Sunday Aug 20, 2023 – The Shack
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” first signed 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 and to share that light wherever we go.
Call to Worship
How often do we envy those who have never doubted? How often do we wish we had such certainty?
But things happen in this world and in our lives that cause us to question and to doubt.
It takes courage to trust and befriend doubt.
But we all have doubt.
Only by faith can we live within our questions and doubts and still trust in God.
And so, facing our doubts and seeking greater faith, we gather in worship.
Let us worship our God together.
We are told that when Jesus came to bring healing to all those who believed, one man responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” So often, O God, we try to hide our doubt and uncertainty. Yet you reach out to us promising that if we come to you, you will offer us the hope, peace, healing and faith that we need. And so, with the man who met Jesus long ago we pray, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Amen.
Let’s Sing Holy, Holy, Holy VU#315
Both the scripture readings this morning are taken from the Gospels or the Good News, which are the stories of Jesus. The first is a story that occurs following the resurrection of Jesus when Jesus first appeared to his disciples.
John 20:24-29 (New Revised Standard Version)
Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus appeared to them. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Our second reading is a story that takes place immediately following the Transfiguration of Jesus. As Jesus returns from the mountain there is a large crowd gathered and this is the story of what happened.
Mark 9:14-27 (New International Readers Version)
When Jesus and those who were with him came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them. The teachers of the law were arguing with them. When all the people saw Jesus, they were filled with wonder. And they ran to greet him.
“What are you arguing with them about?” Jesus asked.
A man in the crowd answered. “Teacher,” he said, “I brought you my son. He is controlled by an evil spirit. Because of this, my son can’t speak anymore. When the spirit takes hold of him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth. He grinds his teeth. And his body becomes stiff. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit. But they couldn’t do it.”
“You faithless people!” Jesus replied. “How long do I have to stay with you? How long do I have to put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
So they brought him. As soon as the spirit saw Jesus, it threw the boy into a fit. He fell to the ground. He rolled around and foamed at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“Since he was a child,” he answered. “The spirit has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us. Please help us.”
“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for the one who believes.”
Right away the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus saw that a crowd was running over to see what was happening. Then he ordered the evil spirit to leave the boy. “You spirit that makes him unable to hear and speak!” he said. “I command you, come out of him. Never enter him again.”
The spirit screamed. It shook the boy wildly. Then it came out of him. The boy looked so lifeless that many people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand. He lifted the boy to his feet, and the boy stood up.
Favorite Hymn Request The Lord’s Prayer VU#959
God in the Movies – The Shack
In 2007, when the book, The Shack was published, a gentleman that I knew approached me and asked if I had read it. I admitted I hadn’t and he immediately promised to loan me his copy. “You have to read it” he said, “it will change your life.” I read the book, and when I returned it to him, he excitedly asked, “Well, what did you think?”
I responded, “It was OK.” His disappointment and perhaps disbelief was obvious. He could not believe that I was not totally changed by the story. I wondered if the reason was that the images of God, of the trinity, depicted in this book and in the movie that was based on it, were so foreign to people that it was something life-altering. For me, they were just more images to add to the many images of God I had already encountered.
The movie, The Shack, was released in 2017. It begins with a 13-year-old boy named Mackenzie Phillips, Mack for short. His father is a violent drunk who beats both Mack and his mother on a regular basis. When Mack confesses the abuse to a preacher in church, his father beats him relentlessly. In desperation, Mack pours strychnine into his father’s whiskey bottles.
The move immediately switches to Mack as an adult waking up from a nightmare. His wife comforts him and assures him it was only a bad dream. We are told that Mack and Nan, a devout Christian with a deep and abiding faith, have been married for 18 “mostly happy” years. They have 3 children, Kate, Josh, and Missy.During a camping trip, Kate and Josh are canoeing when Kate upsets the canoe. Mack jumps into the lake to save Josh who is trapped under the canoe and while he is busy, Missy disappears. Mack learns that the police suspect a serial killer who has already abducted 5 young girls over a number of years. They eventually find Missy’s bloody dress in a deserted cabin, or shack, in the woods.
The tragedy completely derails Mack’s life and especially his faith. Although Nan tries her best to hold the family together, Mack becomes cold and withdrawn. As winter sets a major snow storm strands Nan, Kate and Josh and Mack is home alone. He finds a mysterious typewritten note inviting him to meet at the shack when Missy’s clothing was found. The note is signed “Papa” the nickname by which both Nan and Missy use to referred to God.
Eventually Mack borrows his neighbour’s truck and head to the shack, taking with him a gun fearing, or perhaps hoping, that it is Missy’s killer who sent the note. On his way there, Mack narrowly avoids being hit by a large truck.
