Sunday, October 31st, 2021
Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather here today, upon lands which we recognize as the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people, we offer our gratitude for this land and for those who have tended it before us. We ask the Creator to help us use and share this land wisely.
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. Happy Halloween everyone! So I know that I have talked about this before, but does anyone know the origins of Halloween?
Well, the idea itself originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (saw-win), when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the 8th century, November 1was chosen as All Saints Day, and some of the traditions of Samhain (saw-win), were incorporated into the evening before which became known as All Hallows Eve or Halloween.
Although today is Halloween, it is also the traditional Sunday to mark All Saints Day and, within the Protestant tradition, it is Reformation Sunday, So today we will be incorporating parts off all of these tradition into our worship, beginning with a Call to Worship and Opening Prayer that recognize and remember all the saints in our own lives.
Call to Worship
In all our weakness and strengths, with our youth-filled spirits and aging bodies,
we come together today as God’s people.
Strong in faith and eager with questions, singing our praise and whispering our prayers,
we come together today as God’s people.
Filled with saintly determination yet mindful of our human limitations,
we come together today as God’s people.
Made strong by God’s endless love for us, we know ourselves for who we are,
we come together today as God’s people.
And so, as God’s people have done for generations, saints and sinners alike,
we come together today to worship our God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
God, as we come together in worship today, we remember and offer our thanks for all those who have gone before us, following the path laid out for them and leading us towards you. We thank you for the ancestors of our faith, those we read about in scripture and in history. We thank you for those who had the courage to stand up and speak out when the path our church chose to follow, did not always reflect the life and teachings of Christ. Give us courage to follow your lead in all that we do, so that we may draw ever closer to your Divine Image. Amen
Gift of Music Hope of the World #215
Scripture Readings 1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13
Our Scripture reading for this morning is one that most of you will likely never remember having heard before. It may seem rather obscure and you may wonder why we would even include it as part of the narrative of our faith story. It is a part of the story of the building of the first temple. As you may remember, David had wanted to build a great temple to God, but had been forbidden from doing so because of some of his actions. Instead, he had been promised that it would be his son who would build the temple. At first glace it may appear that this entire story is rather irrelevant to us today other than as part of our history, but there is actually a great deal going on behind the scenes that is very relevant, especially as we talk about Reformation Sunday today. The reading is divided into two parts, beginning with Solomon’s decision to build the temple and then skipping to the time when the Arc of the Covenant and all the sacred objects on which the people have centered their worship are moved into the temple, marking its completion.
King Hiram of Tyre had always been a friend of David’s, and when he heard that Solomon had succeeded his father David as king, he sent ambassadors to him. Solomon sent back this message to Hiram: “You know that because of the constant wars my father David had to fight against the enemy countries all around him, he could not build a temple for the worship of the Lord his God until the Lord had given him victory over all his enemies. But now the Lord my God has given me peace on all my borders. I have no enemies, and there is no danger of attack. The Lord promised my father David, ‘Your son, whom I will make king after you, will build a temple for me.’ And I have now decided to build that temple for the worship of the Lord my God.
Then King Solomon summoned all the leaders of the tribes and clans of Israel to come to him in Jerusalem in order to take the Lord‘s Covenant Box from Zion, David’s City, to the Temple. They all assembled during the Festival of Shelters in the seventh month, in the month of Ethanim. When all the leaders had gathered, the priests lifted the Covenant Box and carried it to the Temple. The Levites and the priests also moved the Tent of the Lord‘s presence and all its equipment to the Temple. King Solomon and all the people of Israel assembled in front of the Covenant Box and sacrificed a large number of sheep and cattle—too many to count. Then the priests carried the Covenant Box into the Temple and put it in the Most Holy Place, beneath the winged creatures. Their outstretched wings covered the box and the poles it was carried by. The ends of the poles could be seen by anyone standing directly in front of the Most Holy Place, but from nowhere else. There was nothing inside the Covenant Box except the two stone tablets which Moses had placed there at Mount Sinai, when the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel as they were coming from Egypt.
As the priests were leaving the Temple, it was suddenly filled with a cloud shining with the dazzling light of the Lord‘s presence, and they could not go back in to perform their duties. Then Solomon prayed: “You, Lord, have placed the sun in the sky, yet you have chosen to live in clouds and darkness. Now I have built a majestic temple for you, a place for you to live in forever.”
