Nov 12 – Worship Service – In the Pit

Nov 5 – Worship Service – Remembrance Day
November 9, 2023
Nov 26 – Worship Service – Reign of Christ
December 2, 2023

Nov 12 – Worship Service – In the Pit

Beacon United Church – November 12, 2023

Welcome, Announcements and Celebrations

Worship by Janet Sollows

 Introit:   Come All You People              MV #2
Come all you people, come and praise your Maker,
Come all you people, come and praise your Maker,
Come all you people, come and praise your Maker,
Come now and worship your God. (2 times)
Words, and English paraphrase copyright © 1986 World Council of Churches. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense.net #A-723756

 Acknowledgement of Territory
This morning, we acknowledge that we are gathered for worship on the traditional, unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. The Mi’kmaq people have walked on this land for many years.  Their relationship with the land is at the centre of their lives and spirituality.  We give thanks for 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.  We are increasingly being encouraged to go beyond acknowledging the territory and seek ways that we, as a local congregation and a national church, can actively work towards living in right relations, and move towards becoming the community that God calls us to be together.

 Lighting the Christ Candle
Jesus is the one who holds his hand out to us in the midst of storms.  We celebrate the presence of Jesus, the light of the world, by lighting a candle and letting this light shine before us throughout our worship service and through us during the coming week.  The rainbow colours on our candle symbolize that as an affirming congregation, we believe that the love of God, through Jesus, includes and accepts everyone.

Call to Worship
One:  The disciples were at sea in the midst of a storm.  They were frightened by the danger they faced.  They wondered if anyone – even Jesus- cared about them.
All:  Then Jesus cried out to the storm: “Quiet.  Be still.”  And so it was.

One:  There are days when we feel lost and alone.  The challenges of life overtake us and the struggles of everyday existence overwhelm us.  The demands are many; the burdens are great.
All:  Then Jesus cries out: “Quiet.  Be still.”  And so it is.
(Written by Bill Steadman. Gathering, Pentecost 1 2020, page 34. Used with permission.)

Opening Prayer
Eternal God, in visions and dreams, you offer us hope for a new tomorrow.  Amidst life’s storms and raging waters, be with us in our time of need.  Reveal to us the great works we are capable of, that we may rise and be of service to the world.  Bless our worship time this morning and each one of us as we journey into the world. 

We will hear this morning the dramatic story of Joseph being thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery by his brothers.  We too have known the feel of a pit, of being trapped and afraid.  We too have been pulled in directions we do not wish to go.  As we hear Joseph’s story this morning, we honour our own stories of pain and grief. 

          God of all our journeys, like Joseph’s brothers, we too find expedient ways to get rid of our problems; we too have cracks in our own families and social networks that deepen with every unkind word and the rejection of those we should love.

          God of hope, like Joseph, we too can find ourselves victims of violence, trapped in the dark, dragged against our will; we too can feel abandoned by those who should love us.  In this quiet space of worship, we gather up every thread of pain and lay them in your warm embrace, placing our trust in you alone.  We are your family.  We belong to you.  Surround us in your forgiveness and your strength and hold us in your love.  Amen.

Words of Assurance
Everyone who calls on the name of God will be saved.  Everyone who risks the uncertain walk of faith receives aid from the one who calms the waters.

Hymn: VU# 562 Jesus Calls Us

Introduction to Scripture

Anxiety is an increasingly prevalent part of life in the world today.  What was experienced by the disciples in the wind and the waves and the dark of night resonates with our experience of anxiety in a world tossed by threats of climate change, upheaval, and pandemic.  The pit into which Joseph was pushed is another powerful metaphor for the dark places of life.  Worship is a wonderful space to hear the words of Jesus: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid”.  In prayer, we can receive these words deep in our souls.

Prayer of Illumination
As we read the Scriptures today, they may be very familiar to some and not

familiar to others.  Help us, God, to hear the words and listen to the messages that these stories have for us today, as individuals and as your church.  Amen.

 Scripture
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Joseph and His Brothers

Jacob continued to live in the land of Canaan, where his father had lived, and this is the story of Jacob’s family.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, took care of the sheep and goats with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s concubines. He brought bad reports to his father about what his brothers were doing.

Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons, because he had been born to him when he was old. He made a long robe with full sleeves for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than he loved them, they hated their brother so much that they would not speak to him in a friendly manner.

Joseph Is Sold and Taken to Egypt

One day when Joseph’s brothers had gone to Shechem to take care of their father’s flock, Jacob said to Joseph, “I want you to go to Shechem, where your brothers are taking care of the flock.”

Joseph answered, “I am ready.”

His father told him, “Go and see if your brothers are safe and if the flock is all right; then come back and tell me.” So his father sent him on his way from Hebron Valley.

