A bit of fun…

One of the realities of this time of pandemic and crisis is that everything is so serious. The tone and the facial expressions of our politicians and health experts help to convey the seriousness of this situation. And that’s good – non verbal cues are a huge part of communication. I think our officials are doing an outstanding job.

But man, sometimes I just get tired of grim faces and grim tones. I crave silliness and joy. I miss joking around with my friends – you know those times you’re making each other laugh so hard you have tears running down your face and you can’t breathe? Thankfully I have had some of those moments over text and messenger. And I’m grateful for those funny, silly conversational moments.

We were made for joy.

So to bring you some joy in these trying times – I dare you not to grin while watching this:

And if you haven’t yet picked this up over Facebook or from a news source, I love this video put together by actor John Krasinski:

Keep smiling, keep finding reasons to experience joy, my friends. This, too, is holy.

Undefeated…by Death

The passage we are looking at today is: John 11:17-44.

Here is a prayer from the PCC that I thought might be helpful:

God of the past, present and future, 

God in whom all things are renewed, we praise you.

In the face of all that wearies us and worries us,

your words echo through the centuries with love and hope.

As we follow the footsteps of Jesus in this Lenten season,

His Cross stands before us.

And so we trust you are never far from our sorrows.

In him you walk with us; you share our tears. 

You stand beside us when we don’t know which way to turn.

In this hour of worship, renew our trust in your resurrection promises

and draw near to us when we need you the most,

whenever we can’t even find the words to call on your holy name. 

God of our lonely places and hard times, there is no place dark for your presence. There are no situations beyond your grace. Yet we confess we sometimes lose track of you, when sorrows stack up or loneliness surrounds us. Forgive us our hopelessness. Stay with us as we go through every valley of shadow. Bring life where there is death, healing whether there is pain, and courage where there is fear. Stay with us as we make our way along the path Jesus walked.

worship planner for Lent 5 found at https://presbyterian.ca/worship/

(Remember, you could – if you choose – listen to Ancient Words before the sermon and Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne afterward to create a little service for yourself!)

And here is the video sermonette (which was supposed to be shorter without including the reading, but is actually longer than last weeks!):

Some of tomorrow’s hymns…

There are lots of churches that have been able to put together either a video service or are live-streaming a service during the COVID-19 pandemic. At Graceview, we simply don’t have the ability to do that well. My Dad is known for quoting Clint Eastwood movies, and this line from Magnum Force applies: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” There is wisdom, sometimes in knowing our limitations.

However, I would encourage you to go to the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s list of live-streamed and recorded services and choose a service to watch tomorrow morning.

I’d also remind you that I will be posting a video sermonette here, and you are welcome to view it as soon as it is live and to share it with friends and family. I’m hoping (HOPING!) that I will be able to have the sermonette ready to go by 10:30am, but I ask for your patience if it takes me longer.

If we were able to meet together to worship, at Graceview we would have been singing a couple of my favourites tomorrow (ok, I have a long, long, long, list of favourites!). But I thought I’d share a couple of them. Perhaps you could listen to them just before and after the sermon, to make your own little worship service at home!

Ancient Words was recorded by Michael W. Smith on his live album, “Worship 2.” You can listen to Smith’s version from that record here. This song reminds us that the ancient words recorded in Scripture “resound with God’s own heart,” and have the power to change us. In these strange and unimaginable days, may the Ancient words impart strength and peace and an abundance of hope to each of us.

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne is a traditional Lenten hymn (yes, it’s still Lent!). You can listen to a lovely a cappella version here. This hymn reminds us to make room in our hearts for Jesus – for the man, his mission, his teachings, and of course, his resurrection.

I hope these hymns uplift you and help you experience worship even in this time of physical distancing!

Another musical post…

It is a gorgeous (seriously gorgeous) sunny day in North Etibicoke today. Koski and I got out for a run, and for the first time in recent memory, I felt strong throughout the run. I joked on my mapmyrun post that I thought maybe I was solar powered. There’s something about the sunshine that just makes everything better.

When I returned home from running, I found an email from the Rev. Brian McIntosh of Bloordale United Church sharing a couple of new hymns that have been written addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. And I immediately thought, “Oh, I have to share those on my blog!”

