Our Worship Service this morning was written by Rev. Debbie McMillan of Hamilton Ontario and I have chosen to use the service as it was written with only a few minor exceptions and additions. We will begin this morning as we usually do with an acknowledgment of territory, a moment of silence and the lighting of our Christ Candle.
Acknowledging the 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 unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour the traditions and spirituality of all our indigenous brothers and sisters throughout this great land.
Time of Quiet Centering
As we prepare to worship together, let us take a moment of silence to prepare ourselves to enter this sacred time. Allow the care and concerns that you have brought with you this morning to be set aside, and allow the calm and the peace of gathering in the presence of the Divine, to wash over you.
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 taking that light with us and sharing it with everyone we meet.
Look back! Look back with courage!
Face the truth God reveals to you!
Look forward! Look forward with hope!
Look to the future! See possibilities growing from the seeds of lessons learned!
There is NO shame in learning history! There is NO shame in relearning history!
Let us learn and unlearn history together.
Wisdom is vindicated by all her children.
And all God’s children proclaim: “So be it!” “Amen!”
Almighty God, Source of Life and Life itself. Your Holy Spirit gathers us into your presence as a hen gathers her chicks to herself. In the safety of this sacred space—virtual or real—help us settle into this time of being together: individuals in shared community through Christ and with Christ. Help us push aside distracting thoughts that impede our learning and our listening. Help us uncover our fears: drive out each one with your perfect and perfecting love so that we can be changed in mind and will be changed in heart. Thank you for accepting us as teachable: thank you for accepting us as willing disciples willing to grow in our faith, in our Spirits, and in our connection to you and to one another. This, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16
Our first scripture reading tells us of the covenant made between God, Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants when God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sari’s name to Sarah.
Psalm 22 calls all people to praise the Lord, promising that “All nations will remember the Lord. From every part of the world they will turn to him; all races will worship him.”
In Romans 8 we are reminded that we do not have to live by our basest human nature. We can be more than our instincts might lead us to be. We can be God’s children when we live in God’s Spirit.
If we are all God’s Children through God’s Spirit and through our ancestor Abraham, then we are also brothers and sisters of Christ. In our gospel reading Jesus affirms this.
Prayer of Confession
Compassionate Creator, look with mercy upon us as we name our collective brokenness: We name our resistance to unpack traditions and to engage in difficult conversations; we name our willingness to remain estranged from that which challenges us or frightens us; we name our constructs of superiority—languages of “others,” that entrench biases; and we name the isms we carry in our thinking that are also carried over into our living. We name other truths about ourselves that we would rather hide in this moment of silence…
Compassionate Creator, Most Loving Parent, forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those who have transgressed against us. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Hear the words of the psalmist in Psalm 103:10‒13 (NRSV):
[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is [God’s] steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far [God] removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children, so [God] has compassion for those who fear him.
Thanks be to God for forgiveness.
This morning I’m going to share with you the reflection that was written by Rev. Debbie McMillan. It is titled Brain Food
I’m a history grad who doesn’t know all my own history.
I’m biracial but I am racialized as Black.
I thought I was a Canadian, but I know and understand in my head and in my heart that I am a settler on stolen land.
So, I have questions.
How do I identify myself? To whom do I belong? Who are my people?
I am the Black great-grand-daughter of Orange Lodge members.
It was what it was in Canada.
My great-aunt—my maternal grandfather’s sister―spoke in racial and cultural slurs about anyone not from Northern Ireland.
She used the “N” word about me before I was born.
I’m not sure if she used it after I was born because we had no relationship, because my grandfather learned to love me:
It took him four weeks, three days, and a few hours―apparently.
And he never stopped. He’s dead, and I know he still loves me.
It’s so easy for me to center my Whiteness because it’s what I know.
Whiteness raised me, clothed me, fed me, educated me, and taught me about Christianity.
I am learning my Black history. I am learning Black histories.
