Welcome (Deuteronomy 30:15,16)
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
Preparation: Seek ye first
Call to Worship
Let us bless God every day
and praise God’s name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
God’s greatness is unsearchable.
Our God reigns
In time and out of time, You are our God, O Lord.
In plenty and in famine, You are our God who provides us sufficiently.
In riches and in poverty, we find your blessings leading us through life according to your will.
We lift up our voices for those who are in pain of grief in Syria and Turkey. The devastation of earthquakes that took so many lives is unfathomable. As they search for more life, as they struggle to survive through this disaster, may your grace and mercy be sufficient for all who are caught in the destruction. May our worship be theirs!
Come and be blessed, O God.
Receive this worship that we raise to you through the Holy Spirit.
May you call us into being as your people in your Son our Lord as we worship you this day.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture: Matthew 4:21-25
As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Sermon : Hope for those in grief
According to Matthew, Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming repentance much like John the Baptist. Where Jesus and John the Baptist differed was on baptism. Jesus did not seem to baptize anyone. He also called certain people to follow him. This is where we meet Jesus. He moved away from Nazareth into Galilee. There he came across James and John. He called and they followed immediately. This sounds very simple and meaningful to our ears. Jesus came across these two strangers. Jesus called and they followed him immediately.
Was there any prior incident when Jesus and these two brothers met and learned about each other a bit? Or at least for these brothers to hear about Jesus? Was this a cold call in a very first encounter? What made these two brothers to follow Jesus since it is highly unlikely in any world that people will follow a stranger no matter who the stranger appears to be. Of course, there have been many speculations regarding who these two brothers were. We are not privy to any information other than Jesus met them at their workplace and called them.
Then the Gospel Matthew informs us that Jesus went through Galilee. Did these two disciples follow Jesus in these missions? What made synagogues in Galilee to let Jesus begin his ministry? It is one thing to imagine that people in synagogues were receptive to Jesus. It is another thing to think about the reality of the situation where Jesus was a total stranger to them. Our assumption is that they knew nothing about Jesus. But is that true or at least they were talking about this stranger from Nazareth who was preaching the good news of God and were comfortable enough to let Jesus preach to them?
Whatever the case may be, Jesus proclaimed the good news God in synagogues and cured sick people. Soon his fame spread all over. People began bringing the sick from many regions. This is what is so different for the ministry Jesus was doing from what John the Baptist did. John the Baptist preached repentance and baptised them with water. Jesus like John the Baptist preached, but instead of baptising healed the sick. Baptism signalled the returning to God whereas healing signified the coming of God’s reign as in God’s good news being realised in the present. Soon he had many people following him.
The initial case of following Jesus by James and John is a mystery. The latter case where many people following him was less so. In this case, people heard Jesus’ preaching and saw him healing sick people. In both cases, there is something that is unusual in that they chose to follow Jesus. These were people who were often described as tired and overburdened in life. They were waiting for their Messiah. In this peculiar time of Roman rule, these people of Israel were hoping for God to rescue them. Obviously many people heard many preachers in synagogues. It appears that the dramatic healings Jesus performed opened people’s eyes.
Having heard and seen, their hope began to rise. They did not call him Messiah, but they knew Jesus was someone different and was possibly the one who could lead them to a better world. It seemed to have been hope that got them following Jesus. If they had no hope, they would not bother to follow Jesus at all. Or at least, they wanted to see more of what Jesus was doing to figure out if Jesus was truly their Messiah. Having waited so long and having heard and seen many leaders who were like prophets, they followed.
Hope is needed the most when we are truly at the lowest point in our lives. Until we get to the darkest point in our lives, we really have little capacity to imagine the power of hope. Hope is more than resiliency, perseverance and unwavering determination. It is something that forces us to reassess everything we know, have and understand. Depending on what we do with hope we can overcome or succumb to death. We either find a way to life or fall into despair. With faith and love hope becomes the very foundation of life that gets us through life in ways that we are totally changed.
Imagine what your life would be like if you are a wife and mother of five children working at a sweatshop in Bangladesh. The Forbes magazine reported right after the sweatshop collapsed that people of Bangladesh were earning on average $1.25 US a day, but those women were earning just over $2 US per day. Then, the magazine continued on about how these women were paid more than an average. $2 US per day for 12 to 13 hours work. The Guardian, a British newspaper reported that to live just above the poverty line, they would require double the amount depending on how many children they had.
Can you imagine what you would have to do as a woman earning that princely sum in order to support your children? Working those long hours, these women come home and do house chores day after day trying to provide for their families. A back breaking work where often even washroom breaks were monitored and deprived. They live in these squalid conditions to produce shirts and clothes that sell for more than their monthly wages in other countries. Among these women where do you see hope like we think of hope? They don’t have time to worry about a very basic sense of hope most of the time.
Yet, these women and men in unbearably difficult conditions live in hope that their children will have better opportunities in life if they sacrifice all to send their children to school. Their hope is refined and honed in the struggle for survival. This hope for their children is very different in its intensity and urgency than the hope we hold for our children in Canada. It is fierce and passionate in ways that most of us can only admire and marvel at. It is future directed and trusting in ways that we cannot imagine.
Many people of Israel of Jesus’ time seemed to experience the similar predicament as these oppressed and enslaved people of Bangladesh and elsewhere. They might have freedom to move about and live their own lives, but in desperate poverty under the Roman rule that extended through the corrupt leadership of Israel. What the Romans imposed on these ordinary everyday folk was one thing. It was another to be fleeced by their own leadership who exploited them regardless of the hardship they suffered because of the Roman imposition.
