Today’s worship leader is Rev. Brad Newcombe, who celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination earlier this month. Brad was raised in eastern Ontario, studied theology at McGill University and United Theological College in Montreal. He served congregations in north western Quebec, Toronto, North Vancouver and Vancouver and was campus minister at UBC. For many years, he hosted “Pressure Point”, an ecumenical current affairs TV show on Rogers Cable. He is retired and lives in Vancouver’s West End.
TODAY’S WORSHIP SERVICE:
Takes place in a world where we walk uncharted territory in the midst of three crises: a global pandemic, a fragile economy and peaceful protests against systemic racism in the United States and around the world.
GATHERING and CALL TO WORSHIP:
One: Christ be with you.
All: And also with you.
One: In the presence of God, our Creator, whose Word called the cosmos into being,
All: We gather in awe.
One: In the presence of the Christ, whose promise is that we are never separated from God’s
All: We come in trust.
One: In the presence of the Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being,
All: We open our hearts and minds.
One: Let us pray,
All: Open our hearts in compassion as we bring out lives in our worship today.
In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.
One: God knows our needs before we speak.
With this reassurance, let us pray together:
All: Dear God, help us to trust you every day,
so that worry may not sink its’ claws into us,
or that our fears overwhelm us.
May your Spirit touch not just our intellects,
but the deepest yearnings of our hearts and souls.
Call us out of our routines and
surprise us with the breath of your
Fill us with compassion.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen
2They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying,
“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
7So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8The people all answered as one:
“Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord9Then the Lord said to Moses,
“I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”
35Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:
“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
“Serving in a Hurting World”
Greetings to everyone.
I want to begin by saying that this is a unique experience to be writing a reflection for you and not being able to deliver the reflection among you. I wish we could be together but these are unique times.
Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew is about Jesus teaching in the synagogues and curing people of every disease and illness and proclaiming to them a vision of the kingdom. He entrusts the disciples to do the same.
Two images about the world into which they are being sent jump out for me. Jesus says that the people are like sheep without a shepherd and there is an abundant harvest in need of workers.
Today’s worship service is taking place in a world where we walk uncharted territory in the midst of three crises: a global pandemic due to an invisible coronavirus, a fragile economy because of quarantines and shut downs, and peaceful protests against systemic racism, begun in the United States and spreading throughout the world.
Jesus commands his disciples to “pray to the Lord of of the harvest to send out labourers into the harvest”. The next thing we know, Jesus is sending out the disciples! Sometimes the answer to your prayer is “you”.
In Matthew’s naming of the disciples, the list is of the well known twelve disciples. I want to add that there were more than those twelve disciples and highlight how they are also described in the Gospel of Luke. He writes in Luke 8:1-3 that “he began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God, and the twelve were with him, and some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary, who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means”.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sends them first to the people of Israel, but as time goes on, this mission will extend beyond the people of Israel to all people. The disciples were a mix of people called to proclaim in words and deeds people who were hurting.
Matthew, himself, was a tax collector who would have been a collaborator with the Romans who occupied Palestine. Peter and the brothers, James and John, were fishermen. Mary Magdalene had a troubled past and the two women, Joanna and Susanna, mentioned only in the Gospel of Luke, were obviously from much more privileged backgrounds.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “dogs and cats should always be brought up together - it broadens their minds so”.
We are living in a time that is being described as a moment of reckoning. We are the answer to the prayer in dealing with this pandemic. Each one of us makes a difference. We also see a populist movement in the protests against systemic racism. The streets are filled with young and old, black and white, and perhaps the most vital element in moving forward is being able to listen to one another.
Jesus tells them to travel light but sends them to reach out to the broken hearted, those who struggle for meaning and are without hope. Those whose world has been shattered - perhaps we could even say, metaphorically, a world that is possessed- where we live with profound unease and anxiety. Fear about the future is just below the surface of our living.
Where do we begin?
I want to share with you two stories that inspire me in this journey of shared ministry that we share in.
The first is about an inspiring mother’s story. For nearly three decades, Joyce Millgaard told anyone who would listen that her son David was an innocent man trapped in a nightmare - sentenced to life in prison at age seventeen for a rape and murder he did not commit. This took place in Saskatchewan.
From the time David was imprisoned in 1970, Joyce pleaded with prime ministers, justice ministers, lawyers, scientists, church groups, police and the media to help her win her son’s freedom.
