Acknowledging the Territory
Tomorrow we celebrate Natal Day, a day when we remember our heritage. Part of our heritage intersects with the heritage of our first nations brothers and sisters. As so this morning as we gather in worship, we remember the connection between our history and that of the Mi’kmaq people as we acknowledge that this land upon which we live and worship is, by law, unceded territory.
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 allow that light shine through us in all that we do.
Call to Worship
Wonder, joy, delight,
Doubt, anxiety, restlessness,
Sorrow, pain, uncertainty,
Confidence, hope, peace.
We come to worship today each of us filled with many joys, concerns and emotions.
We come to lay them all before God.
We come in faith trusting that whatever we bring, God will accept, understand and embrace.
We come to worship God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
God of love and justice, whether we like to admit it or not, we do not treat everybody equally. We silently judge others based on appearance, social status, and even race. Against our own wishes, we sometimes find ourselves falling prey to the -isms that undermine our society: racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, materialism and too many others isms to mention. Help us to find the courage to meet others who are different from ourselves where they are, to learn from them, and to truly see them through the eyes of your love. Help us to find the willingness to set aside our own ideas, preconceptions and comfort, to embrace all people with the same gentleness and love with which you embrace us. Amen.
Gift of Music Come In, Come In and Sit Down #395
Psalm 50: 1-6 (NRSV)
Psalm 50 reminds us that it is God who is the ultimate Judge of all things.
Like Psalm 50 Luke reminds us that we should not judge others because it is God who will Judge. He makes the point with a parable about the blind leading the blind and the man trying to take a speck our of a neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in his own.
The Gentle Art of Judging Others
When it was released in 1955, Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp was unique in two ways. It was the first animated feature that was not based on a familiar story of famous fairy tale. It was based on a story that was published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1945 titled Happy Dan, the Cynical Dog. It was written by American writer, editor, journalist, playwright and publishing executive Ward Greene. Greene also wrote a spin-off cartoon based on Happy Dan which he called Scamp. Lady and the Tramp was also the first Disney Animated Feature released in wide-screen format.
The movie begins with a beautiful snowy winter scene, set in an early twentieth century village in an affluent neighbourhood. It soon becomes clear that it is Christmas, and as we zoom in on one particular home we see a gentleman, known only as “Jim, dear” present a hat box to his young wife, known simply as “darling”. When the hat box is opened, however, it does not contain the hat that “darling” was expecting, but rather it contains a beautiful little Cocker Spaniel puppy who is promptly named Lady.
Although “Jim, dear” does everything he can to keep the little puppy downstairs in her dog bed, Lady is determined to be where her humans are and she eventually succeeds, finds a place curled up at the foot of their bed. As we watch, the image of the little puppy fades and is replaced with a young adult dog. It is clear this is a happy home for Lady and that she is well loved. This is brough home when Lady is presented with a new collar and license, something that obviously means a great deal to her and something of which she is very proud.
Upon receiving her collar, Lady immediately runs to find her two best friends, a Scottish Terrier named Jock and a Bloodhound named Trusty. They congratulate her enthusiastically not only on the collar but on the fact that a licence means that she has become an adult.
Very quickly, however, it becomes apparent that something is amiss. “Jim, dear” seems far less attentive than usual to Lady and far more attentive to “darling”. And “darling” no longer seems interested in playing ball or going for walks. Instead, she sits in her chair knitting. When Lady describes all this to Jock and Trusty, they inform her that “darling” is going to have a baby.
And this is where we meet Tramp. He is an unlicensed stray from the wrong side of the tracks who has wandered into this affluent neighbourhood in an effort to avoid the dog catcher. When he spots Lady, he is captivated. Upon over hearing that Lady’s owners are expecting a baby, he inserts himself into the conversation and cynically predicts that once the baby arrives, the humans will have no time for Lady. He warns her, “The human heart has only so much room for love and affection. When a baby moves in, the dog moves out.”
Trusty and Jock angrily chase Tramp away and caution Lady to pay no attention to him. After all, he doesn’t even have a licence! They assure her that everything will be fine. When the baby arrives, despite Tramp’s predictions and Lady’s hesitation, “Jim dear” and “darling” take great pride in introducing the baby to Lady and Lady soon comes to love him and to see herself as his protector.
