Words of Welcome & The Life and Work of Our Church
Please remember in your prayers this week all those named in our prayer jar.
We have 2 birthdays and 2 anniversaries to celebrate this week.
Lisa Reford and Jennifer Hemeon both celebrate birthdays today
John and Nancy Hood are celebrating their anniversary today.
On August 20th Barb and John MacDonald will be celebrating their anniversary.
We are in the midst of putting together a newsletter for the beginning of September this year. If you have submissions for this newsletter. Please have them into Shelley NO LATER THAN August 18th.
Rev. Sharon will be on vacation from August 24th to August 30th and on Study Leave from Aug 31st to September 7th. For Sunday, August 30th and Sunday, September 7th we will be offering the recorded services prepared by UCC East for use during the summer. These services will be available online but will also be offered by PowerPoint for those who would rather gather to watch together.
Beacon United Church has purchased an Automatic External Defibrillator for emergency use within our facility. We are hoping to get many people as possible trained in the use of the AED. It is a very simple procedure that anyone can do and there is no cost for this training. We will be scheduling a training demonstration once we know how many people are interested in it. If you are willing to attend the demonstration, please contact Shelley Melanson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone interested in looking at new ways of doing some fund-raising this fall in the midst of social distancing regulations is asked to remain seated after worship today for a short meeting to discuss possibilities. If you have some fundraising ideas but are unable to stay, please send your ideas to Rev. Sharon by email at email@example.com
United Church Appeal for the Devastation in Lebanon
The tragic explosion in Beirut on August 4 caused immense destruction, and the death toll continues to rise. You can help those affected by donating to our appeal. Your donations will be matched by the Canadian government until August 24, 2020.
The United Church of Canada has been in contact with our Mission & Service partners in the region about how best to respond to this tragedy. Please continue to pray for the injured and those who have lost their lives, as well as the families, communities, and first responders to the disaster.
Phone 416-231-5931 or toll-free 1-800-268-3781 ext. 2738 and use your Visa or MasterCard.
Send a cheque, money order, or Visa or MasterCard information with donation amount to:
The United Church of Canada
Philanthropy Unit – Emergency Response
3250 Bloor Street West, Suite 200
Toronto, ON M8X 2Y4
Please be sure to note “Emergency Response—Lebanon” on the face of your cheque.
Note: As part of the United Church’s Emergency Response Fund, 100% of your donation goes directly to emergency relief with 85% of your donation responding to this designated emergency and 15% responding to future emergencies that do not receive intense media coverage. Donations to Mission & Service enable the United Church to cover all of the costs of emergency response work without deducting any fees from your donation.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ Candle this morning, let us remember that its light is not to one space or one gathering. The light of Christ is with us everywhere. So as we light our candle this morning, let us remember that we have been called and challenged to not only recognize Christ’s light wherever it shines but to take that light out with us wherever we go.
Acknowledgment of 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 unseeded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour their traditions and spirituality along with the spirituality and traditions of the Métis people with whom we also share this land.
Call to Worship
Each one of us walked into church this morning needing something. Some of us are like Joseph, needing strength because we are facing a big challenge. Some of us are like Joseph’s brothers, needing forgiveness and understanding because we are overcome by regret and shame. Some of us are like Jacob, needing hope because we are hurting and feel like giving up. Some of us, in fact, all of us, come needing love. But whatever it is that has brought us here today, we trust that what we truly need will be provided for us, whether through words and scripture, through music, through quiet moments of reflection or through those gathered with us. We gather here because we know that in this place we are not alone. God is with us. So as we gather let us worship God.
Let us pray;
Divine Mystery, Like Joseph, we don’t always understand why things happen the way they do; why our plans and dreams fail, and we find ourselves facing challenge after challenge, and disappointment after disappointment. Yet, like Joseph, we also believe that you are at work in our lives and that no matter what is happening, if we truly trust in you, something good can still come even if we can’t imagine what it might be. Give us faith to trust in you no matter what challenges we face. Give us the courage to place our dreams and ambitions in your hands, and then follow where you lead without hesitation, confident that your loving presence goes with us. Amen.
