Sacrament…

On Sunday, I spoke a little about Sacrament, and shared with it the definition I had learned from on of my favourite singer/songwriters, Andrew Peterson: a sacrament is an outward sign of an inner reality. To put it another way, a sacrament is tangible sign of a spiritual reality. You can touch and taste the bread and wine at communion which speak to eternal life given to us through the laying down of Jesus’ life.

In his song, My One Safe Place, Andrew refers to his wife as a sacrament, he sings: I know that you’re broken too, but you are a sacrament, God has spoken through!

And I’ve been thinking a lot in the last few days about that. About the fact that all of us have people who are sacraments in our lives. For many (I hope!) it is your spouse – the person who you’ve chosen to ‘do life’ with for the rest of our lives.

But as an unmarried person, I can tell you I have friends and family, far and wide, who are sacraments to me. Friends who build me up and encourage me when I’m feeling low or doubtful about my own abilities. A whole congregation that finds spiritual guidance through my efforts (Woah! No pressure!), but who also walk with me on the journey of faith. And then family – both the ones I was born to, and the one who have adopted me along the way. (And now that I’m writing this, I suddenly think of all my colleagues who work alongside of me in our denomination and in other denominations, who share their wisdom, experience, perspective and creativity.)

I know a lot of living sacraments!

But I’ve also been thinking of sacramental moments. How do I explain this well? Many of you (especially if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram) know that I love sunsets. I am blessed to have lived for the better part of three years in a condo that faces West. I get to see some extraordinary sunsets. And in the midst of the pandemic, sitting and watching the sun sink below the horizon, watching the way the light plays and the colours change, has become a moment of sacrament for me. A moment when I feel the closeness and blessing of God. A moment when the light shines so brilliantly and I remember again that the darkness has not overcome it.

So I thought I’d share with you a gallery of some of my favourite sunsets from the past 46 days in quarantine (I’m always home to see them, now!):

And until tomorrow, dear friends, I encourage you to think about your sacramental moments (maybe it’s a chat with a friend, or listening to music, or simply sitting in silence), and name (and give thanks for!) your sacramental people.

Mostly Wordless Wednesday…

Wednesdays are busy for me – I do sermon prep over the phone with the Rev. Janet Ryu-Chan (aka “The Janet”), I write an email to the congregation, and about every second week, I zoom-meet with the ministerial. Today I added getting a round of groceries to all of that. So, I’m wordless and leaving you with this thought (which The Janet sent to me over email):

And this musical prayer, also sent to me by The Janet:

Until tomorrow, dear friends, keep praying, keep singing and maybe spend some times making your own list of things that you need to lose through a practice of prayer.

Praying in a time of pandemic…

I came across this image the other day. It made me laugh, but it also struck a chord:

That’s sometimes how prayer feels in times of trauma and crisis. Like, you know it’s in there, you know you want to bring your sins and griefs to Jesus, but you don’t have the ability to form the words or make coherent thoughts.

So how do you pray, when you’re too upset to pray? Or when you’re struggling to find the words?

Well, this is where the Bible comes in. You see, Scripture is full of prayer. There are the Psalms – which, while they are technically the song book of Ancient Israel, function beautifully as prayers. Why not turn to them, when you can’t find your own words?

Or you can go to this article, to find prayers in the New Testament.

Or, if you want something incredibly simple, why not print this image, and post it where you’ll be able to see it while you’re having your morning coffee (or other quiet time in your daily routine)…notice that some of these short prayers come from the Psalms!:

Prayer is necessary to the life of faith, friends, but sometimes it is difficult to pray. If you find you can’t do it on your own, reach out to a friend or your elder (or me!) and ask for help. We are in this together!

Until tomorrow, dear friends, keep on praying in whatever way you are able. And trust that God hears each prayer!

To brighten your day…

Today I wanted to bring you some fun resources – there’s nothing really tying all this together, except my prayer that they will brighten your day.

First, I hope you had the chance to watch the outstanding “Stronger Together/Tous Ensemble” special last night, which gathered Canadian celebrities and musicians in fundraising for Food Banks Canada and thanking frontline workers. If not, it is well worth your time an attention. It runs about 1.5hrs in length and is absolutely packed with the best of Canadian talent. (Make sure you have tissues nearby! I basically ugly cried through the entire thing – so proud to be Canadian, and so touched by the whole thing!)

This song by country singer Thomas Rhett (features Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin & Keith Urban) that expresses what I feel the call is to every Christian in the midst of these days:

This colouring sheet by illustratedministry.com – why not print it, colour it, and share it with someone who could use a bit of a lift?

This reminder that as strange as these days continue to feel, there is some normalcy about it, and real reason to give thanks:

Be encouraged and seek the beauty that is all around us. Hold on, the awful will pass.

And finally, this short and effective prayer for us all today which comes from the Psalms:

Until tomorrow, dear friends, put your hope in the Lord and know his love never fails and He is with you.

