Aug 27 – Worship Service – An Interview with God

Aug 20 – Worship Service – The Shack
August 24, 2023
Sept 3 – Worship Service – Labour Day
September 5, 2023

Aug 27 – Worship Service – An Interview with God

Rev Lohnes

Sunday Aug 27, 2023 – An Interview with God

Introit                                                                                                       MV#2

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 with 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        

We gather here this morning seeking to renew and strengthen our faith.
We are call to be people of faith not just in this building, but in the midst of all the challenges of daily life.

We are called to trust and believe.
We are called to live out that belief in word and action.     

And so we gather here today to worship the Divine Mystery that call us into worship and into life.
Let us worship God.

Opening Prayer

Divine Wonder, so often when we come before you in prayer, our minds are preoccupied with the daily cares and concerns we all deal with.  As we come here today, take from us the tension that makes peace impossible.  Take from us the fears that do not allow us to risk.  Take from us the worries that we are unable to turn over to you.  Help us to discover a new awareness of your presence in our lives, guiding, directing and loving us no matter what.  Amen

Let’s Sing                    How Great the Mystery of Faith                               #390

Scripture Reading    

Our first Scripture reading this morning is the story of Jesus walking on water and of what happened when Peter attempted to do the same.

Matthew 14:22-31                                                     Good News Translation

Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people away.  After sending the people away, he went up a hill by himself to pray.  When evening came, Jesus was there alone; and by this time the boat was far out in the lake, tossed about by the waves, because the wind was blowing against it.

Between three and six o’clock in the morning Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water.  When they saw him walking on the water, they were terrified.  “It’s a ghost!” they said, and screamed with fear.

Jesus spoke to them at once.  “Courage!” he said.  “It is I.  Don’t be afraid!”

Then Peter spoke up.  “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”

“Come!” answered Jesus.  So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water.  “Save me, Lord!” he cried.

At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said, “What little faith you have!  Why did you doubt?”

Our second scripture this morning contains the familiar statement that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12                                                New Revised Standard Version

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he set out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith, with Sarah’s involvement, he received power of procreation, even though he was too old, because he considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

Favorite Hymn Request               I Love to Tell the Story                 VU#343

 God in the Movies – An Interview With God

If you were offered an interview with God, what questions would you ask?  What would you want to know?  It’s an intriguing idea, at least for me.  But this movie is about much more than asking questions. 

The 2018 movie An Interview With God, begins with Paul Asher, an up-and coming journalist who writes a religious blog for  , returning from Afghanistan.  He is in a military cargo plane accompanied by the flag draped coffins of those being returned to their families.  He is struggling to express on paper what had become for him, a crisis of faith.

As the scene switches to his home, we realize that Paul’s life and his marriage have been torn apart.  He is desperately trying to help Matt, a returned vet who is desperately struggling with the consequences of war and at the same time, there has been an affair.

Matt heads off for an interview he has arranged.  The interview is to take place in 3 half-hour session on successive days.  When he meets his interviewee in the park, he asks him to state and spell his name for recorded accuracy.  The man replies, “I’m God, G-O-D.”

But the interview does not go as Paul had hoped.  Most of Paul’s question are either answered with questions or Paul is told, “But you already know the answer to that question.”  God also turns the questions back on Paul asking him why he went to Afghanistan and what he thought would happen when he returned.  By the time the half hour is up and God ends the interview, Paul is left with far more questions than answers.

When Paul returns to the office, we learn that Paul is supposed to be on paid leave after his experience in Afghanistan.  But when Paul tells his boss he is doing an interview with God, his boss is very excited about the idea and even offers Paul a weekly column.

When Paul returns home, he discovers that Sarah has left him.  He tries to write but is unable to concentrate and the morning’s interview along with his conversation with Sarah just keep going through his head.  In the morning he sets out for his second interview with God, this time in the theater where Paul’s mother used to work. 

Once again, God turns the conversation around and it is Paul who ends up answering God’s questions.  This time the topic is salvation.  When Paul gets upset, he demands to know what God wants of him.  What the hidden agenda is.  God tells Paul that he misunderstands the meaning of faith, but when Paul asks for an explanation God simply replies, “We’ll get back to that”.

God then asks Paul to imagine what the world looks like from God’s perspective, knowing every human act, thought, aspiration or depravity but also knowing all the isolation, pain and emptiness.  Paul responds that it would break his heart to know all that.  God then asks Paul, if Faith is all that matters, why bother caring, and if you are a caring person, what could you ever do that God could not forgive. 

When Paul goes silent, God suggests they talk about his marriage and Paul becomes furious and tells God to stay out of his personal life, that he has it all under control.  God responds, “That’s very good to hear because you are about out of time.”  When Paul realizes that God is talking about death, he becomes even more angry and storms out.  God promises to let him know where tomorrow’s interview will be and Paul responds, “There is no tomorrow.”

