Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather here, we take a moment to give thanks for the land on which we gather and to recognize how those who lived here long before our ancestors arrived, cared for that land and held it in sacred trust. So we offer our gratitude for this land which is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people.
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 allow that light shine through us in all that we do.
Call to Worship * adapted from material written by Thom Shuman
Here, in this time and in this place, God welcomes all the dreamers, as well as all the doubters:
Here, in this time and in this place, the worriers and wanderers can call on God by name.
Here, in this time and in this place, we can remember all the ways God has graced our lives with love and hope.
Here, in this time and in this place, we are reminded that God is with us, always!
And so we gather here, daring to step out of comfort into the unknown:
Here, in this time and in this place, we gather to worship our God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
God of Heaven and Earth, God of the sunrise and the sunset, God of the highest mountain and the deepest valley, hear us as we come before you today. In this time together we long to feel your love surrounding us and enveloping us in the mystery of your presence. Help us to set aside our worries and cares, our hopes, fears and expectations, so that we can truly open ourselves to experience your unexpected message for us. Disturb our comfort, rouse our curiosity, change us and move us as we seek to hear your call to us this day. Amen
Gift of Music When Heaven’s Bright With Mystery #93
Psalm 104 (selected verses)
Psalm 104 is a psalm of wonder and praise, focusing on the amazing and complex creation that is the earth upon which we live.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
In the opening lines of his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds his readers that faith in Jesus as the Christ does not actually make much sense. In many ways it seems foolish, but Paul also reminds us that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and … God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Not Everything Can Be Explained
Perhaps the most famous of all Disney characters is Mickey Mouse. Many people believe that Mickey was Disney’s first fully animated cartoon, but this is not true. In 1927 at the age of 26, just 4 years after having moved to California from Kansas City, Disney created a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Within a year, he made 26 of these Oswald cartoons, but when he tried to get some additional money from his distributor for a second year of the cartoons, he found out that the distributor had gone behind his back and signed up almost all of his animators, hoping to make the Oswald cartoons in his own studio for less money without Walt Disney. On rereading his contract, Disney realized that he did not own the rights to Oswald—the distributor did. It was a painful lesson for the young cartoonist, but from then on, he made sure that he owned everything that he made.
After the loss of Oswald, with the help of his chief animator Ub Iwerks, Disney came up with a new character, Mickey Mouse. They made two Mickey Mouse cartoons but were unable to sell them because they were silent films, and sound was now revolutionizing the movie industry. So, they made a third Mickey Mouse cartoon, this time with fully synchronized sound. That cartoon, released in November 1928, was Steamboat Willie, and a new star, Mickey Mouse, was born.
Disney released a number of Mickey Mouse cartoons, but it was not until the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in December of 1937 that Disney moved in full-length feature films.
Story has it that that same year, 1937, Disney had a chance encounter with Leopold Stokowski, a conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Disney pitched an idea for an animated short, pairing music with animation. Stokowski loved the idea and for about two months, the pair worked together to pick the perfect musical score. But instead of focusing on just a short cartoon, they ended up with enough music for an entire feature film and thus Fantasia was born.
Fantasia was intended to be much more than an animated film. It was to be a reserve-seat-only concert presentation. In order to ensure that the music would be the star, an innovative new sound system, called “Fantasound” was created, a full decade before stereophonic sound. It involved up to 33 different microphones places throughout the orchestra to record the music.
Fantasia was released on November 13, 1940, less than 9 months after Pinocchio. It was a complete disaster. Disney Studios took a major financial loss and Disney was pressured to abandon the expensive new sound system and to cut almost 40 minutes out of the film and release it as a double feature with a western.
Today Fantasia is recognized as a cinematic masterpiece far ahead of its time, but in 1940 that was not the case. With all the work that went into this film and with all the advances in cinematography that it is now recognized as having developed, it seems so unfair that, at the time, it should have been so overlooked.
But the truth is that, as I have often told my own children, life is not always fair. Just when it looks like everything is going great, something happens and things end up going painfully wrong.
The adversities and tragedies of life can seldom be predicted in advance and they can end up hitting us when we least expect it, in ways we cannot possibly prepare ourselves for. And this reality can end up cause us to ask is sheer desperation, “Why God, why?”
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there so much pain and suffering in our world? If there is a God and if God is good and loving and powerful, why does God allow these things to happen? Even Jesus seemed to ask this question from the cross when he cried out in pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
If we were to accept the premise that many people today seem to hold, that there is no God, that human life is essentially an accident without meaning or purpose, then the problem of suffering seems irrelevant. Why shouldn’t people suffer? There is nothing personal about the universe. What exists simply is. No explanation of its meaning is either possible or needed.
