Acknowledging the Territory
Wherever we are in this wonderful province of Nova Scotia, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour the traditions and spirituality of all our indigenous brothers and sisters throughout this great land.
Time of Quiet Centering
As we prepare to worship together, let us take a moment of silence to prepare ourselves to enter this sacred time. Allow the care and concerns that you have brought with you this morning to be set aside, and allow the calm and the peace of gathering in the presence of the Divine, to wash over you.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ candle this morning, we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ. And we commit ourselves to taking that light with us and sharing it with everyone we meet.
Call to Worship
We gather here this morning to settle into the comfortable rituals and familiar patterns of worship at a time when so many of the things that are comfortable and familiar to us are not possible.
We gather distanced from one another through the gift of technology.
Yet even as we distance ourselves from one another, we recognize that there is one who connects us,
We recognize that there is one who is a close to us as our own breath and our own heartbeat.
And so, as we gather here today, we join with one another and with all of creation as we worship the One who unites us and makes us one.
When I came across this opening prayer, I immediately thought it had been written during this time of Covid. I soon realized however that it was actually written before 2005. But the words offered by Bill Steadman seem so appropriate for what is happening right now. So please join me in our opening prayer.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
*written by Bill Steadman Gathering Lent/Easter/Pentecost 2005 page 37 Used with permission.
We live in times of uncertainty, God and so we are filled with so many questions: Questions about the meaning and purpose of life; Questions about the future of the world; Questions about the ways in which our leaders govern; Questions about the value of faith in the face of warfare and hatred, heartache and despair. We are here because we cannot live alone. We are here seeking a renewed sense of your spirit within us, around us, and among us. Lead us to the light of your truth, and the hope of the ages, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Gift of Music All People Who on Earth Do Dwell #822
The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the followers of Jesus continued to spread the gospel after his death. Most of the stories contained in Acts focus on Peter and on Paul. But today we hear the story of the ministry of Phillip and how he spreads the Good News to an Ethiopian official whom he also baptizes.
Although Psalm 22 begins with words of deep lament, the section we read today focuses exclusively on praise and adoration of God and on the importance of telling other about God.
1 John 3:16-24
The first letter of John focuses a great deal on love and on what love is. It contains the familiar passage “God is Love”, but the section we hear this morning talks about love in its practical form, “our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action”.
Our gospel reading contains the familiar image of Jesus as the vine to which we, as the branches, must cling. It also includes the image of God as the gardener who tends to both the vine and the branches, taking care of all.
Learning in Community
The story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian is at least somewhat familiar to most people who attend church regularly, but the story always seems to get lost when the lectionary readings also include the story of the vine and the branches. However, there is a great deal in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian that we don’t always think about and there are some interesting lessons that we can learn from this story.
First, it is clear that this Ethiopian was a man of great status and influence. He was not only literate but he apparently owned at least one scroll, something that, at the time, would have been very expensive. We are also told that he had travelled to Jerusalem to worship and that he was now returning home in his own carriage. Both these things would indicate that he was a man of some wealth who also had the ability to take time away from work to travel.
We are told that he was, “an important official in charge of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia”. This, along with the fact that he is referred to as a eunuch would suggest that he is someone who has close and frequent contact with the queen herself. Male servant, were often castrated to ensure that there would be no chance of them having sexual relations with the queen or with any of the palace harem. It also insured that they would not try to overthrow the king and set up their own dynasty since they would have no sons to pass the dynasty on to. For these reasons, it is likely that this man was a close and trusted member of the royal household.
The other thing that we can know with relative certainty is that this man was a convert to the Jewish faith. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and he was reading from the scroll of Isaiah. However, he was probably not raised in a Jewish household since, if that were the case, he would have been taught to understand the traditional meaning of the scroll of Isaiah as a child and would therefore, probably not have asked Philip to explain it.
Meanwhile Philip, who was one of the first disciples of Jesus, heard the spirit calling him to take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. It was here that he encountered the Ethiopian. As he walked along, Philip heard the Ethiopian reading from the scroll and was moved to ask, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
Now the Ethiopian’s answer may seem very simple and straight-forward, but if we stop to think about what is being said, it can actually tell us a lot. “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?”
Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t need to go to church because I read the Bible at home every day.”? They may indeed read the Bible, but I can’t help but wonder how deeply they are actually reading. I would love to respond to them with the question that the Ethiopian asks Philip. How can any of us understand what the scriptures are telling us unless someone explains it? If we know nothing of the time or circumstances under which a passage was written, if we read only from our modern, fact-based understanding of the written word, how can we draw out from it meaning that is relevant for us today?
If we actually look at the stories in our Bible about times when scripture was read in public, they are almost always followed by a time of teaching and discussion. From the very first time that we are told of Jesus going to the temple at the age 12, we are told that he not only listened to the scriptures being read, but he also asked questions and discussed the scriptures with the rabbis. We are told that when he was asked to read scripture in the synagogue in Nazareth, he finished reading and then sat down to teach. Jesus is often quoted asking people it they understand the scriptures. When he taught using parables, he took the time later to explain them to his disciples because they did not understand.
And Jesus was not starting something new by doing this. It was the tradition in the synagogue for the rabbi to read a passage of scripture and then sit down and discuss its meaning with all those gathered there. Despite what we sometime appear to think, scripture was never intended to be read and understood in isolation. It has always been read and interpreted in community.