As Paul storms out God tells him, “Salvation is real Paul.  It can still happen for you but you need to understand something very important.  Faith is not something you can just have, not in the conventional sense.  Because faith isn’t the goal, faith is the process.  It takes time and dedication, every day.”

When Paul gets back to the office there is a beautiful young woman waiting for him asking why Paul has not returned her calls.  We learn that the woman is Sarah’s sister and it is Grace and not Paul who had an affair.  We also learn that the affair did not happen while Paul was in Afghanistan as he had believed, but before he ever left.

Despite his earlier anger, Paul does return for his third interview with God, this time in a large empty office.  God again talks about salvation, this time saying,

“Your life is not an audition for the after-life.  And if you can stop worrying about that, you just might have time for other things, things like loving one another and living your life.”

At one point Paul gets a text from his friend Matt identifying the man who claims to be God as having died in Afghanistan 12 years earlier.  Paul confronts God and accuses him of lying but God says he has never lied to Paul, only tried to help him.  When Paul asks how God has helped him, God replies, by keeping him safe.  God then reveals that Paul’s death would have been at his own hand and that Paul knew exactly when it would have happened. 

When Paul asks why God doesn’t listen, God replies “Bad things happen all the time, every minute of every day …  But the truth is, most people only seem to notice bad things when they happen to them, and maybe that’s the saddest part of all.”

When Paul shouts out in anger, “Do something!” God replies, “Yes, do something.  You have more power than you know.  Food can be grown, diseases cured, wars ended … So when you ask why all this is happening start by looking to each other and that’s where I’ll be … Miracles happen every day and sometimes the miracle is you.”

When Paul finally arrives home, Sarah is waiting for him.  The two talk.  Paul forgives Sarah and wounds are healed.  The movie ends with Paul reflecting that faith isn’t worth much if you don’t continue to watch and listen, in other words, if you don’t continue to work on it every day.

Now I have to admit that, at times, I did find this movie, as a friend of mine would say, a bit “preachy.”  I also found that it seemed to strongly support the idea that the only way to connect with God was through Christianity, an idea that greatly disturbs me.  However, despite the things about this movie that bothered me, I did find that the image of God within this movie resonated with me. 

In this movie God does not give easy answers.  In fact, most of Paul’s questions are answered with questions, and it is clear that it is not God, but Paul who must do the work to change the situations in his life.  But it is equally clear that God will be there to advise and direct, if Paul is willing to listen.

But throughout the movie Paul struggles to even admit to the problems he faces, let alone do anything about them.  He refuses to talk about his marriage with anyone, pretending that everything is fine, even thought his wife has actually left him.  Even when it is revealed that Sarah’s affair occurred before he even left for Afghanistan, Paul acts like it changes nothing, even though he is clearly shocked.  Until that point, he has excused the affair as being the result of his being so far away from home for so long.  Now he must face a whole new reality which he basically denies.

He also refuses to admit that he is struggling with the things he encountered in Afghanistan, always saying he was only there to write about it, not to fight.  He denies that the experience has had a lasting effect on him, even though it has caused him to question whether God really does hear or answer prayers.  When someone mentions Post Traumatic Stress, he immediately denies that such a thing could apply to him, insisting that it is only those directly involved in the fighting that are affected.

Even at the most difficult time of his life, as he stands on the roof of his building looking down at the street below, he refuses to acknowledge, even to himself, that he has actually considered ending it all.

It is only when Paul is force to face the realities of his own feelings, that he is able to begin to heal.  It is only when he admits his own helplessness and his own inability to fix things in his life that he is able to accept the help that God has been trying to offer him all alone.  It is only when he stops trying to be perfect, or at least trying to make others think he is, that Paul can open himself up enough to allow himself to be helped.

This is where, despite the things I don’t like about it, I connect with this movie on a very deep and personal level.  Those who know me best, know that I seldom show what I am feeling at the deepest level.  I went through many years of struggling with depression and no one ever knew.  Like Paul, I often tend to cover up any uncertainty or doubt, any struggles that I face, determined to handle them myself.

But this movie reminds me, and hopefully some of you, that God is always there reaching out to us, longing to help us, but that we must be willing to open up and reach out to God.  We have to trust that, even if we can’t see any possible way out of the situations that we face in our lives, if we will listen and trust the direction we receive, even if it makes no sense and even if it does not solve the issues we think need to be solved, there is always a way, if not out, at least through.

I come back to what, for me, is probably the most powerful quote in this movie.  “Your life is not an audition for the after-life.  And if you can stop worrying about that, you just might have time for other things, things like loving one another and living your life.”

As I think back over the movies we have focused on this summer, this theme of living life to it’s fullest, being honest with ourselves about who we are, and trusting that God loves us and wants the best for us comes through over and over.

