Sunday, September 6

If you wish to hear the entire service without going through each part, simply click here.

Welcome and Announcements


Sincere welcome to everyone this morning on the first Sunday of September. It is so good to have some of you worshipping in person. Seeing each other and gathering together to worship have never been more joyful than today. We have been away from this sacred place too long. We will continue to have our worship through our website.

With all these safety measures, things like following arrows or using washrooms are confusing. Please follow through the instructions that are posted.

Starting next week, with your help, we will see if we can measure everyone’s temperature before you enter the building. It would give us added security since so many people are often unaware of their conditions and this COVID 19 is a very sneaky virus.

Please note that you are asked not to congregate after worship in the parking lot also. Yes, it is already bad that we are refraining from singing. Yet, we know you will help protect everyone by following all these tedious and bothersome rules.

Sharing with neigbhours
We need your help to brighten Christmas for those in need at the YWCA shelter. Urgently needed items are: Single bed sheets, towels, all sizes of pajamas, socks and underwear for women and children, personal care items. The items must be new and in original packaging.

Meditative Hymn: Spirit of God



Call to Worship


I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples. (Psalm 77:11-14)

Hymn: Immortal Invisible



Prayer


What a wonderful and marvellous your creation is, O God! Your creation shows forth the infinite grace and mercy you gave us through your Son our Lord. In gratitude we come bringing ourselves, our hearts of worship, to praise you. May you be glorified today.

As we come, we come as people of this broken and pain filled world. We say we do our best. Yet, our world is full of people in fear and despair. We do our best to help and restore this world made in human image. We fail more than we succeed. Yet, in your love we persist. Sharing your love so that all may find you.

At this hour, we set our hearts on you. May your glory fill this place. We focus all our efforts in this worship straining to feel your presence. May your presence be sufficient for us this day and days yet to come.

In this worship may we gladly praise you. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Offering (Anthem: Blessed are they)



Offering Prayer


O God, you have blessed us richly in life. Out of that blessings we come bringing gifts to offer our hearts of love to you. May you be pleased. These offerings include our commitment to be your disciples. Shape us as your hands and feet in the world. Show your love through all that we do in your creation. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:3 and Sermon Part 1


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

Sermon: Jesus’ good news to the poor Part 1
What a summer it has been. With the scare of this pandemic everyone was hunkered down in the confines of home. Much of life consisted of staying home and shopping for essential items. It made the world a very different place. It feels as if we have been in this situation a long time. What will we tell ourselves or those who come after us without having experienced this unusual time? What events will you remember and forget?

A mother called a radio talk show sharing why she would not be sending her child to school. She was afraid that her son would get sick. The very thought horrified her. Somehow, when there are so many stories about how children were not affected by this disease so severely, she could not bear the thought of her son getting sick with COVID 19. She had no fear of her child getting a cold or flu, but for her this was very different. Hearing the stories of how sick the elderly became and so many people being reported to have died created this fear for her son.

In the meantime, the middle aged children have been warning their parents who are in the late seventies and above, not to go out. I have not seen so many elderly people being told to stay home while their children in the forties and fifties shop and warn about the danger to their parents. Love for their parents was expressed in these draconian measures. (Ah! The irony--these are the children who rebelled when they were told to stay home for their own good in their teenage years.)

We have quickly adapted by giving up on many important ways we communicate. Many of us have learned that we are able to manage knowing things will be over at some point. There are certain things, which are very concerning, however. Threats of evictions are real for many people. We are talking about tens of thousands across Ontario alone, the high number of bankruptcies of small businesses, and many things we take for granted are no longer possible.

I received a phone message the other day when I returned from the Guidance Conference in Toronto where I went to interview candidates who want to become ministers in our denomination. The person said that he wanted the church to deal with homeless people sleeping in the cemetery. He saw so many of them in the cemetery and some living surrounded by garbage. He felt bad for tourists--not for the homeless--taking pictures while these people were making mess.