Theme Conversation/Current Events
I mentioned last week that one of the aspects of the story of Joseph that I find challenges me to explore more deeply is his time in prison. That particular part of the story has taken on a very different meaning for me since my trip to Palestine last fall. I want to share with you the story of one of the places we visited. It was a huge detention center near Jerusalem. Omar, our guide, pointed out the “intake” center where children as young as 6 years old were interrogated, sometimes for days or even weeks with no charges ever having been laid. Most were accused of throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, a charge which could result in years spent in prison. Omar himself was imprisoned there at the age of 9 or 10 during the first Intifada although I don’t believe he was there very long … at least not that time. Omar has been imprisoned at least 4 times, although as far as I could tell, he has never actually been convicted of any crime. He has also been beaten by police on a number of occasions for taking part in peaceful demonstrations.
The prison is not what we would think of as a typical prison here. For the most part, prisoners gathered in small “family” groups in the open yard. Food was scarce and relatives of friends of those incarcerated there would throw packages of food over the walls to ensure the inmates didn’t starve. The family groups consisted of boys and men ranging in age from 6 to elderly seniors. Everything was shared within these groups and when they were fortunate enough to manage to retrieve on of the food parcels tossed over the wall they feasted together. Omar laughed and said, “What the Israelis didn’t realize is that the prisons became almost like a training camp for young revolutionaries.” His smile faded quickly and he added, “I learned a lot there!” Given all this, you would think that Omar might end up becoming a leader in the resistance. Instead, Omar is one of the main leaders of Sabeel, a Christian liberation theology organization that promotes peaceful solutions to the inequality between Israel and Palestine often through their educational work including the Come and See tours of which I was a part.
Today we continue with the story of Joseph. As I said last week, the story of Joseph covers 12 of the last 15 chapters of Genesis. One of the chapters that do not focus on Joseph is the story of Judah and Tamar. I’m not going to go into that story, but if you want to know what happens you can read Genesis 38. Suffices to say this story is a very interesting story and it is important because the twin sons born to Judah and Tamar, whose names were Perez and Zerah, are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.
Anyway, back to Joseph. Joseph is now in a position and authority second only to the pharaoh himself. The predicted famine has enveloped not only Egypt but all if the surrounding areas as well, including Canaan.
Joseph’s father and brothers are caught in the famine and forced to go to Egypt to buy for food. Joseph, recognizing them, agrees to sell them food but only if they return to Egypt with their youngest brother Benjamin. To ensure they will do this, Joseph has Simeon thrown in jail to be kept there until the brother’s come back with Benjamin. When the brothers get home they discover that the money they had paid for the food had been returned to them but when they told Jacob they must bring Benjamin to Egypt to free Simeon, Jacob dismisses Simeon as dead and refuses to give up Benjamin. It is not until all the food is gone and the family is again starving that Jacob finally relents and the brothers return to Egypt with Benjamin. The brothers were welcomed and treated as honoured guests. Their sacks were filled with food and all, including Simeon, were sent on their way. But Joseph has devised a test to see if they have really changed from the selfish and cruel brothers that had sold him into slavery all those years ago. Not only does he hide their money in the food sacks as he had done before, but this time he also hides his own silver cup inside Benjamin’s sack. The brothers are allowed to leave but are quickly chased down and stopped and Benjamin is arrested for stealing the silver cup. The others are told they can return home, but they refuse, begging for Benjamin’s life and offering themselves as Joseph’s slaves instead. Their actions show Joseph that they have indeed changed and this is where we pick up the story today. The story actually goes on for the next 5 full chapters completing the book of Genesis and ending with the death of Joseph. But this morning we are going to hear portions of the 3 chapters that end with the family of Jacob, now known by the name Israel, settling in Egypt.