So, when the Ethiopian invited Philip to join him in his carriage and explain the scriptures that he had been reading, this was not something that was extraordinarily rare. It would have been a very normal invitation to anyone who heard the scriptures and wanted to take part in discussing them.
It is interesting to note that the scripture tells us that when the Ethiopian askes Philip who Isaiah is talking about in the scripture he has been reading. It does not say, however, that Philip told him the scripture is referring to Jesus. Instead, what we are told is that, “starting from this passage of scripture, [Philip] told him the Good News about Jesus.”
It is not about having one answer and only one answer to every question. It is about a conversation. It is about a discussion and an interaction, a sharing of ideas and understanding. It’s not enough to set out a series of facts or to explain things from one specific point of view, there has to be some sort of connection for the conversation to become something more than a lecture. It is about learning in community.
For the Ethiopian and Philip, the result of their interaction was that the Ethiopian felt moved to commit himself to following the way of Jesus and requested that Philip baptize him. The conversation and the interaction had changed him. But I am sure that it also changed Philip.
Any time that we truly connect with another person, when we are willing to honestly share our thoughts and ideas and when we are willing to listen deeply to the thoughts and ideas of another, when we are willing to search for answers and figure things out together, the experience will change both of those involved. It doesn’t mean that the two will always come to the same conclusion. And it may mean accepting that there may not always be one and only one right answer. But it is in the connection and in the sharing of ideas and opinions that growth happens.
The same thing can be seen in our gospel reading from this morning. We sometimes think of the image of the vine and branches as a one-way relationship. The vine feeds the branches. Now if this is all that there was to it, then the idea of reading scripture in isolation would seem to fit. As long as we are connected to the vine, then that is all we need.
But a vine doesn’t really work like that. It is true that the sap which nurtures the branches comes up from the vine, which is actually the stem or the trunk of the plant itself, and it spreads out to the branches. But the vine itself can only produces the sap when it is nurture by the leaves that grow on the branches. It is the leaves that convert the sun’s energy into food for the plant. That food must then travel back through the branches into the vine or trunk. The branches must be an active part of the whole system in order for it to work. They cannot simply sit back and passively wait to receive without also giving back.
We cannot simply sit back and absorb our faith. We cannot simply expect to be taught and to have our faith delivered to us with no expectations in return. In order for our faith to grow we must become an active part of that growth. If Christ is the vine and we are the branches, there must be a connection and an exchange between us and Christ, but for our faith to be healthy and to grow, there must also be a connection and an exchange with each other.
It is in community, in the connections between God and us and in the connections we have with each other that we are able to not just absorb, but to process and to grow from what we learn. This is why we gather together today to listen to discuss and to learn, as we worship our Gardener God. Amen.
Gift of Music Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples #509
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. Normally we would be asking God’s blessing on the gifts that we place in our offering plates as well as the gifts we offer through PAR and through other ways such as online donations. But today there are no offering plates so instead we remind people that as well as PAR and online donations, people can also drop donations off at the church by using the mail slot to the left of the office entry. But we need to also remember that our financial contributions are not the only things we have to offer. We offer our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitment and our prayers. And so whatever it is we offer and however we offer it, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; Loving God, whatever gifts we have to offer, we ask that you
would bless them so that they may become a blessing to others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayer of the People
God this is not where we had hoped to be this week. We had hoped to be gathered in our beautiful sactuary talking and laughing together, waving to each other across the social distance of pews and aisles. Instead we gather together seeing each other only on the screen or hearing each other’s voices only through the telephone. We wish things were different yet we know that the wisdom offered us by the health care authorities of our province and our country are helping to keep us safe and for this we thank you.
We are vividly aware of how fortunate we are. In our own country there are places where the situation is far worse and around the world there are storys of incredible suffering and devistation caused by the virus we are fighting.
Remind us to be aware of the suffering of others. Remind us that although we may be focused so intently on the Covid virus there are many other forms of suffering in our world that have often been made worse by the pandemic or who have gotten lost in the global focus.
We pray for those who are ill from other diseases or conditions, those who have found it hard to access medical help during this time and those who have had their medical needs and treatments put on hold because of overflowing hospitals and overwhelming demands on medical personnel.
We pray for those living in poverty who are finding it especially hard to ahere to health recommendations, those who cannot self isolate because they have no safe home, those who cannot provide healthy food and a safe environment for themselves and their families, those who live in the reality of overcrowded refugee camps or overcrowded neighbourhoods where social distancing is simply not possible.
We pray for those whose main focus is not covid, but is simply the struggle to survive the war, terrorism or starvation that effect so much of our world. Remind us that, although Covid may have focused our attention elsewhere, we still have much to do to live out your call to care for one another.
God, help us to do our part to bring peace and wholeness to our world and remind us that, no matter the circumstances, you walk with us calling us to walk with one another, caring for our neighbours whoever they may be.
Thank you for your promise to be with us, and guide us always to follow your path of love for all. Amen.
Gift of Music O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing #326
We may be physically distanced, but we are not alone. God is with us, Christ’s example leads us, and the Spirit guides and accompanies us each step of the way. So go now, with God.