When he arrives, he finds the shack empty and deserted, in a fit of rage and despair, Mack considers turning the gun on himself but does not. When he leaves the shack, heading back to the truck, he encounters a young middle-eastern man who invites him to come and warm up by the fire in his nearby house. At the house Mack also meets a beautiful young Asian woman and an African-American woman who greats him by name and embraces him warmly, introducing herself as the one that Nan calls Papa. She also introduces the middle-eastern man as her son and the Asian woman as Sarayu, a name which means breath of wind.
Papa explains that her appearance is because, after what he went through as a child, she didn’t think Mack could handle a father figure. Mack accuses Papa of abandoning Missy in her time of greatest need, of abandoning him and even of abandoning Jesus on the cross.
During a mealtime conversation in with Papa asks about Nan, Kate and Josh, Mack wonders why, God would ask such questions if God already knows what answers Mack will give. Sarayu, responds that they (the Trinity) do know everything, but they choose to listen as if it is all new, getting to know Mack’s family through his eyes.
Over the next few days, despite his anger with God, Mack stays and has numerous conversations, encounters and experiences with the Divine, intended to help Mack realize that not only has he been judging God extremely harshly, he has also judged everyone else, especially himself. He must learn to forgive himself, accept God’s love and eventually, even forgive the man who killed Missy. God makes it clear that forgiveness is not about the relationship with the one being forgiven, but about letting go of the burden of anger, guilt and judgement and building on the relationship with God.
Near the end of the movie Mack is given a vision of how God sees people and he encounters his own father and forgives him. In one of Mack’s final encounters with God, God appears as a Native American man and takes Mack to a cave where they find Missy’s body. They take her body back and bury her in the garden.
After being told that the reason that his daughter Kate has been so angry, moody and distant is because she blames herself for Missy’s death, Mack finds himself lying on the floor of the shack. He gets up and heads home. On his way he encounters the same truck he did on the way there but this time is unable to avoid it. He wakes up in hospital where he is told he was in an accident on his way to the shack and has been unconscious ever since.
Mack not only recovers, but is a changed man. He rebuilds his relationship with his family, helping Kate to forgive herself and allowing himself to love and be loved. He also builds on his relationship with God. The narrator ends by wondering how many people would believe that any of this is real, but assures them that, for him, all the proof he needs is the changes he has seen in Mack.
I have to admit that of all the movies that we are looking at this summer, this is my least favorite. I choose to include it because know that many people found that the book, and later the movie, opened up all kinds of new ideas about God for them and inspired their faith. I respect that, but this was not my experience. Perhaps, because I did not have a traditional image of who or what God was, these images did not affect me in the same way that they did many other people.
After saying that, however, there are certain parts of this movie which did give me a great deal to think about. I love the fact that the movie includes a number of different images of God. I struggled with the fact that the Trinitarian images of the Father, Son and Spirit are so distinctly separate from one another, rather than being more interconnected, but the variety of images chosen are wonderful.
There is one place in this movie where, for me, the image of God seems to be expanded beyond this very narrow Christian interpretation of the Trinitarian God. It is when Mack is talking to Jesus and he makes a comment about following the rules and working to be good Christians. Jesus responds by reminding Mack that he is not a Christian.
One of my favorite quotes from the movie is when God tells Mack, “I can work incredibly good out of unspeakable tragedies but that doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies.”
But for me, the most powerful part of this movie is the encounter that Mack has with Wisdom. Although I found it somewhat confusing that Wisdom seems to be something outside of and separate from the Trinity, Mack is told that this encounter is for the purpose of judgement. But the judgement is not about Mack or the things he has done. The encounter is so that Mack can be the judge.
Wisdom accuses Mack of being extremely judgemental throughout his life. She asks him to decide who should be condemned; the selfish, the greedy, those who harm others, murderers, drug dealers, terrorists? Mack condemns them all. Then Wisdom asks about men who beat their wives or their sons. As she asks this, images appear before Mack and he condemns the man. Wisdom then asks about the boy being beaten. Mack is taken aback and says that the boy is innocent. Wisdom informs him the child he sees is his own father whom Mack has already condemned. Wisdom asks about men who pray on little girls, as Mack sees images of the shack and of Missy’s bloody clothes. Wisdom then goes on to ask, what about a God who allows such things to happen, and Mack condemns God.
As Mack looks on Kate and Josh appear, standing beside Wisdom and Wisdom demands that Mack now judge his own children. Kate has been disrespectful and has said hurtful things to Mack while Josh has lied and hidden things from him. Wisdom says that one of them must be condemned. Mack begs to be condemned himself so that his children may be spared, and Wisdom tells him, he now understands the heart of God. Although he continues to struggle with why God would allow Missy to be murdered so violently, he decides he no longer wants to be the one sitting in judgement.