In The Shack God says, “I can work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies but that doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies.”  In A Little Bit of Heaven, God helps Marley to realize that life is meant to be cherished, celebrated and shared even in the most difficult of circumstances.  In Bruce Almighty, God reminds Bruce and perhaps each one of us that “You have a divine spark” and “If you want to see a miracle, be the miracle.” 

Perhaps O God reminds us not to take ourselves or our faith too seriously, but rather to remember that we may never do great things but that everyone can at least plant a few seeds.  The Ten Commandments reminds us of the importance of remembering the history and foundations of our faith, and The Green Pastures reminds us that we each of us understands God only from the perspective of our own life and our own life experience.

Regardless of what you think of An Interview With God or any of the movies we have talked about this summer, there is one idea that all these movies seem to share.  It is not enough to say we are a people of faith.  We need to live our faith.  We need to be open to the possibilities of the Divine speaking to us and through us in our own lives.  We have to risk getting out of our comfort zones and sometimes getting out of our own way.  It’s not enough to show up on Sunday morning and figure we’re covered, because, as God tells, Paul in An Interview With God, “faith isn’t the goal, faith is the process.  It takes time and dedication, every day.”  Amen

Let’s Sing                    Faith While Trees are Still in Blossom                     #643

We Offer Our Gifts

Whoever we are and whatever we bring, God welcomes us.  Whatever we have and whatever we share, God accepts.  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.  And so, whatever gift you bring, financial or not, let us offer them 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

Offertory Prayer

Divine Love, all that we have and all that we are, we offer to you now.  Accept what we bring, we pray.  Amen.

We Offer Our Prayers

As we bring our gifts we also bring our prayers.  Let us take a moment of silence to offer our own personal prayers to those on our hearts and minds this morning … Amen

Minute for Mission

Making a Home for Refugees: ChrisAnn Alvarez’s Work

Imagine being forced to leave your home.  Set adrift, hoping to find a place to land, somewhere safe so you can rebuild your life.

“There’s this huge misconception that refugees choose to be refugees,” says ChrisAnn Alvarez, Refugee Support at The United Church of Canada. “It’s not a choice. It’s something they’re forced into.”

It’s a reality that is faced by millions of refugees, and it’s a reality that is becoming more and more prominent. More people are displaced today than ever before: 117.2 million, says the UN Refugee Agency.  That’s the equivalent of three Canadas.

There are many causes: human conflict, climate change, human rights violations, and more.  We can help.  Your gifts provide food, water, sanitation, and social support to people forced to flee their homes. Mission and Service creates educational and confidence-building programs in refugee camps.

Mission and Service also helps refugees find new homes. “Congregations form sponsorship groups together to sponsor the refugee,” Alvarez explains. “What Mission and Service allows is for them to sponsor through their own congregation.”

She tells one story of a sponsor who renovated their basement after it flooded and immediately planned to sponsor a refugee in the new space.

“Who thinks like that?!” Alvarez exclaims with wonder and awe. “It’s just so beautiful!”

The refugee stayed with his sponsors for years, and they became an adopted family to one another. “The sponsor told me, ‘We have no kids, so this was an unexpected blessing,’” Alvarez recalls, tearing up. “That’s one example of someone opening their home in their home, in their heart, and allowing themselves to be transformed.”

When we help protect one refugee from persecution, death, or years in a refugee camp, we save the world for that one person—and just maybe for ourselves, too.

Prayers of the People

Divine One, you call us to not simply have faith but to live faith.  There are times we struggle.  There are times we are not even sure what that means.  But the one thing that we do know is, that you have never called any of us to do this alone.  You care for us and you walk with us and you call us to do the same.  You call us to not simply acknowledge the pain and suffering in this world and to pray that someone else will fix things.  You call us to be active participants, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.

You call us to care for and walk with those who are hungry, homeless and living in poverty.  You call us to share not just what we have, but who we are …

You call us to care for and walk with those who are living in situations of war and violence, seeing them not as something that happens far away from us, but as a very real and very sad part of our world that must be addressed.  You call us to stand up and speak out with those who seek to find peaceful solution …

You call us to care for and walk with those who are sick, injured or facing difficult physical challenges.  You call us to be loving, caring presence whenever we can …

You call us to care for and walk with those facing emotional, mental or spiritual upheaval, those feeling alone and isolated and those who live on the margins of society.  You call us to be a caring, compassionate and non-judgmental companion on their journey…

You call us to live our faith as we walk with you by walking with others.  Grant us the strength and the grace to do so.  Amen

Let’s Sing                    Bless Now, O God, the Journey                       #633

Sending Out

We are a people of faith.  As we go out from here, we take that faith with us into every aspect of our lives, to live that faith each and every day.  But we always remember, we do not go alone.  The love of God is with us.  The example of Christ leads us.  And the Spirit of the Divine 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.
© 1975 Lillenas Publishing Company used with permission OneLicense #A723756

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