Sunday July 31, 2022
Emancipation Day – Psalms of Distress
We are one as we come, as we come, joyful to be here,
In the praise on our lips there’s a sense that God is near
We are one as we sing, as we seek we are found;
And we come needful of God’s grace as we meet together in this place.
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and or those who have cared for it long before our ancestors arrived. We commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
We light this candle as a sign of God’s Light and God’s Spirit at work in the world. May its light brighten our spirits, ignite our passions and shine within and through each one of us to offer light and love to others.
Call to Worship
There are times we all feel lonely and isolated.
We gather in worship trusting that we are not alone.
There are times we all feel vulnerable and frightened.
We gather in worship trusting that faith can overcome fear.
There are times we all feel abandoned and forgotten.
We gather in worship trusting that the One who gathers with us will not abandon us.
There are times we all feel helpless and hopeless.
We gather in worship trusting that the One who shares all our burdens can set us free.
And so, in this time of worship we gather, trusting our loving, caring, forgiving and liberating God.
When the Israelite people were enslaved in Egypt, O God, you called Moses and Aaron to free them. When Black Africans were enslaved in Europe, North America and the Caribbean, you called people of good conscience to abolish slavery. Today, when people are illegally trafficked throughout our world, you call on us to stand up and speak out. Free us, we pray from all forms of slavery and release within us the passionate desire to love all people fully and equally in your name. Amen.
Gift of Music Out of the Depths, O God, We Call to You #611
Throughout the Summer this year, we have been looking at the book of Psalms. But tomorrow, August 1st, is Emancipation Day and this year, for the first time The United Church of Canada is marking this day with the special service that you heard about in the announcements. I debated leaving the Psalms behind for this week and looking instead at resources specifically for Emancipation Day. However, when I went back and read through the Psalms I had selected for this week, Psalm of despair, I discovered that they fit so well with this theme that I only changed one. So, as you listen to these psalms of despair, I ask you to think, not only about how they might resonate in your own life, but how they might have resonated with those who lived in slavery in our own country prior to the abolition of slavery.
Psalm 13 Good News Translation
How much longer will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How much longer will you hide yourself from me? How long must I endure trouble? How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night? How long will my enemies triumph over me? Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me. Restore my strength; don’t let me die. Don’t let my enemies say, “We have defeated him.” Don’t let them gloat over my downfall. I rely on your constant love; I will be glad, because you will rescue me. I will sing to you, O Lord, because you have been good to me.
Psalm 102 (selected verses) Good News Translation
Listen to my prayer, O Lord, and hear my cry for help! When I am in trouble, don’t turn away from me! Listen to me, and answer me quickly when I call! My life is disappearing like smoke; my body is burning like fire. I am beaten down like dry grass; I have lost my desire for food. I groan aloud; My life is like the evening shadows; I am like dry grass. But you, O Lord, are king forever; all generations will remember you. The nations will fear the Lord; all the kings of the earth will fear his power. When the Lord rebuilds Zion, he will reveal his greatness. He will hear his forsaken people and listen to their prayer. Write down for the coming generation what the Lord has done, so that people not yet born will praise him. The Lord looked down from his holy place on high, he looked down from heaven to earth. He heard the groans of prisoners and set free those who were condemned to die. And so his name will be proclaimed in Zion, and he will be praised in Jerusalem when nations and kingdoms come together and worship the Lord.
Psalm 142 Good News Translation
I call to the Lord for help; I plead with him. I bring him all my complaints; I tell him all my troubles. When I am ready to give up, he knows what I should do. In the path where I walk, my enemies have hidden a trap for me. When I look beside me, I see that there is no one to help me, no one to protect me. No one cares for me. Lord, I cry to you for help; you, Lord, are my protector; you are all I want in this life. Listen to my cry for help, for I am sunk in despair. Save me from my enemies; they are too strong for me. Set me free from my distress; then in the assembly of your people I will praise you because of your goodness to me.
Psalm 61:1-4 Good News Translation
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer! In despair and far from home I call to you! Take me to a safe refuge, for you are my protector, my strong defense against my enemies. Let me live in your sanctuary all my life; let me find safety under your wings.