Genesis 45:1-11, 25-28
Joseph was no longer able to control his feelings in front of his servants, so he ordered them all to leave the room. No one else was with him when Joseph told his brothers who he was. He cried with such loud sobs that the Egyptians heard it, and the news was taken to the king’s palace. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But when his brothers heard this, they were so terrified that they could not answer. Then Joseph said to them, “Please come closer.” They did, and he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be upset or blame yourselves because you sold me here. It was really God who sent me ahead of you to save people’s lives. This is only the second year of famine in the land; there will be five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor reaping. God sent me ahead of you to rescue you in this amazing way and to make sure that you and your descendants survive. So it was not really you who sent me here, but God. He has made me the king’s highest official. I am in charge of his whole country; I am the ruler of all Egypt.
“Now hurry back to my father and tell him that this is what his son Joseph says: ‘God has made me ruler of all Egypt; come to me without delay. You can live in the region of Goshen, where you can be near me—you, your children, your grandchildren, your sheep, your goats, your cattle, and everything else that you have. If you are in Goshen, I can take care of you. There will still be five years of famine; and I do not want you, your family, and your livestock to starve.’”
They left Egypt and went back home to their father Jacob in Canaan. “Joseph is still alive!” they told him. “He is the ruler of all Egypt!” Jacob was stunned and could not believe them.
But when they told him all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to take him to Egypt, he recovered from the shock. “My son Joseph is still alive!” he said. “This is all I could ask for! I must go and see him before I die.”
Jacob packed up all he had and went to Beersheba, where he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to him in a vision at night and called, “Jacob, Jacob!” “Yes, here I am,” he answered.
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go to Egypt; I will make your descendants a great nation there. I will go with you to Egypt, and I will bring your descendants back to this land. Joseph will be with you when you die.”
Jacob set out from Beersheba. His sons put him, their small children, and their wives in the wagons which the king of Egypt had sent. They took their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan and went to Egypt. Jacob took all his descendants with him: his sons, his grandsons, his daughters, and his granddaughters.
Genesis 47:1-2, 5-6, 11-12
So Joseph took five of his brothers and went to the king. He told him, “My father and my brothers have come from Canaan with their flocks, their herds, and all that they own. They are now in the region of Goshen.”
The king said to Joseph, “Now that your father and your brothers have arrived, the land of Egypt is theirs. Let them settle in the region of Goshen, the best part of the land. And if there are any capable men among them, put them in charge of my own livestock.”
Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt, giving them property in the best of the land near the city of Rameses, as the king had commanded. Joseph provided food for his father, his brothers, and all the rest of his father’s family, including the very youngest.
Israel in Egypt
When I was a student at Queen’s Theological College I did an assignment for one of my classes that looked at the idea of forgiveness and asked the question, “Is forgiveness really possible?” You’ll be pleased to know that the conclusion I came to was that the answer is “yes” but it is not as simple and straight forward as all that.
True forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook. It is about freeing yourself from the pain and resentment that is a natural reaction to betrayal by another person. When we forgive someone, it does not change their lives, it changes ours.
Now you might say that if someone comes to you begging your forgiveness and you tell them they are forgiven then it can change their lives. That is true, but what changes their lives in not your words of forgiveness but their ability to forgive themselves because you have given them permission to do that. It doesn’t really matter if you are sincere about your forgiveness or not. If they believe that you have forgiven them then their lives can change as a result. However, if you truly do forgive someone and they refuse to accept your forgiveness, their lives will not change, but yours still can.
The story of the reunion of Joseph and his brothers is often used as an ultimate example of forgiveness. Joseph’s brothers had tried to kill him. If it were not for Judah’s greed in wanting to sell him for a profit, they may well have succeeded.
As it was, Joseph spent years either as a slave or in prison as a direct result of his brothers’ actions. He had not seen his beloved father since he was 17 years old, again because of the actions of his brothers. That is a lot to forgive!
But the truth is that when the brothers first came to Egypt, Joseph did not immediately tell them they were forgiven. Joseph accuses them of being spies and throws them in jail for 3 days. After 3 days he sent them home with grain to feed their families but he made them promise to return with Benjamin so that Joseph would know they are honest men and not spies. He also kept Simeon with him in order to ensure they would return. When the brothers returned home and told Jacob all that had happened and how Simeon was imprisoned in Egypt until they brought Benjamin to see the Pharaoh’s overseer, Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go. He seems to consider Simeon an acceptable loss.