But for those of us who are unwilling to simply discard our religious convictions, we see too much divinity in life to call it hopeless or meaningless. We feel too much love and joy in life to call ourselves simply a cosmic accident. We are touched too deeply by the beauty of a rose or a symphony or a kind word from a faithful friend, not to see them as evidence of a loving creation.
And that is often why it is so hard for us to simply dismiss this question. If God truly exists and if God is good, loving and powerful, why do horrible things happen and why do people, often the best people we know, suffer?
One idea that we must immediately dismiss is the idea that God want us and causes us to suffer. Since the days of Job, there have always been those who will try to convince us that suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure. But as both of our scriptures this morning remind us, our understanding of the Divine is so limited by our human existence that we cannot possibly imagine an answer to our questions. However, if we are willing to open ourselves to the possibility, we just might be able to find, within tragedy and suffering, not a God of anger and condemnation, but a God who cares for and loves us deeply. And perhaps Disney’s Fantasia can help to illustrate this.
One of the factors that we must consider whenever we ask questions about suffering, is the gift of personal freedom and choice. Consider the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Set to the music of Paul Dukas, it was the initial idea around which Fantasia was developed.
The sorcerer’s apprentice, Mickey Mouse, is given the responsibility of hauling buckets of water from an outdoor fountain to fill an indoor reservoir. He is enthralled as he watches the sorcerer exercise magical powers and when the sorcerer leaves, Mickey, having a will of his own and the freedom to choose, decides to try on the hat and to attempt some magic of his own. He transforms a broom into a living thing and commands it to take over his water-hauling duties.
At first it seems to work perfectly and a very self-satisfied Mickey soon fall asleep and begins to dream of the god-like powers that may await him as he discovers his own magical abilities.
But his illusions of grandeur soon disappear when he wakes up to find himself waist-deep in water. Although the reservoir is now filled to overflowing the broom continues to bring in even more water. Mickey tries everything he can to magically stop the broom, but when all his efforts fail, he picks up an axe and chops the broom to pieces. To Mickey’s horror, each piece now becomes a new broom that continues to bring in more and more water.
Just as everything seems hopeless and it appears Mickey will drown, the sorcerer reappears. With one quick look around, he makes the water and the brooms immediately disappear. It turns out that his magic does not depend on his hat and Mickey sheepishly returns it before quietly resuming his duties.
Among God’s greatest gifts to us is the gift of freedom of choice. Each of us is given the choice to act according to our own desires rather than according to divine guidance. In order for us to have the freedom to choose what is right, we must also have the freedom to choose what is wrong and herein lies the cause of much of the world’s suffering.
But what about floods and earthquakes and cancer and pandemics and all the other kinds of tragedies that don’t seem to have any relation to human choice?
Let’s return to Fantasia and the segment based on Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. The Disney artists chose to use this music to depict the dawn of creation. We see the natural law of the universe at work. These laws nurtures life but they also destroy it. As the music begins, we see the solar system and move closer to the earth, where we see volcanoes erupting and sending rivers of lava into the sea.
Within the sea we find tiny one-celled creatures who begin to morph into more and more sophisticated life forms, producing fish, amphibians and eventually spilling out onto the surface of the land where we encounter dinosaurs. We see survival of the fittest demonstrated as a T-rex devours a stegosaurus.
The heat of the sun then begins to dry up the water sources. Plant life withers and dies and the dinosaurs die out as well. Suddenly there is an eclipse of the sun bringing about the dawn of a new era. The planet trembles and shakes as earthquakes create new mountains and valleys. Tidal waves wash over the earth watering it once more and the cycle of birth and death continues.
The universe is structured according to certain dependable natural laws, without which, life as we know it would be impossible. There are laws such as gravity, thermonuclear laws, physical laws, and laws of medical science. These laws cannot be broken, but the more we learn about them the more we are able to learn to use them for our own benefit. By studying the laws of nature, we have learned to harness energy, predict natural disasters and weather patterns, and even, despite the law of gravity, learned to fly. Medical research and genetic studies have even help to extend life and maintain health in ways never imagined even a generation ago.
Yet despite all the advances we have made in understanding and even circumventing these natural laws, some things still cannot be changed and this can often be the cause of great suffering. Yet in spite of the suffering, the reality is that without these dependable natural laws, life would not be possible.
The third great cause of human suffering that is demonstrated in Fantasia, is all about relationship. The music of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, known as the “Pastoral” Symphony, transports us to an idyllic Greek countryside populated by the creatures of Greek mythology. Here we see a variety of relationships develop. Mischievous fauns play together with friendly unicorns. A family of winged horses interact. A group of centaurs, male and female, fall in love and pair off with the help of some matchmaking cupids.
