Words of Welcome & The Life and Work of Our Church
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.
Call to Worship
God has called us to this place, where we hear the stories that have formed us as a people.
God has called us to add our names to the long list of those who have followed.
God has called us to hear the story, so that we can respond to the call.
God has called us and in worship we respond.
So come, let us worship God.
* written by Beth W Johnston Gathering Advent/Christmas/Epiphany 2017-2018 pg 40 Used with permission
Opening Prayer (in unison)
God, we sometimes feel like you ask so much of us. We hear the story of Jonah and we understand why he tried to run away. We become so busy with our own lives, our own pursuits and our own dreams that we just don’t have time to listen for your call. We become comfortable with our lives and we fear that answering your call may be too disruptive and may call us to do things we don’t want to do. Forgive us God, when we fail to hear your call or when we hear but fail to answer. Keep calling, O God, and open our hearts to hear and respond. Amen.
Gift of Music
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Most people know the story of Jonah and the Whale. But did you know that the only part of that story that is actually included in our 3-year cycle of lectionary readings is not the familiar story of Jonah running away from God, getting swallowed by a huge fish, praying
for forgiveness and eventually being spit out on shore. Instead, it is the story of what happens next.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of the fishermen being called by Jesus and of how they left everything behind to follow. This is Mark’s retelling of that story.
Following In Order To Lead
Most people know at least part of the story of Jonah, but I bet that not very many know the whole story. Most people know that Jonah ran away from God and got swallowed by a big fish, got spit out on the beach and ended up doing what God had asked of him in the first place. But that is pretty well as much as most people seem to remember.
The story begins when God calls Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and warn the people that if they do not change their ways the entire city will be destroyed. But Nineveh was part of the mighty Assyrian Empire and Jonah wanted nothing to do with them. In fact, he was probably rather hoping that God would destroy Nineveh. After all the Assyrians were enemies of his people. So, in an effort to escape God’s call to him, Jonah ran away and got on a ship heading in the opposite direction to Nineveh.
Nineveh was one of the largest cities in the Assyrian Empire, located near the very center of the Empire. And the Assyrian Empire was one of the three great powers that at one time or another had or would, invade, captured and ruled over the Israelite people. These were the very people that Jonah was being told to go and prophecy to so that they might be spared the destruction of their city. The truth is that Jonah had no reason to wish that Nineveh would be spared. He had far more reason to want to see it destroyed. So, is it really any wonder that when God called Jonah to go to Nineveh he didn’t want to go?
Perhaps Jonah was running away because he didn’t want to see Nineveh spared, but perhaps he ran for fear of what might happen to him if he did go to Nineveh. Wandering through the streets of the city yelling out a warning that if the people didn’t repent, they would be destroyed, could easily have gotten Jonah killed. So perhaps he fled for fear of his own life. Perhaps Jonah had family or friends who had been killed in the struggle against the Assyrian Empire and he actually longed for revenge. Or perhaps Jonah just figured that if Nineveh were destroyed, the Israelites would have one less enemy to worry about. But whatever the reason Jonah ran away from God.
We all know what happened next. A great storm came up and Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by a giant fish. After spending three days in its belly, the fish spits Jonah out on the shore.
Jonah tried to run away from God’s call but God didn’t give up that easily. God never does! And even though it took 3 days in the belly of a whale, Jonah eventually answered God’s call and went to Nineveh. But the story doesn’t end there. Jonah went through the city warning them that God is about to destroy them. As a direct result, the people hear the warning and change their ways and Nineveh is spared.
But instead of being glad that his message was heard and received, Jonah was angry. He was angry with God for having spared the city. He was angry that he has been the tool by which this had been achieved. And he was angry that his God, the God of the Israelite people, would show such great mercy on people who were his enemies.
In direct contrast to the story of Jonah, when Jesus called the fishermen to follow him, they did so immediately. They left everything behind without question or hesitation and simply followed without any idea of what lay ahead. I can’t help but wonder, if Simon and the other disciples would have answered Jesus call quite so quickly if they had fully realized what this call would mean. I doubt very much if they realized that they were making a lifetime commitment, a commitment that would eventually cost them their lives.
When Jesus called them, they followed eagerly wanting to learn, wanting to see for themselves if the stories they had heard were true. They wanted to be there when he healed the sick and cast out daemons. They wanted to be a part of the excitement and the wonder of it all. They wanted to see just how far Jesus would be able to go and exactly what was going to happen next.
But there is one part of that call that I think often gets overlooked today, and I can’t help but wonder if the disciples themselves missed the importance of what that call demanded of them. When Jesus called the fishermen by the Sea of Galilee, he told them that he would make them “fish for people.” Jesus call was not the call to simply come and listen and observe. It was a call to follow so that they might be taught and prepared to go out and teach others. It was not enough for them to simply respond to Christ’s call. It was not enough to simply listen to what he had to say. Their call was to become fishers of men. The call was to go out and take what Jesus taught them and share it. Their call was to eventually become the leaders of this new movement that Jesus had started. But the only way they could learn to lead was by following.
