Sunday Aug 13, 2023 – A Little Bit of Heaven
Come all you people, come and praise your Maker (3X)
Come now and worship your God.
© 1986 World Council of churches. Used by permission OneLicense #A723756
Acknowledging the Territory
We acknowledge that, here in Yarmouth, we live work and worship in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) people first signed with the British Crown in 1725. By acknowledging this, we commit ourselves to live in Peace, Friendship and Respect.
Lighting the Christ Candle
In the flame of the Christ Candle, we see reflected the light of Christ and we commit ourselves to live in that light, sharing it with all those we meet, wherever we go.
Call to Worship
Things don’t always turn out the way we want.
Sometimes, life throws us a curve ball.
It is in those times when we most need to connect with the Divine.It is in those times we most need to remember we are loved.
We are loved by God and by those around us.
And so we gather with God and with those around us in worship.
So come, let us worship God.
Life Giving God, as we prepare to worship you today, may we find our hearts filled with gratitude no matter what is happening around us. May we always remember to praise you for what we can do and in spite of what we can’t. May we always remember to thank you for all that is and what isn’t, for what is going well and for what is not. May we always remember to thank you for joys and sorrows, for laughter and tears, for times of ease and times of struggle and for all those who share these and all our times with us. As we prepare to worship you today, we especially thank you that you are with us, now and always. Amen
Let’s Sing Day Is Done #433
Our first Scripture reading this morning is taken from the book of Psalms. In it the psalmist expresses his love for God because God has listened to his prayers.
Psalm 116:1-4, 17-19 (Good News Translation)
I love the Lord, because he hears me; he listens to my prayers. He listens to me every time I call to him. The danger of death was all around me; the horrors of the grave closed in on me; I was filled with fear and anxiety. Then I called to the Lord, “I beg you, Lord, save me!”
I will give you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and offer my prayer to you. In the assembly of all your people, in the sanctuary of your Temple in Jerusalem, I will give you what I have promised. Praise the Lord!
Our second reading comes from the letter to the church in Philippi.
It reminds the reader that in all things we are
encouraged to ask God for what we need but also reminds us that we need to do wo with gratitude for all the blessings we have already been given.
Philippians 4:6-9 (Good News Translation)
Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.
In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.
Favorite Hymn Request Amazing Grace #266
God in the Movies – A Little Bit of Heaven
A Little Bit of Heaven is one of two movies that I chose for this series without actually having seen the movie. The second, An Interview With God, will be the last movie we will be looking at this summer. I chose these two movies for very different reasons. The idea of being able to interview God appealed to me, but I chose A Little Bit of Heaven because of who plays God in this movie.
When I thought about various images of God, I wanted to include at least one female image, and preferably an image that would not be what you might expect. In the movie A Little Bit of Heaven, God is portrayed by Whoopie Goldberg. Although, over the years she has proved herself to be an extremely talented and versatile actor, she is certainly not the first person that I would think of as a portrayal of the Almighty. But Goldberg has actually played God twice. The first time was in the 2002 movie, It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. The second time was in the movie that I have chosen to focus on this morning A Little Bit of Heaven filmed in 2011.
In this movie Kate Hudson plays Marley Corbett, a fun-loving, quick-witted, carefree advertising executive living in New Orleans. Marley shuns any major responsibilities, especially serious romantic relationships, and simply wants to enjoy life. She enjoys dating and casual sex but has no interest in falling in love. Marley has a close-knit group of friends who support her and care deeply about her.
When Sarah, one of her closest friends, notices that she is losing weight and looking extremely tired, she insists that Marley see a doctor. Marley ends up seeing the young and very handsome Dr. Julian Goldstein who she immediately starts to flirt with. Goldstein is very serious and completely ignores Marley’s flirtation. After speaking with Marley and asking her a few questions, Goldstein orders a number of tests, including a colonoscopy, to confirm what he suspects.
During the colonoscopy Marley, while under heavy sedation, meets God, in the form of Whoopie Goldburg. God informs Marley that she is dying and offers her three wishes. Marley tells God that she wants to fly and that she wants a million dollars. But Marley can’t decide on a third wish. God assures Marley that she already knows what she wants, she just doesn’t want to admit it. When Marley wakes up the diagnosis is confirmed when Goldstein tells her she has late-stage colon cancer.
Marley must now break the news to her friends and then to her parents who are divorced and haven’t spoken in years. Her mother immediately tries to take over, smothering Marley with constant care and attention. Her father, on the other hand promised to investigate possible treatments but remains distant, too busy to make time for Marley.