In these places where death grinded away life, hope kept them and sustained them through pain, suffering and humiliation. Their eyes and hearts did not succumb to the power of death. Instead hope reminded them of the promise of God that was given long ago to their ancestors. The promise of deliverance by their God became their hope. They had no idea of how, when, where and by whom. Yet this was not a pie in the sky hope, but a future reality they were holding onto as being operative in the present. The future reality in God’s presence was being brooded in the present for these broken people.
This is why Jesus’ preaching and healing resonated with so many people. They came from afar to hear. They were expecting such a messenger from God to bring them the good news. They were desperate for the future to break into their miserable life. Preaching and healing of Jesus spoke to them of the promise of long ago. In excitement for life, they came to hear and witness the healing of those who were suffering. They were not quite sure if indeed Jesus was the one, but they could dream that Jesus was the embodiment of the promise being fulfilled.
People whose daily lives were confronted with death suddenly saw what it would be like to live under God’s reign. It is no wonder James and John would leave everything behind to follow him. Their hope was captured in Jesus. They did not know yet. They would not know until after the resurrection. Death would test them and Jesus first. The power of death was not going to let Jesus simply usher in God’s reign through preaching and healing. Death was not giving up against life.
More than any other time in history, Christians face the power of death. Especially in the West as our institutional churches die and less and less people claim their seats under God’s reign, we feel death’s approach. Many churches are discussing the best ways to close. I was told that many of our own clergy are talking about the way to bring about good death for congregations. Many Christians in the West are resigned to the inevitable time when Western Christianity will be nothing more than a footnote in the salvation history that God began long ago.
There are some church leaders who have been discussing how to use legacy gifts (sales of churches) wisely by starting new churches or new ministries that are totally different in nature. Many good ideas abound. However, all these are more about surviving as an institutional church than anything else. For example, we are transitioning from old clunky desktop computers to small computing devices like cell phones or tablets. Many computer companies who have not made the switch to different ways of computing are slowly dying. If these dying desktop computer companies try to make phones, they will not last long. Same thing is going to happen to churches. Doing different ministries will not save churches in the West. All these churches will be depending on legacy gifts and monies, they, too, will die when money runs out.
Hoping in God or entrusting our future in God’s hand is totally different. As these Israelites were witnessing what God was doing in Christ, the future we wait for where we are under God’s reign is totally unexpected and different. Priests, Pharisees and scribes came to learn how dramatically different the way God was delivering the world through Christ Jesus. As our institutional Christianity wanes and faces its death, it is important to remind ourselves that hope–the future reality that is being established in the present reality by Christ as coming of God’s reign–needs to be claimed by us. Interestingly by claiming, we give up everything we have.
Following in hope as James and John did requires us to deny ourselves as James, John and other disciples did and following Christ. James and John simply left everything behind to follow Jesus. This is what it means for us to entrust ourselves in God’s hand to realize our hope by leaving everything behind and following. No turning back. This is how hope that was born of struggles against death brings us to Christ.
In times of troubles, because we do not know where to turn, we bring our concerns to you. From our aching hearts and broken spirits, we form our despair into words offering them to you as our cries. Hear our prayers.
Witnessing the destruction of so many lives in Turkey and Syria, we lose our strength, O God. We feel powerless even to help. We do not know how to begin to share your life with those who have lost their loved ones and all they had. Extinguished lives in tens of thousands bring sorrow and agony. We pray for all those survivors who face despair beyond imagining. Be with them. Make us to be witnesses of their suffering so that our hearts will pour your love out to all those who require it.
We bring our sadness to you, O Lord. People in Ukraine are suffering still as bombs and shells continue to threaten their lives. Soldiers are no strangers to them, but their fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and relations. The evil that is war continues to take lives without end. With little or no leadership to end wars as all leaders preach victory rather than peace, your people suffer. Also so many who have fled and are fleeing are looking for peace without means of life. Keep them in your care. Open our eyes to see their struggles. Make our hearts find compassion in ways that we share your love.
The world reels in pain. So many people are migrating in search of better life, greater security and for more peace. They have left all they had in this journey. It is hard to be alone in a strange land. It is difficult to figure out what you require of them in life. Depression and hopelessness can easily ruin a day and do not lift for days. Worries about loved ones and fears about the future occupy their minds everyday. Keep them steady and strong, O Lord. Make them walk with you in ways that they will not lose hope. Give them strength to trust their future in your hand.
Open our eyes, lips, hearts and minds. Help us to see all those who are struggling around us. Make us not close our eyes from those who truly need your presence. Send us grace and mercy to reach out to them. Guide us to speak your love especially to those who find themselves in sin. Guard us from speaking words of judgement. May our lips speak your good news to all who need your encouragement. Open our hearts to feel as others feel. Do not close our hearts but turn them into safe places where fellowship in ways that the Word made flesh may be experienced by all. Enlighten our minds to find ways to share your Word that will give hope and peace to all those around us.
We pray for those who work so diligently for others–doctors, nurses, teachers, and all who are called to help others. Protect them. Guide them. Fill them with your love. Strengthen them with your grace. Make them your hand of faith, hope and love in this world.
All these we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
Please remember that Ash Wednesday will be the beginning of our Lent Devotion and Fellowship. This year we will start modestly. Our starting time has changed to 10:30 am. We will be sharing a wonderful time of fellowship with refreshments and conversation. Please mark the date. Come. Bring your friends.
The session will meet following the service of worship and refreshment.
We are collecting clothes, kitchen utensils, plates, bowls, toys and small appliances for the people of Ukraine both in Ukraine and those who are settling in the Niagara Region. Please bring what you can to the church. If you like to donate directly you can take them to St Peter and St Paul Ukrainian Church on Sylvia Place right across from Lundy’s Lane Museum on Wednesday and Saturday between 4 pm and 6 pm.
Please pray for each other. Please keep in contact with those who are unable to attend.
The servant song