Beacon United Church – June 12, 2022
Welcome & Announcements
Lighting the Christ Candle –
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
We light this candle to remind us that the light of Christ shines through us. Help us spread this light and the spirit of Pentecost to all we encounter.
Statement of Reconciliation:
For thousands of years, first Nations people have walked on this land. Their relationship with the land is at the centre of their lives and spirituality. We are gathered on the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq and acknowledge their stewardship of this land throughout the ages.
Acknowledging the territory where we gather and the people who have traditionally called it home for thousands of years is a way to continue to live out the United Church’s Apologies to the First Peoples of North America. It is one way the church can work toward right relations, and move towards becoming the community that God calls us to be together. Let us reflect on what this relationship means to us as individuals and as a church.
Passing the Peace: Peace, Salaam, Shalom
Call to Worship
To celebrate 97 years is to celebrate a long life:
97 years of hard work, prayerful worship, and thoughtful learning;
97 years of calling the church, the country, the world to change and grow;
97 years of seeking justice in chaotic times and struggling to hear God’s voice in a deafening world.
To celebrate 97 years is to celebrate a long life:
but not for a church. We are still young. We are just beginning.
We have only caught a glimpse of what the Spirit is calling us to be.
As we celebrate our past,
Let us ask for wisdom, faith, and guidance; as we walk this road together.
(Written Nora Vedress. Gathering, Pentecost 1 2015, page 78. Used with permission.)
God, it is indeed a privilege to worship you today in this place where your people have gathered for so many years. Like us, they faced challenges and difficulties. They laughed, they cried, and they ate together. One of the biggest changes and challenges they faced was in deciding to join with others to form The United Church of Canada, which was inaugurated 97 years ago. May we, like them find the courage to face uncertainty, the faith to trust a new vision, and the assurance in your unfailing support and love. In Jesus’ name and for his sake, we pray. Amen.
(Written Catherine Tovell. Gathering, Pentecost 1 2022, page 32. Used with permission.)
Hymn – VU#389 God is Here
Prayer of Confession
As we gather this morning, O God, we have a song of celebration to sing. Over 100 years ago, our ancestors had a vision that burned in them with your passion. A new denomination came to life. We became a model for the world of what working and worshipping together could be. So, as we gather once again, touch our hearts with love, ignite our spirits with passion, and attune all our actions to your will. Merciful God, we confess that on occasions such as anniversaries, it is so much easier to look back rather than to look forward. It is also easier to look back and remember only the good times. We are often fearful of what you are calling us to do and be in this time. We appreciate the work of our ancestors but sometimes forget the cost, the sacrifice, and the hard work, that brought this denomination to where it is today. We forget painful mistakes made by our denomination, which still require vision, healing, and reconciliation. Forgive us, God, and help us to look forward and to work forward, knowing that the same Spirit that enabled past generations enables us. Amen.
Words of Assurance:
God calls. God transforms. God encourages. God unites. God forgives.
Praise and thanks be to God.
Regional Council 15 Report – Shelley Melanson
The New Creed – (VU p.918)
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
Introduction to Scripture:
Last week, we celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the church and today we are celebrating the 97th anniversary of the United Church of Canada. The scriptures this morning relate to building and rebuilding the church.
Prayer of Illumination
Revealing God, your message comes to us in words that have been passed down for millennia. Yet we hear them as ever fresh and new. Help us reflect on them through the lens of both history and contemporary experience. May they guide, inspire, and provoke. We pray in the name of the ever-living Christ. Amen.
(Written by Laura J. Turnbull. Gathering Lent/Easter 2022 p.48 Used with permission.)
Hebrew Scripture: Nehemiah 2: 17-20
Introduction: Nehemiah feels called to rebuild the city of his ancestors, Jerusalem. He says that God put the idea into his heart and previous to this passage, Nehemiah has gone to the King for his blessing. He has staked out what needs to be done and at the beginning of this passage he is rallying the troops to help him.