But everything changes abruptly when “Jim, dear” and “darling” must leave town for a few days. Aunt Sarah arrives to look after the baby and with her come her two rather diabolical Siamese cats. No sooner is Aunt Sarah out of the room then the two cats set about to capture first the pet canary and then the goldfish.
Lady does everything she can to protect the household, but as the three careen around the living room, tables get overturned, curtains get ripped and torn down, and the entire place begins to look like a disaster zone. When Aunt Sarah comes rushing in, summoned by Lady’s barking, the two cats pretend to be injured and Aunt Sarah immediately blames Lady for the entire fiasco, and hauls her off to the pet store to be fitted with a muzzle.
Aunt Sarah has made a snap judgement based on her own personal prejudice. She does not even consider the possibility that her beloved cats could, in any way, be responsible for what has happened. Instead, she jumps to the conclusion that the guilty party must be this dog that she has only now been introduced to.
In our reading from Luke, Jesus warns against judging other people. But he is not suggesting that there is no place for judgement in our lives. None of us can maneuver through a single day without making judgements on how we use our time, our energy and our resources. But we must be very careful of how we judge others. To demonstrate this, Jesus tells a parable that includes the warning that you cannot remove a speck of dirt from your neighbour’s eye if you have a log in your own eye. You cannot see clearly how to help someone else if you don’t remove whatever blocks your own vision first.
And this is the first lesson from Lady and the Tramp. There is always so much we don’t know about the people that we tend to judge. We make judgement on the basis of our own preconceived ideas without knowing all the facts.
Aunt Sarah did not understand that Lady was simply trying to protect her home and those within it, including the canary and the goldfish. She assumed that the entire situation was Lady’s fault and that she was just an unruly and destructive animal who needed to be controlled.
But Aunt Sarah was not the only one who jumped to quick assumptions and judgements. Jock and Trusty, quickly judged Tramp as a worthless mongrel simply because he came from the wrong side of the track and he didn’t have a license. And Tramp himself was quick to judge Lady’s owners as fickle human beings who would forget all about her once the baby was born.
No matter how well we might think we know someone, there is always so much we don’t know. And when it comes to a casual acquaintance or someone we have just met, we often jump to conclusions based on our own preconceptions rather than on the person themselves.
Meanwhile, a terrified Lady, never having had experienced a muzzle before, breaks loose and begins frantically running down the street. Three mean looking dogs chase after her until she is cornered against a fence. Just in time, Tramp comes to her rescue and chases the other dogs away.
And so, Lady and Tramp set out on an adventure. First, Tramp takes her to the Zoo, where he persuades a beaver to bite through the muzzle, freeing Lady. Next, he takes her to Tony’s Italian Restaurant where the pair share a meal of spaghetti and meat balls while being serenaded by Tony and his cook Joe. That particular scene has become one of those iconic scenes that is re-enacted many times in other films. Later we see the pair sitting under a full moon looking out over the town.
In the morning, Tramp invites Lady to join him in his carefree, unlicensed lifestyle. But Lady insist she must go home. After all, she has a responsibility to protect the baby. Tramp reluctantly agrees to escort her home, but on the way, he talks her into one slight detour, to chase some chickens. Although Tramp is obviously having a marvelous time, Lady is not so sure.
When the dogcatcher shows up, Lady is captured while Tramp gets away. Lady finds herself locked in the pound with an assortment of other dogs who, like Tramp, are all unlicensed. She quickly learns that they all long for a home and the license that would prove it. She also learns from Peg, a dog of questionable breed, although probably at least part Pekingese, that Tramp has quite a reputation.
Because of her license, Lady is released. But when she is brought home, rather than allowing her back in the house, Aunt Sarah chains her to a doghouse in the back yard. When Tramp shows up, he apologises for having caused so much trouble, but Lady is furious. The source of her anger is not so much her current situation, as what she has learned about Tramp’s past. Based on that information, she judges his apology as insincere and she dismisses him as selfish and uncaring.
And here is the second word of caution from this movie. We should never judge anyone solely on the basis of what they have done in the past. We all have things in our past that we would probably not want to become common knowledge. We all have moments that, if taken out of context, would not show us in the best light. If we were judged on these incidences alone, none of us would come out looking very good.
