Sunday, May 23, 2021


Welcome and Announcements

Welcome! After a long winter, here we are. Summer is nearly here. Summer weather certainly has given us a treat.

Thank you for joining us for worship. It has been a long haul since we have been asked to isolate ourselves in order to combat the spread of COVID 19. It appears that the government feels we will soon be able to move about freely.

At the session meeting on Thursday evening (held via conference call) the decision was made to start worship services on the first Sunday of July at 10 am. For the duration of July and August worship will take place either in the church yard or in the church hall depending on the weather at 10 am following all the pandemic restrictions.

Also for those who are more comfortable coming out in the evening, there will be Wednesday services at 6:30 pm. Yes, you heard it right. There will be two worship services each week during July and August. This will help everyone be able to choose which service to attend.

In the meantime, our online worship services will continue to be available on Sundays and will have very similar contents as our Sunday services. We will return to worship in our sanctuary starting September.

We continue to ask your prayers for those who are needing our love. Remember to pray for Betty J., Hugh and Judy M., Doris R., Eva and Wayne T., Robert and Virginia W.. Also keep in touch with many of our members.

Please remember the ministry here. We thank you to all those who have been faithful in sending your offerings. Your support of money and effort are essential to continue the ministry of Christ in Niagara Falls. Part of our task is to be a physical symbol standing as God’s presence at the highest point in Niagara Falls. Currently our giving has been behind our usual pattern. Please give generously. As Summer approaches, we will need all your help to sustain Christ’s ministry here.

Sometimes world events and individual lives overlap in expressing hope or hopelessness. This past week was one of those moments. As we phone and speak with each other about our own sadness and difficulty under this COVID 19 restrictions, we were watching and hearing about bombs killing children in Gaza. Finger pointings in these circumstances by leaders only make us feel powerless and exasperated. In these times when we are doused with helplessness of this sick and desperate world, we turn to Psalms in prayer.

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
    they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame. (Psalm 6)

This is often described as David’s psalm said in deep sickness asking God to lift him up. Individually many of us have felt like the psalmist in our own lives as we struggle with our own grave illnesses or our own loved ones’ sicknesses. It is a desperate prayer in which we see the poet’s faith hanging on, trusting fully, and committing the future totally in God’s hand. Many of us who have suffered so terribly in our lives can certainly feel the anguish in this poem. This poem also expresses well those who are unable to escape attacks by others who are bent on killing them no matter what. The prayers of the helpless in their homes as the bombs drop over their heads while hanging on dearly for the lives of their children can be summed up by this prayer.

In these times of darkness, as individuals and as part of this world, we find strength in this dark psalm. As we repeat the psalm over and over, a sense of faith washes over us and fills us with God’s Spirit. When we come to this deep darkness when we are faced with the stark choice of either choosing death or life, faith frees us to choose life by committing our future fully in God’s hand. We choose life by focusing on, relying on, and setting our hearts on God as the source and end of the very life we have. This psalm gets us to this point, not to solve the suffering at hand, but to free us from the fear of death so that even in death, love is. Faith in this way is having courage to confront death and have strength to love in the presence of death.

Hymn of Preparation: I surrender all



All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

I surrender all,
   I surrender all.
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
    I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

What does it mean to live? As we see life breaking through as flowers bloom, insects buzz around, animals and birds busy rearing the babies, we have chosen to celebrate, as a society, this weekend as a long weekend to pause from our daily chores and enjoy this world. With hot sun overhead, BBQs are out, drinks are in cooler, shorts and sandals are our choices. We want to enjoy and participate in this festival of life happening all around us. Literally we have been confined in our own lives for too long because of COVID 19. Cautiously, we drink in life as life pushes into every corner of our being.

Hymn: All things bright and beautiful

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all.
Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, God made their glowing colours; God made their tiny wings.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all.

Do you remember the first pay you received? A small sum because in those days, a loaf of bread was 30 cents, and a bottle of milk was 25 cents. At least they delivered milk to your door every morning. In the 1960s, picnics were more popular than home BBQs on the first long weekend. Camping or going to cottages were still weeks away. Most people stayed home because they neither had enough money nor the means to get far. Weekend trips were for the rich. Our sense of an enjoyable weekend did not include going beyond 20 miles. Now putting a few hundred kilometers on your car for a weekend is considered nothing.

Yet, deep in our memory is the first long weekend that welcomes our Spring/Summer each year. However we come to it, we know the change in weather brings signs of life to the full everywhere. Even in the darkness of human hours, the exuberance of life shines. As Christians, this life in full bloom is the sign of God’s grace. So we give thanks.