COMPANIONSHIP for these hard times…

Good morning, and welcome to this week’s worship blog post. I’m beginning to think of my Sunday posts as “IKEA Services,” all the pieces are here, though it requires assembly by you, the participant. That’s not a bad thing, as it makes you more of an active partner in worship, something we ministers are always in favour of encouraging!

First, a little bit of prelude music from our own Eric Medhurst in his own words: Our musical selection this morning is “As the Deer,” by Martin Nystrom, in a thoughtful arrangement by Douglas E. Wagner.  Although the tune is new it has quickly become a favourite in many denominations due to the beautiful tune and its timeless message.

Next, Graceview Elder, Susan Chopp, provides our Scripture reading this week, Luke 24:13-35:

A prayer to use as part of our worship this morning:

O risen Christ,
On the road to Emmaus you were the disciples’ companion.

Be at our side on the journey of faith

on life’s pathways and at every encounter,

engender our compassion,

so that we may welcome others and listen to their stories.
Kindle anew the desire to proclaim your Word.

May it illumine us and may our hearts burn to bear witness to it.
May your Holy Spirit teach us the art of explaining scripture

and open our eyes to recognize you.
Grant us the courage to become vulnerable

so that our sisters and brothers may know you through us

and that we may know you through them. Amen.

— from Resources for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and throughout the year (2010), jointly prepared and published by The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.  Posted on the World Council of Churches website.  

This week, Eric and I have been working together to bring you some hymns that you can sing along with at home. First we have hymn #675, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, the words are provided so you might sing along:

Now that you’ve had a good sing-along, here is this week’s video sermon:

And as a response to the sermon, we have Hymn #665, Lord Jesus, You shall be my song. This is fairly new to us at Graceview, but it’s a beautiful tune and the words have been resonating with me all week. Hear are the lyrics:

And finally, a link to the Virtual Vigil for Nova Scotia.

Until tomorrow, dear friends, pray for each other and know that Christ is your faithful companion in these hard times.

Small victories and resources for tomorrow…

In the midst of pandemic and quarantine and all the uncertainty that surrounds us, it’s important to recognize the small victories. Today my small victories are that I’m feeling less weepy than I did yesterday – I watched the vigil for Nova Scotia last night, and I found it meaningful, emotional, and imparting of some measure of closure over the tragedy that took place there

The other small victory today is that I got out for a run this afternoon. Just two miles (though I walked another half mile beyond that), and I was slow. But I feel like this is a new beginning after a few weeks of the weather and my own energy levels making it impossible for me to go for a run.

These are small things, on the one hand, but as I prepared this blog I came across a verse in Zephaniah that says (in essence, this is an accepted paraphrase by scholars, because the original wording is cumbersome):

What are your small victories? They may be for this day, for this week or for the last 5 minutes. Recognize your victories as they come!

Tomorrow, we will gather (separately, in our own homes, through the gift of technology) in worship, once again. I love the thought that we are redefining what it means to gather. That we are figuring out ways of showing our solidarity, even while keeping our physical difference.

In anticipation of our worship, I wanted to share some resources with you.

First, this wonderful FREE resource from illustratedministry.com:

These videos of my friends Shelagh Tyreman and Rob Hennig singing a couple of familiar pieces from our hymnbook. I particularly love Rob providing percussion on the first piece, with a jar of dried lentils!

#484 The Church is Wherever God’s people…
#376 Shine Jesus Shine

Until tomorrow dear friends, celebrate the small victories, and know that they aren’t small in God’s eyes. He delights to see the work begin!

Gratitude…

Some days are just harder than others. And this one has felt hard for me.

One of my friends reminded me of a practice we used to have in the online book club to which we belonged. We do a post called “3 Gratitudes” and everyone had to post three things for which they were thankful. Focussing on gratitude helps when the days feel sad and dark.

So I’m going to share mine, and I encourage you to share yours:

  1. I’m thankful for all the pictures of friends wearing red to honour Nova Scotia today. Seeing pictures of my friends, and knowing that we are united in our grief, makes this tragedy just a little more bearable.
  2. I’m thankful that the weather is a bit warmer today. Koski and I will head out on our walk in a few moments, and that always helps to lift my spirits. The snow and wind at the beginning of the week made it difficult to get out. So I’m glad its’ warmer today.
  3. I’m thankful for the on-going, careful, wise, reasoned, science-based leadership in our country. From most of our politicians, and from all of our medical experts, we have seen what it looks like for people in leadership positions to step up and come together in a unified response. We have so much to be grateful for, Canada.

What are you giving thanks for today? You can comment here, you can simply say them in your own heart, or you can write them down elsewhere (a journal, for example, if you keep one). Recognizing the gifts God has given is good for a soul!

Until tomorrow, dear friends, give thanks, pray continually, keep the faith and know that you are never alone.

