Embedded immediately below is the video we showed to lead us in our second hymn at the 8:30 a.m. Service last Sunday. This hymn, and the other two hymns we sang, are all favourites of our dear brother Sydney Chilton, who’s recently moved to the Chinook Hospice. As we sang them, Sydney, Mary, and the family were all especially in our thoughts and prayers.
Immediately below are the 4 videos we watched before our 10 a.m. Service to help prepare us for worship. They reflected our celebration Sunday morning of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.
We began our 10 a.m. Service with the following video that helped us be aware of our living God’s Presence with us.
[Embedded below is an adapted version of the last part of my Homily at both Services.]
All of us live such busy, crazy lives! And when we look around us at the world, we see such darkness: global terrorism, violence in so many places. And we know that we have this infection of evil in our own hearts, too. The darkness can seem so strong.
It’s a struggle to keep sight of God in the midst of a world like this.
It’s encouraged us to open our eyes to the unseen, to encounter the wonder from that which is more and beyond.
In Holy Scripture the Archangel Michael leads God’s army of angels fighting for us … I’m reminded of how Matthew 28:4 says that even one angel made the Roman guards, who had seemed to have so much power at Our Lord’s crucifixion, “like dead men” out of fear, and then how Jesus said he in Matthew 26:53 that he could ask the Father who would send more than 72,000 angels (the rough number of “more than twelve legions”)!
Holy Scripture gives us but a glimpse at supernatural world so beyond our little thoughts, for we’re not told the angels’ story, but ours. But there should be no question in our minds about where true power lies!
In fact, the Church deliberately picked a date for this Feast when the increasing darkness outside in nature was evident to Proclaim this truth, that in the battle between light and darkness, good and evil, death and life, love and hate, darkness, evil, death, and hate may seem so strong, but light, good, life, and love are stronger.
The word “angel” also has a wider application. “Angel” means messenger . So we could call this Feast the Feast of St. Michael and all messengers – including all of us! God is with us and within us, and wants to include us as participants in the battle, as those who spread God’s light.
This next video shows an example of some people who are doing this in one of the darkest places on earth.
The number of White Helmets working in Syria has now reached almost 3,000. It’s estimated that they’ve saved 60,000 lives! One headline about the White Helmets reads: “Syria’s ‘White Helmets’: Angels on the Front Line.” “Surely God is in this place!” as the picture on the top of this posting says – for we see God present, working through these people!
The news on August 12 of this year reminded us of the depth and strength of the darkness the White Helmets are combating.
In 2014, Khaled said of his work: “For me, this is the real jihad. If I die saving lives, I think God would definitely consider me a martyr.”
The darkness is deep. But I disagree with the CNN Reporter’s words that Khaled, “leaves behind … a legacy that is a glimmer of light against the darkness of war.” I think that it’s not a glimmer – it’s a blaze of light that shines forth.
Not just in sunsets and flowers, this One is with us, but in the darkest places of existence, walking beside us on nail-pierced feet.
Yes, the darkness is deep. But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never, ever be able to put it out. Life is victorious over death. Love is stronger than hate.
And not just as spectators of this battle are we living. We at St. Paul’s are in no less a war zone than the White Helmets. All the people we meet are engaged in their own struggle with the darkness of fear, pain, and death. All of us at St. Paul’s are called to be angels – messengers – of light, shining forth as beacons of hope and healing.
St. Paul’s is to be a Sanctuary – a place where people can come and experience heaven come down to earth, heaven and earth touching through Jesus; can experience the supernatural; can know love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation – giving strength and courage from the life of Jesus within.
St. Paul’s is to be a Parish where we connect with our God, so that “Surely the Lord is in this place!” is our song of joy at the fellowship with God we know in the depths of our hearts. St. Paul’s is to be a Parish where we connect with one another, and develop friendships, so that we don’t try to live out the call to be God’s messengers alone.
Our Sunday Services are to be times for us to encounter the living God, to “plug in, and be recharged” – filled and refilled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. And then, when filled, to be sent out as disciples who so embody the message of Good News that “Surely the Lord is in this place!” is the thankful cry from all we encounter, wherever we go, in this broken and hurting world God so loves.
May this high calling be fulfilled in us all. Amen.
[The 2 images immediately above are from our End of Summer BBQ on September 10, in which we embodied the Good News by connecting with our community for an evening of free fun, food, and fellowship!]
As we left the Sanctuary at the end of our 10 a.m. Service, the following song was playing on our screens – encouraging us to go forth to be visible signs of the Presence of the unseen God who is with us in each and every place, now and for ever.
The 5 videos embedded immediately below were shown on our screens before our 10 a.m. Service to prepare us for worship.