Prayer

O Dear Lord, receive our thanks as we gather. To you we come surrounded by your glory. In you we enjoy life. By you we receive the fullness of joy in life. Our hearts are full of thanks. Our spirits are lifted up by the presence of your spirit.

In thanksgiving, we bless you by bringing all that we have done to glorify you. With grateful hearts, we come to enjoy you in your presence with praise. In your grace, receive us for your son’s sake. In his name we pray. Amen.

All things bright and beautiful

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all.
The cold wind in the winter, the pleasant summer sun, the ripe fruits in the garden, God made them, everyone.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all.

It is hard to believe, but this is the second Victoria Day long weekend under the shadow of COVID 19. In Canada, finally we are beginning to count tragic deaths that are happening everyday away from the ones due to COVID 19 which have taken all the oxygen out of our conversations. Slowly, as if we are waking from our slumber, we begin talking about the increased rate of death due to drug overdose and other diseases. It is as if we are now so unresponsive to news of tragically dying people in so many places. Somehow, the life of an individual has been so devalued that hardly anyone blinks at hearing people dying anymore. Only the ones close to the dying or dead are saddened. What has happened to our capacity for compassion for neighbours? How is it that we have lost our ability to care for all life as sacred?

In this pressure cooker situation, everyone looks inward. Everyone is concerned about one’s own survival first, having less time to think of others. We see this in our political leaders as they scramble to protect their own territories. American president insists that he will vaccinate all Americans first and then close friends before anyone else. Canadian prime minister argues that his first and foremost focus is on Canadians getting the vaccines. “I” becomes the very focus that I look after first. “I” expands to one’s own immediate family, then, to close friends. Anyone farther away is not on “my” radar. This is why opportunistic war mongers hit the weak in hope of getting away with heinous evil acts at this very vulnerable time for the world.

Who shall look after the weak, the powerless, the poor, the unwanted, the defenceless, the helpless, and the stigmatized? Who looks after the “others” who are different from “us” and do not belong to one’s own little circle? Who will care for strangers who are always presented as threats to “our” people? Who will pay attention to those who have always been aliens among “us”? In troubled and unsafe times, anyone and everyone who is “other” is seen as suspicious, dangerous, deadly, and harmful to “us”. In this spirit, we have seen the increase in violence against people who are visibly different, representing all these hazards we have to face everyday.

Contrast to this, look at us and the world around us! It is about time we focus on things that speak of life. This is why it makes a whole lot of sense to see many Jewish groups working with Palestinian groups protesting what is taking place in Gaza at the Israelie Consulate in Toronto and elsewhere. As life begins to break through the thick winter crust of hearts, people are awakening to stories of cruel deaths inflicted on many around the world and are crying out for justice. Christians are also stirring. We are gearing up to share God’s unconditional love with siblings of all races and backgrounds. In this same spirit, we at Drummond Hill are taking a look at ways to commit our future confidently in God’s hand.

All things bright and beautiful

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all.
The purple headed mountain, the river running by, the sunset, and the morning, that brightens up the sky.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all.

Scripture: Mark 8:1-10
In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

To the people of Israel, those who were not part of the tribes of Israel were threats to their religious purity, moral uprightness, and spiritual sanctity. They learned that foreigners’ religions were always enticing them to other gods. They were taught of the long history of Israel where they were disloyal to God of Israel and the punishments they endured for their apostasy. They were always reminded how their morals and ethics had to be above all else centered on the Ten Commandments and adhering to all God’s ordinances. They were reminded that forgetting to follow them was to betray God. In this religious and moral existence, sanctity was insured when they stayed away from anything foreign, strange, and outside of Israel.

In this context, those who followed Jesus understood that all Jesus’ teachings, healings, and gracious miracles as the unveiling of God’s promise of a messiah. As Jesus’ disciples, they shared in these fundamentals of being the people of Israel. A main difference between the disciples of Jesus and other Jews was their view of who Jesus was. They, including the disciples, were concerned primarily about themselves and things that affected the people of Israel. They had a very low view of those who did not belong to the tribes of Israel. Among Israelites, many devout ones had unfavorable views of those who interacted with other races on a regular basis for commercial and cultural activities. These ones who shared lives with outsiders regularly were known as sinners. In this milieu Jesus preached.

Christ is made the sure foundation



Christ is made a sure foundation,
Christ the head and corner stone,
chosen of the Lord, and precious,
binding all the churches in one,
holy Zion's help forever,
and her confidence alone.