Joseph arrived at Shechem and was wandering around in the country when a man saw him and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

“I am looking for my brothers, who are taking care of their flock,” he answered. “Can you tell me where they are?”

The man said, “They have already left. I heard them say that they were going to Dothan.” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted against him and decided to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer. Come on now, let’s kill him and throw his body into one of the dry wells. We can say that a wild animal killed him. Then we will see what becomes of his dreams.”

Reuben heard them and tried to save Joseph. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Just throw him into this well in the wilderness, but don’t hurt him.” He said this, planning to save him from them and send him back to his father.  When Joseph came up to his brothers, they ripped off his long robe with full sleeves. Then they took him and threw him into the well, which was dry.

 While they were eating, they suddenly saw a group of Ishmaelites traveling from Gilead to Egypt. Their camels were loaded with spices and resins.  Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother and covering up the murder?  Let’s sell him to these Ishmaelites. Then we won’t have to hurt him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed,  and when some Midianite traders came by, the brothers pulled Joseph out of the well and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 14:22-33 Jesus Walks on the Water

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone,  and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Favourite Hymn Selection: MV #30 It’s a Song of Praise to the Maker

Reflection:  In the Pit
This past summer, I spent 10 days at Berwick Camp as I do every summer.  Many of you have heard me talk about Berwick Camp before. It is my time for spiritual renewal each year.  Berwick Camp is an intergenerational camp run by the United Church of Canada which has been operating for 152 years.  My grandparents started going in the 1940’s and each generation of my family has attended since.  When I was a teenager, we would spend each afternoon rehearsing for a musical that we would perform as part of the Saturday night worship service.  This was the first time I was introduced to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” by Tim Rice and Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber.  Following the Berwick performance, some people at my home church in Dartmouth decided we should learn it and perform it there.  Then, when I was in university at Mount Saint Vincent, our choir also performed the musical.  It is one of my all-time favourite musicals because of the different genres of music and the comedic interpretations of the Biblical story.  I bought a videotape of a performance of it starring Donny Osmond and played it so often when my children were little that it one of their favourites too.  A few years ago, a woman in the Yarmouth Community Chorale brought in some CDs that she wanted to give away.  What did I find in the pile but a copy of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”!  I would often play it on my trips back and forth to Digby over the past two years as it was about an hour in length and there was no fear of me falling asleep when I was singing along to the lyrics!

The story has all the twists and turns of a bestseller.  This week’s Scripture reading shows a darker side of human nature.  One of the commentaries that I read for this week gives the following background to this story: “Let us consider the circumstances of this text. Joseph’s father, who loves him, sends him out to see how his brothers are doing pasturing their flocks. His brothers hate him, firstly because he is the favorite of their father, and perhaps secondly, because he is not a brother to them from their own mothers. 

Joseph’s father Jacob, had sons with four wives: Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah. If you remember from Genesis 29, Jacob originally wanted to marry Rachel, but her father tricked him into marrying Leah first. And in their fight to bear sons for Jacob, both sisters made Jacob conceive children with their maids. Rachel bore Jacob no children until after Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah had between themselves given birth to ten sons. When Rachel finally conceived, she gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin, and she died giving birth to her second son. So, the beloved and favorite wife of Jacob died after giving him two sons, the oldest of which was Joseph.

The sons out pasturing the flocks were the sons of Zilpah and Bilhah, and the birth story of Jacob’s children tell the origins of their animosity towards one another. The sons of Zilpah and Bilhah surely felt their father’s favoritism towards Joseph, the son of his beloved and deceased wife, Rachel. With all of the animosity and turmoil surrounding the birth of these men, is it any wonder that they hate each other? Is it any wonder that Joseph already dreams of his brothers bowing down to him, since he has the affection and favorite status of his father?”

We are told in the Scriptures that the brothers were very jealous of Joseph because of the way Jacob spoke to him.  I think we can all safely say that we’ve witnessed situations where, because of the way a person speaks, we can tell that they favour one person over another.  It doesn’t say if Jacob realized his sons dislike of Joseph.  If so, why would he send Joseph out to ‘check’ on his brothers?  Joseph is not totally innocent in this story.  The Bible tells us that Joseph used to ‘tattle’ on his brothers to Jacob. It says, “He brought bad reports to his father about what his brothers were doing.”  So, we know that Jacob spoke more favourably to Joseph; that he provided him with a lavish coat; and that Joseph reported the bad behaviour of his brothers to Jacob.  Joseph also told them of dreams that he had where one day they would bow down to him.  The brothers plot to kill Joseph and see their opportunity when he comes to check up on them.  The oldest brother, Reuben, begins to have second thoughts and suggests that they take off his fancy coat and throw him in a dry well.  Some translations say cistern or pit.  In this way, Joseph wouldn’t be hurt but would likely suffer a long, slow death.  Then, a group of Ishmaelites are travelling by and Judah suggests that they sell Joseph as a slave to the Ishmaelites.  In this way, Joseph’s brothers won’t have to put up with his dream interpretations anymore; the favoured son will be gone and they would get some money.  The Ishmaelites get a slave.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone except Joseph and Jacob! 