Marley’s friends continue to support and care for her and one morning, while driving through town, Marley and Sarah call into a radio show and end up winning a prize. The prize is a free day on hang gliding lessons and Marley’s first wish, to fly, is granted.
Marley continues to bump into Julian (Dr. Goldstein) first at the hospital and later in other locations. Julian is deeply impressed with Marley’s ability to accept her diagnosis with humor and dignity and the two become friends.
Although she undergoes first chemo therapy and then becomes part of a clinical trial, there is no improvement and Marley must face the fact that she is terminal. When Marley informs her boss, he tells here that anyone diagnosed with a life-threatening illness can cash out their company life insurance policy. When Marly asks what she will receive she is told she will receive one million dollars. Her second wish is granted. Marley goes on a spending spree, buying extravagant gifts for her mother and for all her friend but nothing for herself.
Julian invites Marley to join him at a cancer fund raiser but the two decide to escape the formality of the gathering and Marley takes Julian to a very non-traditional club where both of them have a wonderful time. The two end up back at Julian’s apartment and from that moment on they spend almost all their time together.
But when Julian tells Marley that he loves her, Marley breaks off the relationship. She begins to isolate herself from family and friend, becoming more and more sarcastic and hurtful. She seems angry and resentful about her impending death and is envious of her friends who are all going through positive life changes at the very time her life is ending. After a minor bicycle accident, Marley visits heaven again and finally admits to God how scared she is.
God helps Marley to realize that she needs to cherish what she has while she still can and, for the first time, Marly admits that she is in love with Julian. When she finally admits this out loud, she also realized that falling in love was her third wish all along.
Marley admits to Julian she is in love with him and their relationship is rekindled. She also reconnects with her mother and asks her to help plan for her funeral. She apologizes to her friends and is determined to make the most of whatever time she has left. She even reconnects with her father.
As Marley gets sicker and sicker her friends and family continue to gather around her supporting and loving her. Marley dies in hospital surrounded by those she loves, and the movie ends with Marley’s funeral which is a joyous party celebrating her live. Off to the side, Marley and God sit together watching.
Although the lessons revealed in this movie, to be open to love and to cherish each moment we have and everyone in them, the image of God, for me is problematic. The idea that God would suddenly appear and grant three wished makes God more of a Genie than an unknowable mystery.
Near the end of the movie Sarah gets angry with Marley because she tells her that, when God offered her three wishes, she should have wished not to die. I was reminded of something that happened to me at my father’s funeral, when I was sixteen years old. A woman approached my mother in tears and said, “I just don’t understand. We were all praying for him to get better. I don’t understand why God didn’t listen to our prayers.”
I remember at the time feeling very sorry for that woman. It seemed to me that her faith depended on her getting what she prayed for, on her wishes being granted. Over the years I have met many people who were either angry with God or who rejected God entirely because they did not get what they asked for.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul never promises that they will get everything they want if they only pray for it. Instead, he tells them they should, ask God for what you need … with a thankful heart. It is not about asking with the expectation that you will get everything you ask for. It is about being grateful for what you have and trusting that God knows, not just what we ask for, but what we truly need.
And what is it that Paul tells us we will receive? It is not a promise that if we ask for something we will get it. And it is not just about prayer. It is about always having a thankful heart and a deep gratitude that will spill out into how we behave. Paul tells us that when we pray and live with true deep gratitude, the God who gives us peace will be with [us].
It’s not about having everything we want. It’s not about having all our prayers answered in just the way we think they should be answered. It’s about the peace of knowing we are not alone. Shortly before her death, Marley tells Sarah she is no longer afraid. She is at peace.
I can’t help but wonder if this movie might have been more effective if Marley had asked not to die and God had said no. There are some wonderful quotes about the promise that God does answer prayer, but one of my favorites is from Jerome D. Williams who put it this way. “God answers all prayers, but sometimes his answer is ‘no’! And you may become upset because [God] said no. But open up your eyes and look around at the things [God] said yes to.”
When we turn God into a genie who simply answers our prayers or grants our wishes, we lose sight of all the wonderful things that God has already done in our lives and all the amazing things that continue to happen, even when we don’t get what we want.
So, although this movie was fun to watch and although it certainly reminds us how important it is to cherish the life we have and the people in it, this particular image of God seems to me to be rather superficial. Does that mean that God can’t grant our wishes? Does it mean that God doesn’t listen to our prayers? No. But it does mean that God’s answers, whether that answer is yes, no or maybe, sometimes can offer us a much greater blessing that a simple wish granting ever could. Amen.