Emancipation Day – Psalms of Distress
Before I begin my reflection this morning, I want to take of moment to recognize the work of Rev. Dr. Paul Douglas Walfall who is in ministry in The United Church of Canada with the Fort Saskatchewan Pastoral Charge in Northern Spirit Regional Council. He has provided two sperate reflections on Emancipation Day and a large part of my reflection this morning is taken from his work.
History is not, or at least should not be, told to make us feel comfortable with or proud of our past. Much has been said over the past number of years about the need for us to better know the complete history of Canada. There are parts of the history of Canada that are painful to recall that have often been downplayed or ignored, parts that are inconvenient to remember and consequently are seldom spoken about. Emancipation Day on August 1 is a stark reminded of one of those inconvenient parts of our history.
Emancipation is inconvenient primarily because if we do commemorate it, we must acknowledge that slavery existed in Canada, both the slavery of Indigenous people and the slavery of Black people. We have always been taught that Canada was the last station on the “Underground Railroad,” the place that welcomed those who had escaped slavery from the United States. It is therefore inconceivable to acknowledge, that the place that offered freedom to those enslaved in the US could possibly be a place that had also enslaved people, and it is this part of our history that we must come to terms with. It is also inconvenient because August 1st is celebrated in Nova Scotia as Natal Day, and across Canada in various other forms as a national holiday.
Yet the truth is that there was slavery in what became known as Canada. As part of the British Empire, slavery did not become illegal until August 1, 1834, with the passing of the Abolition of Slavery Act.
It is interesting to note that the definition of emancipation is, and I quote, “the act of freeing a person from another person’s control. More broadly, it is also used for efforts to procure economic and social rights, political rights or equality, often for a specifically disenfranchised group.” (end quote)
Using this definition, we are forced to admit that, although slavery was abolished in 1835, true emancipation is something that many people still struggle to achieve. The reality of anti-Black racism continues to exist. Many people in Canada are still denied full economic, social, and political equality. Black people are still often subjected to abuse, slurs, and discrimination.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once reminded us that “no one is free until we are all free.” The struggle for freedom, for true emancipation, for equality is a struggle that cannot be won unless all peoples do their part. As the United Church of Canada this is something that is at the very heart of who we are, which is why, this year, The United Church is offering a special Emancipation Day worship service online. But there is so much more to do.
And the truth is that sometimes, situations and realities in our own lives make it difficult for us to even put one foot in front of the other, let alone reaching out to help others. There are times that our own anxiety, loneliness, fear, depression or hopelessness overwhelm us.
I know this to be true in my own life, and it is in those times that the words of the Psalmist resonate most profoundly within me. How long must I endure trouble? How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night? … I am beaten down … I groan aloud … In despair … I call to you!
When I was much younger, I remember a very well-meaning person from the church telling me that if I was feeling anxious, frightened or at all depressed or unhappy, it was because my faith wasn’t strong enough. She insisted that if I only had enough faith, I would never feel any of these things again.
Fortunately, this is not an attitude that has ever been supported by either biblical or Christian tradition. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, especially in the book of Psalms and in the book of Job, crying out to God in frustration, lament, and eve
anger are fundamental elements of faith. According to the gospels, Jesus himself cried out from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
To deny these feelings does not eliminate them. To cover them up and pretend they don’t exist simply buries them deeper. If we cannot cry out to God expressing the very depth of what we are feeling, regardless of whither that feeling is adoration or despair, how can we claim to be truly open and connected to God?
Faith does not mean that we never feel lonely, frightened, anxious or angry. It doesn’t mean that there are never times we feel depressed and hopeless. What it does mean is that even when things are at their very worst, even when there seems to be no way out and no change of things ever getting better, we can cry out to God trusting that we are heard.
Some of the most profoundly moving songs of faith come from the depths of slavery. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows my sorrow.
Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. I looked over Jordan and what do I see coming for to carry me home? A band of angels coming after me coming for to carry me home. We are climbing Jacob’s ladder. Every rung goes higher, higher. Michael row the boat ashore. The river is deep and the river is wide, greener pastures on the other side. Jordan’s river is chilly and cold. chills the body but not the soul. And of course, I’m on My Way to Canaan Land, better known to most of us as I’m on My Way to the Freedom Land.