After being rejected even by his own townsfolk and the leaders of Israel, Jesus sent out his disciples to every part of Israel. While the disciples were in mission work, John the Baptist was beheaded. Soon the disciples returned with news of their successful mission work. We read in Chapter 7 that Jesus and his disciples were visited by many and they did not have time for necessary things like eating their meals. Jesus told the disciples to go away to a quiet place only to be followed by many. Seeing so many people of Israel who came to be with him like sheep without a shepherd. He had compassion for them. After teaching them, he fed five thousand men without counting women and children with five loaves and two fish. Gospel Mark told us that everyone was full and twelve baskets full of bread and fish left over. Of course, twelve baskets signify twelve tribes of Israel.

Because he had compassion for these Israelites, to whom he was sent to preach the good news of God, he stayed with them a little longer while sending his disciples ahead of him across the lake. His townsfolk and leaders of Israel might have rejected him. However, he had an extensive following of these people who were seeking their shepherd. Yes, he showed compassion for his disciples. That was why he sent them away into the wilderness so that they could rest. Yes, he showed compassion for the people of Israel. That was why he stayed with the crowd a little longer. Instead of getting annoyed at them for following him into this quiet deserted place, he took time to teach them, feed them, and stay with them. Only in the dark of night did he leave these people who were desperately seeking a shepherd.

Christ is made the sure foundation

To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of hosts, today:
with your constant loving-kindness,
hear your servants as they pray,
and your fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.

So he left the people of Israel behind in search of rest. But he could not stay undiscovered too long. As soon as the word spread that he was in the region of Tyre, a woman of Syrophoenician origin came to him. He acted like any other Jew toward a foreigner when this woman began to speak to him. As we noted on Mother’s Day, Jesus was faced with a fierce love of mother for a daughter. As we noted last Sunday, something about her love for her daughter awoke Jesus to a reality of faith that was different from the faith of the people of Israel. Confronted by this faith and on his way to the Sea of Galilee, in a region of Decapolis (meaning 10 cities) of many foreigners, he faced a deaf. The people, most probably non-Jews, brought to him a deaf man. Jesus cured him. The man could now hear.

In a way a very symbolic miracle took place. The man who could not hear, was made to hear. Was Jesus given this new insight when the loving mother who was not an Israelite wanted her daughter to be made well? Did God open the eyes and mind of Jesus to see something he did not see and know before and was not aware of in terms of his mission? This healing of possibly a non-Jew in a land that was occupied by those who were not Israelites seemed to signify that ears which could not hear were opened to hear the good news of God, the very preaching of Jesus. Did this mean that those whom the Israelites despised and stayed away from were now able to hear the good news as well? Not only that, the man’s speech impediment was also cured. Again, does this mean that foreigners could now speak of and proclaim the good news once opened only to the people of Israel? Though Jesus cured him in private and ordered everyone who came with the man to keep the news quiet, they spoke of this good news. More he ordered them to keep it quiet, the more they zealously proclaimed. The good news was being preached in this foreign region loudly. Could these foreigners now hear, accept and proclaim the good news like the disciples?

Now we come to our passage for today. This passage is very vague about the identity of the crowd gathering around Jesus. We no longer know whether he was in Jewish territory or still in the region of Decapolis. We also cannot tell if this crowd is composed simply of Jews or mixed with others. Perhaps, Gospel Mark is deliberately vague here. What is clear is that according to custom we know Jews of status probably would not have mixed with the non-Jews. Jews of low status at the time probably did not care much about the presence of foreigners because they considered themselves sinners anyway. All we know from the passage is that there was a gathering of a large crowd.

Seeing the crowd, once again, as was the case earlier, he is moved to show his compassion. Though the identity of this large crowd is not clear as to whether some foreigners were in the midst or not, what is important is the number of baskets filled with leftovers. There were seven baskets full indicating or tipping towards the seven foreign/gentile cities alluded to in the Book of Revelation. We can argue about the significance of this number seven. From many early Christian sources, we do know that the number 12 was specific to twelve tribes of Israel and 7 for gentile churches. Did outsiders or gentiles come to form part of this large crowd? Why else would Mark reference 7 baskets full of leftovers when he could have talked about 12 baskets or other more symbolic numbers indicating the people of Israel?

Christ is made the sure foundation

Praise and honour to the Father,
Praise and honour to the Son,
Praise and honour to the Spirit,
ever Three and ever One,
one in might and one in glory
while unending ages run.