In 1997, Joyce Milgaard’s determination paid off. DNA testing proved conclusively that her son's conviction for the murder of nursing aide, Gail Miller, was a gross miscarriage of justice. David Milgaard’s name was finally cleared.
In a profile written about her for Chatelaine magazine, when Joyce was asked “How did you persevere through all those years.”, she replied:
At the end of a long day, when I could not lift another pen to another politician, worry about another bill or call one more freshly emerging witness, I would retreat to a beach in my mind.
In sleep, I was on the beach, and always, God was there as the sea; that power embraced me, washing away doubt, weariness, pettiness, vengeance. I woke feeling as fresh and pure as God’s original idea of me. My mistakes were gone. But — and this was hard —so were everyone else’s.
Every day I had to see us all as God does, capable of truth and other great things.
- from “A Mother's Story: the Fight to Free My Son David” by Joyce Milgaard with Peter Edwards
The second story is a letter that a CNN reporter, Bill Weir, wrote to his newborn son, River, just two months ago. This comes from his blog and is as follows:
To my son, born in the time of coronavirus and climate change
By Bill Weir, CNN Chief Climate Correspondent
My dearest River,
Against all odds you were conceived in a lighthouse, born during a pandemic, and will taste just enough of Life as We Knew It to resent us when it's gone. I'm sorry. I’m sorry we broke your sea and your sky and shortened the wings of the nightingale. I'm sorry that the Great Barrier Reef is no longer great, that we value Amazon™ more than the Amazon and that the waterfront neighborhood where you burble in my arms could be condemned by rising seas before you're old enough for a mortgage. The scent of your downy crown makes my heart explode. The curl in your Tic Tac toes fills me with enough love to power New York City. If only.
Instead, the milk in your bottle was warmed by dirty, ancient fuels and as a result, you will learn to walk on a planet that has never been this hot for humans.
We are just now wrestling with the implications of this but as your Pop, the most poignant evidence was seeing your mother give you your first kiss through a P100 mask that smelled faintly of smoke. I'm sorry my boy, but we were warned.
See, for decades, scientists told us that if we weren't careful, humans would unleash an invisible enemy out of the jungle and into our lungs. But that was a story few wanted to believe.
So we kept cutting down jungles -- and prairies and mangroves and the last few the places where the wild things are -- to pave and plow, develop and devour everything inside.
As you get older, this will be hard to understand. But we were under the spell of Genesis 1:28: to take dominion over every living thing. We had the strange urge to carve straight lines out of nature's curves and were under the spell of a uniquely human force called "profit motive."
When we finally realized that the worried scientists were right, people got scared and went searching for potions and protections. They emptied store shelves even faster than the jungles and all the invisible enemy masks were gone.
Just in time for your birth.
Your Mom and I were so scared that I was just about to swallow hard and pay a faceless, soulless internet profiteer $600 for a 50-cent N95 when I remembered the mask I used to protect my lungs from a fiery place called California. It might have saved your Mom from the virus, so I still keep it next to my hurricane waders, malaria pills and the bulletproof vest with the patch that reads "PRESS."
If I have to pack them and kiss you goodbye more often than you'd like, I'm sorry. But we were warned. For generations, scientists told us that if we weren't careful, a different kind of invisible enemy would come out of our farms, factories, homes and cars, get into the sea and the sky and end Life As We Know It ... but that was a story too few wanted to believe. Including me.
But like today's coronavirus, carbon dioxide and methane molecules don't care what we believe. The laws of physics have no regard for how we vote or what we worship.
So this will be your first life lesson, little River: We are human and unlike all the other animals, we are made of stories.
Our big brain's ability to imagine different realities and communicate wild new ideas to our children, neighbors and millions of strangers is what makes us the most powerful force in the known universe. Stories! If the lifespan of our 4.5 billion-year-old planet was scaled down to my age, Homo sapiens showed up about three months ago. The Industrial Revolution began when you started reading this letter and in that blink of Earth time, your species went from cave monkeys to demigods. We rose from bands of insignificant hunter-gatherers at the mercy of nature to city-building, river-bending, mountain-moving masses with weapons and tools that grow mightier by the hour.
Along the way, EVERYTHING in our man-made world -- flags and borders, money and markets, laws and religions -- all of it came from the stories we tell ourselves. Some are older than others. They vary by time and place. And all of them are under constant revision.