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
Responsive Reading: Psalm 132 (VU p. 854-855 – Parts 1 and 2)
Introduction: This psalm tells of David finding a house for God. David will not rest until he finds a dwelling place for God. The psalm goes on to describe the ideal house of God.
Refrain: Arise, O God, make this the place wherein your name shall dwell.
Part One (1 -12)
O God, remember David and all the hardships he endured.
how he swore an oath to you,
a promise to the Mighty One of Jacob.
“I will not enter my house, nor will I climb into my bed,
I will not give sleep to my eyes, not even let my eyelids droop
until I find a place for God,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” R
At Ephrathah we heard God’s ark was there,
we found it in the region of Jaar.
“Let us approach the place where the Most High rests,
let us kneel in worship at God’s footstool”
Arise, O God, and enter your resting place,
you and your mighty ark.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness;
let your faithful people shout for joy. R
For your servant David’s sake, do not reject your Anointed.
You made a sure promise to David,
a promise that will never be revoked:
“One of your own children I will set upon your throne.
And if they in turn keep my covenant,
the teaching that I give them,
their descendants too shall sit on your throne
in succession for ever.”
Part Two (13-18)
God has chosen Zion, God desired it for a home:
“Here I will rest for ever;
here I will dwell, for it is my delight. R
I will bless the city with abundant food,
and satisfy its poor with bread.
I will clothe its priests with salvation;
its faithful people will rejoice and sing.
There I will make a branch sprout for David;
I will prepare a lamp for my Anointed.
His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but on his head the crown will sparkle.” R
Christian Scripture: Acts 11: 19-26
Introduction: After the stoning and death of Stephen, disciples of Jesus, fearing persecution scattered far and wide. They would only preach to Jews though. This passage tells of spreading the message to the Greeks and how Barnabas and Saul started the Christian church.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So, for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
John 17: 1-2, 6, 17-23
Introduction: After Jesus predicted his death to his disciples, he prayed. The following reading contains excerpts from his prayer for his disciples. Particularly significant to us today is the wish “that all may be one.” This is the motto of the United Church of Canada and is on our United Church crest (in Latin).
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Reflection: Keep it Alive!
When my children were small, we attended church on Pentecost Sunday, with my parents at my home church in Dartmouth. The minister blew up a red balloon and then challenged the congregation to keep it in the air as it was batted throughout the sanctuary. He said that whenever the balloon came close to you, you had to keep it from touching the floor by batting it and saying, “Keep it alive!” Some people were very hesitant and lightly touched it, others gave it a hearty swat and others rose from their seats, sometimes dive-bombing to keep that balloon off the floor. Some quietly muttered, “Keep it alive!” while others yelled, “Keep it alive!” It was something that my children never forgot. Every time we had a balloon in the house, they would start batting it around and yelling, “Keep it alive!” Red is the liturgical colour of Pentecost and the balloon symbolized the wind and breath of the Holy Spirit. The chant “Keep it Alive!” was urging us to keep the Spirit alive in the church and in our lives.
Last week we celebrated Pentecost. Pentecost is celebrated on a Sunday 50 days after Easter. It was not a national holiday nor could you find a Hallmark card for the occasion, however, it is significant in the life of the church. Even in the life of the church, it doesn’t get the attention that Christmas or Easter gets. We often refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the church. Jesus promised a companion to the disciples before he died and the Holy Spirit arrived on Pentecost – not to the small group of disciples but to the broader church – a mixture of people of various nationalities.
During Jesus’ ministry, we know that he could be crystal clear or very vague. There are many examples when Jesus taught in parables or answered questions with questions. And yet there were times when he was direct and clear – for example ‘Love one another’. The Holy Spirit continues this experience in our lives. The Holy Spirit is both known and mysterious. The Spirit offers comfort and confidence but can also challenge us and make us wonder. It is no wonder that what we refer to as the Triune God – God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is often referred to as Holy Mystery. As much as we read, study, listen and learn, there is still so much that we cannot comprehend.
