Acknowledging the Territory
Wherever we are in this wonderful province of Nova Scotia, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour the traditions and spirituality of all our indigenous brothers and sisters throughout this great land.
Time of Quiet Centering
As we prepare to worship together, let us take a moment of silence to prepare ourselves to enter this sacred time. Allow the care and concerns that you have brought with you this morning to be set aside, and allow the calm and the peace of gathering in the presence of the Divine, to wash over you.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ candle this morning, we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ. And we commit ourselves to taking that light with us and sharing it with everyone we meet.
Call to Worship
We gather to worship the one who tends and guides us like a good shepherd to safe and abundant pastures.
We gather to worship the one who knows us intimately and whose voice we recognize.
We gather to worship the one who offers us healing.
We gather to worship the one who travels with us through the deepest valleys.
We gather to worship the one who is willing to give up everything for us.
We gather to worship the one who comforts us and whose strength uphold us.
We gather to worship the one who love fills us to overflowing.
We gather to worship the one who promises that we will dwell safely in that love all the days of our lives.
So come, let us gather to worship our shepherding God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Shepherding God, in Your gentleness, guide us. In Your power, strengthen us. In Your lowliness, strip from us our selfish pride. In Your greatness, lift us up that we might aspire to greater things. Shepherding God, lead us, and help us to follow. Amen
Gift of Music You Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd #210
Peter and John had been arrested for preaching about the resurrection, something that did not fit with the laws of the temple. But when they were questioned about what they were preaching, their conviction and their faith that salvation comes not through the law but through Christ, amazed the authorities.
The 23rd Psalm is perhaps the best known of all the Psalms. Lord is my Shepherd.
1 John 3:1-7
In the first letter attributed to John, John offers the assurance of our status as “Children of God” not because of anything we have done but because of God’s great love for us.
John compares Jesus to a Good Shepherd, who is not like a hired hand who might run away when danger approaches, but who is completely devoted to us and would give up his own life for one of his sheep.
Green Pastures and Still Waters
Have you ever longed for that place of green pastures and still waters talked about in the 23rd Psalm? What would that place look like form you? It would not likely be the small patches of green among the rough scrub of the Holy Land where a tiny pool of water provides for the sheep that graze there. It is more likely that it would be that iconic picture of a very Caucasian looking Jesus holding a lamb in his arms and standing under a tree, surrounded by a field of perfectly mowed green grass with a stream of clear water running gently through it?
But perhaps when you think of a place of comfort, peace and wellbeing, you think of a well-marked trail leading through a dense forest with a small brook gently babbling its way along the side of the path. Or perhaps it would be an Adirondack chair strategically placed by side of a quiet lake. Or would it be a sandy beach with the tide gently lapping against the shore?
For some people that place of green pastures and still waters might even be a sidewalk café on a busy city street, or the view from the balcony of a high-rise apartment where it feels like the whole world is laid out before you. Your place of comfort and refuge may even be the comfort of your own home. There are as many different images of what that perfect place of comfort and safety would look as there are people to imagine it. I have offered you only a few examples. But whatever your green fields and still waters might look like, it is a place of comfort and peace where you feel completely protected, safe and happy.
Our faith tradition however, reminds us that such places are not necessarily physical or geographical in nature. Sometimes those “green pastures” are sometimes that we must find within. It is possible to be in the most peaceful surroundings imaginable and still be completely restless, but it also possible to be surrounded by struggle and chaos and to have deep internal peace.
The philosopher Epictetus once said, “It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters.”
Consider the story of Glenn Cunningham. Cunningham was born in Kansas in 1909. At the age of 8 he was severely burned when the stove in his schoolhouse exploded. His older brother was killed in that same explosion. Cunningham lost all of the flesh on his knees and shins as well as all of the toes on his left foot. The doctors recommended amputating both his legs and when he refused to allow that to happen, they warned that he would almost certainly never walk normally again.
It took almost 2 years before Cunningham was able to walk at all, but not only did he learn to walk, he learned to run. In 1932 and again in 1936 Cunningham competed in the 1500-meter event in the Summer Olympic Games. Although he never won a gold medal, he finished second in 1936 taking home the silver. In 1934 he set the world record by running the mile in 4 minutes and 6.8 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded up to that point. And although it has happened a number of times since then, at that time, many experts believe that it was not possible for a human being to ever break the 4 minute mile.