Take your Grandma Pat. She believed the stories in a very old book with such passion, we followed her dreams from our home in Wisconsin all over the Bible Belt where the heroes were Jesus, cowboys and oilmen. So we burned gasoline for no good reason. We left Prosperity Gospel megachurches, tied a rope to a dirt bike and belly-surfed across a sod farm. We rooster-tailed across Lake Tenkiller on two-stroke Jet Skis and cruised mall parking lots in muscle cars singing "The road goes on forever and the party never ends."
Turns out that it doesn't, and it does. I'm sorry.
Meanwhile, every Christmas and summer vacation I'd go visit your Grandpa Bill in the mountains of Colorado and as we hiked, paddled and explored, I'd hear very different stories with heroes like John Muir, Edward Abbey, Rachel Carson and Eunice Newton Foote.
She was an artist and scientist and one day as she filled glass cylinders with different gasses and put them in the garden sun, she discovered that carbon dioxide traps more heat than air. "An atmosphere of that gas would give to our Earth a high temperature," she wrote.
But in 1856, few paid attention to scientists in skirts. She needed a kind man to present her findings in papers and conventions because, get this, women couldn't even vote (Eunice was also something called a "suffragette" so she helped change that ridiculous story).
Even as plenty of men duplicated her finding, few wanted to think about the dirty secret of fossil fuel because we were too busy burning it to build a rich, glorious and comfortable world.
But we were also building an invisible greenhouse in the sky.
Thanks to all that heat-trapping gas, our oceans are absorbing as much extra heat as five Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs every SECOND of every day.
Since 1961, our planet has lost the equivalent of a block of ice the size of the United States, 16 feet thick.
And on Independence Day 2019, 156 years after she put her glass tubes in the garden sun, Anchorage was hotter than Key West. Just like the virus hunters, Eunice Newton Foote was right. Way back when I was cruising the mall in an '80s mullet, big oil companies KNEW she was right and predicted with eerie precision just how screwed we would be. But some stories take a long time to catch on, especially when they challenge everything we think is glorious about being human.
Especially when they have to compete with fear, greed and the lies they breed.
In the year before you were born, I took a road trip across America. With science as my map, I set out from the Florida Keys to Alaska, from the heartland to burnt Paradise, all to imagine how unnatural disasters will change our future. I met farmers, firefighters and fishermen, politicians, protesters and paleoclimatologists and I came home completely rattled.
Because the American Way of Life that I grew up with is already gone. The Goldilocks climate that allowed humanity to thrive is in the past. And nobody seems to know it yet.
If we follow the warnings of science and do everything possible to spare your generation maximum pain, it will mean completely new forms of power, food, construction, transportation, economics and politics. It will mean landscapes covered in solar panels, windmills and carbon capture plantations and the kind of intimate relationship with our land and water that went the way of the hunter/gatherer.
And if we do nothing? It will mean the end of predictable growing seasons, flight schedules and supply chains, resource wars and tens of millions of climate refugees changing everything we know about borders, neighbors and strangers.
And either scenario will bring out both the absolute best and worst in human nature: Hero first responders, innovators and leaders as well as mendacious grifters, conspiracy theorists and tyrants.
There's no telling which side will prevail so it's no wonder some believe that bringing you aboard this sinking ship was selfish, immoral and hypocritical.
But if we give up on our most primal job we have as humans, haven't we already lost? The day I saw your face for the first time, I went from the ultrasound to a climate march led by Greta Thunberg. You'll be able to read volumes on how she was both canonized and demonized but back then she was just a girl the age of your sister, painfully shy when we met with that hand-painted Swedish protest sign tucked under one thin arm. But she was curious enough to digest those warnings from the scientists and honest enough to call out the arrogant ignorance and ignorant arrogance of all the grown-ups in charge.
I hope you carry the same superpower because that post-ultrasound march gave me a rare shot of hope. It was walking, breathing, traffic-stopping proof that the story might be changing.
So, you will be raised to be engaged. To realize that the strongest societies pull together BEFORE disaster strikes. You will treat believers and deniers with equal empathy, understanding that we are all just products of the stories we are told.
And as a tool kit, I promise to fill you with lessons I've collected from the happiest, healthiest, most resilient societies in the world: Native American fire skills and Dutch water management and secrets from the Blue Zone island in Greece where people forget to die.
You'll need every indigenous trick in the book as citizens of the modern world are forced to realize that EVERY DAY is Earth Day. Your Grandma Pat would call you a miracle baby sent from God.
