Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather here today, we take a moment to recognize land upon which we gather is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our gratitude for this land and we ask the Creator to help us use and share it wisely.
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 *written by Katherine Hawker
We are Happy
when our treasures cannot be quantified.
We are Happy
when our knowledge is tempered by mystery.
We are Happy
when our pain is held in the balm of love.
We are Happy
when our delight comes from beyond ourselves.
We are Happy
when we can worship our generous and loving God.
Opening Prayer (in unison) **based on material written by Thom Shuman
Loving God, this day please give me:
an open heart, so that I can see others as your beloved;
cupped hands, to catch the tears of all who weep;
a strong arm, that others can cling to as they walk through life;
a forgiving heart, which can heal those who have harmed me;
humility, which sees the lives of others reflected in my own life;
courage, which embraces those I have been taught to fear;
hospitality, to welcome those who are excluded and ridiculed;
words of hope, of comfort, of love and of grace whispered in the ears of all those I meet this day. Amen
Gift of Music When Pain of the World #598
Psalm 37:1-9, 16-17, 23-24, 39-40
Psalm 37 advises us not to be jealous of what others have but instead to seek our happiness in God. It tells us that “The little that a good person owns is worth more than the wealth of all the wicked.”
Our reading from the Gospel according to Matthew is the passage commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount or the Beatitudes. It is probably better known in the traditional versions of the Bible which say “Blessed are” but in the Good News Translation that we hear this morning the word blessed is replaced by the word happy.
The Blessing of Happiness
One Hundred and One Dalmatians was the first Disney animated feature to be set in contemporary time. It was based on a 1956 novel by Dodie Smith. Unlike Sleeping Beauty, it was a box office success grossing over $14 million during its initial theatrical run in 1961. With a budget of only $3.6 million compared to the $6 million spent on Sleeping Beauty, the financial success of One Hundred and One Dalmatians pulled Disney Studios out of the financial crisis that had been caused by the losses they experienced with Sleeping Beauty.
The movie begins as we zoom in on a small and rather untidy bachelor apartment in London as the narrator, a Dalmatian named Pongo, introduces us to his ‘pet’, a struggling songwriter named Roger Radcliff. Pongo complains that the bachelor life is downright boring and that a bit of female company would be good for both Roger and himself.
While checking out the possibilities from the apartment window, Pongo spots a beautiful female Dalmatian who just happens to be accompanied by a rather attractive female human. He decides he must find a way to arrange a meeting. So, he tricks Roger into thinking it is time for their regular a walk in the park. Once outside, Pongo races after his quarry until he spots the woman, whose name we later learn is Anita, sitting with her dog Perdita on a park bench. He endeavors to manoeuvres Roger onto the bench but Roger fails to take the hint and instead sits down on the river bank. When all his other efforts fail, Pongo eventually tries running in circles around both Roger and Anita, entangling them in his leash.
But the plan backfires when, in their effort to extricate themselves from the leash, the two humans lose their balance and fall into the water. An angry Anita reaches into her purse to pull out a handkerchief to dry her face, only to discover that because her purse also fell in the water, the handkerchief is soaking wet. Roger gallantly pulls his own handkerchief out of his pocket and offers it to her. But of course, it too is dripping wet. Just when it seems totally hopeless, the two burst out in laughter. The tension is broken and they smile at each other.
The next scene we see is a church where Roger and Anita are exchanging wedding vows as Pongo and Perdita look on, obviously making a commitment of their own. Six months later, the 4 are living happily in a small but comfortable house where we learn that Pongo and Perdita are expecting a litter of puppies.
And this is where we meet, for the first time, an old schoolmate of Anita’s named Cruella de Vil. From the moment she enters their home, Cruella insults and pokes fun at Roger and at their humble home. She also insinuates that no woman can possibly be happy without owning even one single fur, the status symbol that defines Cruella’s very existence. When Anita asks how she is, Cruella answers, “Miserable Darling as usual, perfectly wretched.”
It is here that we see the contrast between what Matthew calls the ‘poor in spirit’ and the rich in spirit. Despite their meager surroundings Roger and Anita are happy, not because of possessions or status, but because they enjoy the simple pleasures of life and the relationship, they have with each other. Cruella, on the other hand, is obviously extremely wealthy but no one would ever describe her as happy.