As a Protestant denomination, The United Church of Canada is part of the Reformed tradition, but this is not something that we often talk about. Most people in The United Church have little or no understanding of what it means to be part of the Reformed tradition or what the Reformation itself was all about to begin with. So, if you do know this background, please bear with me, but I think we need to understand a little bit more about the background of the Reformation to understand why is still important for us today.
The Protestant Reformation is generally considered to have begun on October 31st 1517, when it is said that Martin Luther posting his 95 Thesis, on the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenburg Germany. These were intended to be discussion points to be argued and debated at the University of Whittenburg where he was a professor of Moral Theology. At the time, this would not have been considered extraordinary. Many of those in academic circle would post ideas for discussion and invite people to respond. But this time, it was different. There were a number of factors that all collided to make this much more than a religious debate. It became a political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe.
At the start of the 16th century, many people began to criticizing the Catholic Church. The greed and scandal within the clergy was rampant. Many clergy did little or nothing to respond to their parishioner’s needs, often because they did not speak the local language, or live in the diocese. The reason for this is that clergy positions were often sold to the high bidder or given to sons of wealthy patrons.
As well as this, the Bible was only printed in Latin, and not in the local language. Catholic Mass was also held in Latin, meaning that the people could not understand what the priest said, and since many of the priests themselves did not speak Latin, they didn’t even know what they were saying and were simply repeating memorized phrases. The priest often had little or no training and simply said or did whatever they choose.
But perhaps the most controversial issue was the sale of indulgences. For a fee, a person could buy forgiveness for their sins, promising them, that when they died, they would have to spend less time in purgatory and could essentially buy their way into Heaven. In 1515, the Pope started a new indulgence campaign to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome, promising that the money could even release souls who were currently in purgatory.
And so, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, most of which related to the sale of indulgences, his timing was perfect. Although the original document was written in Latin, it was soon translated, without Luther’s knowledge or permission, into German and thanks to the invention of the printing press, copies were soon distributed far beyond the university where he worked.
Needless to say, the Catholic Church was not happy since Luther’s ideas implied that the corruption within the church went all the way up to the pope. They tried to stop these new ideas, demanding that Luther recant what he had said, but without much success. Luther was considered an enemy of the Pope, and when he refused to change his ideas and he was formally excommunicated in 1521.
Luther had not planned to separate from the Catholic Church or to create a new religion. He had simply wanted to reform the Catholic Church by changing the things he believed were corrupt and did not follow the teaching of Jesus.
Our scripture reading today talks about the building of Solomon’s temple. What it doesn’t talk about is the fact that King Solomon imposed heavy taxes on the people in order to complete that building or that it was built using forced labour. But what it does talk is why the temple was so importance to the people of Solomon’s time.
The Arc of the Covenant, said to hold the stone tables upon which were carved the 10 Commandment, was the most powerful symbol of God’s presence that the people had. It was a reminder not only of what God had done for them in the past, but also of the commitment that had been made by their ancestors and reaffirmed in their own time, to follow the way of God and to remain faithful to that God.
The temple gave the people a place to come where they could gather in worship, where they could offer sacrifices, and where they could feel the presence of God most profoundly. This does not mean that the people believed that God was confined to the temple or that God could be contained in any one place. But by hearing the stories of their faith read in worship, by participating in rituals and ceremonies that reconnected them with their ancestors and with their traditional faith and by offering sacrifices that were a tangible sign of their commitment to God, the temple offered the people a focal point where they could leave behind the everyday realities of life and focus entirely on God.
At their best that is exactly what the temple and the church are meant to be. They are intended to glorify God and to help people connect with the Divine. Unfortunately, that is not always the way things turn out. Matin Luther refused to ignore the corruption and abuses that lurked just below the surface of the magnificent cathedrals of his time. He demanded that the focus be put back where it was intended to be, on God.
And he was certainly not the first to do so. Fifteen hundred years before, another revolutionary, intent on reforming the corruption that he witnessed in his own center of worship, took some rope, made a whip and drove both the people and animals out of the temple saying, “This house should be a place of worship and you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
We like to think that we are on the right side of both of these stories. We like to think we stand beside Jesus as he overturns the tables of the money changers. We like to think we cheer Luther on when he stands up to the corruption of the indulgences. After all we are part of the reformed tradition, right?
