July 2 – Worship Service – Sharpening our Focus

June 25 – Worship Service – Hangry and Thirsty
June 27, 2023
July 9 – Worship Service – Salt & Light
July 11, 2023

July 2 – Worship Service – Sharpening our Focus

Beacon United Church – July 2, 2023

Welcome, Announcements and Celebrations

Introit:  VU# 579 The Church Is Wherever God’s People (both verses)

The church is wherever God’s people are praising,
singing God’s praises for joy on this day.
The church is wherever disciples of Jesus
remember his story and walk in his way.

The church is wherever God’s people are helping,
caring for neighbours in sickness and need.
The church is wherever God’s people are sharing
the words of the Bible in gift and in deed.
Carol Rose Ikeler 1959 © 1963 W.L. Jenkins. All Rights Reserved. Used and adapted by permission of Westminster John Knox Press. LicenSingOnline#605486

 Acknowledgement of Territory
We are gathered for worship on the traditional unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. We give thanks to the Mi’kmaq people who have walked on this land for many years.  Their relationship with the land is at the centre of their lives and spirituality.  We acknowledge their stewardship and care of this land.

Acknowledging the territory where we gather and the people who have traditionally called it home is only one way to continue to live out the United Church’s Apologies to the First Peoples of North America.  May we, as a local congregation and a national church, seek other ways to work toward right relations, and move towards becoming the community that God calls us to be together.

Lighting the Christ Candle –
We light this candle to remind us that the light of Christ is with us here today and shines through us.  May we spread this light to everyone who is our neighbour.

Call to Worship
One:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.

All:  We will worship God, the one we love.

One:  Love your neighbour as yourself.
All:  We will open our hearts to all God’s children.

Opening Prayer
O God, surround us with your Spirit in this time of gathering together.  We have come to this place of sanctuary in order to be renewed within ourselves, and also to regain focus as a community.  We have come for personal reasons, needing to be uplifted within our souls and seeking your assistance to help us face the challenges ahead, yet we also come for communal reasons, seeking strength for the journey that we share together as your people.  Loving God, give us the humility to be surprised by your presence and the wisdom to be open to the insights of your people everywhere, as we understand anew the mission and ministry to which we are called.  This we pray in your holy name.  Amen.

(Written by Bill Steadman.  Gathering, Pentecost 1 2022 p. 41.  Used with permission.)

Hymn:  VU #600 When I Needed a Neighbour

Prayer of Confession
Jesus’ stories stop us in our tracks and help us to think what it means to live as God’s faithful people, and what it means, when we do not.  Let us lift to God those “do not” moments.  Let us join together in our prayer of confession:

Merciful and loving God, you have called us to live, mindful of our call to love you and to love our neighbour.  We confess that this is sometimes a challenge.  In the busyness of life and all of our demands, you are the most patient and so you are the one most forgotten.  In the search to find safety and security for ourselves and our families, we look only to our own concerns and forget those in need around us.  And sometimes the “neighbour” we are called to love is too difficult, for many different reasons.  Forgive us, God, for our selfishness, our fear, and our prejudice. Help us to trust in you, and in doing so, come to care for neighbours near and far.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who showed us how to love through the cross.  Amen.

(Written by Frances Flook.  Gathering, Pentecost 1 2016 p. 38.  Used with permission.)

Words of Assurance
Eternal life is ours when we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and when we love our neighbour as ourselves.  Thanks be to God.

Introduction to the Scriptures
Divine and human judgment focus these readings.  In Amos, God uses a plumb line to judge Israel, finding it wanting.  Faithfulness leads to growth in grace, love, truth, and life.  Asked by a lawyer, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus tells the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan, and asks the man to judge for himself who his neighbour is.  Although we often react negatively to the idea of judging, these passages make clear that sound judgment can be a righteous enterprise.  We are called to righteous judgment, without becoming judgmental.

Prayer of Illumination
God, you reach out to us and invite us into worship.  We come knowing that we have so much more to learn about how to be your people.  Like the disciples before us, you teach us through the word of Jesus, and we long to hear them for ourselves.  We also know that through the many stories of faith, we can begin to understand how you call us.  Open our ears to hear your truth as we worship today.  Amen.

(Written by Heather McClure.  Gathering, Pentecost 1 2016 p. 40.  Used with permission.)