After this feeding of four thousand people, Jesus is in full conflict with Pharisees as he begins to head towards Jerusalem. Today, with this intrigue regarding Jesus’ willingness to to share the gospel with the gentiles, we focus on Jesus showing his compassion. He saw this large number of people out in a remote area. He did not want them to suffer hunger and exhaustion. He fed them. He stayed with them a little longer. This is the same love that we reference every time we come to think about being part of Christ’s body in this world. Having grown up in this love of Christ, it is hard for us to turn away from those who are suffering. Our mission to share the good news of God or the imminence of God’s kingdom opens our eyes to the suffering of many around us while our hearts naturally open towards strangers to share God’s gift with them all.

This is why it is so difficult for us not to feel the pain of people dying in Gaza or anywhere else. Unlike those who argue, justify, kill, make enemies, and play political power games, we see God’s image in each person and remember Jesus’ command to love even the enemies. Our hearts break as we witness the tragedy of human beings killing other human beings in all circumstances. Our focus on forgiveness and reconciliation is fully realized when our hearts are moved and opened to the sufferings of others as Christ did here for the second time with the crowds. In both of these feeding miracles, we see Jesus showing his empathy for people through this basic action of providing food. Our hearts open up in compassion for all who suffer.

The current world, though advanced in technology and powers of destruction due to new technologies, has been awash in people who have become excellent in survival and gaining the most power and wealth at the expense of others. All economic and political systems are geared to maximizing ways to add more wealth and power to already powerful countries. In this system, the weak are seen as expandible and disposable. Death in this world symbolizes weakness. As Christians, however, we stand against this harsh world where the strongest and fittest survive while others perish. We temper the world with the very compassion Jesus shows to the crowds. This is why we simply cannot let indiscriminate killings go on in our world. This is why we refuse to stop finding ways to love even the enemies. This is why we continue to reach out and bring into our circles those who are foreign to us as strangers.

Jesus called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’ How much more would he have done in seeing all these tragic events of our world where so many people are being killed, maimed, wounded, and damaged physically as well as psychologically?

Prayer

O Lord, we pray with all our hearts. We pray because we have been witnessing terrible tragedies as if our lives under COVID 19 pandemic were not enough in giving us grief. The world is still mired in wars and killings. Even though the truce is declared in Gaza, we know that suffering people continue to suffer without relief, the powerful continue to mistreat and toy with the powerless. In this harsh and evil world, we come to you as your people doing our best to share your love insisting on bringing your compassion to all those who hurt. Give us courage to be your followers, always bringing your compassion in all matters of human activities.

We pray for the people of Gaza who cry today as they grieve the loss of their families and friends. We pray that all people around the world will see them with loving hearts and share in their grief. We confess our weakness and inabilities in face of this difficulty not knowing how to bring about the life that embodies your kingdom. Be with those who grieve. Be with those who cry. Be with those who try their best to find a way out of this mess in the Middle East. Be with the powerful so that they may gain hearts of compassion to care instead of hate, love instead of killing.

We pray for suffering people everywhere. There are so many in Yemen, in refugee camps in Europe, at the borders of many countries being blocked, and migrants who are detained in various centres around the world. Be with everyone, O God. Help us to see them as our brothers and sisters and to have courage to extend our love to them.

We pray for all those who are contracting and dying of COVID 19. As people of all nations try to navigate through this difficult time, we are mindful of all those who are suffering in fear because of their circumstances. With no vaccines in sight, no health care being available, no ways of finding any help, so many are dying quietly. Their family members also suffer along with them as they get infected by this disease. Continue to guard and protect them. As they suffer through this disease, walk with them wherever they are.

We pray for all leaders everywhere. Let them be reminded that this is not the time for killing, fighting, and destroying, but time of compassion, hope and solidarity. Keep them to focus on saving lives instead of using this opportunity to enrich while saving themselves only. Keep them filled with compassion for others.

We pray for all those who have lost their loved ones recently. Many are struggling to grieve because we are not able to follow our usual way of gathering to mourn the dead. Be with them.

All these and more we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

Offering God forgave my sin/Freely, freely



God forgave my sin in Jesus' name,
I've born again in Jesus' name
and in Jesus' name I come to you
to share his love as he told me to.
He said,
"Freely, freely you have received,
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name, and because you believe
others will know that I live."

All power is given in Jesus' name,
in earth and heaven in Jesus' name,
and in Jesus' name I come to you
to share HIs power as He told me to.
He said,
"Freely, freely you have received;
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name, and because you believe
others will know that I live."

Offering Prayer and Benediction

O Lord,

As we close our worship on this day, we give thanks to you through these offerings. We bless you through these tokens of our love. We also give you praise and worship of this service as our offering. Be glad and receive all these gifts from us.

Send us into the world as your people to embody the love you have shown in Christ. Give us strength to give freely as you have given while trusting you and be made free in you always. Make us live by your grace and share your grace with all those around us.

Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.