Grandpa Bill would chalk you up to a glorious twist of biological fate because we thought we were too old to become new parents. You were the last thing we imagined on a vacation to Croatia, where your Great Grandpa Frank was born and we found a Dubrovnik lighthouse on Airbnb.
Until you know what it's like to fall in love, the story will make you blush and squirm, but I can think of no better omen for the kind of boy we hope to raise.
The lighthouse keeper is vigilant and dependable, with a reverence for nature's power and a commitment to saving lives. This is your destiny, my beautiful River.
The great thing about stories is that they are always under revision. Now go write a happy ending.
Back to the Gospel and Jesus’ call to the disciples is to go into the world with a tender and a daring love, for the works is waiting. May we do the same and may God bless us on our journey.
MINUTE FOR MISSION:
"Second Chances" Click here to watch the video.
Our gifts for Mission & Service support community ministries like Stella’s Circle. People comeperi to Emmanuel House at Stella’s Circle for a variety of reasons. Some have exenced mental illness or addiction, and others have suffered emotional stress or trauma or had a conflictwith the law. The staff and volunteers at Emmanuel House are dedicated to helping them move forward in their lives.
Emmanuel House is a 14-bed, residential counselling centre in St.John’s, Newfoundland, where people of all genders live for four months at a time. They participate in group and individual counselling on topics such as addiction, recovery, mindfulness, trauma, and personal effectiveness skills. Residents also participate in therapeutic yoga, recreational activities, and household chores. Emmanuel House was the home of Stella’s Circle founder Stella Burry.
The staff assist residents with concrete issues related to their adjustment back into the community and being able to live independently. Many receive help finding safe and supportive housing or obtain employment assistance. The approach at Emmanuel House is a strengths-focused recovery model.
Ivy Lundrigan is a social worker at Emmanuel House. She expresses what it means to work with residents:
"I am always in awe of the strength, resilience, and courage that
come through these doors. Sometimes they don’t have much hope
when they arrive, but with support and guidance, they are able to
move forward with their lives. I’m grateful to be part of that process."
If Mission & Service giving is already a regular part of your life, thank you so much! If you have not given, please join me in making Mission & Service giving a regular part of your life of faith. Loving our neighbour is at the heart of our Mission & Service.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE and THE DISCIPLES’ PRAYER:
O God, we come to you this Sunday, trusting you as the Source of every human hope.
As we see people protesting around the world for racial justice we confess that the sin of racial hatred and prejudice distorts your divine plan for our human lives:
You created us in divine likeness, diverse and beautiful:
In every person, in every race is your image.
But too often we fail to recognize your image in all:
You created us in divine freedom, to be free:
In every decision, every choice is your possibility of justice.
But too often we fail to choose to advocate for your justice for all:
You created us for divine abundance, to tend and share:
In every garden, every social structure is your seed of community.
But too often we fail to create that community which includes all,
and gives to all equal access to your abundant life:
Open our eyes to distinguish good from evil
Open our hearts to desire good over evil
Strengthen our wills to choose good over evil,
So that we may create among us your beloved community.
O God, as we live through the coronavirus pandemic,
we come feeling stuck, trapped inside, overwhelmed, helpless, even hopeless. Help us to trust that this present moment does not control us, and that we can look forward and not just backward.
We pray especially for those fighting on the front lines of this pandemic - the first responders,
nurses, doctors and other health care professionals - all those risking their own lives to save as many other lives as they can.
Shelter them from this virus and grant your healing mercies on those who are sick and those who will become sick. Help our governments and society at large to mobilize all the medical and protective equipment needed. Help those of us who are not in health care to stay home.
Give us the strength not to hoard and the courage to share what we have.
Take away the temptation to turn distancing into withdrawal and may we believe that the injustices and fears created by this pandemic are not in control and never will be.
As we remember the good news of Easter and Pentecost, let us pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying
“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 who trespass against us. Lead us not in temptation and deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.”
Note from Rev. Brad Newscome: I am indebted to Susan Blain of the United Church of Christ and to Jim Wallis of Sojourners for much of the phrasing in the prayer - Susan for the prayer for racial justice and Jim for the prayers to face the coronavirus pandemic.
Commissioning and Benediction:
Go into the world with a tender and daring love for the world is waiting.
Go in peace.
May the blessing of God, our Creator, who has known us from our very beginning,
May the blessing of a Jesus, who calls us his friends,
May the blessing of the Spirit, who lives inside every one of us, and guides each of us every day,
Be with each of you.
Now and always.
Announcements and Additional service materials: