that isn’t going to work for the woman of the house.  Perhaps Sarah’s womb is like Abraham’s foreskin.  It too is under God’s purview. The covenant is life out of a dead womb.  Further down the family tree we will see Elizabeth, also elderly, pregnant with John who will become known as The Baptizer.

As Gentiles, we may circumcise our sons for health reasons, not covenant ones, or not at all.  In the 21st Century, we strive to be inclusive, and so does God.  Through our baptism into the body of Christ, everyone is embraced in the love, forgiveness and grace of God.  Christ has done away with covenants in the flesh.  We are God’s through the Holy Spirit. 

Living in the covenant of our baptism, we acknowledge our life of service to God and neighbour. 

Our journey to Jerusalem continues.  There will be those in need along the way. 

God is here.

Amen.

 

HYMN OF THE MONTH     Lord, I Lift Your Name On High (sung twice)

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

How good it is to sing praises of your goodness, God; even when we feel ashamed of our fellow humans who in the past initiated, participated, sustained and perpetuated the forcible removal of over 10 million Africans from their homes for trade across the Atlantic.

We come with many names: terms of endearment that we cherish and labels that we seek to one day destroy.

But you call us by one name, Beloved. We remember your healing acts of salvation.

We remember how you gathered the dislocated and dispersed Black peoples in Nova Scotia and Ontario to build communities and relearn cultures that were torn away.

We remember the Maroons, who with their hands built a mighty fortress on a hill. 

We remember Viola Desmond, Carrie Best, John Freeman Walls, Harriet Tubman, Chloe Cooley, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Leonard Braithwaite, Michaëlle Jean, Samuel Sharpe, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Nanny of the Maroons, and other champions, that their actions have brought freedom and equality closer to Black people in our society.

We remember how your everlasting love healed the self-esteem and rebuilt the self-worth of Black peoples who were stripped of their human rights and dignity.

We remember that you continue to heal the brokenhearted and bind up the wounds of those who have been wounded, abused, and denied because of the shade of their skin, even today.

Like Moses,

Give us the courage to confront the systems that hold people captive and prevent them achieving their full potential.

Like Elijah,

Help us to be zealous in our calls for the deliverance of your people.

Like Jesus,

Give us the grace to follow through on our plans to be an anti-racist denomination and make the sacrifices necessary to make this a reality.

We offer to you all the things that we can no longer carry on our own: our burdens, our worries, and our concerns. We offer to you all the situations that we feel ill-equipped for. We pray specifically for Eileen and Bob Clow, Lil Schieman. David Anderson; Mike Froese, Brooke Alexiuk, Tracy Skoglund, Carolyn, Douglas, Debbie, Dwayne; Matthew Grossman, Lorraine & Walter Pokrant; for all those infected with the corona virus, or whose loved ones have died because of it; that God console all who suffer and support caregivers who attend to all in need.   

When we see injustice and unjust acts in our community, let the light of Christ that changed us, through us, change the world…

…and remind us that it takes ONE voice to initiate change. Amen.

 

THE LORD’S PRAYER

BENEDICTION

The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord’s face shine upon you with grace and mercy.  The Lord look upon you with favour + and give you peace.  Amen.

 

SENDING SONG  VU 663  My Faith Looks Up To Thee

 
Copyright © 2016 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #SAS011617. 
© 2011 The United Church of Canada/L’Église Unie du Canada. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share Alike Licence. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/byncsa/2.5/ca.
[1] Claus Westermann, Genesis 12-36 (trans. John J. Scullion; CC; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 268.
[2] John Holbert, Progressive Christian,  A Covenant for All: Reflections on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 (patheos.com)