Wordless Thursday…

I’m feeling a bit wordless today, so I thought I would share with you this song from NEEDTOBREATHE, which gave me the phrase, “for these hard times,” – title of my current preaching series:

The lyrics from the chorus sound like the cry of many of our hearts right now:

Give me an answer

Give me the way out

Give me the faith

To believe in these hard times

Hard Times by NEEDTOBREATHE

And this reminder of what bravery looks like:

And, finally, this encouragement from the scriptures:

Until tomorrow, dear friends. Stay safe, stay kind, and trust in God.

Good…

When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to go to a church conference – I don’t even remember what the name of the conference was – as part of one of my classes. What I remember crystal-clear is that this was the first time I heard Erwin McManus speak. I remember being riveted and blown away by what Erwin had to say.

I remember going back to my commuter’s rez room at Knox College and writing these words, which I heard from Erwin that night, on the whiteboard on my front door: “The Church doesn’t exist for us. We ARE the church and we exist for the world!” (I think that is truer than ever in these strange days.)

It kind of revolutionized how I saw my faith, and my community of faith. It resonates with that meme I posted during Holy Week, which said that the church isn’t empty, it’s been deployed.

Erwin McManus, his preaching and his books, and the community of faith he leads at Mosaic L.A., have continued to influence my journey of faith. So often, as I listen to Erwin over podcast (or more recently, during the pandemic, as I watch him preach on youtube on my tv), I find myself gasping out loud as he says something so profound and beautiful that my reaction isn’t something I can contain.

This past Sunday, I tuned in to hear him about 5pm, and there was a song played before the livestream began, and as some of the worship:

Once Erwin began to preach, he spoke at length (the sermon begins at minute 34 of this video) about this song, and he pointed out how easy it is for us to claim the goodness of others, and how hard it is to claim our own goodness. And I felt that in my gut.

I can speak about my congregants, friends, colleagues and family in glowing terms. I can tell you how amazing they are – you’ll probably have to tell me to shut up, once I get going. But oh-my-goodness-sakes-alive do I ever find it hard to say anything about my own goodness.

And yet the song’s claim – I am good, YOU say I am good – is indeed scriptural. God says that we are made in His image (how could that be anything but good?!), that we are worth loving (how could that be anything but good?!), that he has crowned us with glory and honour.

The pushback that Mosaic L.A. has received, of course, is that we are flawed and imperfect and sinful – how can we sing about our own goodness. But I wonder if in singing that refrain: I am good, You say I’m good, what we are really claiming is the beauty of how God loves us, how God values us, how God sees us.

So dear friends, until tomorrow – hold on to the fact that God says you are good (and so do I!).

For Nova Scotia…

I don’t have words for the heartbreak of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia. I just don’t even have words. This is one of those moments in which I’m deeply grateful to friends and colleagues within the wider church. Everything I’m sharing today has come from others within our denomination.

Like this prayer, from Peter Bush – a former Moderator of the General Assembly and current minister at St. Andrew’s, Fergus, ON:

We come to you, Triune God of grace, with hearts full of grief. We are in mourning over the things that took place in Nova Scotia this past weekend, and over the loss of more than 17 lives. Our minds reel, our hearts grieve.

God of all comfort,

We pray for your comfort to come to the people of Nova Scotia in their time of tragic mourning. We pray for the communities of Portapique and Debert, and other communities where violence and death has taken place. We remember before you those who have lost loved ones, friends, neighbours, teachers, colleagues in this tragedy.

God, your Son experienced the brutality of violence,

We pray for all those who experienced themselves or witnessed the impact of this violence. For those injured in these events. For police and fire fighters, for neighbours and those along the route of violence, for others who were involved. We pray that they would know there is one who walks with them through this and who will hold them in his arms of love, your Son Jesus Christ.

God, the Holy Spirit comes to bring healing and hope,

We pray that even in these early days the healing balm of the Spirit’s presence would be at work. Protect those who have been impacted from deep scars emotionally or psychologically. In this time of social distancing may they find the care and compassion they need. As the questions of why come to the fore, may the Spirit’s healing be sufficient when no satisfying answers can be given.

We pray all of these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Published by Peter Bush on the Presbyterian Church in Canada group on Facebook

And this link to a news report on the flight path of a pilot in N.S. who wanted to ‘hug the community’ and so flew over Portapique in the shape of a heart, which was posted by my friend Lindsay Murray, who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick (and whose husband, the Rev. Jeff Murray, is the minister of St. Andrew’s, Sackville).

And this link to a message from our current Moderator, the Rev. Amanda Currie.

And, finally, this scripture, which comforts me in difficult and troubling times:

Please keep the people of Nova Scotia in your prayers. I am sure there will be more heart breaking details coming out of that province as the investigation continues.

Until tomorrow, dear friends, know that God is close, even as our hearts break.