One person we do not hear from in this selection of Scripture is Joseph.  Did he have any fear when he was asked to check on his brothers or was he just oblivious to their dislike?   Maybe he was just that cocky at seventeen years of age or as a favoured son!  We also do not hear from him in the pit.  Did he know what was going on?  Did he feel afraid, betrayed, confused, alone…?  There are many times in our lives when we can find ourselves in a pit.  It may be one that we fall into by ourselves or it may be one that we are pushed into by the actions of others.  Of course, I’m talking figuratively here and not literally.  There are times in our lives when we hit bottom; when we feel alone; and/or when we feel there is no escape.           

The disciples, in our Gospel reading today, were also feeling frightened and afraid.  Previous to this Scripture is the story of feeding the five thousand.  After that likely stressful situation, we are told that Jesus sent the disciples out in a boat, across the lake ahead of him.  Jesus dismissed the crowd and then took some time for himself to go up the mountain to pray.  Throughout the night, we are told that the boat was buffeted by the waves and the wind.  No doubt the disciples were frightened due to the uncertainty of the weather but then they saw Jesus walking on the water towards them.  They were very afraid because they thought that what they were seeing was an apparition, an illusion, a ghost.  Jesus speaks to them and says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  I’m sure some of them were still skeptical but the reassurance of hearing the voice of Jesus must have been comforting.  Peter, who is nicknamed ‘The Rock’ because of his solid faith, said to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  Then Jesus offered the simple invitation, “Come!” Peter walks toward Jesus on the water but then is distracted by the elements of the storm around him and begins to sink.  He cries out to Jesus to save him and Jesus extends his hand to Peter.  Jesus maintains that it was Peter’s lack of faith and focus that caused him to sink.  “You of little faith,” Jesus said to the Rock, “why did you doubt?”  Peter and Jesus get into the boat and the storm around them calms.  

          There are many lessons that we can learn from Peter’s encounter with Jesus on the water.  When we find ourselves in a pit like Joseph or in stormy seas like the disciples, we need to remember to call on the things that our faith has taught us and not to lose that faith when the circumstances of the storm distract us.  Jesus will be there to hold out a hand if we can only see that he is there.  Our faith also teaches us not only to recognize Jesus in a storm but also to listen to his voice and to hear what he is saying.  It may take a while to get back in the boat but our faith tells us that there is a boat, a safe haven, and a helping hand waiting for us to respond.       It seems that we encounter more and more people who are finding themselves in rough or tough situations.  How can we, as Christians, respond to them?  Again, we turn to our faith and the story of Jesus walking on water holds many clues for us.  I actually like to think of this story more as Jesus and Peter walking on water.  If we encounter someone in an emotional pit or in a stormy time of their lives, it is important to remain a calm presence.  Remember Jesus’ words to the disciples, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” and then Jesus offers an invitation, “Come!”  It is important, when dealing with anyone in a crisis to be calm and offer an invitation to come.  Come and talk!  Come and I’ll listen!  Come and… whatever you think will offer help to a person in their particular circumstance.  When the person appears to be sinking, offer them a hand to hold; a hand to help pull them up; or a hand to steady them.  As individuals and as a church, we need to offer this assistance because it appears that more and more people are getting lost in the storm we refer to as everyday living.  We only need to turn on the news or look in the newspaper to see that people are using violence and hatred as ways to cope with problems.  The perpetrators of these crimes need to hear the voice of Jesus say, “Take courage.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  The victims of crime need to hear Jesus say, “Take courage.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  Those trying to live day to day in a demanding world need to hear Jesus say, “Take courage.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  And we need to be that voice of Jesus.

          Grief and hardship can put us in a pit and cause the storms to rage around us.  Tommy Dorsey was born in Georgia in 1899.  His father was a Baptist preacher and his mother was a piano teacher.  He was known as the “Father of Black Gospel Music.”  He combined hymns with blues and jazz which was controversial at first but gave rise to the birth of Gospel music.  Dorsey tells the following story about one of his most famous hymns. 

          “Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. . . .
          “. . . In the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. . . .
          “When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well. . .
          “But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.”

