Sunday, Feb 7, 2021

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Welcome and Announcements



Thank you for joining us for worship. Today we are holding a video meeting at 10:30 am. If it is before 10:30 am and you want to join the meeting, please, click join the meeting button sent on your email. This is simply an information meeting. I will send another email out with instructions on how to cast your vote.

Thank you those who have been wonderful about bringing food for the Salvation Army and ProjectShare. We have not been having enough amounts to call them for pick ups. Instead we have given some away to those who come to us hungry during the week. Until we return for in-person services, if you can buy desserts for Saturday lunch take-outs instead of food for the Salvation Army and ProjectShare, it will be much appreciated. Once we are back, then, we will begin to collect for these groups again.

Please pray for Donna A, Moira and Doug, Harry and Betty, Doris, Andy, Phyllis B., Isobel and Bob.

Thank you for keeping in touch with each other. At the moment, as far as we know, everyone is safe from COVID. We continue to ask your prayers for Donna B., Andrea, Arielle, Heather, Alison and others as they work to care for others in Long Term Care settings and healthcare and hospital settings.

Hymn to prepare for worship: Celebrate Jesus Celebrate



Call to Worship



Worship draws us into the work of Christ.
Even now he intercedes for the world to which he came and for which he died.
In each worship, we acknowledge and witness what God has done in Christ.
In union with Christ, we offer worship and pray for the healing and the salvation of the world. Let us come and worship!

Hymn: Through all the changing scenes of life



Prayer



O God, in your grace, this is the day that we come to sing you praise. This is the day that you have made for us to be your people to share your love with one another. As we sing praises to you, bring our offerings to you, and come to be in communion with you and others, may you be present with our world to help us see what this world can be in love. Through your Spirit, open our hearts, eyes, and ears to know, see and hear your Word to rejoice in and share with others the very love that gives life. By the very Word you utter today, may we be recreated as your people in fullness of love and joy. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Offering (Anthem: Spirit Song)



Offering Prayer


O Lord, as we look back we see clearly what you have done for us. As we look around in the present, we find things foggy and confusing. As we look into the future, we are able to see even less than what we see today. In this uncertain time, because we can look back and see how you were always with us through thick and thin, we come bringing our offering in sure confidence that you are with us. In this murky and turgit present, in faith, we bring these offerings certain and sure that your steadfast love guides us to you without fail. Receive our offering as our confession in your love for the world and all that are in it. Continue to be the Light of this world so that we may follow you. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 118:1-4, 21-28



O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!

Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Let the house of Aaron say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.

Sermon: Celebrating each day with Jesus, God with us



Ah! Subenacadie Sam and Wiarton Willie predict early spring. It is indeed a welcome news in these short days of winter. This long Canadian winter already causes people to struggle against themselves as many mental and psychological conditions are exacerbated by short and dreary winter days. This year, it is this cold dampness that flares up pains of bodies for so many who cannot head down to sunny destinations, while the ever changing restrictions now forbid anyone who have been dreaming about Spring Break to dash away from this long winter, drowning any energy that we have saved up until now. It is easy to fall into a trap filled with sadness. Sitting in darkness for a long time can make us feel down and tired.

So, today, I ask you to think about giving thanks and celebrating life. I want you to see why as Christians we are the people of the Light in this dark world and live life full not only of hope, but also joy and gratitude. We want you to join us in celebrating life in Christ.

As soon as I say, “celebrating life” I feel pressure to justify this suggestion because there are so many who cannot imagine life of joy and blessings. I remember one young teenager questioning his friend’s smiles, “How can she always smile like that when the world is filled with sad people? I bet if she was homeless, she would not be so happy.” He was referring to a friend who was always happy and bright. Can people be joyful in misery and pain? If we know how difficult life is for so many, can we still be full of joy in such a miserable world?

After a long stretch of dreary and dark days, a few moments of sunshine can change many people’s mood. I remember reading somewhere a political prisoner giving an interview after being freed saying that the only thing that saved him in solitary confinement was seeing stars on clear night through his cell window--he did not get to have any sunlight because his cell faced north.

One Sunday about forty years ago, during worship, our sanctuary door at the back flung wide open with a loud creak. All our heads turned. We saw George walking down the middle aisle carrying a pot of dead flowers. His steps were measured and steady. He walked all the way to the front, put the pot with dead flowers on the communion table on top of white linen that our ladies carefully ironed and placed, took a deep bow as if he was paying the deepest respect, straightened himself, turn around with the widest smile his could muster, and walked out in the most solemn fashion. George was a homeless street person who frequented the service. Everyone watched George in silence. When he turned around to exit, as he passed by, you could see people’s faces light up with smiles, too. At the refreshment time after the service, everyone was abuzz about how a wonderful thing George did. Everyone was filled with joy. I don’t remember the sermon. I do remember even now George’s smile and how everyone smiled back. Every time, those of us who were there remember what George did that day, we are all smiles and our hearts fill with joy. Only thing George did was to put dead flowers on a beautifully covered communion table. That and his smile… What a beautiful smile he shared with all as he walked out proudly.