Do you see what I did there? I turned histories into a plural because there is more than one. There is more than one Black history because there is more than one Black person.
But, If there is one common ancestor, it is a continent full of countries, full of folx
It is our Mother―The Motherland―Africa.
To many of us in exile from our selves and from our histories, she is a stranger of mythic and epic proportions.
Africa is Matriarch and her children bless the nations.
Who is Abraham?
The trunk of the tree that gives rise to a branch of Christianity―A branch of Judaism―A branch of Islam.
Abraham is patriarch. Childless Abraham and Childless Sarah receive a promise:
That they will father and mother many nations:
Their offspring will be as numerous as stars in the sky or grains of sand on a seashore.
We are the grains of sand. We are the stars.
We are their offspring. We are the children of promise.
We can look back in our sacred stories and say with certainty:
“There! There is our father! There is our mother! This is our family tree.”
We find strength in connection:
Strength from looking back which empowers us to move forward into the future.
My DNA tells stories in a language that I can’t understand on my own;
I have to pay a company to decipher what is mine anyway:
To unravel the mysteries of what is in me―In my own body that only I own―
To uncover a history that was stolen from me when slavery stole my ancestors from their homes.
My family and I can go as far back as Jamaica but the branch has been cut off after that.
There is a void the size of an ocean and as deep as a cargo hold full of human beings―fetid and fettered―In chains
―Stacked like so much cordwood on a country estate.
Africa is a backward glance over the shoulder―Then a line on the horizon―Then a distant memory―Then, what?
And we have kept moving forward.
We don’t know villages or names. We don’t know our patriarchs and matriarchs.
The Sankofa―The bird symbol, teaches us that there is no shame in looking back.
The Sankofa stands with her feet facing forward but her head turned back to the past.
Perhaps she is reaching for the egg she hides in her wing?
Sankofa stands in the present: seeking answers from history that will lead her into the future.
Sankofa is a lesson I have learned: she is hope to me as I continue to learn my histories as a child of the African Diaspora.
We look back to Abraham and Sarah: Patriarch and Matriarch
Learners of their purpose journeying on a road paved by God.
They thought they knew who they were―until God said, “You are more.
So much more! Son and daughter of the covenant, you are so much more.”
We, in the Abrahamic Diaspora, are covered in that covenant. We are all more: So much more than we think we are.
I am not biracial. Turns out that according to my DNA there is no part of me that does not originate from North Western Europe. But like Debbie McMillan I am part of the Abrahamic Diaspora. It comforts me to know that we are somehow distant cousins, and yet it challenges me as well. If we are related, how can I treat her differently because of the colour of her skin? If we are all descendants of Abraham, then surly she is my sister as much as anyone here. And the same is true for my Jewish and Islamic brothers and sisters.
But if I treat Debbie McMillan as if she is just like me, am I not denying the very things that make her a unique and special creation of God? If I deny her blackness, do I not also deny her heritage and her inheritance? Do I not rob her of something rich and meaningful? Do I not reject the very thing that, at least in some part, make her who she is? On the other hand, if I focus exclusively on her blackness, do I assume that that is the only factor in her story?
These are questions I struggle with every day and as we honour Black History Month today, I think it is important to ask these questions and to wrestle with their reality, even if we don’t find any answers.
McMillan ends her reflection with these words. “We are all more: So much more than we think we are.”
We are all a combination of our DNA, our upbringing, our attitudes, our opinions, our life experiences and our history, both personal and collective. To deny any of these components is to deny part of who we are. And there are times that some of these parts, are not what we would like to admit.
All of us, through our life experiences or through what we have seen and heard in society around us, have learned prejudice. It may be through racist or discriminatory comments we have heard, especially as children, or it may be from personal negative experiences, but all of us, especially those of us raised with white privilege, have at least some prejudices. The simple fact is that we cannot deny that racism is systemic within our culture.