          Dorsey remembered an old pentatonic (five-note) melody from his Sunday School days, arranging this tune and adding his own words, “Precious Lord” became the most famous of his many gospel songs. He gave the song to Frye who introduced it to the choir at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church the next Sunday, an event that, Dorsey later remarked, “tore up the church.”

          This hymn has become so popular because it captures the grief of not only of Dorsey, but also of any who have suffered significant loss or hardship.  It captures the feeling of being in a pit or a storm.  The opening line of the first stanza, “Precious Lord, take my hand. . . “, indicates a suffering soul that is reaching out. The singer acknowledges that they are at the end of their rope: “I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn.” The story of this hymn says that “Perhaps Dorsey was referring to the narrative where Christ stills the storm, when he penned, “Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light.”  Let us sing this hymn, remembering the times when we find ourselves or others in a pit or a storm and know that we can be led to the light or can lead others to the light by offering a hand, a calm presence and a willingness to help.

Hymn: VU#670 Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Offertory Invitation
The image of Jesus calming the wind and the waves is a powerful image.  It speaks of a church that helps to calm the turmoil in people’s lives.  Know that through your offering today, we do that here in Yarmouth, in other parts of Canada and around the world.  We will now receive our morning offering.
(Written by Allan Warren. Gathering, Pentecost 1 2014, page 34. Used with permission.)

Offertory Hymn – For the Gift of Creation
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love and the gift of the Spirit
by which we live, we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
© Words and Music copyright 1991 Abingdon Press. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. OneLicense #A723756

Offertory Prayer  (Written by barb janes. Gathering, Pentecost 1 2017, page 40. Used with permission.)
Joseph’s dream of a new world order was his brothers’ nightmare.  Tossed in the pit, yet his dream lives on.  We offer these gifts, O God, to make dreams come true, that the hungry and unhoused are fed, the refugee finds home, and no one is afraid.  Amen.

Silent Prayer – Let us take a few moments to pray for the names in our prayer jar this morning as well as anyone else or any other situation that you feel is in need of prayer.

Mission and Service Story – Compassion into Action
There is one thing that will never fail us: compassion.

Acts of compassion, both big and small, give rise to peace. We can’t wave a magic wand and bring about world peace, but with every act of compassion we harness the power of love, the same love Jesus lived and died for and that he promised would move mountains.

At a time when it feels like there’s a new crisis confronting us each and every day, it’s reassuring to know that Mission and Service partners provide real-time relief around the world on a daily basis.

That’s why your generosity matters so much.

The food security initiatives, refugee support work, educational programs, and emergency and advocacy efforts your gifts through Mission and Service support aren’t just about food, safety, education, and human rights. They are ultimately about compassion, peace, and hope. And in a world where division tears the fabric that binds us together, that’s everything.

Jesus put compassion into action every day he lived. He brought hope into every room he walked into. He was literally the calm in the storm. He stretched out his arms in the ultimate sacrifice of love, and the world was never the same.

Every act of compassion contributes to a more peaceful world. Thank you for your generosity through Mission and Service. Your gifts truly do help move mountains.

The New Creed
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.
©1968 United Church of Canada, General Council

Call to Prayer – VU #400 Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Lord, Listen to your children praying, Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
Lord, Listen to your children praying, send us love, send us power, send us grace.
Words  paraphrase copyright © 1986 World Council of Churches. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense.net #A-723756

Prayers of the People (Written by Darrow Woods. Gathering, Pentecost 1 2014, page 36. Used with permission.)
Dear God of Life, when we feel happy to be alive, you are there.
When we feel weary and sad, you are there.
When the day is full of light and promise, you are there.
When the night closes in with gloom and despair, you are there.
In all things, in all places, in every moment, you are with us.
You know all about our lives.
You know the things for which we might give thanks.
You also know the things from which we might pray for relief.
You know us from the inside out.
You already know it all, God.
Our prayer time with you is not just about passing on requests or compliments.
We pray to be connected to you.
You are the beginning and end of all things.
In this connection, we find our joy.  We find our peace.
We find solace in hard times.
We find company in times of celebration.
We pray for ourselves.
We pray for others who need your help.
We pray to draw these concerns to your attention.
We pray to release our hearts from compulsion and worry.
We hand it all over to you.
Our hope, our trust, is in you.
And now we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, saying:

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# 637 Jesus, Saviour, Pilot Me

Commissioning and Benediction
May the God of the journey walk with you – in and out of pits, and in and out of storms.
May our Creator God continue to form you and bless you.
May the God of grace encourage you, this day and every day.  Amen.

Choral Blessing – May the Peace of God (MV# 222)
May the peace of God be your peace. May the love of God be the love you show.
May the joy of God be the joy you know, and may the world that God would see be found in you.
Words, and English copyright © 1986 World Council of Churches. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense.net #A-723756

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