Whenever we are willing to learn, the world teaches valuable lessons on joy and what it takes to enjoy life. A group of school friends were gathered around after school in a church yard. Their country was so poor that many kids were unable to wear decent shoes. The church yard or village yard was filled with laughing and playing children. When you would peek in, you would see some children wearing hand-me-down, full of holes, shirts on bare feet playing with laughter filled with joy: boys playing soccer with a ball made of papers and threads, girls jumping ropes or sitting together playing with small stones. That was us after the first and second world war in Europe, in the early 1960s as Korea was just coming out of the War and during the Vietnam War. The same thing is found in every refugee camp or village yard in poor countries all around the world.

In the midst of terrible life, people are resilient enough to find joy in life. This joy drives life. The joy of being found, noticed, recognized, appreciated, acknowledged, cared for, and loved makes us see the world in a new light and gives us strength to live through the darkest moment in our lives. To know that there is someone waiting for us not only gets us through a difficult day, but also gives us strength to withstand the worst fear. Knowing that we have someone who loves us without fail makes it possible for us to live through despair.

Viktor Frankle in his book, Man's Search for Meaning, recounts his ordeal in the concentration camp and talks about how his will to survive depended solely on his thought that he would have to survive if he were to see his wife again. Though he rationally knew that she would not be able to survive her ordeal, his thought that they would meet together kept him going through the worst of torturous life. For him, joy was possible in a death filled place because of this one thought.

Celebrating life is to become aware of this joy of life that surrounds us. We are not in as dyre and deadly a situation as Viktor Frankle was. Our lives are filled with joyful moments as we look back, look around, and look into the future. These joyful moments are ours if we want to claim them. The trick is to find and rejoice in them. Sometimes, because of our preoccupations with urgent and immediate needs, we are blind to these joyful moments and are unable to enjoy them as the force that gives meaning to life. Celebrating life means to take stock of our joy and share it with others so that joy may be abundant in ways that we may experience God’s presence among us.

Here, the psalmist shows us the way . This psalm begins with thanksgiving, “O give thanks…” To give thanks, we have to know what we are thankful for. In this case, the psalmist is thankful for the steadfast love of God. The author has seen and experienced this love. It is not any other love that is fleeting. It is the one that is steadfast or continual without fail. It is the love that can be counted on even when Israel betrays their God.

Of course, giving thanks takes place when the hearts of those who are giving thanks are filled with joy. If there is no joy, there is no genuine thankfulness. Sure, we may quibble about whether it is out of joy or out of gratitude, or out of some other sentiments, but the point is that those who give thanks do so in joy. That is why the one who receives thanks gets filled with joy also. In this way, joy comes in full circle: joy is imparted, then the receiver of joy returns in thankfulness what she received back to the initial giver so that the one who began giving joy also shares the joy fully with one to whom she has given.

The psalmist does not end there. He lists the sources: You have answered me and became my salvation; The stone that builders rejected became the cornerstone; This is the day that the Lord has made, and You have given the light. The poet is able to see in the troubled and dangerous world, God was guiding, leading, and loving him. As a recipient of this wonderful love, he gives thanks. Being able to see that God answered him, saving him, etc. made him joyful to break out in a thanksgiving song, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” This is a call to celebration of God’s love in life.

As Easter people, we are certainly mindful of every word that is spoken in this psalm. Those of us, who have been able to look back in life in faith, can certainly see how God answered our prayers in Jesus Christ and led us to the life of salvation. In this faith, we came to know and understand that Christ is the one who is always with us, waiting for us, encouraging us, acknowledging us, caring for us, and loving us without fail. How can we be sad when we have Christ (and through Christ the Triune God is the one who so loves us).

