Sunday July 30, 2023
God in the Movies – Oh God!
Come all you people, come and praise your Maker (3X)
Come now and worship your God.
© 1986 World Council of churches. Used by permission
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” which Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) people first signed with the British Crown in 1725. By acknowledging this, we commit ourselves to live in Peace, Friendship and Respect.
Lighting the Christ Candle
The flame of the Christ Candle reflects the glow of Christ’s love. We commit ourselves to live in that light, sharing it with all those we meet, wherever we go.
Call to Worship
With what should we come before the Lord? What should we bring into the presence of our God, as an expression of our worship and praise?
Should we bring all that we own— our finest possessions, our life-savings,
our investments and property? Would God be satisfied if we brought everything we possess?
No, that’s not what God is looking for. God has told us what God wants and expects.
To do justice. To love kindness. And to walk humbly with our God.
So let us enter this time of worship with humility, love and justice.
Divine Mystery, your message to us has always been that our relationship with you is inextricably connected with how we treat others. Forgive us when we do not treat others with the kindness, respect and justice that all people deserve. Keep us kind even when the world seems cruel and selfish. Keep us just, even when life is so often unfair. Remind us of the respect and love with which Christ treated all people and strengthen our resolve to follow his example we pray. Amen.
Let’s Sing There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy #271
Our first Scripture reading comes from the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a book of advice, likely originally intended to be used to teach young people how to live the kind of life that would be pleasing to God. The passage we hear this morning stresses honesty and kindness as foundational to living a good life.
Proverbs 11:3-7, 17-19 (Contemporary English Version)
If you do the right thing, honesty will be your guide. But if you are crooked, you will be trapped by your own dishonesty. When God is angry, money won’t help you. Obeying God is the only way to be saved from death. If you are truly good, you will do right; if you are wicked, you will be destroyed by your own sin. Honesty can keep you safe, but if you can’t be trusted, you trap yourself. When the wicked die, their hopes die with them. Kindness is rewarded — but if you are cruel, you hurt yourself. Meanness gets you nowhere, but goodness is rewarded. Always do the right thing, and you will live; keep on doing wrong, and you will die.
Ephesians 4:25-32 (Good News Translation)
No more lying, then! Each of you must tell the truth to the other believer, because we are all members together in the body of Christ. If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day. Don’t give the Devil a chance. If you used to rob, you must stop robbing and start working, in order to earn an honest living for yourself and to be able to help the poor. Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.
And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free. Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.
We have one more reading this morning. It is the familiar words of the prophet Micah, who asks, What does the Lord require of you?
Micah 6:6-8 (New Revised Standard Version)
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?
Favorite Hymn Request When Hands Reach Out and Fingers Trace MV#136
God in the Movies –Oh God
When I was a teenager many, many years ago, I spent my summers as a camp counsellor. The director of the camp did a number of different guided meditations with the counsellors. In one of those meditations, he asked us to imagine we were climbing a steep cliff. Slowly we were able to get one hand over the top ledge. We were then asked to pull ourselves up. Just as we reached the top he told us to look up and we would see God. After the exercise, he asked us what we saw. One of the girls, rather sheepishly said, “I saw George Burns.”
Produced in 1977, Oh God, staring George Burns as a quirky, lovable, God, was one of, if not the first movie since The Green Pastures to depict God coming to earth and interacting with human beings. Unlike The Green Pastures however, the plot of Oh God is definitely not biblical.
God, in the form of George Burns, decides that a new prophet is needed to carry his message to the modern world. He selects Jerry Landers, a mild-mannered assistant supermarket manager played by John Denver. Although there does not appear to be anything extraordinary about Jerry, he seems to be a good and kind person.
When Jerry asks God why God has picked him, God replies, “You’re like the customer who’s the millionth person across the bridge and gets to shake hands with the governor. You’re better than some people, worse than others, but you came across the bridge at the right time.” At first Jerry tries to dismiss the whole thing as a bad joke. He even argues that he is not a religious man and does not belong to any church, to which God replies, “Neither do I!” But God becomes more and more difficult to ignore, even making it rain inside Jerry’s car when Jerry asks for proof that God is who he says he is. When Jerry asks God about his appearance, God replies, “If I appeared to you just as God, how I really am, what I really am, your mind couldn’t grasp it.”
Regardless of the reason, it is Jerry is chosen to carry God’s message to the world. And the message God wants to remind people of is a simple one: That things can turn out all right, although they will not necessarily or automatically do so. Jerry is to remind people that we have everything here on Earth that we need to bring a happy ending to our story. But it is up to us what we do with it.