Soon Bacchus, the fun-loving god of the grape harvest and of wine making, arrives on the back of a one-horned donkey to preside over a harvest festival. But Zesu and Vulcan spoil the event with an electrical storm that sends all the creatures scurrying away for shelter. But even the storm demonstrates the importance of relationships as a centaur rescues a baby unicorn and a mother Pegasus shelters her young. Even Bacchus and his donkey look out for each other. As the storm ends, life returns and relationships are renewed.
Relationships are the source of great joy in our world but they are also the source of much suffering. The closer we are to someone else, the more we open ourselves us to feel their pain and to share their suffering. This is true of not only intimate relationships, but of all relationships, even the relationship we have with creation itself. When we allow ourselves to be a part of creation and when we allow ourselves to be part of the whole human family than whatever suffering is happening anywhere on our planet cannot help but touch our own lives.
It is in our relationships that life’s deepest meaning is found. The ability to enjoy laughter and time together, the feeling of being known and cared about by someone else and the ability to love are fundamental to human happiness.
But much of human suffering also comes from relationships. When those we care about suffer, we feel it and we suffer as well. When we care about someone who does not seem to care about us or who hurts or betrays us in some way we suffer. And sometimes we not only experience suffering but we cause suffering in the relationships we share, even when we have no intention of doing so or even when we are completely unaware that we have.
The final segment of Fantasia marries two radically different musical compositions. The first is Moussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” in which the Prince of Darkness, Chernobog of Slavic mythology, rises from Baud Mountain to summon demons and ghosts in a wild and frightening dance. The image of evil and demonic power feels almost overwhelming.
And then a church bell begins to ring and the music dissolves into Franz Schubert’s beautiful “Ave Maria”. Gradually the image of Chernobog fades away to once again become nothing more than a mountain. Demons and ghosts gradually return to where they came from and emerging form the fog we see a procession of figures carrying lights. As the procession slowly lights up the scene, the forest through which they moves take on the appearance of an beautiful outdoor cathedral. As the trees part we see the slow ascension of the sun into a gloriously coloured sky. Good overcomes evil and light overcomes dark.
But what do all these snippets from the movie Fantasia actually teach us? Well perhaps, when it comes to human suffering, we might just be asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “why” perhaps we should be asking “who”.
Who will feel my pain with me? Who will face the consequences of my choices with me? Who will help me carry life’s heaviest burdens? Who will love me enough to share all my suffering, to walk with me through the most difficult and troubling times of life, and who will finally turn all sorrows into eternal joy?
Paul tells us that, “The message about Christ’s death on the cross is nonsense to those who are lost; but for those who believe it is God’s power.” Who will be with us? God. In the end that’s what really matters. And perhaps when we trust the Who, the ‘why’ won’t matter so much. Amen.
Gift of Music God Help Us to Treasure MV#147
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. We may offer our gifts by placing them on our offering plates, by giving through PAR or through other ways of making donations. But, as always, we need to remember that our financial contributions are only one of the many things that we have to offer. We offer our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitments and our prayers. And so, whatever it is we offer today, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as your spirit has continued to touch and bless people throughout history, bless the gifts that we offer you today that through your spirit they may become a blessing to others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now, let us take a moment to remember all those named in our prayer jar, in our hearts and our thoughts this day … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine Mystery; as we gather here today the question of why is vividly real for many of us. Why were so many indigenous children buried in unmarked grave, far away for their homes and families? Why have we spent the last year and a half trying to deal with the repercussions of a world-wide pandemic? Why do wars and terrorism continue in a world where technology and communication continue to connect us ever more closely? Why do earthquakes, fires, floods and all kinds of other natural disasters continue to kill thousands of people each year? Why are so many people we know and love suffering for whatever reason?
When we ask why, Divine One, remind us that we are asking the wrong question.
Help us instead to remember that regardless of what is happening, you are with us to help and guide us through. You are with us to offer comfort and hope even in times that seem to overwhelm us.
Remind us also that there is another question we should also ask. What can we do to make things better? Help us to find the courage to stand up and speak out when the suffering we see around us could be prevented.
Where there is hatred and divisions, help us to work towards peaceful solutions … Where there is environmental abuse and degradation, help us to work towards an honoring of and stewardship of creation…
Where there is poverty, homelessness, hunger and despair, help us to work for equality and an equal sharing of earth’s resources…
Where there is pain and sorrow, help us to be understanding and to offer comfort and caring…
Divine One who cares for us, guides us, comforts us and loves us, help us to never forget to recognize and welcome your love for us and to share that love with others. Amen.
Closing Hymn Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise #264
None of us can ever know exactly what awaits us when we walk out of this building or when we walk the door of our own homes. But one thing we can be sure of. The Mystery that created us and continues to create is part of all that is. The One who opened to us an understanding of that Mystery through his life, teachings, death and resurrection, still leads us. And the Mystery that is with us, within us, and all around us, continues to share each step of our journey today and always. Go with God.