They are both written by  Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. She has provided them free of charge for use by communities of faith that might find them helpful. I think there is a sermon in that!

The first is entitled “God Whose Will is Health and Wholeness, it is set to the tune In Babilone which you can listen to here. The words are:

The second is entitled “When we face an unknown future” and is set to the tune Beach Spring, which you can listen to here. The words are:

I hope you find these inspiring and helpful! May they help you worship even in these uncertain times. Blessings!

A devotional exercise…

Today is one of those days when I just didn’t have a clue what to write about…if you’ve been paying attention to the timing of my posts, I’ve been trying to have them published between 4pm-6pm. Tonight’s is a little later because I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about since I got back from a late afternoon walk with Koski.

As I scrolled around the internet looking for ideas and inspiration, I landed on an email from illustratedministry.com. They are the folks that supplied the Advent Banner we coloured throughout that recent season at Graceview.

And during the COVID-19 Pandemic, they are supplying interested churches, leaders, individuals with some free resources. I signed up to their weekly email, because it’s always good to have free resources! And they sent me a colouring page that is also a devotional.

Their email said:

For now, we wanted to start by giving you a free coloring page. The coloring page features the prompt “God calls me…” and allows for a variety of possibilities for reflection:

  • What is God calling me to do, or not do, right now?
  • Who is God calling me to be?
  • What name is it that God calls me?

And I thought – wow, what a lovely little devotional activity. So whether you choose to print and colour the page that you can find here, or not – I do encourage you to spend some time in though and in prayer, answering these questions.

If you’re interested in my answers, let me tell you:

  • God is calling me to care for my people (those of Graceview, my friends, my family, my colleagues) while maintaining physical distance
  • God is calling me to not beat myself up for my imperfections and the struggle I have with trying to keep my own spirits up
  • God is calling me to be at peace, knowing that Good doesn’t leave or forsake us
  • the name that God calls me is “beloved daughter,” which means more to me than any other title I’ll ever be given

Now, dear friend, take some time to answer those questions yourself. Know that God is with you as you do. Blessing to you until tomorrow!

Feeling a little wordless…

I’ve been writing more than usual in the past week – a blog post every day, and while it wasn’t a fully written sermon, a message on Sunday. Today I’m feeling like I don’t have many words. So instead, I’m going to share with you some things that I’ve come across in the past week as I spent time on Social Media.

Like this thought, about all the things we’ve stopped taking for granted in the past week and a half:

And this image, which helps me feel safe when the world seems to be falling apart:

Or this deeply honest prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber, whose thoughts and theology I have always deeply appreciated:

I hope these things are a help and blessing to you, dear friends. God be with you!

Something to make you grin…

So yes, the days are a bit boring and the news grows ever grimmer. It grows hard to know what to even say. But then someone sends you something that makes you laugh, or reminds you that the world is bigger and wider than your isolation and solitude. This video was sent to me by a couple of the faithful at Graceview. So I’m sharing it with you!

It may just seem like a bit of light-hearted fun. But actually this song makes a great point. Did you know what the psalmist says:

I actually love this time of year. This is the time of year when the cardinals are singing. When you hear them, if you know their call, you can actually see them in the tops of trees, because the leaves aren’t out yet. Cardinals (despite their bright flashy red colour) are incredibly shy birds. Usually they hide in the foliage. But right now, they don’t have leaves to hide them. I used to make a game of seeing how many I could spot on a morning walk with Koski.

This is the time of year when birdsong at the breaking of the dawn begins to be heard again. My current accommodations (a condo on the 17th floor) doesn’t lend itself to hearing that birdsong.But when I lived in the manse in Brampton, I would be woken up by the sound of the birds singing. And I always sort of skirted the line between being annoyed by being woken up early (I’m so not a morning person!), and finding myself waking with a grin at this early sign of Spring.

My Dad taught me to hear birdsong as the creature praising the creator. I love that idea, even now it brings a smile to my face. I hope that you hear birdsong in the days to come. I hope it reminds you of a God who is bigger than our current storm. I hope it makes you grin.