Let’s Sing If You Will Trust in God to Guide You #286
We Offer Our Gifts
As we remember all that we have to be grateful for, let us bring our gifts to God. Here at Beacon we do not pass the offering plates but instead ask that, if you would like to support the work of this church with your financial contributions you place your gift on the plates in the entryway either on your way in or on your way out. You can also donate online or by pre-authorized remittance. But we always remember that our financial support is only one of the gifts we have to offer. And so, whatever our gifts are financial or not, let us offer them now to God.
Offertory Response MV#191
What can I do? What can I bring? What can I say? What can I sing?
I’ll sing with joy. I’ll say a prayer. I’ll bring my love. I’ll do my share.
© Paul Rumbolt and Michele McCarthy used by permission OneLicense #A723756
Bless what we have to offer God, and remind us that in sharing our gifts we are blessed with your peace and joy. Amen
We Offer Our Prayers
As we offer our gifts, we also offer our prayers. Let us take a moment of silence to offer our own personal prayers for all those whose names have been placed in our prayer jar and all those who are on our own hearts and minds this day along with all those whose concerns and needs are known only to you … Amen
Minute for Mission – Your Generosity Settles Families
When Almaz Fesshaye and her two young children arrived in Canada in 1991, they did not know what to expect. None of them knew the language or culture but hoped and prayed that Canada would be a safer place than Eritrea, a war-torn country in Eastern Africa.
Leaving Eritrea could have meant the difference between life and death. “Everyone had to be a soldier,” Almaz describes, before sharing the sombre note that “people have died trying to escape.” She was devastated to have to flee her home and frightened by not knowing what would come next.
When Almaz and her two children—then aged four and six—arrived in Alberta, they were greeted with warmth and love by members of Gaetz Memorial United Church. “They opened the gate for me; I have no words,” she says with gratitude. “They changed my life, starting from getting furniture, renting a place to live, helping me with the language, and support for my kids.”
Almaz describes the congregation and community as “selfless and kind.” The church was one block from the family’s new home, and Almaz says, “My son was very forgetful, so I gave the church secretary an extra key.”
Now settled in Red Deer, Alberta, Almaz is joyfully giving back to her community. She works in social services and offers her time as a volunteer with local programs that help people experiencing homelessness and poverty. She is also passionate about helping other refugees learn the local culture and language.
Your gifts to Mission and Service help support life-changing programming and staffing to support families seeking safety.
Almaz has some words for anyone considering supporting refugee programs through Mission and Service: “Don’t think twice! It doesn’t have to be millions—whatever you give means a lot. If it is financial, educational, time, knowledge, it means a lot. You are saving the lives of human beings and making the world better.” Thank you for your generosity.
Prayers of the People
Divine Mystery, we are so grateful for the many extraordinary gifts you have given us and the opportunity to enjoy them all. We are grateful for the abundance we have in our lives, for food to eat in a world where many go hungry … for safe and comfortable housing in a world where many have no home … for safety in a world where many live in constant fear … for love in a world where so many have no one, where so many feel alone and isolated … for hope in a world where so many live in constant fear and despair …
For all these things, simply saying ‘thank you’ seems so inadequate and yet all we can do is to show our gratitude not only in our word, but also in our thought and in our actions.
And so Divine One, we pray that our thanks will move beyond words to transform us into thankful, loving, caring people who see the need around us and see the need to act. We pray that we will be who love to live and who live to love, people who serve you by serving others.
Help us to be amongst those who include the excluded and welcome fully those who are marginalized. When opportunities come our way to be healers of division and hurt, to be peacemakers and justice seekers, help us to embrace those opportunities with gratitude, determination and joy.
And so, as we gather here in deep gratitude and in humble trust, we offer you this and all our prayers, along with the prayer our tradition has taught us to say together, Our Father … Amen.
Let’s Sing Great Is Thy Faithfulness #288
And so today, as we leave this place, we leave with grateful hearts, not because all our wishes have been granted or because our lives are perfect. We leave with grateful hearts because we trust that the One who is with us and who offers us peace. So let us go knowing God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirit walks with us and within us, now and always. Let us go with God. Amen.
Choral Blessing #884
We shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth before you;
There’ll be shouts of joy and all the trees of the field
Will clap, will clap their hands!
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands,
The tress of the field will clap their hands,
The trees of the field will clap their hands
While we go out with joy.
© 1975 Lillenas Publishing Company used with permission OneLicense #A723756