We are now in the Season of Pentecost. It is a time of renewal for the ongoing work of receiving the Holy Spirit’s empowerment in our lives. We are empowered to do the hard, challenging and often uncomfortable work of sharing God’s message of hope to all people. If we think of the Holy Spirit as wind, as is it often described, we can picture a gentle breeze or a hurricane or anything in between. Wind can be suggestive and soothingly calm but it can also be forceful and landscape-altering. Wind can cause damage to human structures that get in the way of the wind. During Pentecost, when we celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we recognize the calm breezes when the Holy Spirit gently guides us. We also recognize times when the Holy Spirit is a bit more forceful. When we feel hurricane strength urgings from the Holy Spirit, it may be time to look at the relationship between our human structures and the Holy Spirit. Is it possible that our human church structures, either buildings, governance models, or rules are obstructing the Holy Spirit?
Last week on June 10, The United Church of Canada celebrated its 97th anniversary as a denomination. Many years before 1925, the Holy Spirit began to blow through several denominations and discuss a way to come together. Actually, all through history, God has worked through our ancestors to build the church. In the Hebrew scripture selection read this morning, Nehemiah feels called to rebuild the city of his ancestors, Jerusalem. He says that God put the idea into his heart. He inspired those around him with the words, “Let us arise and build.” When Nehemiah was jeered at for doing so, he repeated, “…we his servants will arise and build….” Even though we have a church that has existed for many generations, we are still being called to arise and build. In the Psalms, David wants to build a house for God. In the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament, ideas of housing God often included grandeur and extravagance. In the New Testament, Jesus teaches a more humble and simpler view. At our Regional Council 15 Annual Meeting two weeks ago, the opening worship included a video of a children’s choir singing, “I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.” It was a delightful reminder that the church is really that simple. As Jesus said, the church is “wherever two or three are gathered in my name.”
The story of Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit was about bringing people together as one with each other and with God and Jesus. The people at the Pentecostal gathering were able to hear the message of God’s love in their own language. When Jesus prayed just before he was arrested, he said to God, “I pray for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one.” Jesus desired that all may be one with each other and with God. He wanted people to experience the same relationship that he had with God, his Heavenly Parent. The prayer, “That all may be one,” or in Latin, “Ut omnes unum sint,” is printed on The United Church of Canada’s crest symbolizing the coming together of many denominations to form one denomination. It is also a reminder for us to live as one in God.
The people who were at that Pentecost experience, felt the Holy Spirit enabling or empowering them to tell the stories in their own languages. Our reading from Acts this morning, tells how the disciples spread out following the stoning of Stephen and preached the gospel to the Jews and eventually to the Greeks. Barnabas and Saul met together with people in Antioch for a year and this is the first time that we hear the term “Christian” being used. The disciples spread out and told their stories. How is the Holy Spirit enabling or empowering us to tell those stories? What stories are we telling? A few weeks ago, I read an interview by the Rt. Rev. Richard Bott, Moderator of the United Church of Canada in Broadview magazine. As General Council commissioners are preparing to elect a new Moderator, Richard Bott was interviewed about his term ending. His term has been characterized by a new governance structure coming into being changing the church from a four level governance system to three levels; a pandemic which caused many communities of faith and committees within the wider church to look at different models of delivery and service; the realities of residential schools and the Indigenous Church wanting to govern themselves within the United Church of Canada but with their own governance systems and beliefs; as well as, the realities of racism within our denomination brought forward at the end of General Council 43, the efforts towards becoming an anti-Racist church and the racist and offensive statements made several times through the meeting of the 44th General Council this spring. This has not been an easy atmosphere in which to lead. He reflected on the words that he spoke in his campaign speech at the 43rd General Council. Steen and I were commissioners in Oshawa, at the time and I remember him saying that we need to get rid of the narrative or the story that the church is dying. In the interview in Broadview, he talks about the many ways in which the church is alive and is thriving.