In our movie, as Tramp turns away, rejected by Lady, a large, vicious looking rat, slithers onto the scene. Earlier in the movie, Lady has chased just such a rat away from the house but now, chained helplessly to the dog house she can only bark a warning as she watches the rat climb up the side of the house and into the open nursery window.
Lady’s barking annoys a frustrated Aunt Sarah, but Tramp, understanding that something is seriously wrong, rushes into the house and up to the nursery where he attacks the rat. Unfortunately, in the process of chasing after the rat, he tips over the baby’s cradle. Aunt Sarah rushes in and makes another rash judgement. Without seeing the rat, Aunt Sarah assumes that Tramp has attacked the baby. She calls the dogcatcher to take away this vicious and dangerous animal.
Just as the dogcatcher’s wagon pulls away with Tramp locked in the back, “Jim, dear” and “darling” return. At that same moment, Lady breaks free of her chain and rushes to the nursery. Although Aunt Sarah tries to keep her out, “Jim, dear” realizes that she is trying to tell them something and they all follow her into the nursery where she leads them to the dead rat.
Jock and Trusty, who have been watching everything unfold, realize how badly they have misjudged Tramp and rush after the dog catcher’s wagon. In an attempt to free Tramp, they frighten the horses which cause the wagon to overturn freeing Tramp but trapping Trusty under the broken wagon.
The final scene of the movie takes us back to where we began. It is Christmas but this year Tramp is a member of the family proudly wearing his own collar and license. There are also four new puppies, three of whom look exactly like lady and one that looks like Tramp. Jock and Trusty, who was apparently only injured in the crash, also show up and the Christmas celebration is complete.
And here is the final connection with out scripture. “Do not judge others, and God will not judge you; do not condemn others, and God will not condemn you; forgive others, and God will forgive you. Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold.”
We are reminded that God is the final judge, but that God’s judgements are always tempered with mercy. “You will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold.”
We need to remember that we must not judge others by our own preconceptions or by the mistakes they may have made in the past. But we need to remember also, that God’s judgement of us is gentle, understanding and always offered in love. This is the example that we are called follow. Amen.
Gift of Music In Christ There is No East or West #606
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. We may offer our gifts by placing them on our offering plates, by giving through PAR or through other ways of making donations. But, as always, we need to remember that our financial contributions are only one of the many things that we have to offer. We offer our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitments and our prayers. And so, whatever it is we offer today, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as your spirit has continued to touch and bless people throughout history, bless the gifts that we offer you today that through your spirit they may become a blessing to others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now, let us take a moment to remember all those named in our prayer jar, in our hearts and our thoughts this day … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
How easy it is for us to judge others even without thinking. How easy it is for us to see only the surface and fail to look deeper to see what lies beneath. How easy it is for us to assume we understand the answers without ever asking any real questions. Divine Love, help us to see beyond our own preconceptions and limited experiences in order to be truly open to the life experience, the joys, the pains, the struggles and the needs of others.
So often we pray that we will be shown ways to help those in need, but we seldom, if ever, pray to understand them. We pray that their pain, want and suffering will be removed, but we silently pray that we will never have to fully understand, feel or experience their reality. And so, as we come before you in prayer today, we pray that we can be more open to accept and love all people regardless of the unconscious judgements we so often make.
Instead of seeing the person who is living in poverty as unmotivated, uneducated, or prone to addictions, help us to ask them about their hopes and dreams rather than just what they need for today.
Instead of feeling an uncomfortable sympathy for someone who is ill and offering them empty words of encouragement, help us to simply listen to and share their pain, their fear, their sorrow and their hope.
Instead of sitting back and complaining about the inequalities of the world, help us to be honest and open about the ways in which our own lifestyle and choices contribute to inequality and help us to commit ourselves to honestly asking what we can do to change that.
Divine One, we know we have much to learn. Teach us and guide us that we may set aside our personal judgements and open ourselves to live in the image of love, peace and justice to which you call all of creation. Amen.
Closing Hymn We Are Pilgrims #595
And now as we go out from here, let us go open hearts and minds to truly embrace all that this day will hole. Let us go out knowing that we go surrounded by Divine Love, with Christ’s example leading the way, and with the Spirit walking with us and within us now and always. Go with God.