Celebrating the Word:

Hebrew Scripture:  Amos 7:7-17

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand.  And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
    and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
    with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

Amos and Amaziah

Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words.  For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
    and Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there.  Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.  But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’  Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
    and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

“Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
    and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

 Gospel Reading:  Luke 10:25-37

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Favorite Hymn Selection: MV #142 Oh, a Song Must Rise

Reflection: Sharpening our Focus
About this time last year, I had my regular eye check-up.  I had a feeling that I would need new glasses because I often would find myself adjusting my glasses (bifocals) up or down to see things more clearly.  The optometrist put me through the usual tests of asking which is clearer 1 or 2, 3 or 4.  After we finished the exercise, she asked me to put my glasses back on and stare at three letters that were projected on the wall.  They seemed very clear to me since I was wearing my glasses.  Then she pulled two disks out her drawer and held them up to my eyes.  All of a sudden, the letters on the wall became sharper and more in focus and I uttered, “Oh!”  This became my new prescription!  The Scripture readings today are like an eye test for our lives.  They have to do with understanding things more clearly, more defined, sharper and in focus.  Some of them may cause us to just plain open our eyes!

The passage from Amos is relating the third of four visions that Amos had.  In this vision, Amos says that he saw God standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb.  A plumb line is dropped from the top of a structure and falls straight.  Construction workers know that the structure is straight if it follows the plumb line.  God tells Amos in his vision that a plumb line is being set for the people of Israel.  God has had enough of their wayward behaviour and is telling them that it is time to measure up!  A plumb line gives us a standard by which to measure.  We all need this in our lives and as Christians, we turn to the word of God to provide this standard for us.  We need to constantly, in prayer and dialogue with God, assess whether or not we are leading lives that align to God’s intentions. 

In the gospel reading this morning, we hear the ever-familiar story of the Good Samaritan.  This story probably would rank in the top five of most familiar and well-known Bible stories.  A Good Samaritan has become known in popular culture as a do-gooder.  There are Good Samaritan laws in many places that protect someone trying to do good from being sued or charged.  If someone reaches out with good intentions to help someone else, then they cannot be charged if something goes wrong.  But the story of the Good Samaritan goes beyond someone doing something good for someone else.  The story is a parable told by Jesus to answer the question, “Who is my neighbour?”  Previous to the telling of the parable, Jesus has engaged in conversation with a lawyer or an expert in the law, the law of the Torah.  The lawyer is testing Jesus.  He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus throws the question right back at him and says, “What is written in the law?  How do you read it?”  The lawyer answered with the two great commandments – love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself.  Jesus says that this is correct but the lawyer wants to go further.  The Scripture passage says that the lawyer wants to justify himself so asks, “Who is my neighbour?” Some may say that the lawyer wanted to bring this standard or commandment into sharper focus.

A minister that I know asked this question, “Who is my neighbour?” on her Facebook account when she was preparing to preach this text and warned people that their responses may end up in a sermon!  I was interested in the replies.  The first one said, “It’s the people who live near to you.  Is this a trick question?”  Another one said that there can be people who live close to you that you don’t like and people who live far away that you do like.  That person’s answer to ‘Who is your neighbour?’ is obviously someone you like.  Another person quoted a song and said, “It’s the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street.  It’s the people that you meet each day.” And yet another said, “Everyone.”  Rabbi Joachim Prime says that, “Neighbour is not a geographic term.  It is a moral concept.”  The lawyer was, no doubt, looking for a response to make his life easier.  If Jesus answered that your neighbour is someone you like or even someone who lives near to you, that would make following the commandment a lot easier.  But Jesus proceeds to tell the story of the Good Samaritan to a group of Jewish scholars.  Samaritans were the traditional enemy of the Jewish people.  We learned in our Scripture reading last week that Samaritans and Jews did not eat from the same cups and bowls.   Jesus says that a man was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest and a Levite both passed by without wanting to get involved.  It was the enemy, the Samaritan who stopped to help.  Not only did the Samaritan stop but he got the man to safety; got him the help he needed; stayed with him through the night; and paid for all of his expenses.    In reality, Jesus didn’t really answer the question of “who is my neighbour” but rather “who showed himself to be a neighbour?”  The plumb line is clearly set here of how to treat other people especially those with whom we do not normally associate.