Two weeks ago, as mentioned previously, the Annual Meeting of Regional Council 15 was held. The Regional Council is made up of all ministers in the Region as well as representatives from each community of faith or congregation. We met online again this year. The theme of the meeting was ‘We are Not Alone: Reimagining Community.’ As a member of the Annual Meeting Planning Committee, we chose the theme to recognize the new realities that congregations are facing, not only due to the pandemic, but also societal trends. The community that we are used to being a part of (for most of us, our local congregation) is changing. We are being called to reimagine the communities that we are a part of and the communities which we serve and in general, how we ‘do’ church. For many congregations, their communities include virtual access and people, not previously associated with their church, are tuning into church services from the local community but also from anywhere in the world. We also wanted people to know that they are not alone in this new reality.
Our guest speaker was Dr. Anna Robbins, President of Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. She started out by saying that we need to reckon with who we think we were in the past. Nostalgia means a longing to return home. She pointed out that it is often a longing for a home or a place that never existed. We often have a romance with our own fantasies about what the past was like and tend to only tell our best stories. She talked about a road that she used to travel as a child to visit her grandparents, from St. John to St. Stephen, New Brunswick. It is now referred to as the ‘old, old road’ as two newer roads have been built since then. She said the fantasy was that people would still continue to travel the old road or even the old, old road and that they would support businesses there. The reality is that the new road is the one that we have. As a church, she says, it’s time to realize that we are on the new road. It is under construction but we need to acquaint ourselves with its twists and turns, bumps and potholes. We can try to go back to the old, old road, but things will not be the same. She said we need to be ready for the dramatic makeover of our road.
She also made the statement that people are becoming tired of God. Like the Israelites wandering in the desert, we are journeying in the wilderness with God. God provided manna for the Israelites, but they soon grew tired of it. We need to be looking for the new things that God is doing in our lives and in the world. She said that today we need adaptive leaders, people who will adapt to the environment around them instead of technical people who identify problems as they arise and then work to fix them. We need people who can look at the whole picture. Society, as a whole, is learning to live without God. There is a malaise towards God and God has become dispensable in many people’s lives. She pondered if they were actually tired of God or if they were tired of the church’s portrayal of God. Many people these days feel that there is no purpose or meaning in life. The philosophical concept of existentialism has promoted existence before essence. Some feel that our lives are determined ahead of time and this theory of determinism seems to becoming increasingly popular. This is evidenced in the popularity of the television series ‘Finding Your Roots’ or the interest in discovering your DNA through Ancestry.com or 23 and Me. How does this give people meaning? Dr. Anna Robbins said that we distract ourselves by turning to our own fulfilment. We replenish our body and mind through meditation or yoga. We have become very good as a society in providing for ourselves. We tend to keep God for the big things like serious illness or natural disasters. Because many have not had God as a constant in their lives, they are left feeling empty when they call on God during times of crisis and do not get the answer they expect or want. She also pointed out that in today’s society, many people fill the gap of not being in relationship with the Divine with consumerism.
Dr. Robbins said that as a church, we have become used to pushing the boulder up a ramp, only to let it roll down again and have to push it up again. This becomes a fruitless exercise. Communities of faith need to get used to being on the new road and doing things in a new way. We need to be adaptive and get out of our traditional structures and form communities around where the people are. This will require strategic planning by looking ahead 5-10 years at what we want to accomplish. Here at Beacon, we have begun the process of Strategic Planning by looking at our own structures and connecting more with the community. These ideas will only be effective if we are willing to put the time and the energy into making them happen. Our creed tells us, ‘We are not alone’. God gives us opportunities all the time for us to discover who we are.
Think back to that red balloon being batted about. It’s important that if you think that the church is dying or even if you think it is thriving, to look for signs of life and vitality and to do everything you can from keeping that balloon from hitting the floor. A gentle pat and a half-hearted yell may save it but sometimes it may require a dive-bomb from out of your comfortable seat and a hearty yell, “Keep it alive!” Like Nehemiah, David, Saul and Barnabas, let us arise and build so that everyone in our world can hear the good news that Jesus preaches in their own languages and then maybe Jesus’ wish that ‘all may be one with each other and in God’, will come true. Amen.