Serving others…

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Peter 4:10 NIV

As the days pass and the news continues to be grim, it can be difficult to know what to do. I admit I’ve watched more news in the last week than I’ve ever watched in my life. Watching updates from Prime Minister Trudeau and Premiere Ford and Mayor John Tory have become daily habits.

Somewhere in the midst of all that I consumed across the media platforms today, I heard this phrase: “you can serve others by staying home.” I loved that. For me, it helped me reframe the sitting-at-home-doing-nothing that has made up the past week in a much more proactive and meaningful light.

You see, followers of Jesus are always called to serve others in Jesus’ name. We are called to acts of kindness and generosity and love. Sitting at home is counter-intuitive to that call.

So seeing the ‘stay at home’ directive as one of serving others helps me understand that by staying at home, by heeding the advice of health experts, by listening to carefully (but hopefully not obsessively) to the news, I am in fact serving others. I am living out my faith and my call in this way.

I want to encourage you to do the same – serve others, by staying home, by keeping physical distance with anyone you come into contact with, by heeding the advice of our experts.

But I also want to encourage to serve others by making phone calls to let people know you’re thinking of them and praying for them, by being in touch through texting, messaging and emails. By encouraging others every way you can while continuing to maintain physical distance.

Let me leave you, dear friends with this blessing (which I found on Facebook at some point in the last few days, I am unsure of its origins, but would love to give credit – so if you know, help me out!).

Well, that wasn’t easy…

I promised yesterday to post a video sermonette. And can I just say my heart is with every pastor who is out there doing a livestream or a video sermon today? It is not easy! I went through a lot of takes, stopping the video after a minute or two when I said something weird or was uncomfortable in some way. And then decided that for better or worse, this last take would be the one I went with.

So of course, as soon as I tried to upload I had internet problems. Because that is just the way things go sometimes. And the video took forever to upload. But in any case, here we are.

A word or two: my friend Janet who I mention in this is The Rev. Janet Ryu-Chan of Morningside-HighPark Presbyterian Church in Toronto. She’s a dear friend and a wonderful colleague. We’ve made it a practice to plan Lent and Advent together since I came to serve Graceview in 2017.

Here is my video:

The Scripture I read is Matthew 23:13-28 and then 2 Corinthians 4:1-9.

A word about tomorrow…

Tomorrow my congregation, Graceview Presbyterian Church, will not gather in person for worship. This is unprecedented. But we are living in unprecedented times.

Though we will not gather together in person, I will be preparing a short video sermon to post here, and I encourage you to tune in to that, to listen and to pray. (My plan is to post it at 10:30am, which would be our normal time to begin worship, but I’m dealing with a learning curve, too, so bear with me if that doesn’t go according to plan! I promise to have it up as close to 10:30am as possible!)

We are not doing a livestream – there are many other churches that ARE doing that, and I want to share some links with you of places you can “go to church” from the comfort of your own home.

MOSAIC.ORG/LIVE Mosaic is a church in Los Angeles. Their lead pastor, Erwin McManus, has had a profound influence on my ministry and preaching. I find him interesting, exciting and inspiring. If you tune in, you may not know any of the music that they us in worship – Mosaic has a team that writes their own songs for their faith community. But I promise you your time will not be wasted if you choose to follow the link and join them for one of their live events.

themeetinghouse.com The Meeting house will be livestreaming at 10am tomorrow morning. This is a contemporary, Brethren In Christ church with many satellite locations around the GTA and beyond. I often worship at one of their satellites when I have a Sunday off during which I am not away from home.

If you are on facebook, you can check out my friend Rev. Alton J. Ruff’s livestream by following Knox Midland’s Facebook page. Alton will be live on facebook at 10:30am.

Also on Facebook you could check out St. Paul’s Nobleton’s live stream by following the Rev. Dr. Jeff Loach’s facebook page. Jeff will be live at 10am tomorrow morning.

For an exhaustive list of Presbyterian churches that are live-streaming, you can follow this link to the National Church’s website.

All of this to say, dear friends, that worship continues. It may look very different than you are used to, but God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

You have lots of options for experiencing church while staying home and continuing to follow the practices of physical distancing. I encourage you to find your rest in God, to know that you are not alone, and to trust that we will make it through these days.