None of these songs ever denies the pain and suffering of the world. In fact, almost all of them clearly state it. But they all hold on to the promise that the cries of pain and sorrow are heard, and that beyond the pain there is hope.
The same is true for the psalms. They clearly and vividly cry out in pain and sorrow. How long must I endure trouble? How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night? … don’t let me die … my body is burning like fire … there is no one to help me, no one to protect me. No one cares for me … In despair and far from home I call to you!
Yet each one of these psalms also ends with hope. I will sing to you, O Lord, because you have been good to me … [God]will reveal his greatness. He will hear his forsaken people and listen to their prayer … in the assembly of your people I will praise you because of your goodness to me … you are my protector, my strong defense.
And there is something else that the songs of slavery and the psalms have in common. They are more than simply songs of complaint that rely on God to fix everything. They inspire action.
Many of these songs of slavery became ways of passing on information about how and when to access help from the underground railway. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was a message that the chariot or underground railway had arrived and it was time to depart. Michael Row the Boat Ashore, told the slaves to head for the river. And I’m on My Way let other slaves know that someone was going to attempt to escape.
The psalms inspired the Hebrew people to not only sing and pray to God, but to write down the history of all God had done for them so that generations yet to come would know the stories and be inspired to trust. They also encourage people to listen for the guidance of God and to follow that guidance.
We need to express our deepest pain and sorrow honestly and openly to God. We need to cry, complain and even rage. We also need to trust that when we do so, we will be heard and we will be answered. But that alone is not enough. We need to do our part. We can’t simply sit back and wait for God to fix everything.
This applies both to our own personal lives and to our lives within the wider world. When things go wrong, we need to face it, we need to admit it, we need to mourn it and we need to trust that God will show us what to do about it. And then we need to have the courage to do it. Amen
Gift of Music Let My Spirit Always Sing MV#83
We Offer Our Gifts
As a church, we are called to respond to the presence of the Divine in our lives. One of the ways we respond is with our gifts. And so, as we sing our offertory response, let us bring forward some of the gifts that we offer.
Offertory Response #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love and the gift of the Spirit
by which we live, we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
As you have blessed us in all that you have given us, we ask that you will bless the gifts that we bring that they too may become a blessing. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
God is always as near as our next breath. God always listen when we pray, whether those prayers are written down and placed in our prayer jar or whether they as said in the silence of our hearts. So let us bring our silent, personal prayers to God with confidence, knowing that they are always heard … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine Creator of all that is, we know that there is much pain and sorrow in our lives and in our world. But we also know that you have never insulated yourself from that pain. You embraced it and held it and through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, you shared the pain of the world, with us. It is because we know that you truly do understand our pain and sorrow that we know we can turn to you even in the most difficult times of our lives, trusting that you share our pain and sorrow and that you will not leave us to struggle alone. We also know that the same is true for all people.
Where there is physical pain, illness and distress you are with us and you call us to walk with each other offering healing and hope.
Where there is loneliness, isolation or those who feel unwanted and unloved, you are with us and you call us to walk with each other offering friendship and love.
Where there is hunger, starvation, homelessness and the lack of even the bare essentials of life, you are with us and you call us to walk with each other offering our help.
Where there is injustice, discrimination, inequality, racism and bigotry, you are with us and you call us to walk with each other offering justice.
Where there is abuse, physical, mental, financial or spiritual, you are with us and you call us to walk with each other offering equality.
Where there is violence and hatred, within families or communities you are with us and you call us to walk with each other offering reconciliation.
Where there is political upheaval, terrorism, war and fighting, you are with us and you call us to walk with each other offering peace.
Where there is ongoing slavery, human trafficking and the denial of human rights for those help in bondage, you are with us and you call us to walk with each other standing together as one people, united in your love.
God of hope, in all the experiences of life, both the good and the bad, we know that now and always you are with us. Walk with us now into whatever future awaits us. Amen
Gift of Music Be Still My Soul #652
No matter where we go from here, no matter what may lie ahead, we go out from here today knowing we are not alone. God is with us. Christ’s example shows us the way and the Spirit is our constant companion and guide, now and always. Go with God.
Go now in peace, never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true.
Know God will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love, and show you believe.
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there watching from above.
Go now in peace, in faith and in love. Amen, amen, amen.