But as McMillan says, “We are all … So much more than we think we are.”
Although we all have our own ingrained prejudices, whether those prejudices are racial, cultural, social, behavioural, or any other form of prejudice, we do not have to act on them. We all have the ability to look beyond the things we see as different or uncomfortable and instead find the good and the common ground that lies beneath.
And I believe that that ‘common ground’ lies in our faith. If we believe that we are all created by a Divine Power beyond our understanding, then we cannot dismiss any of our fellow creation as somehow being less valuable or less important than we are.
And if we believe that, through our faith, we are all descendants of Abraham, part of God Holy Covenant with our ancestors and through them, with us, then how can we see anyone else who is also a descendant of Abraham as not being covered by that same covenant of love?
There are no easy answers or quick fixes but it if we say we follow the example of Chriat, then we must continue to struggle with these questions and continue to do the best we can to overcome prejudice, both within our own lives and within our larger society.
And I believe Jesus also struggled against the prejudices with which he was raised. In Mark’s story of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter Jesus initially dismisses the woman even referring to her and her people as dogs. Yet Jesus overcame the prejudice against the Syrophoenician people, with which he would have been raised, and came to see this woman and all people, regardless of their ethnicity, as beloved brothers and sisters.
Much later, as he prepared for the inevitability of his own death, John tells us that Jesus offered his followers these words. “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you.”
I believe that this is the challenge for us today as we begin Black History Month. It will not be easy and we will have to continue to work hard to overcome the prejudices of our society and our world. But if we truly commit ourselves to the way of Christ, we have no option but to do our very best. The good news is that change is possible, after all, with Gods help, “We are all … So much more than we think we are.” Amen
Hymn To Abraham and Sarah
We Offer Our Gifts
God calls and we answer. One of the ways in which we answer is through the gifts that we offer. Those gifts may be the offering that we place on the offering plates at the back of the church, they may be offerings we make through Par or through online donations, they may be donations we give to others beyond the walls of this church. Or they may be the offerings of our time, our abilities and our commitment. But whatever it is that we offer God this day, let us asks God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; Loving God, bless and grow these gifts that we offer you today for your purpose and your glory. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
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 the People
Let us pray;
God of Transformation and Transfiguration:
Your power reveals truth in all its beauty, in all its difficulty, in all its complexity.
You embrace us in our diversities—loving us, accepting us.
We ask you to unite us through the power of your Spirit so that we may work to manifest your presence in creation; Speak in our voices as we raise them in prayer.
God of Transfiguration:
Illuminate systems of exploitation and injustice:
Systems that dislocate and enslave.
Tear down the monuments we build to ourselves and for ourselves:
Cast down self-congratulatory privilege when we seek to pat ourselves on our back
when we are only doing what we should or when we are doing nothing and it is you at work.
Lift us out of missions that are photo-ops, and lead us into the ongoing work of partnership and community building.
Most Holy God: Lead us away from the lofty places, the pretty places, the safe places and into the streets and alleys―
Into hospital rooms with lonely patients― Into schoolyards with bullied children―Into places we can’t see because they are on the margins but places that are known to you. Most holy God, Gather these and all our prayers in the prayer.
Jesus taught us to say when we are together, as we share that prayer in the inclusive words printed on the screen:
O most Compassionate Life-giver,
may we honor and praise you;
May we work with you to establish your new order of justice peace and love;
Give us what we need for growth, And help us, through forgiving others, to accept forgiveness. Strengthen us in the time of testing, that we may resist all evil,
For all tenderness, strength and love are yours, now and forever.
Bill Wallace, Aootearoa/New Zealand
Blessing and Sending Forth
Look forward, look back, look outward, look within, and look around! Learn your histories: those of your family and those of your faith. As you do, remember you are a beloved child of God, a precious sibling of Christ, and a treasured companion to the Holy Spirit. So now go out from here accompanies by all who share this journey with you.
Go with God.