Once Jerry is convinced that he truly has been chosen by God, he begins by telling his family then going to the religious editor of the Los Angeles Times. Things do not go as hoped, until Jerry is invited to appear on a television interview with Dinah Shore. This brings Jerry national recognition as an icon of hope for a select group of those that we would generally tend to classify as fanatics or religious nuts, but by far the majority of people think of him as a laughing stock or someone who is just seeking publicity.
As a result of the interview, a group of noted theologians attempt to discredit Jerry by challenging him to answer a series of questions that he could not possibly know the answer to on his own. Obviously, this was before Google! To make the task even more impossible for Jerry, the questions are all written in Aramaic and he is locked in a hotel room to insure he cannot receive help from anyone but God.
Eventually God appears, dress as a room service waiter and delivers not only food but the answers to all of the questions. When Jerry presents the answers to the group, one of the “noted theologians” insists that, despite having the right answers, Jerry is making the whole thing up. This charismatic preacher initially states no one can talk to God and then quickly back peddles to say that of course God has talked to him. God directed Jerry to take the answers to this man and tell him that God says he is a “phony”.
Jerry does this and ends up being sued for slander. Jerry decides to defend himself in court. He argues that if God’s existence is a reasonable possibility, then God could materialize and sit in the witness chair if he chose. When God fails to appear, the judge threatens to charge Jerry with contempt. Jerry argues that when he raised the mere possibility of God making a personal appearance in the courtroom everyone, including the judge, started looking around and waiting to see what would happen when. Surely, Jerry insists, this proves at least reasonable doubt as to his guilt.
At that moment, without opening the doors, God appears and asks to be sworn in. After swearing to tell the truth, “So help me, Me.” God proceeds to prove his identity when he leaves the stand, walks a few steps and, with everyone watching, literally disappears before their eyes. His disembodied voice then issues these parting words of wisdom: “It can work. If you find it hard to believe in Me, maybe it will help to know that I believe in you”. Jerry’s case is eventually dismissed, but Jerry has lost his job and very few people seem to believe his story. Most consider him either a fraud or completely insane.
Sometime later, Jerry meets God again. Jerry apologies for having failed, but God compares him to Johnny Appleseed, saying Jerry was given the very best seeds and they will take root. As God gets ready to leave Jerry asks what he should do if he needs to talk with God again. God replies, “I’ll tell you what, you talk. I’ll listen”. With these final words God disappears.
This movie is, of course a comedy, and John Denver plays straight man to many of Burns’s best one-liners. When asked about the world being created in six days, God responds, “To tell you the truth, I spent the first five days thinking and created everything on the sixth.”
And this God is far from the perfect omnipotent being we so often imagine. God, in the form of George Burns lists off some of his biggest mistakes: tobacco, “that was a real mistake”, ostriches, “silly looking things”, avocados, “I made the seeds too big” or my personal favorite which is actually from Oh God, Book Two, “You think I’m perfect, look at the flamingo. I put the kneecaps on backwards!”
But despite its humour, this movie does have a very serious message. It is the message that Jerry is given at the beginning of the movie. God set the world up so that everything could work. But it’s up to us whether it does or not. We can’t look to God to do everything for us.
As you can imagine, in 1977 not everyone found the image of George Burns as God appealing or even mildly acceptable. When asked about the film Pastor Peter Richard Hartford replied, ” Any good Christian knows that no one has seen God at any time and that it is written in the Bible: ‘My ways are not your ways.’ “
Yet for many people this movie opened up the question, “If God could appear in a small first century village as the son of a carpenter, why could God not appear as a quirky senior citizen with a great sense of humour and a profound wisdom about life?”
Or perhaps we can look at this film as a parable. Jesus often taught in parables. Why do we insist that God’s word can only be heard as “truth” which is usually interpreted as factual truth. why is it that we so often have trouble hearing God’s message to us through stories other than those in the Bible? Just because a song, a story, a book or a movie is man-made, does that mean that it cannot be inspired by God just as much as any of the books that we refer to as scripture?
If it is possible for God to speak through story, then what is God’s message for us in the movie Oh God?
Well, I think the answer, as George Burns puts it in the movie, is simple. Our world can work. God created the world in perfect balance. We are the ones that have thrown it out of balance. But it is possible for us to get that balance back. The problem is that it will take all of us, working together to bring that balance about.
And this is where the problem lies. All too often people simple pray for God to fix things, but they are not willing to do what they need to do in order to answer their own prayers. But this movie clearly suggests that God is not going to step in and fix things. It is up to us.
Now I’m certainly not saying it’s easy. It would take a huge commitment, not only as individuals, but as a society and as a world. The United Church of Canada has set a goal of reducing its emissions by 80% by 2030. It is an ambitious goal, and it will take a great deal of effort and a great deal of monetary investment to reach this goal.