Here’s the Gospel Reading at our 8:30 and 10 a.m. Services on September 18:
In the following audio clip, the late, great preacher Dr. Fred Craddock addresses the message of verse 10 of this passage: “‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.'”
At the end of the Announcements’ time at our 10 a.m. Service, we watched the following video on our screens:
After the video, we reflected on how we don’t need to get all nervous about inviting someone to come to church with us. All we’re doing is saying, “I’ve found coming to church to be a blessing. Would you like to come with me, to see if it’s a blessing for you, too?” We invited everyone to invite coworkers, neighbours, friends, and family members to come with them to church on September 25, as part of Back to Church Sunday.
Embedded below is a video that reminds us that when we move past our comfort zone and invite someone to church, God’s love is being shared through us.
We played the song on our screens embedded below as we went forth from our 10 a.m. Service to be faithful stewards of the love God has lavished upon us, by sharing that love with everyone.
We observed Holy Cross Sunday at St. Paul’s on September 11. The 4 videos embedded immediately below were shown on our screens before our 10 a.m. Service to prepare us for worship.
Embedded immediately below is the amazing video we watched as part of the Children’s Talk. Our Children’s Talk giver, Allison Pierce, used props of lemons, lemon juice, sugar, and lemonade, to build on the message of the video and encourage our children to have an attitude towards life that takes lemons and makes lemonade – an inner strength that Jesus will give to us when we seek him for it. (Allison encouraged us to think of Jesus as the sugar that transforms the bitterness of lemon juice into lemonade.)
Embedded immediately below is the Gospel passage read at our 8:30 and 10 a.m. Services.
At our 10 a.m. Service, we had the great joy of Baptizing Amanda Sergon, pictured below wearing the white shawl she was given by our Prayer Shawl ministry, symbolizing her new life in Our Lord. Thanks to Jacquie Stoop (who’s soon to be Amanda’s mother-in-law) for these excellent photos!
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin, and have raised her to the new life of grace. Sustain her, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen. (BAS, p. 160)
Amanda: We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood. (BAS, p. 161)
We watched the following video about Baptism (minus the volume) before our 10 a.m. Service.
After our 10 a.m. Service, we shared the awesome Baptismal cake pictured below (plus great cakes from Amanda and Louis Helmy). Thank you, Robbie Coller, for baking it; and thank you, Allison Pierce, for taking the photo (before we devoured it)!
At the end of our 10 a.m. Service, we watched the following video.
After the video, we reflected on how we’re called to be not only a welcoming church, but also an inviting church – to move past our comfort zones and rely on Our Lord Jesus to be the sugar in our lives to turn the lemons of fear of rejection and embarrassment to the lemonade of sharing Our Lord’s loving invitation with coworkers, neighbours, friends, and family to “come and see” his Presence with us at our Services on September 25, as part of Back to Church Sunday.
We left the Sanctuary after our 10 a.m. Service with the following video playing – a reprise of our second pre-Service video, united with Amanda in our resolve to “Go forth in the Name of Christ.”
The 3 videos embedded immediately below were shown on our screens before our 10 a.m. Service on September 4 to prepare us for worship.
Embedded below is the Gospel passage we read at our 8:30 and 10 a.m. Services.
[Embedded below is an adapted portion of the sermon preached on Sunday. The painting of the Apostle Paul is part of Rembrandt’s “St. Paul in Prison”.]
With the challenging words of the above Gospel passage, Jesus says: “I’m calling you to the death of self-centred life. Carry the cross and follow me.”
Jesus invites us to follow where he leads – to go where love goes, paying whatever the price like he does; to have the things that break his heart break ours also.
He tells us: “This is what discipleship is.”
Someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger person. They said, “So and so tells me that they were one of your students.” To which the teacher answered devastatingly: “They may have attended my lectures, but they were NOT one of my students.”
Jesus says,“This is what it means to be one of my students. So count the cost.”
If we do this – if we follow Our Lord as his disciples – the result is transformation.
First of all, transformation inside us.
A professor teaching a course on Christianity was approached by one of their students after class. The student said to the professor, “I just thought I should let you know that I have no problem affirming intellectually the claims of Christianity, but I will never become a Christian – because my experience is that Christians are weird people.” The professor (not taking this personally!) replied, “I’m so sorry that that’s the impression you’ve been given, because if you could look ahead 10 years to see the person Jesus wants to make you become, you’d say, ‘YES! That’s the kind of person I want to be!'”