When she arrives, Cruella immediately begins asking about the dalmatian puppies. She makes it very clear that they are the only reason she is visiting. When she learns that they have not yet been born she has no further interest in Anita or anyone else. She is cruel and insulting, casually dismissing Anita’s offer of tea as if, to accept, would somehow be beneath her. She wants the puppies and if they have not arrived, there is no reason for her to stay.
Roger’s dislike of Cruella is clear from the beginning and he expresses it by putting words to a catchy new tune he has just composed. “Cruella de Vil, Cruella de Vil, if she doesn’t scare you no evil thing will, to see her is to take a sudden chill. Cruella, Cruella de Vil.”
Soon the puppies arrive, right on time. Fifteen of them. And with the puppies arrives Cruella, cheque book in hand, wanting to buy every single one. But when she sees the all-white puppies, she cries out in disgust, “They’re mongrels! No spots at all!” When Anita assures her that they will get their spots in a few weeks, Cruella pulls out her cheque book and calmly offers, “Name your price!” When Roger tells her that the puppies are not for sale at any price, she angrily stomps out of the house vowing to “get even”.
And she does. Some time later, when Roger, Anita, Pongo and Perdita are out for a walk, Jasper and Horace, two shady characters hired by Cruella, break into the house and steal the puppies. Although Roger and Anita try everything they can, to find the puppies, their efforts are fruitless. So, Pongo and Perdita take matters into their own paws and contact the ‘Twilight Bark’, a system of canine communication.
They soon learn where the puppies are being held and set out to find them. But when they arrive, they discover not only their own fifteen puppies but eighty-four other dalmatian puppies purchased from pet stores. With the help of a cat named Sargent Tibbs, a horse named Captain and an old sheepdog named The Colonel, they rescue all ninety-nine of the puppies.
When Cruella learns that the puppies are missing, she is furious and so begins an epic chase with Pongo and Perdita struggling through snow and wind to rescue the ninety-nine puppies, while Horace, Jasper and Cruella give chase. The pursuit ends with all 101 dogs, at this point disguised as Labradors, in the back of a truck on the way to London while Horace, Jasper and Cruella end up in the ditch.
The scene then switches back to London where we see Roger, Anita and their housekeeper Nanny, preparing for a very somber Christmas. On the radio is playing Roger’s song about Cruella. When Roger turns the radio off, Anita remarks, “Roger, after all that’s your first big hit. It’s made more money than we ever dreamed of.” Yet it appears that, despite the obvious improvement in their financial circumstances, there is no joy in it for Roger, Anita and Nanny. All that money means nothing in comparison to the loss of Pongo, Perdita and the puppies.
But of course, this is a Disney movie so barking is soon heard as Pongo, Perdita and all ninety-nine puppies arrive safe and sound. Roger and Anita immediately vow to keep them all and to take their new found wealth and build a Dalmatian Plantation out in the country.
Once again, we are reminded that happiness does not lie in wealth. It lies in relationships, and in the behaviours or attitudes that build those relationships. These are the attitudes and behavious described in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor”. In other words, happy are those who know that spiritual peace and contentment cannot bought with any amount of wealth or power. Happy are those who know that true spiritual joy comes form their connection with creation and with their Creator.
“Happy are those who mourn”. This may seem a bit odd, but the truth is that it is only when we lose someone or something we truly love, that we mourn. If we never mourn, we have never truly loved and without having truly loved how can we ever be truly happy?
“Happy are those who are humble”. Throughout the movie, Cruella is constantly putting on airs and trying to convince everyone how important she is. Roger and Anita humbly accept who they are and the gifts they have, and in doing so, find happiness.
“Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires”. When I read these words, what comes back to me are the words of Micha, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Surly there is no better recipe for happiness anywhere than these words from Micha.
“Happy are those who are merciful to others”. Sometimes being merciful means setting aside anger and resentment when someone has hurt you or abused your trust. Despite everything she did, Roger and Anita do not appear to hold any animosity towards Cruella. But there are also times when being merciful to others means sacrificing what we might want, in order to provide for what someone else needs. Roger and Anita demonstrated this when they willingly to spend their newly found wealth to provide a home for eighty-four homeless puppies.