To combat the problem of homelessness, the city passed some measures to move homeless people into some vacant motels starting in March as a means to keep people safe from COVID 19. Hotels and motels in Niagara Falls are now charging tourists who stay with them a few dollars a night more to pay for the cost. In the meantime, more and more people are becoming homeless. However it has happened, we do see more people sleeping in the cemetery next to us. Obviously this has become a concern for neighbours as well. There will be more if more people without jobs are evicted from their homes. At the same time, the city will be ending their program of paying the homeless in these motels by the end of this month.

This blessing in Matthew 5 is something we need to think deeply about. Here in Matthew, it says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” In Luke it is simpler, “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of God.” In both cases, God’s world belongs to the poor. There had been many debates among scholars as to why the difference was introduced in Jesus' blessing. Here, we are not concerned with the difference. Rather we will discuss how this blessing ought to come alive in the life of God’s people.

According to Luke 4, after being tempted, Jesus began his ministry with these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” This is a slight alteration from what we read in Isaiah 61, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” In Luke, the good news clearly is aimed at the poor. Everyone else who is mentioned after that first sentence belongs under the big umbrella known as poor. In Isaiah, the poor would be a subset of the oppressed. The all encompassing term whether it is ‘poor’ or ‘oppressed,’ contains the situation we now know as “being poor.”

Sermon: Jesus’ good news to the poor Part 2


That Jesus came was the good news to the poor. That the poor is in the foremost of Jesus’ mind is expressed in Matthew by the placement at the head of the blessings. In Luke we see it in Magnificat (Mary’s song) to here and elsewhere. Though Jesus did say to the disciples that they would always have the poor with them, that statement did not minimize the fact that Jesus’ presence in the world was the good news to the poor.

This understanding is very important. Christians were always friends to the poor. The disciples and early Christians did not focus on wealth. The first Christian community in the Book of Acts saw everyone donating what they had to the church: the church distributed all they had to those in need. Widows and orphans, the poor of the day, were looked after. One reason they chose Stephen as a deacon was to look after those Greek speaking widows in need as they complained that they were not being looked after like the Hebrew speaking widows. Christian history is partly about how Christians cared for the poor around them. Roman Emperor Julian complained to his high priest Arsacius, “it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.” Throughout history there were many times when the Church was the only place where the poor would find help. That is, the Christians always remembered that Jesus’ presence in the world ought to be the good news to the poor.

With social welfare policies, in Canada and many countries around the world, the task of looking after the poor have been usurped by governments. Yet, in their policies, so many people find exasperation and frustration. The bureaucracies are not serving the poor as intended. Rather, they are maintained to keep social order. Often the poor are continually marginalized, blamed and oppressed. Some politicians now insist that to help them we ought to establish tougher rules or unleash tough love in an attempt to get them off their skid rows. Many of us agree. We often wonder what good our government hand out is accomplishing when so much money only seems to keep them in perpetual poverty.

The question for us in this very difficult economic, social and political climate is, “How can Christians bring Jesus’ good news to the poor? How can we tell the poor or poor in spirit that the kingdom of God is theirs?”

To bring the good news, we need to change our views about the world. Up until now we see God’s creation was a place of resources we could exploit. The first ones who discovered ways to extract these resources and find uses for were able to declare ownership and gain wealth through exploitations of things that were already in God’s creation. For example, a nugget of gold in the ground belongs to the very first one who discovers it. In fact in Ontario, you and I own our land up to certain depth. If someone discovers precious metals or oil far below my house, those metals do not belong to me. The one who discovered it can claim it. In order to get to it, that person will pay us to access it. This understanding of ownership needs to be changed.

When Jesus declared that the kingdom of God belonged to the poor, Jesus was pointing out the whole creation belonged to the whole humanity for its own good. That is, the poor have stakes in everything that God created. It does not simply belong to an individual or a corporation who discovered it, but to the entire humanity. This is why the Magnificat speaks of the lowly being brought up and the powerful are humbled, the rich go away empty while the poor are filled.