According to those who knew him, it was Cunningham’s positive attitude and strong faith that got him through some of the darkest and most difficult times of his life. He was loved and admired by many people and while on the ship, traveling to the 1936 Olympic Games, he was voted “Most Popular Athlete” by his fellow Olympians. He once said his favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
For many people, this past year has been a year of intense struggle. It has been a year of loneliness and sorrow. But for other people, it has been a year that has offered a reprieve from the busyness and stress of everyday life and that has given them the opportunity to refocus priorities and to ask some tough questions about what truly matters in life.
The thing is, that this is not necessarily a case of one or the other. Often both of these realities co-exist. For most of us this last year has, at times, been very lonely and sad but at other times it has also offered us the opportunity to slow down and refocus.
The 23rd Psalm offers us wonderful images of green pastures and still waters that restore and renew us, but it also reminds us that there are times when we will all find ourselves walking through those valleys of “deepest darkness”. It acknowledges this as a reality and in no way condemns us for not skipping through those valleys with joy and hopefulness. It recognizes that the valleys are real and sometimes we simply have to do the best we can to stumble our way through them.
Too often in our society, I think we tend to encourage people to “get over it” when things go wrong, to “just deal with it” or to “look on the bright side”. I believe this does us all a great disservice. Life is not always green pastures and still waters. Sometimes it is dark, difficult and frightening. Sometimes it seems like everything is going wrong and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Sometimes we just have to simply do the best we can.
But that doesn’t mean that we simply surrender to the darkness and wait for something to change. We may not be able to change our circumstances, but we can change how we react to any given situations. We can start to do this by reminding ourselves that even if those places of deepest darkness, we are not struggling to find our way alone. We can trust and believe that, even if we can’t see it at the time, there is a way through.
God walks with us. But we also need to remember that other people are also walking though their own dark valleys and difficult times. And we just might find that if we are willing to reach out into that darkness, someone else might just be struggling through that same dark valley also reaching out. It takes courage to reach out in the darkness. We have no way of knowing what’s out there or how our efforts to reach out will be received. It can seem safer to simply pull the darkness in around us, put our heads down and just keep trying to move forward, hoping for the best.
Yet the 23rd Psalm reminds us that not only is God with us in those dark and difficult places, but that God is also guiding us on the right paths that we should be taking.
If we are not willing to reach out and trust, then how can we connect with that guiding force that has promised to help us get through anything? And, I believe that sometimes, actually most of the time, God uses other people to accomplish this.
When we are willing to reach out to someone else in our most difficult times we just might be surprised to find that it is God’s hand reaching back to us. It can be very intimidating to reach out in the dark not sure of what kind of a response we will get. But if we are not willing to reach out, how can we find God’s hand?
And there is another part of all this. When we recognize that someone else is walking through a dark valley, perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we are being called to reach out. Perhaps we need to allow ourselves to become the hand of God accompanying and helping someone else through whatever valley they are navigating.
And there is still more. “You prepare a banquet for me … you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.”
It is more than simply getting through. It is more than simply surviving. There is abundance, love and great joy waiting for us if we are only able to believe and to accept. It is not always easy. But as Christians we hold on to God’s promise that we are not alone and that the one who came to show us that also shows us the way through. Amen.
Gift of Music The Lord’s My Shepherd #747
We Offer Our Gifts
God calls and we answer. One of the ways in which we answer is through the gifts that we offer. Those gifts may be the offering that we place on the offering plates at the back of the church, they may be offerings we make through Par or through online donations, they may be donations we give to others beyond the walls of this church. Or they may be the offerings of our time, our abilities and our commitment. But whatever it is that we offer God this day, let us asks God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; God of love, you are with us, you provide us with what we most need and you guide us along the way. Out of gratitude for your love and care, we bring our gifts. May the sharing of these gifts and the sharing of our love help to ensure that all may feast at the table of abundance, walk without fear, and drink deeply from the cup of compassion. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayer of the People
O Lord, our Shepherding God, come close to us now . Come near us in our time of need. Shepherding God,
we need you in our time of anxiety.We need you in our time of economic uncertainty.We need you in a time of a globe-trotting disease.
We need you to bind our wounds,and pour your healing ointment on our heads . We need the briars, and brambles, and burrspulled out of our fleece and skin.
Shepherding God.you guide us with your voice, Help us to listen and follow no matter where your voice leads. Help us to trust you.
Shepherding God, protect us from the hired hands that do not really care for us and have neglected or abused us in the past.
Shepherding God, thank you for your son who lay down his life for those who follow him and for those who are not in the fold yet..
Lord we pray for those who don’t know the shepherd, whose life circumstances kept them from knowing the good shepherd.
We pray that by our actions, our behavior, and our reaching out into the community, they may come to know you.
Shepherding God, renew us, guide us with your love and renew us with your peace. Amen
Gift of Music The King of Love #273