Of course the grain that the brothers brought back from Egypt did not last forever and eventually they were forced to return to Egypt to purchase more food. This time Benjamin was with them. When they arrived they are brought to Joseph’s home where their brother Simeon was returned to them and where they are wined and dined and treated like honoured guests. The next day they were sent home with their sacks full of grain.
But what they are unaware of was that Joseph has devised a test to see if they truly have changed from the cruel and selfish men who had sold him into slavery all those years ago. In each sack, he has returned the money they brought with them, but in Benjamin’s sack, he has hidden his own silver cup.
As soon as they are a short distance away, Joseph sends guards after them and Benjamin is arrested. Together they return to Joseph’s home where they are told all but Benjamin are free to leave. Interestingly it is Judah, the one who was ultimately responsible for Joseph being sold into slavery in the first place, who pleads for Benjamin’s life, offering himself in Benjamin’s place. Joseph has an answer. He tells his brothers who he is and that he has forgiven them for everything they had done.
But Joseph’s forgiveness does not stop with words. He actively seeks to help them and make their lives easier. The truth is that Joseph had actually forgiven his brothers long before this incident ever occurred. Joseph had come to believe that his life in Egypt had been a blessing from God and he could therefore no longer hold on to the resentment about how he came to be there. By telling his brothers that he has forgiven them he was sharing with them something that had already happened, but he was also giving them the opportunity to forgive themselves, to let go of the past, and to move forward.
There is one more thing that Joseph accomplishes by forgiving his brothers and helping them to move forward. Jacob breaks a cycle of abuse that began with his grandfather Abraham. Abraham favored Isaac over Ishmael to the point that Ishmael was cast out of the family. Isaac favored Esau over Jacob to the point where Jacob was willing to do anything to gain his father’s blessing. Jacob favored Joseph to the point where his brothers resented him so much that they would choose to kill him. But Joseph refuses to take revenge and perpetuate the cycle of resentment and betrayal.
Now, this certainly didn’t mean that Joseph didn’t show favoritism of his own. We are told that he gave each of his brothers a change of clothes, but he gave Benjamin three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothes. Yet despite this, he showed no animosity towards the others and he continued to help them and provide for their needs. He may have favored Benjamin, but it was not at the expense of the others.
It could not have been easy for Joseph to treat his brothers with kindness and respect after everything that had happened, but according to scripture, that is exactly what he did. He not only went to the Pharaoh to ask for the land where his family could settle, but he also took 5 of his brothers with him. By telling Pharaoh of their excellent skills as herdsmen, Joseph secures for them some of the best pasture lands in all of Egypt, where they flourished and became wealthy.
This is where forgiveness has the potential to be more than just words. It has the potential to move beyond past pain and resentment and move towards reconciliation, and although this is not always possible, without forgiveness, without truly letting go of the resentment and hurt of the past, reconciliation is never possible.
Perhaps this is where the story of Joseph becomes more than simply a history lesson. It becomes a challenge. There are many situations in our world today where resentment, anger, and betrayal have prevented healing and the restoration of relationships. Many of us have situations in our own families where hurt and resentment have caused rifts that have never healed.
The truth is that it can be a lot easier to say we are sorry, to mean it and to really regret the hurt we may have caused someone else, then it is to do the hard work of addressing the causes of the hurts or putting things right so that relationships can be rebuilt.
The story I shared earlier is one example of this. Omar has a lot of reason to feel anger and resentment against those who have treated him so unjustly, and I can assure you that there are times when he still feels some of that resentment, especially when the abuses continue. But Omar has not allowed the anger and the frustration to determine how he will react. Instead, he has tried to reach out to offer peaceful alternatives in the continuing struggle. It is not easy, and relationship cannot be restored until ongoing injustices stop and until both sides are ready to do whatever it takes to leave the past behind and build a new future together. But that new future can only begin when someone is willing to let go and start fresh.
