Trinity United Church
January 10, 2021 Zoom Worship
We welcome Robert Nicolson, who leads us in worship today.
Greeting/Welcome: Let us prepare for worship
Call to Worship:
A new year is here; Christmas is over.
The angels have disappeared back into the heavens,
The magi have departed by another road.
The star is gone.
Where is the babe who was lying in the manger?
He has grown to manhood.
He is being baptized.
He is commencing his ministry.
He is here, calling us today to come and follow him.
Fern Gibbard, for Penticton U.C., Penticton B.C. (adapted)
Acknowledgement of Territory: The Northern Lights.
A few weeks ago we were invited to see them here in southern BC as there was an ion storm brewing up on the sun. Unfortunately it clouded over and so we missed out on seeing it.
The tradition of some of the Algonquin peoples in Northern Ontario is that after their cultural hero, Nanahbozho, finished creating the Earth, he relocated to the far north.
There he sometimes lights large fires, which reflect back to his people in the form of the northern lights. This lets them know that he is thinking of them, even though they were far apart.
I think this is a neat tradition. It has much in common with our own story of how the rainbow reminds us of God’s promise following the great flood.
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 Kwikwetlem Nation and acknowledge their stewardship of this unceded land throughout the ages.
Reading: Genesis 1:1-5
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
The opening story in Genesis tells us that God’s creation is good. As that creation has continued to evolve through history there have been times when that “goodness” of God came into question. The global pandemic of Covid-19 may be such an event.
We need to remember that God constantly blesses us with love. God also invites to work together to make this a better world.
God has a long history of not only making the best of disastrous situations, but actually using them to move us further towards that realization.
In worship, we gather to celebrate God’s presence and to respond by going out into the world as followers of Jesus.
So, let’s begin our celebration by singing about that first coming of God’s light into a world of darkness.
Reading: Psalm 137
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
Psalm 137 is a lament for being in exile from the temple. Sound familiar? I remember our first ZOOM coffee meetings on Wednesday mornings. People were asked how they were doing. Answers often included remarks like:
· I’ve cleaned out all my cupboards.
· We’ve repainted the bedroom.
· I’ve caught up on a lot of reading.
· Our garden is going to be beautiful this year.
Back in Babylon during the exile, a lot of time was spent upgrading the ancient scrolls that were brought from the temple. Cleaning up the language, adding stories from their oral history, dropping parts that no longer applied or made sense, combining some scrolls into one, deciding on the order, and so forth.
The eventual result was what we call the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, or TORAH.
It is thought that the Genesis creation story we heard earlier was written at this time.
Torah could later be copied and sent throughout Israel supporting the creation of synagogues. Rabbinic Judaism decreased the emphasis on the Temple in Jerusalem and brought study and worship closer to the people throughout the country.
Five hundred years later, the synagogue in Galilei provided the education Jesus depended upon to succeed in his ministry.
The period of exile in Babylon thus contributed to new understanding of God introduced by the life and teaching of Jesus.
In 1978, Boney M. released their disco version of "Rivers of Babylon".
This upbeat reggae rhythm should remind us the even in our isolation, positive outcomes can happen.
Our pandemic has brought into focus such issues as care of our seniors, homelessness, addiction, and racial discrimination. We pray that as these issues are addressed, we will see good coming out of our current time of tribulation.
Reading: Acts 19:1-7 (NRSV)
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them,
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”
They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?”
They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”
Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—altogether there were about twelve of them.
John’s “baptism of repentance” allowed that sins would be forgiven if one truly turned around one’s thinking and worked towards a sinless life.
John’s baptisms took place close to where the road up to Jerusalem left the Jordan valley. One theory goes that by having John baptise you before you went up to the temple, you could avoid the necessity of paying for the temple to make a sacrifice in your name for the forgiveness of your sins. This would indeed be a concern to the priests who looked for that income.
Paul’s baptism was different. It brought forth a heightening of consciousness and a deeper sense of relationship with the Holy Spirit. This introduced a world filled with mystery and possibilities beyond our wildest dreams - God luring us on to places we can’t even imagine.
I don’t usually introduce Hymns, but this one is special for me. I first heard it one summer in the ‘80s when Karen and I and our four kids were staying at the United Church camp at Naramata and taking various courses for a week. The music resource person that year was Linnea Good and I remember her driving around the Camp with an old upright grand piano strapped in the back of a pick-up truck.
On the last evening we attended a Vesper service around the hearth at the outdoor chapel down by the lake shore. Linnea backed the truck across the beach so we had musical accompaniment. Several of the 100 or so multi-generational guests were choir members and had been practicing the Hymn during the week. Lyrics were distributed and together we sang.
I invite you now to imagine the close of a summer day by the lake in the Okanagan. The sun has just set and a cooling breeze is coming in across the water. It’s the final night of the program and you are being led by a choir as, for the first time, you sing the words . . .
Hymn: VU 375 “Spirit, Sprit of Gentleness”
CLICK HERE for video.
Reading: Mark 1:4-11
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
When I was young people used to say that when you were baptized, your sins were forgiven, and you had to be baptized in order to be let into heaven.
Rumor has it that Constantine actually waited until he was on his death bed to be baptised so he was guaranteed entry into heaven with his sins forgiven. (I guess when he was younger he had a few more sins lined up to commit.)
Gradually the church came to accept that a loving God would not be so quick to condemn us in such a way.
Today, baptism is seen more as the welcoming of a person into the community of faith. It is one of two sacraments in the United Church. In it, we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit and the mystery of God’s unbounded love for each of us.
We are also reminded of our responsibility to pass on the teachings of the church to each generation.
Jesus’s baptism reminds us that each of us, as well, is called to work with God in healing the world. We are loved, as we are all God’s children.
Baptised or not, all lives matter; our life matters; all are beloved.
Thus all of God’s children deserve to be treated with grace and affirmation, and given full opportunity to realize their divine potential.
Prayers of the People:
For what shall we pray today?
First: Let us pray for all who are making decisions that affect others: for those who are planning on opening communities and countries.
We pray for wisdom, compassion and caution to be parts of these discussions, these decisions that will affect so many in the days and weeks to come.
We pray for your patience, Holy One, to rest upon all who are involved in such matters.
Second: Let us pray for those for whom the coming week seems so familiar, with isolation, with trying to find new books to read, new activities to fill the seemingly endless hours.
We pray for those who are longing to go back to work, who wonder not only when that might happen, but what it might look like, and who worry about safety, distancing and health.
We pray for your presence to surround them, in these moments and the coming days.
Third: Let us pray for all who continue to be overwhelmed by the uncertainty of these days: persons with cognitive disabilities who cannot understand why their lives and routines have been overturned, those who long to have children and grandchildren run into their arms, but can only wave to them through windows.
Fourth: We pray for sleep to cradle us in the night, and for patience to be the sun’s companion in the morning.
We pray for hope to come and curl up next to us in bed, and to gently waken us in the morning.
We pray for peace to be the night light shining in the hallway, so if we wake up in the middle of the night, we can find our way to you, God in Community, Holy and One. Amen.
And finally: Let us pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, beginning Our Mother . . .Our Father . . .
Passing the Peace:
I invite you all to turn on your cameras and microphones and set your view to gallery. Unfortunately those of you who are attending by phone can’t see this but I’ll try to describe it. Find your own picture and try to reach with your hands to touch the middle of the left and right sides of the square. Hopefully you will appear to touch the hands of those in the adjoining squares forming a chain across the screen.
And now, may the peace of the rolling waves,
the peace of the silent mountains,
the peace of the singing stars,
and the deep, deep peace of the Prince of Peace be with you.