But what about our own personal commitments? How much are we willing to invest in our own effort and monetary resources to decrease our own carbon footprints? Are there things we can do right now and are there things we can commit to doing by 2030? I am working on getting a heat pump installed in my own home and I have made a commitment that the next car I buy, whenever that is, will be electric.
But climate change is only one of the things that is out of balance in our world. Wars over power, land and religion continue to rock our world every day. Greed, discrimination, lust for power, inequality, and so many other factors have divided our world into haves and have nots, into the powerful and the powerless, into the wealthy and the destitute.
None of us alone can solve all the world’s problems and feeling guilty that we can’t do it all, achieves nothing. But perhaps, if we, like Johnny Appleseed, do our part to spread the message that our world can work and that God care whether it does or not, we can make a difference. That’s all God (George Burns) asked of Jerry (John Denver) and it is all that God asks of us. So how will we respond? Are we up to the task? Amen
Let’s Sing What Does the Lord Require of You #701
We Offer Our Gifts
None of us can solve all the problems of our world or of our church. But we can each do our part. Here at Beacon, we do not pass the offering plates but instead ask that, if you wish to support the work of this church financially, you place your gift on the offering plates in the entryway either on your way in or on your way out. You can also donate online or make arrangement to donate through pre-authorized remittance. So, whatever gifts 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
Your presence in our lives transforms us, Divine One. We dedicate these gifts to you in the hope that, through them, new transformation may happen. Amen
We Offer Our Prayers
As we offer our gifts, we also offer our prayers. Let us take a moment of silence to offer our own personal prayers for all those whose names have been placed in our prayer jar and all those who are on our own hearts and minds this day … Amen
Minute for Mission
Lindsay Vautour, the United Church’s Engagement and Stewardship Associate, started attending a United Church camp at the tender age of five. There, she not only met lifelong friends and gained job skills as a counsellor, but it also helped chart her course to eventually work for The United Church of Canada.
“Coming from a financially tight background, I’m extremely grateful for the assistance available that let my brother and me attend camp every summer. I met so many different people from different cultures and regions, and got to learn their journeys in faith. I still keep in contact with some camp friends over 20 years later,” she says.
“One of my most prominent memories was with a fellow 13-year-old camper who told me that she loved camp because she could be herself without any expectations. She said, ‘I’m not the weird kid or the foster kid here, I’m just me,’” she recounts. “That’s something I resonate with because I wasn’t particularly popular in school, but popularity never mattered at camp, and it’s beautiful to know that that’s a widely shared perception.”
Children come together at United Church camps across Canada to learn the gospel in a safe and supportive environment. Through campfire stories, hiking, music, canoeing, and so much more, campers gain confidence while enjoying unique activities and exploring their curiosity. At camp kids learn soft skills like self-confidence, patience, and organization as well as hard skills in sports, crafting, and music.
Without the generosity of supporters, children who attend camp wouldn’t be able to continue having such affirming and defining experiences. Your gifts through Mission and Service are deeply appreciated.
Prayers of the People
Divine Hope, sometimes when we look at the world around us it is very easy to become discouraged. We want to help but so often become discouraged when the problems are so immense and so complicated. Help us to not only commit ourselves to live for the common good but to have the wisdom to know what truly is the common good. Help us to see past the hype and sensationalism that is so prevalent in our society to recognize the true heart of issues.
Help us to be part of mending the wounds and injustices of our society rather than contributing to them. Help us to reach out to all those that our society considers misfits and outcasts, the homeless and the alcoholic, the drug addict and the mentally ill, the immigrant, the stranger and all those who are “different”. We thank you for all those who tend the sick and injured, all those who work to help provide the essentials for the most vulnerable in our society and all those who try to right wrongs by changing unjust attitudes and laws.
Help us to live out your reconciling grace so that we might help to bridge the gap between city and country, employed and the unemployed, the wealthy and the impoverished, indigenous peoples and recent immigrants, the political right and political left, and between the powerful and the weak.
Divine Love, through Christ who strengthens us and whose example leads us, help us to recommit ourselves to making this country and this world a place where grace, mercy and peace are not a distant hope, but living reality. Amen
Let’s Sing May the God of Hope Go with Us #424
None of us can do everything, but we can each do our own part. And so we go out from here committed to do all we can to follow the way of Christ and to demonstrate for all those we meet the love, hope, justice and peace of the Divine Mystery we call God. But we always remember that we do not go alone. We share this journey with all those around us, following the example of Christ and walking with the Spirit each and every day. God 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.
© 1975Lillenas Publishing Company used with permission OneLicense #A723756