Hymn – #198: Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us
Offertory Statement –
God made the world as a rich dwelling place and gave us stewardship over it. As God is mindful of us and of our needs, let us now be mindful of our obligation to the needs of others, through our generosity and responsibility for God’s gifts. Our offering will now be received.
Offertory – MV#191
What can I do? What can I bring?
What can I say? What sing?
I’ll sing with joy. I’ll say a prayer.
I’ll bring my best. I’ll do my share.
God of deep grace, with gratitude we honour the 97th birthday of this United Church of Canada. Bless these offerings brought today and the heritage of faithful ministry they equip here in Yarmouth County and far beyond. Direct the vibrant Mission and Service. Bless our church in its future, with your deep grace, strong lead for justice, and sensitive care for one another. In the name of our Saviour Jesus, we pray and serve. Amen.
(Written by Elaine Bidgood Sveet. Gathering, Pentecost 1 2015, page 81. Used with permission.)
Silent Prayers for those named in the Prayer Jar
Minute for Mission – Transportation is Key to Improving Lives
Gill visited Mission & Service partner Our Place Society for her meals every day. At one community meal, she met an outreach worker and inquired about making a meaningful change in her life. But making the changes she needed meant accessing programs in parts of the city she couldn’t easily get to without a bus pass.
Too often, lack of transportation is a significant barrier that prevents people from accessing the support they need. It’s hard to keep appointments, go to school, or visit family and friends with no way to travel. High gas prices, the cost of a vehicle, availability of public transit, as well as a system that reaches job-rich areas are barriers to creating a better life.
In a recent study, Jeff Allen and Steven Farber, geographers at the University of Toronto, report that in Canada’s eight largest cities, 5 percent of the total population are living in low-income households that are also situated in areas with low transit accessibility. “This totals nearly one million people who are at risk of transport poverty nation-wide,” they write.
What does it mean to not have adequate transportation? Farber told University of Toronto News it’s a mix of disadvantages: socioeconomic status (low income, ill health, being a recent immigrant or elderly) and a lack of access to transportation (being unable to afford a car or to reach destinations easily by transit, for example).
“The time is right for a national accounting of those living in transport poverty and the development of a national transport and land use strategy.”
Mission and Service partners working on the ground to alleviate poverty regularly help people access transportation so they can improve their lives. The bus pass project that provided Gill with passes she needed to keep life-changing appointments was supported through the United Church’s Gifts with Vision catalogue. Thank you for your generosity.
Invitation to Prayer: VU#381 Spirit of Life
Prayers of the People
Roots hold us close. Thank you, God, for the roots we have inherited.
Roots in families and communities. Roots in this community of faith that run deep and cross many sources. Roots that come from our Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Evangelical United Brethren, and First Nations heritage. Complex roots, interwoven roots, roots of compassion and caring, hospitality and justice. Roots that both complement and confuse at times. Thank you, God, for the firm foundations that keep us rooted.
Sometimes, God, foundations don’t seem very firm at all. They are questioned and probed. We begin to wonder about the future, to worry about tomorrow, to become anxious over what may never be. Sometimes, roots can strangle rather than hold us steady. Help us remember the gifts we have inherited, the great cloud of witnesses who daily surround us, the cost of discipleship, the joy of servant leadership.
Roots hold us close and wings set us free. The forgiveness, love, and grace we receive from being held close give us courage to stretch our wings, to risk in love for the sake of the Spirit of Life. May those wings wrap around the new challenges that face us as a community. May they bring new hope and vitality to our community and its people and to the world we are called to serve. May those wings stretch far beyond our doors and our shores to wrap around all those who strive for peace and justice. May the Spirit of Life, who comes to us, come alive in these words we pray, as we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us:
The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Hymn – VU#601: The Church of Christ in Every Age
Commissioning and Benediction –
As you leave this church, the breath of the Spirit goes with you, calling on you to use your talents wisely, showing you the opportunities for friendship and sharing, reminding you that forgiveness is possible, and giving you the strength to face each new day with hope. The breath of the Spirit goes with you; its inspiration will never leave you.
(Written by David Sparks. Gathering, Pentecost 1 2022 page 29. Used with permission.)