All morning, an instructor had been explaining leadership to a class of police recruits. Calling a recruit to the front of the class, the instructor handed them a piece of paper on which was written: “You are in charge. Get everyone out of the room without causing a panic.” The recruit was at a loss for words and returned to their seat. The second recruit summoned tried: “Everybody outside. Go!” No one moved. A third recruit glanced at the instructions, smiled and said, “All right, everyone. Break for lunch.” The room emptied in seconds.
Jesus is calling us to a banquet, to abundant life – to feed on HIM! The call to discipleship is a call to be transformed – made into Jesus’ likeness, to KNOW and LOVE him! When we realize this, when we see the person God is desiring to mould us to be, our heart cries out “YES!”
Following Jesus as his disciple, results in transformation inside us. It also results in transformation around us, through us.
We see wonderful example of this lived out in today’s Epistle.
Paul is writing this epistle to a man named Philemon, who had a slave named Onesimus (meaning “Useful”). Onesimus had run away, and run into Paul in prison. There he was converted. Now Paul is writing to Philemon to live out the Good News: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.”
In this short letter, Paul pulls out absolutely everything at his disposal to get Philemon to do the right thing – every argument he can muster … I invite you to sit down some time and take note of all the things Paul does. Add verse 22, not included in the Lectionary: “One thing more–prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.” (In other words: “I’m going to come and see if you’ve done what I’m urging you to do”!)
All this Paul does not so that he may get his own way, but for the sake of Onesimus, for Philemon, so God’s love may be spread in the world, God’s kingdom may break in to the earth.
“I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.”
I pray that we all realize the difference we can make, the transformation that can occur through one person! In this case, it was the undermining of all slavery (although it took Christians until Nineteenth Century to take to heart the implications of Paul’s words and Philemon’s actions).
We’ve been made to make a difference! We experience meaning, purpose as Jesus’ servants, his hands and feet. We live life as we’ve been created to live when we give our all, all our strength, to make a difference in the world!
We live in a world that desperately needs this – that desperately needs transformation.
And so, as Frederick Buechner has said: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to spread light and life and love.
On the top of this posting is a picture of the monument remembering one young man who did this so powerfully in our generation – Terry Fox.
Here are two brief videos that show what Terry did to make a difference.
The monument for Terry Fox stands in Thunder Bay, where the recurrence of cancer forced Terry to discontinue his marathon of hope.
Not widely known is that Terry was a Christian. Fred, his older brother, said:
Faith played a huge part in Terry’s life after being diagnosed with cancer and gave him strength before he passed away. Terry was a Christian and accepted that he was put on this earth for a higher purpose.
A few months before his death, Terry wrote about his perspective on this purpose as he reflected on the race of his life:
I don’t care what percentages the doctor tells me I have. If God is true I know I’ve got 100 per cent, if that’s what God has in God’s plans for me. And if I really believe and if God is really there, then I’m not going to lose even if I die, because it’s supposed to be the Pearly Gates I’m going through, and if heaven is there, I can’t lose out.
Maybe now instead of being afraid and saying, “Well, look how hard Terry tried and he’s still got it,” people will say, “Look at the effort he put in and he died of cancer. We’re really going to have to try hard in order to beat it, try harder than we ever have before.”
To date, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $650 million worldwide. Terry’s example has inspired millions. In a 1999 survey, he was identified as Canada’s greatest hero. In CBC’s 2004 countrywide vote for the greatest Canadian, Terry finished second only to Tommy Douglas.
Truly his example shows the difference fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives makes for us and for others!
This year, the Terry Fox Run takes place on September 18. You can find out about it by going to terryfox.org.
I’d like to conclude with the words of Will Willimon:
And so I ask you, do you believe today’s gospel lesson from Luke, these tough words of Jesus, are good news or bad news? I began this sermon, thinking that they were bad news. These are tough words. But perhaps, in your life and mine, these tough words are good news. Jesus comes asking us to pay the cost. In our better moments, we are just dying to pay the cost, just dying.
May we all decide to count the cost and pay the price, so that we may know and show how being moulded and fashioned by God transforms our lives and our world. Amen.
September 25 is “Back to Church Sunday” for us at St. Paul’s. We ended the 10 a.m. Service with the following video reminding us of the difference inviting people to church can make.
The 3 videos embedded immediately below were shown on our screens before our August 28 Service to prepare us for worship.
Embedded below is our Gospel passage, which was the focus of Deacon Bob’s sermon.
September 25 is “Back to Church Sunday” for us at St. Paul’s. We ended the Service with the following video reminding us to what and to whom we’re inviting people when we invite them to “church.”
The four videos immediately below were shown on our screens before our August 21 Service to help prepare us for worship.