This story has appeal with so many people because most of us can identify with many of the characters in the story, whether we like to admit it or not!  Some of us identify with the lawyer – always asking the questions, always challenging authority.  Sometimes it may not be challenging authority so much as seeking to get that clearer, sharper, in-focus image.  We don’t want any fuzzy ideas and when we get an explanation and the concept becomes very clear, we say, “Oh!”.  Some of us identify with Jesus, telling the stories and teaching others.  Or perhaps we try to live our lives by the plumb line that Jesus sets through his storytelling and his example.  Some people will identify with the Good Samaritan who stopped to help when needed, even though the person was not known to them.  These are the people that are willing to help and give their all to friends and strangers alike.  Then there is the priest and the Levite, the ones that passed by.  These are the ones that we do not always admit that we are like but sad to say, many of us are.  These are the people that Jesus was targeting with his parable.  These are the ones that were not acting as neighbours.  How many times do we pass on the other side of the road to avoid getting involved?  Or turn off the TV or walk away from the computer.  We close our eyes.  Sometimes we feel guilty after we realize what we have done and other times, we don’t even know or realize that we passed someone by.  Sometimes we are so busy or preoccupied that we overlook what is right in front of us. 

In Amos, we are challenged to think about whether we have lived our lives in a way that builds community.  Do our actions align with God’s intentions?  In the Gospel of Luke and the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the plumb line is set clearly for us for not only how to treat our neighbours but also how to act as a neighbour towards all that we meet.  How do we get to a point in our individual lives or our life as a society that we close our eyes to other people and their circumstances?  How does it become too much bother?  In Psalm 82, the Psalmist asks God, “How long will you judge unjustly, and favour the cause of the wicked?”  Then the appeal is made, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan, maintain the right of the lowly and destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy.”  If we turn that around, it could be seen as what God is asking of us?  It’s a tall order but it is what service to God and other human beings entails.

In our service to God, we can choose to be spectators and cheerleaders or we can choose to get in the game.  Spectators are really good at observing the state of things and analyzing how things should be done.  As Christians or just plain citizens of the world, we sometimes excel in looking at situations and thinking that we have all the answers.  If only they would do things my way!  But there comes a time when we need to jump into action.  We need to take a more active role in making sure that justice is done.  Excuses only serve to delay the action from happening.  It doesn’t matter how old we are, or how busy we are or what physical condition we are in, there is always something that we can do. 

I read this week that we are like a sponge.  Our worship saturates or fills us with the knowledge of what to do but we need to be squeezed out in service to others.  It is no good to sit and collect everything we know about God, Jesus and service to others, if we don’t act on it.  If we don’t serve others or show mercy to others, then we can become spiritually waterlogged or as some people may say, ‘full of it!’  We come to church, we pray, we read Scripture and we sing praises and we are filled with the Holy Spirit.  But when we leave this place, we need to go out into the world and, as the Psalmist says, give justice to the weak and the orphan, maintain the right of the lowly and destitute, rescue the needy and the poor.  My experience has been that people who empty themselves in service do not feel empty but rather feel more fulfilled and more alive in the Spirit.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, encourages them to lead lives worthy of God.  That seems like such a big task that many of us do not know where to start.  The Good Samaritan started with what he had as he walked down that road on that particular day.  He led with his heart.  What do you have that you can offer?  What can you do?  Remember, no excuses!  In May 2022, I participated in a course for worship leaders sponsored by Region 15 of the United Church of Canada.  There were five sessions.  The session on sermon writing had us look at the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Three participants read the story from different translations of the Bible and we were asked to listen carefully for something that we had not heard or considered before.  With a well-known story like the Good Samaritan, I thought it would be difficult but then the phrase, “The next day” jumped out at me.  The Samaritan had bandaged his wounds, poured on oil and wine, put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. Then it says, “The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  It had never occurred to me that the Samaritan had stayed with the man through the night.  This spoke to me of pastoral care and the need of the lonely, the sick and the dying to have someone stay with them.  A physical presence is great but just knowing that someone is there, thinking of you and praying for you helps a great deal too.  Five and a half years ago, I had colon cancer and had to have an operation and chemotherapy.  Many people let me know that they were praying for me and I said that it buoyed me.  It lifted me up.  I felt supported.  All throughout the Bible, there are passages that assure us that God is with us always.  Help us pay that forward and let the people around us, our neighbours, and yes, even the people we don’t like that we are there for them – always.

As we go out into the world today, let us measure ourselves against the plumb line that God has set for us.  Paul said to the Colossians that when we store up our faith, it begins to bear fruit in the world.  Help us to imagine a world where the gospel is being preached and lived out in such a way that promises equity for all.  We may not be able to do it all but each of us needs to consider, “What do I encounter every day that I need to see differently?”  It won’t be the same for everyone but if everyone can find a sharper focus in one thing (or more) that needs to be done, then we can all act like good neighbours to all we meet on this road we call life. Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” and the expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  I will close this morning with the words of Jesus who commissioned the expert in the law and commissions us to “Go and do likewise.”