Although I can not honestly say I would recommend this movie, there are certainly parts of it that I believe truly challenge our understanding of God. As Mack struggles to overcome his own doubts and his own preconception about God, I see reflections of both doubting Thomas and the man you prayed, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Knowing God is not about having all the answers. It’s not about being able to prove things or figure things out. It is, as is said over and over in this movie, about trust, or in other words, about faith. This is the struggle that Mack faces in The Shack and, although most of us have never had to go through all the horrors that Mack faced, I believe it is a struggle that we all face in our own ways.
So perhaps what this movie can do for us, is challenge us to face the things in our owe lives that cause us to feel guilty, to blame other or to blame God for our suffering. If we can face these things with honesty and with faith, perhaps we too will find a new and deeper relationship with the Divine, in whatever form or image speaks most clearly to us. Amen
Let’s Sing God of Still Waiting MV#20
We Offer Our Gifts
One of the ways in which we express our faith and our willingness to try to live as we believe God is calling us to live, is through sharing with others. And so, we offer what we can. Sometimes those gifts are financial, helping to support this church, and sometimes they are gifts of time, talents, prayers and commitment. Whatever we offer, let us bring it before 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
All that we have, all that we are, we offer to you. Bless these gifts and bless us as we commit ourselves to you. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
As we offer our gifts we also offer our prayers. Please take a moment of silence now to offer your own personal prayers for all those whose names have been placed in our prayer jar, for all those on your own hearts and minds and for all those whose needs are known only to God.
Minute for Mission
Being There for Refugees and Migrants in Morocco
In the last three years, the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Morocco has more than doubled. Today, the country is both a transit and a host country with 18,102 refugees and asylum seekers.*
Each person arrives in Morocco hoping for a better life for themselves and their family. Many attempt to cross the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Europe. Some make the 14-km trip; others don’t because it proves too costly and dangerous.
“To give you an idea of what this ‘trip’ looks like, they get on an inflated boat normally made for 10‒20 people and they are more than 40 people on it hoping that the wind, their manual manoeuvres, and God will get them to Europe. And they pay thousands of euros to get on that boat!” write Fritz Joseph and Emmanuela Loccident, who served four years in Morocco with the United Church in partnership with Global Ministries of the Disciples of Christ.
“Every day we hear of people who die trying to cross over. A lot don’t even know how to swim. Many of those wishing to cross the sea and ultimately go to Europe were, and still are, living in scarcity and poverty because they have used all their money to get to Morocco. Every country they must cross requires fees for passage. So, when arriving in Morocco, they must find a way to pay for their next and final trip to Europe.”
In Morocco, your Mission and Service gifts support refugees and migrants by providing life-saving medication as well as blankets, food, clothes, and professional training.
“Without the help of partners, none of this tremendous help that is offered to migrating people in Morocco would be possible. None,” explain Fritz and Emmanuela. “Helping migrants is one of the biggest ministries of the church. We are there for people who have nowhere else to go.”
This is only one story of how your generosity through Mission and Service helps change lives. Thank you for your gifts!
Prayers of the People
Divine One, we come here today just as we are filled with both faith and doubt, with both hope and regret, with both dreams and fears. Bring stillness to our hearts, empty our minds of the cares and concerns of our own lives, and direct our thoughts to others and to those who need our prayers most.
When we reflect on how you have supported and cared for us in the past, we cannot fail to give you thanks. When we consider the ways you give us courage and help for each new day, we are filled with a sense of gratitude and praise.
When you lift us out of doubt and despair, our whole being feels renewed and refreshed. What a comfort it is, to know that you love and support are with us always. In our moments of joy, let us not forget those who know little else but sadness. In our sense of gratitude and praise, let us not forget those whose lives are filled with regrets and heartbreaks. In our feeling of support and guidance, let us not forget those who feel they have struggled against life’s difficulties and disappointments alone and uncared for. As we remember all the good in our own lives, let us never blur our vision of the many hardships and struggles of in this life; The despair of the homeless in our inner cities. The feelings of guilt experienced by parents who cannot feed their children. The worries and fears of those in hospital. The isolation of the lonely. The deep sense of loss to the bereaved.
Divine One strengthen us as live out our lives on this earth, to show the same compassion and the caring of Christ, so that we may share you love, peace, joy and hope with all people, wherever we go. We ask all these things through Christ. Amen.
Let’s Sing Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise VU#264
We go out from here into a world that is far from perfect, but then, we’re not perfect. So, as we go out from here, let us go in gentle acceptance of ourselves and others sharing the hope, peace, love and joy of our faith with them. And let us never forget that we are not alone. 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.
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.
© 1986 World Council of churches. Used by permission OneLicense #A723756