To be honest, I doubt very much that these men had any idea what they were getting themselves into. If they had known that from that moment on, they would face persecution, imprisonment, and eventually execution at the hands of the authorities, would they still have been as anxious to leave their nets behind and follow? The truth is that when Jesus was arrested and they were faced with the reality that to follow him would almost certainly mean their death, like Jonah, the disciples also ran away.
What would we do if we were faced with the same choices today as Jonah or the disciples were? How quick would we be to answer? Would we be willing to put ourselves in mortal danger in order to stand up for a friend or to speak out in compassion for an enemy?
There are times we all want to run away and hide. Sometimes we do this by making ourselves so busy with other things that there is simply no time for the one thing we really should be doing. Sometimes we retreat within ourselves, shutting out the world around us and sometimes even shutting out the voice of God. And sometimes, like Jonah and like the disciples, we physically distance ourselves from the very thing we are being called to.
But when God calls, as Jonah found out, it is not something that can be easily ignored! I remember many years ago being on a discernment committee for someone who was exploring the feeling they were being called to ministry in the United Church. At one meeting, one member of the team asked her why, at this particular moment in time, she had chosen to begin the process of becoming an ordained minister. Her answer was simple, “I ran out of excuses not to!”
She went on to say that she had felt a ‘tug’ towards ministry since she was a teenager, but there had always been a reason not to follow. She was too young and couldn’t possibly know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She needed to focus on her education. She had to get a job and work to pay off student loans before she could even consider taking on more educational debt. She wanted to focus on her marriage. She was serving God in other ways. But always in the back of her mind there was that ‘tug’.
When she finally decided to explore the possibility of entering into formal ministry, things just seemed to fall into place. Her husband and her family were very supportive and encouraging. Financial resources became available that she had never even considered, and her own church was not only supportive but was excited to help out in any way they could. A friend put her in contact with the person she needed to talk to at the Theological School and within a very short period of time she was enrolled and attending classes.
Just because she had managed to come up with just about every possible excuse not to follow where she was being led, God didn’t give up on her. God kept calling until all the excuses faded away and she answered.
When God called Jonah, Jonah not only made excuses but adamantly refused to answer. But God kept calling. God kept pushing Jonah in the direction to which he was being called. And eventually Jonah gave in. As a result, Jonah led the people of Nineveh back to God.
When Jesus called the first disciples they did not hesitate. They followed immediately. But that doesn’t mean that they always continued to follow exactly where they were being led. It does not mean thy never wandered off track. They did. James and John sought recognition and honour, requesting to sit at Jesus right and left hand in the ‘kingdom’ they believed that Jesus would establish. Simon Peter argued with Jesus when Jesus warned them of his death, he begged Jesus to let them stay on the mount of transfiguration, and he denied knowing Jesus 3 times after his arrest. And Andrew, along with all the other disciples ran away and deserted Jesus and ran away, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
But God continued to call each of those disciples, and each one continued to answer, perhaps not perfectly, but to the best of their ability. As a result, they all became leaders in the early church and through them many others were also called by God. Without answering the call and being led by God, they could never have become leaders.
God continues to call people today. It is our choice whether to listen or not. Are we willing to answer when God calls us? Are we willing to go where we are being led, to do what we are called to do or to speak up for what we believe?
As we strive to live out our faith, as we strive to answer God’s call for us, as we strive to follow, we open ourselves to the possibility that God can also use us to lead. We may lead through our example, through how we treat others, through our faithful trust in God, or we may lead simply by the example of our willingness to follow.
None of us will ever know the full impact that our lives will have on other people. But one thing is certain. The call to follow Christ is not a call to sit back and watch. It is a call to action. And when we follow where we are being led, God can accomplish amazing things through us. It’s not easy, but when God calls, who know what possibilities might lay ahead. Amen.
Gift of Music
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
Prayer of the People
Divine Love, you have called each one of us in a special and unique way to become part of your work here on earth. You have called us to help build a world where your love becomes the fundamental principal by which people live. You have called us to continue to follow the example of Christ. We thank you for this call, for it is in answering, that our own lives take on new meaning and new purpose.
But it is not always easy for us and there are times we are frightened by the immensity of the task or discouraged at how little difference we seem able to make. This is when we need to quietly listen for your voice and your direction. Fill us with the dreams and visions of what we could do and be with your help and guidance. Fill us with the determination to follow where you lead and to take on the tasks you give us. Fill us with the peace and joy of knowing that in all things you are with us.
Divine guide, when we look around, we see so much that needs to change, so much that is not as it should be. We think of those who are hungry, those who are alone and lonely, those who are sick and suffering, those who live in fear and in danger, those whose lives seem to have no purpose and no hope.
Guide us by your grace to do our part to fulfill the vision that Christ has offered us of a world where your love and your promise become a reality for all people. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Gift of Music
As we go out from here into the cold and blustery winter weather, we are reminded that, no matter how cold it might be, God’s love continues to warm our hearts. We are reminded that no matter how blustery the wind might be, God’s purpose steadies or lives. And so as we go out from here, we go knowing God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirt accompanies us each step of the way. Go with God.