One way the early Christians lived this message was to minister to widows and orphans as well as the poor who were Romans as Emperor Julian noted. Later this good news was shown through those Christians monks who gave up their riches to live the lives in poverty. St. Francis epitomized this willingness to be part of the poor begging for food rather than remaining rich. By living the life of beggars, St. Francis highlighted how God’s kingdom belonged to the poor as equally as to others as well.

If we are to take the attitude that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and we have a share in it, we see the poor not as those who ought to be cast out and avoided. They become God’s stewards with whom we work to find ways to be blessed by God’s kingdom and all therein. They become integral in everything we do as we discover new ways to be enriched by what God created for our use. At the same time, we work for the best way to enrich all lives that occupy God’s kingdom. Only when the whole creation flourishes, we thrive and are blessed by God’s gift of life. Our way of thinking on the ownership of God’s kingdom has to change.

How does this blessing become the good news to the poor? It blesses the poor because they are included and are given full participation in sharing the wealth and riches of God’s kingdom. It tells them they have as much place at the table as owners as the richest person on earth. They are not pushed out of the society and made invisible. They become part of life as equal owners of God’s kingdom. This blessing empowers us to share with the poor without condition. It empowers the poor to strive and partake in being stewards of God’s kingdom. In this way, we no longer see a group of homeless in a cemetery. We see co-owners who are to be encouraged to be good stewards of it. We approach them not as the one who do not belong there: we relate to them as stewards with whom we work together in love to maintain God’s kingdom.

Prayer:


We have been blessed, O God, with your love. Without condition, without limits you poured your love through your Son our Lord to give life to each and every one of us. Through the Holy Spirit you guide us in ways that we learn to be faithful to you as you are to us.

Today we come with concerns for the world and for each of us. We gather together in this coronavirus pandemic for the first time in many months unsure of our total safety. In gathering we rely on you to bestow upon us life of health, strength and love. We pray that your blessings fill all those who gather in this hall and all those who are at home as part of this community. May you bless all those who are worshipping you in their homes as they do their best to keep safe and keep others safe. Bind us together wherever we worship this day as one in this worship through your Son our Lord.

We pray for those who have been struggling with pain, abandonment and death at home or in hospitals as diseases cripple so many in the world. Some have been hospitalized for COVID 19, some for other severe diseases and some for necessary surgeries. Others have been in their homes suffering silently. Many are trying to fend for themselves from ills they suffer. So many are serving and ministering to their loved ones who are not fully supported by the care systems. In the meantime, primary care people like doctors, nurses, social workers, and support workers are doing their best in the losing battles. Be with them all. Strengthen them with the knowledge that in your love is hope. May each one find faith in you through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We pray for those who have been fighting poverty or on-coming poverty. Many are facing the day to day struggle of making ends meet. Without opportunities for jobs or skills for jobs, many are falling behind in meeting their daily needs. Help them and us with new ways of sharing your world’s bounties. Open our eyes in your love to make your good news a reality for all.

We pray for those who are on the streets everyday to protest against injustice in the world. May their righteous cries be heard by you and by us. Through the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see how the powers in the world oppress the weak, how the powerless are exploited and unjust flourish. Grant us faith to stand for and along with those who demonstrate to bring about the righteousness and justice of your reign.

Most of all, Lord, be with each of us. Some of us have experienced personal loss. Our loved ones died and are no longer with us. Our friends have lost jobs. Our neighbours are about to lose their houses. Our members are starting their lives out in a new way. Some of us are facing death. Our illnesses are the painful reality that cannot be changed. Our fears are making mental illnesses worse, keep our anxieties high, and our health weakened. Give us faith to remain strong, hope to get through each day and love to cast out all fears in strength.

All these said and unsaid prayer we offer in your Son’s name. Amen.

Hymn: Blessed Assurance



Benediction:


May the God, who creates in love, continue to recreate us to give life full of love!
May the Son, who shares in grace, continue to empower us to share his grace with others!
May the Holy Spirit, who restores in mercy, continue to be the hope to all who despair!
Amen.