Hymn:  MV# 178 Who is my Mother?

Offertory Statement
Let us be people who bear the fruit of eternal life:  loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and loving our neighbour as ourselves.  Love well and you will live.  Our offering will now be presented.

Offertory Hymn – MV#191 What Can I Do?
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.
Copyright 1988 Abington Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense #A723756 

Offertory Prayer
Bountiful God, your love bears the fruit of hope and grace; your ways lead to fullness of life.  May today’s offering bear fruit in our world, that your love may cause old hatreds to cease, old wounds to heal, and old divisions to mend.  Amen.

Minute for Mission – Inspiring Generations to Lead
Eunice Chianka felt a calling to preach and share the gift of education. Growing up, most of the religious leaders she knew were male ministers. When she had the opportunity to encounter female ministers, she felt inspired, and knew she wanted to inspire and empower other young girls in the same way.

“I always ask God: Do you really love us as women? I need to do my best as a woman to challenge the dominance of men,” Eunice says.

Coming from the United Methodist Church, Eunice is one of the students who received a scholarship from the United Church of Canada’s partnership with the United Theological Seminary in Zimbabwe. She shared that she wanted to “express her humble gratitude for this opportunity.”

When it comes to inspiring young women, Eunice shares a few words: “If I can do it, they can do the same,” she explains. “We have power. It’s the society at large that assumes we don’t take part, often we’re behind the scenes.”

The strength and determination of leaders such as Eunice inspires us all. Your Mission & Service gifts empower young women like Eunice as they grow to become leaders for the future. Thank you.

Prayers of the People – by Gord Dunbar (Gathering site)
Neighbours are often delightful, sometimes frightful, O God.
We want to embrace them, we want to love them, we want to be friends,
but sometimes the chasm seems too wide to bridge.

Yet, Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Sure, if we are on our own, known ground, that seems relatively easy.
If we are in common situations, even accompanying those and their loved ones who journey through the valley of the shadow of death, it seems at least like familiar companionship with our neighbour.

In fact, there is even some relatively comfortable familiarity when we journey with those who are wrestling with the usual realities of life. Then we can hope that through our prayers, that by lifting names into your heart, healing and hope will flourish, just as we do now in a period of silent prayer:
(a time of silent prayer)

But it gets tougher, Risen Christ, when we wrestle with being neighbours to others of us:
like those of us who are living with the devastating reality of addiction,
like those of us who are living with the stigmatized reality of psychological illness, like those of us who are living with the challenging mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual realities, ones in which we just don’t know what to say, how to act, or what to do.

Sometimes, we cross on the other side of the road to avoid embarrassment.
We feel helpless. We feel as if our actions will be insignificant in the midst of overwhelming situations.

And then we remember your gift in the Risen Christ,
the One who makes all things new, who makes all things possible.
Bless us all, our words, our actions, and what we have to offer, through the words Jesus gave us as we sing a version of The Lord’s Prayer (printed on the screen):

The Lord’s Prayer (Tune: Hyfrydol – VU #333):
God, Creator, in the heavens,
Holy is your glorious name.
May your kingdom be among us,
your will lived on earth, the same.

Give to each the food that’s needed,
sins forgiven, as we forgive.
Lead us not into temptation,
from all evil your people save!

Yours the kingdom, yours the power,
yours the glory, now and always.
May we sing this song forever,
in our nights and in our days.

Prayer and praise our lips are speaking,
hearts together, in one accord;
offering now our lives, our living,
you, Creator, God, adored.

Hymn: VU #593 Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love

Commissioning and Benediction
In the spirit of Christ, bear one another’s burdens; correct one another with gentleness; and heal one another with signs of peace.  Rejoice as you leave this place, for if you persevere in doing what is right, you will reap a harvest of joy, hope, and love.  Go with the peace of God.  Amen.

Choral Blessing– MV# 212 Sent Out in Jesus’ Name
Sent out in Jesus’ name, our hands are ready now
to make the world the place in which the kingdom comes.
Sent out in Jesus’ name, our hands are ready now
to make the world the place in which the kingdom comes.
The angels cannot change a world of hurt and pain
into a world of love, of justice and of peace.
The task is ours to do, to set it really free.
O, help us to obey, and carry out your will.
Copyright 1988 Abington Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense #A7237

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