Let me share one example of a Christian church that was full of this joyful celebration. In 1985, I was sent to Guyana as a summer student to help the church. They were celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Canadian Presbyterian mission to people in Guyana. Their living conditions, especially in the countryside, were harsh by Guyanese standards, but very poor by North American standards. Many were unemployed due to chronic lack of jobs. Much of people’s income depended on their family members and relatives who sent money from abroad. Even the price of sugar, which they produced, were skyrocketing, making it very difficult for people to survive. Yet, they were thankful. They were joyful. As they hosted many Canadian Presbyterians, they never complained about lacking anything. They shared all they had joyfully at each service. As a student helping the locals, I was seeing all the difficulties they faced, but they were incredibly joyful in hosting Canadian Presbyterians. For them, the joy came from meeting their parents because we were their mother church. Their sufferings and worries were secondary. It was an eye-opening experience to see their faith at work as they worked the entire year with their theme, “Christ is our only hope!” Do you think we are under hardship? Guyanese Presbyterians in those days were suffering far far more than we ever are. Do you think our churches are burdened with all kinds of worries, especially about declining membership numbers and financial figures? Those little churches were losing all their talents to North America as many able leaders migrated to North America in search of jobs so that they could support their family back home. In what appeared to us to be an impossible hardship, they showed and shared with us their joy in Christ.

In most Canadian churches or institutions, if we are falling short of the budget, we lament, fret, and worry over ways to make up the shortfall. That is, if our annual budget is $100,000 and we only raised $90,000, we move swiftly into actions to find $10,000. Fundraising groups are set up. Plans are drawn up. In the meantime, the Board and financial types worry and fret. This is our way. Often it works well. But in many parts of the world, Christians who have not taken up the Western ways of faith, look first at $90,000 they received. They give God thanks and rejoice for the amount. They celebrate God’s grace and love for that $90,000. Then, they faithfully pray that God would provide the rest. As they pray, they joyfully engage in Christ’s ministry with a firm conviction that God will provide. As they do many Christians with ability gladly come forward to share the blessings they received personally from God with God’s people. If they are short, it simply means that God wanted them to work with less. It is that simple in their faith understanding. They attribute all monies coming in to God’s grace. The former group (us) raises funds with anxiety. The latter (they) does so with joy and celebration of what they have already received. Without joy, we see all that we receive as from people of able means rather than God’s grace poured on us shared freely by faithful people.

This is only to point out that If we are not careful, as Easter people, we forget the joy of God’s love for us. We forget to thank God for everything we receive or have received. In anxiety, we end up relying on our own abilities to meet the budget. Without joy, worries and fears make us people of entitlements and demands. Without joy, our thanksgiving is nothing more than a meaningless ritual and words spoken into thin air. Without our joy in what Christ has done for us, our celebration is self-indulgent ceremonies to buff our egos.

It has been a very difficult year due to COVID 19. Also our winter has been more dreary and spirit killing than usual. Isolation and social distancing measures are continually snuffing out very little spirit left in us. This is why it is important for us to recover what it means to be the Easter People especially in times of trials. Our faith ancestors knew and in thanksgiving were able to look back and learn how God, who was always with them, heard their prayers, and always was their light. In Christ, as the Easter People, we know Christ is our Light, Christ loves us, Christ guides us, and Christ brings us into this new life. Our joys of receiving this love are to lead us to celebrate, shouting along with this poet, “This is the day that the Lord has made and let us rejoice and be glad in it!” In the dark of winter, more than ever, it is time for us to witness joyfully through our celebration of life in Christ.

Prayer:



Dear God, we come with our hearts full of joy and thanksgiving. We know the world is far from being what you created it to be. Yet, we come before you delighted that you have called us to be your people. Having been sent out seven days ago with the task of witnessing your love in the person of Jesus into this fear filled and anxious world, now we return with the promise of restoration and refreshment in your presence. For a short moment, we gather with you to be who we are created to be as we prepare to enter back into the world with your Spirit. Be glad. Hear our prayer.

Today, we have an opportunity to appreciate what you have done for us, how you blessed us, and through whom you have loved us. It was a strange year, but in you we found a life of love and compassion. You have abundantly blessed us to stand strong for another year by all measures. Receive our thanksgiving for all that you have done for us, in us, and through us. Once again, we have been awed by your unending grace.

For all things we have been able to do as your ministry here in this part of your vineyard, we thank you. As we moved into lockdowns, easing of restrictions, and back into lockdowns, you have continued to bless us in ways that we could not imagine. As many of our members were going through difficult transitions into death, you have been with us all. You gave us strength to face death so that all your loved ones dying could have your presence with them. None were left alone as you ministered through the time of isolation. You also walked with all your servants who as part of this faith community worked as essential workers, as unfailing care-givers, and as loving family members. For all these servants we thank you.

In gratitude we entrust ourselves to you as we continue to enjoy the days that you have afforded us. By the Holy Spirit, guide us to follow the Way, the Truth and the Life always.

In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Hymn: Shine, Jesus Shine



Benediction:



May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that was with us from the very beginning of human history,
the love of God that continues to recreate us in Christ’s image,
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that encourages and guides us in everyday life, be with us always until the end of time!