The sermon time began with the following two videos, which are about what was for me the most inspiring action I saw among all the wonderful performances in the Rio Olympics of athletes like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Canada’s own Andre De Grasse and Penny Oleksiak – carried out by two athletes in the 5,000 meters who didn’t get a medal.
In my sermon, I then continued:
Finishing the race together … Bearing witness to something deeper … connection … relationship … sacrifice … all speak to the ultimate victory’s being love.
Today, our Gospel passage (Luke 13:10-17) speaks about this as well – setting forth the freedom that comes when love reigns supreme, the joy that exists when God’s touch sets free from bondage, both internal and external!
The leader of the synagogue was intensely displeased because Jesus had cured on the sabbath. He kept saying to the crowd, “Work needs to be done on the six non-Sabbath days; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”
Jesus responds with passion: “You talk about what’s necessary. Let me tell you what’s necessary. It’s necessary that this daughter of Abraham not have to wait one second longer to be set free!”
This past week I learned about a young person from Syria who shares Our Lord’s passion – Mazoon Rakan Almellehan (pictured in the image on the top of this posting). Here’s a video about her.
Mazoon is passionate in her conviction that it’s necessary for a daughter of Abraham to be free – that no daughter of Abraham be held in bondage for one second longer, but rather know freedom outside and inside.
We need this passion – to, like Our Lord, be unable to be willing contentedly to let people continue in bondage one second longer; to celebrate whatever sets free: to see it as victory for all of us – a victory of love, the deepest victory of all!
May all of us know this victory in our lives, and finish the race together! Amen.
The following song played on our screens, as we left the Sanctuary with thankful hearts, to go and serve freely in Jesus’ Name.
We had a Western theme at our 9:30 a.m. Service on July 10, in honour of the Calgary Stampede. Embedded immediately below are the Western worship songs we played before the Service, to prepare us for worship.
[The following section contains adapted excerpts from the July 10 sermon time.]
[Text: Luke 10:25-37 (commonly called the Parable of the Good Samaritan):
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”]
With today’s Western theme, I thought it would be good to start today’s sermon with a story about a cowboy.
I found this video by doing a search for a “cowboy Good Samaritan.” We call a “Good Samaritan” someone who goes out of their way to help a stranger. The origin of this term is Jesus’ Parable quoted above.
Most people have a creed that calls for caring for others. Here, for example, is Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code.
Notice number 6:
But when it comes to living this creed out, it can be a different matter.
Here’s a video of an experiment in Paris to see how people would respond to a homeless man in distress.
This next video shows an experiment in which a woman is seemingly being assaulted.
Both experiments yielded similar results of inaction.
In a famous Study, described in the video immediately below, a similar scenario was played out in Princeton with students training for ordained ministry.
Martin Luther King reflected on the root cause for this inaction, beginning by commenting on the two spiritual leaders in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
“What will happen to me?” It’s a self-centred question of fear. The Seminarians who didn’t help the person in distress were afraid that they’d get in trouble for being late. The people who didn’t help the woman being assaulted were afraid that they themselves would get beaten up. The people in Paris who didn’t help the homeless person were afraid of getting in over their head, of catching a disease.
While it’s still under investigation, it appears that we saw a tragic example this past week in Minnesota of what happens when we let fear cause our actions.
This and the other shootings and all the turmoil in the US this past week are a reminder of how the racial tensions Martin Luther King faced still continue.
We struggle with the fear of being overwhelmed; the fear of using up all of our time and energy – indeed our very life.
We struggle with the fear of death.
How can we overcome and have our actions be moved by compassion rather than fear? The only way I can is by having within me the life of the One in us who when he said the words of the Parable of the Good Samaritan was on his way to Jerusalem, to draw near to us out of compassion and lay down his life for us, who were helpless on the side of the road of life; receiving him into my heart, so that, as our Patron wrote in Galatians 2:20, “it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Only as we know and receive his love, will we have the courage to give of ourselves, as he gives himself to us.
The words we listened to by Martin Luther King in the above video were part of the last speech he ever gave. The very next day he was shot to death. Jesus gave him the courage to follow to the end. Here are his final words:
“What will happen to me?” The Cross, death – but also resurrection!
As we walk the way of death, the Cross, the way of love, we find it is the way of eternal life, of fellowship with God and all God’s people as our neighbours.
Just like the rich young ruler, who asked a similar question, Jesus invites the expert in the Law and each of us to follow him, who walks with us on nail-pierced feet; to go through life together with him, so that we may indeed give ourselves fully to God, loving God with everything within us, and allow God’s love fully to dwell in us, being poured out and shared through us with everyone.
To accept this invitation is life indeed – for us and for all we encounter on the way!
May we all do this. Amen.