But I think we need to be careful about patting ourselves on the back too hard. I think that perhaps, we need to stop and ask ourselves what kind of reformation is needed in our church today. What are the things that draw us, not closer to but farther away from, the presence of the Divine? What are the things that, instead of enhancing our worship, take our focus away from the Divine and place our focus instead on the structure, the symbols or the ceremonies that were initially intended to bring us closer to God?
Now this is certainly not to say that there is no place for the church or that it should be thrown out as a corrupt institution that has failed to live up to its purpose. The true place of worship is within the human heart and soul. This is where God truly dwells. But without the temple or the church, without that gathering places where we can come together to focus on and to explore how we can best follow the one we worship, we can end up missing out on a great deal of what it means to live in faith.
It is certainly true that the church is far from perfect, but fortunately, the One we worship has never demands perfection from us. We believe that the Divine continues to work through flawed institutions like the temple and like the church.
But sometime, the temple, or in our case the church seems to forget exactly what its purpose is. Sometimes it becomes all about maintaining or reinforcing the structures that are in place. And this is when reform is needed.
In Jesus time the temple had become the only place that people could purchase the animals or birds they needed for a sacrifice, so, needless to say, with a monopoly, the prices were often exorbitant. And to make it even more difficult for the ordinary people, only temple currency could be used to purchase anything within the walls of the temple. Therefore, people had to change whatever money they brough with them into temple currency first before they could buy their sacrifice. It was a system ripe with corruption and abuse. And this is what Jesus was protesting against when he threw the money changes and the animals out of the temple.
In the time of Luther, the Church was selling everything from clergy appointments to indulgences to raise money to build and maintain magnificent cathedrals. This is what Luther was protesting.
Unfortunately, today many churches are struggling so hard to pay the bills that the entire purpose of the church seems to be maintaining the structure. Our own United Church of Canada has gone through an entire restructuring process, which was intended to refocus our mission and our energy, yet which often appears to have little to do with anything except finances. The pandemic has only added to these stresses in many cases.
But the good news is that reform is possible and when we honestly strive to find the best way to follow the call of God and the example of Christ. When we remember that the true purpose of the church is to gather people together to share their faith, to help each other alone the journey, to reaffirm their commitment to God not only in words but in actions and to reach out to others, following the example of Christ, then we can not only maintain the church, but we can begin to build what the church should truly be. We know that we’ll never get it perfect, but that’s OK. Our amazing God can work within all the imperfections to accomplish amazing things. Amen.
Gift of Music The Church of Christ in Every Age #601
We Offer Our Gifts
We are here today because so many people who came before us gave so generously of who they were and what they had. Our ancient ancestors in faith gave us this faith tradition that we hold so dear. Our more recent ancestors passed this faith on to us and through their generosity of both time and financial support, helped to build this beautiful sanctuary in which we worship today. We are called to continue this legacy of generosity of time, of talent and of financial support as we do our part as members of this ongoing legacy of faith. And so, whatever the offering we bring with us today, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as your spirit has touched and blessed faithful people throughout our church’s history, we ask that you will bless the gifts that we offer you today. May we continue to be part of your people, passing on your blessings 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. But today, let us also take a moment to offer our thanks for all the saints who have helped mold and shape our lives … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
You are our God and we are Your people, and we are grateful that You have claimed us as your own. You have set us in the company of Saints both past and present, among the company of those who have spoken boldly of Your goodness and Your grace. Your guidance opens up new futures where we see no way forward. Your word strengthens and directs our footsteps even when we stumble. Your love promises us that, no matter what, you will always be with us …
You know the places in our hearts where we are afraid
— afraid of a future we cannot control;
— afraid of losing health and independence
— afraid that past mistakes will ruin our future
— afraid for the well-being of our children, our families, and all those we love
— afraid of a world that is changing far more quickly than we can adapt
— afraid of the unknown
— afraid that no matter what we do or how hard we try, we are not enough
Write the stories of your people deep within our hearts so that we may learn to trust you beyond our fears. Give us hearts and minds and spirits ready to follow wherever your Spirit leads, confident that you will never lead us beyond the reach of your loving embrace. We ask all this in the name of the one whose outstretched arms welcomed all people, regardless of who they were, where they came from or what they had done in the past, gently holding them secure in your never-ending love and abundant grace. Amen
Closing Hymn In Quiet Curve of Evening #278
With gratitude for those who have walked before us, for those who have walked with us, and for those who will follow after us, we now go out from here to live and love as Christ lived and loved, trusting that we are never alone. We go out knowing God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirit continues to guide us each step of the way. Go with God. Amen