“Happy are the pure in heart”. Happy are those who listen, not to the selfish desires for wealth, power or static, but to the quiet voice of the heart or the conscience, that leads to justice and kindness.
“Happy are those who work for peace”. Peace cannot be achieved without justice and mercy. If we are merciful and if we believe in and work towards justice, we are also working towards peace.
“Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.” Surly persecution doesn’t make anyone happy. But there is a deep sense of joy in knowing that you have stood up for what you believe in and that you have not given in to the temptation to go along with something that would probably make life easier, even if you know it really isn’t right.
In our movie, this point is beautifully made when Cruella tries to buy the puppies. It is clear that trying to raise fifteen puppies along with the two adult dogs they already have is going to be a major challenge for Roger and Anita.
When Cruella laughingly taunts Anita saying, “Anita don’t be ridiculous. You can’t possibly afford to keep them. You can scarcely afford to feed yourselves.” Anita does not deny this. She simply says, “Oh well, I’m sure we’ll get along.”
Cruella then laughs at and ridicules both Roger and Anita for even considering keeping the puppies. She offers to pay twice what the puppies are worth. It is an offer that anyone in a difficult financial situation might find it hard to turn down. In the live action remake of One Hundred and One Dalmatians this point is made even more profoundly when Cruella offers a ridiculous amount that would clearly make a huge difference for Roger and Anita.
I am sure that, given their situation, most people who knew Roger and Anita would have advised them to take the offer. The pressure to do so would be immense. And the ridicule they would face for turning down such an offer could even be interpreted as persecution. Had Roger’s song not sold and made them rich, raising even fifteen puppies, let alone ninety-nine would, in all probability, meant living in complete poverty, just trying to provide for them.
Yet, to have given in would have meant going against everything they believed. They would have had to live with guilt of doing so, especially if they later learned that their precious puppies were turned into a fur coat. Sometimes, standing up against commonly held ideas and against the advice of the majority can be the most difficult thing we will ever do.
But Matthew says, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.” It is not the persecution that causes the happiness but the courage and faith to stand up to persecution and instead to do what we know is right … what God requires.
If there is one Gospel lesson that we can all take from Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians perhaps, this is it. When we have the faith and the courage to stand up for what we believe in and do what our faith requires of us, we will be blessed with the happiness that is promised to us through the grace of the one we gather to worship today. Amen.
Gift of Music Come Touch Our Hearts MV#12
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
Loving and caring Spirit of Hope, we know that living into the blessings and challenges of the Beatitudes requires great strength and courage. We know we can only reach this goal by grounding ourselves in you. And so we come together in prayer, seeking to live fully into the blessings you offer us, we ask you guidance. We remember the words of scripture.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We think of those who seek to find happiness and fulfillment in wealth, power or other the riches of this world. We pray that they will come to know the simple joy of loving people more than things and of living not for personal gain, but for the much deeper happiness than can be found in our relationship with you.
But we pray also for those who are poor in the physical sense, those living in poverty and struggling to survive, those whose search for happiness is often compromised by the struggle to meet the daily necessities of life. Teach us to not be so focused on the kingdom of heaven that we forget to care for others here and now.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
We think of all those who are mourning this day, those mourning loved ones, those mourning the loss of a friend, the loss of an opportunity, the loss of a dream or any other loss. Help us to remember and find comfort in the love that we share with one another.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
We pray that a passion for justice and equality may always be at the center of our faith. As part of that passion for justice help us to never forget those in our world who do not have a fair share of what the earth provides, those who have no food and no clean water.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy
We know how often we need mercy from you and from others. Help us to never forget to be merciful in return. And we pray that we will always remember that mercy is about more than just words.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Sometimes we take it for granted that we live in a peaceful country. But so often we forget that peace is not about the absence of war. It is about being at peace with ourselves, with others and with you. Help us to not only live peacefully ourselves but to become true peacemakers for others.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
Help us to always keep our motives pure, our hearts open and our lives focused on the vision of what life could be if we all learned to live in the image of the one whose path we follow, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Closing Hymn Seek Ye First #356