And we don’t need to look very are for examples of this struggle. When the United Church of Canada apologized for its treatment that First Nations people, the response from the All Native Circle Conference was to acknowledge the apology and thank the church. But the apology was not accepted as such. Instead, the response was that the people would be watching to see if the church’s actions matched their words. It seems to me that as long as we continue to hear stories of Reservations without access to safe drinking water, First Nations people being beaten by police, First Nations women disappearing at alarming rates, and massive poverty among First Nations communities, we still have a lot of work to do.
Is forgiveness truly possible? Yes, and it can make a huge difference in the life of the person doing the forgiving. But in order to make a difference beyond the individual person, forgiveness has to be more than simply words. In order to restore relationships, in order to move forward and build a new future together, forgiveness must move towards reconciliation.
This is what makes the story of the reunion of Joseph and his brothers so powerful. It didn’t stop with Joseph saying his brothers were forgiven. Joseph went beyond words to offer a new beginning and a new relationship that not only changed his story but became part of our own story. It is an ongoing story and perhaps, if we take the challenge we find in Joseph’s story a little more seriously, we can even change our own future. Amen
The Gift of Music
Prayer of Blessing (Gifts and Prayer Jar)
Let us take a moment to remember all the gifts that have blessed and enriched our lives and to think about the ways that we can use those gifts to enrich the lives of others …
Let us pray; Giver of all good gifts, you have given each one of us unique gifts and abilities and called us to use them in our own unique settings—at homes, at work, in our neighborhoods and communities, and in our church. Just as you used Joseph’s abilities in Egypt long ago, we pray that you would use us, too. Take our gifts, our time, and our resources. Use them and use us to make our lives and our world a little bit better. Amen.
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
Prayers of Gratitude and Concern
Divine Source, just as you helped Joseph to use the skills and abilities he was given to save the people of Egypt in a time of famine, we know that you continue to call people today to use their skills and abilities to help others. We think of aid workers on the ground in needy countries, dispensing food and medical supplies, and offering care where it is most needed. We think of those fighting at home for a more just distribution of resources. We think of those speaking out against a system where the majority suffer because of the excesses of the few. We think of those who look to the future and challenge us to consider how our current actions may affect future generations.
Just as you challenged Joseph to find new hope and a new direction in times of difficulty and hardship, you challenge us to do the same. As we face the ongoing reality of Covid-19 isolation and social distancing, help us to open ourselves to new ideas and new possibilities rather than hanging on to the way things have always been done. As we face our own personal challenges, whatever they may be, help us to avoid becoming overwhelmed and losing hope. Help us to recognize the various ways in which help, hope, and comfort may appear.
Just as you challenged Joseph to forgive and to move forward, you challenge us to honestly face the areas of resentment, conflict, and struggle within our own lives and to move beyond them.
We think of the ongoing inequality between indigenous and settler peoples in Canada. We think of the racial tensions between black and white populations in the US as well as in our own country. We think of the tension that often exists between those born here and recent immigrants. We think of the ongoing issues of injustice in Israel and Palestine. We think of the political tension and upheaval occurring right now in Lebanon.
Help us to let go of past hurts and to be willing to move forward not seeking what is best for just us, but rather seeking ways to build bridges of understanding, justice, and hope for all people.
You challenge us, Divine One, but we also know that you love us enough to forgive us when we fail and to continue to encourage and prod us to move forward, always striving to build a better world and to live more closely as we have been taught through the example of the one whose path we strive to follow, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
The Gift of Music
Sending Out I want to send you out today with the words written by Rev. Nora Vedress of Calvary United Church in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. She wrote this as a parting blessing during a time of pandemic and I thought it was beautiful. So now we leave this space of worship. While so much of the road ahead is uncertain and the path constantly changing, we know some things that are as solid and sure as the ground beneath our feet, and the sky above our heads.
We know God is love. We know Christ’s light endures. We know the Holy Spirit this there, found in the space between all things, closer to us than our next breath,
binding us to each other, until we meet again, Go in peace.