Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, October 8, 2017. Sermon Topic: Planting a Seed

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Thanksgiving Sunday October 8, 2017

Sermon: Planting a Seed

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we celebrate harvest, bounty and all the goodness we find in nature – our colourful, fall decorations and the feast we prepare for our Thanksgiving dinners: the pumpkins for our pies, the turkeys, turnips, squash, wheat, and all the foods from our gardens and fields harvested at this time of year. We celebrate God’s goodness and bounty found in nature!

We celebrate the miracle we find in our seeds! When we look at each individual seed, we see a miracle – metamorphosis in action! We are witnessing the transformation of material matter into something new. We plant seeds in the spring, and up comes a different plant, a different flower, a different bean pod, or vegetable, or tree. We don’t work this miracle – God does. Within each seed lies the potential for beautiful growth, a newness of life, a flourishing and blossoming and bringing forth of wonderful developments and possibilities which God has pre-set or pre-determined from the germination of that seed. God has blessed each seed with a holy blueprint, so to speak – the traits, characteristics, and make-up which are designed uniquely for each seed. It is a miracle!

Just as the seed planted in the ground must be good seed and carefully tended, so we as “seeds” must be good seed for God and Jesus. Our thoughts need be excellent and the best, for they are seed taking root, and our speech and actions are the fruit of their planting. We leave impressions on those with whom we come into contact, and we influence them for better or worse. Like a farmer or a gardener, we are planting and cultivating all the time, and we need to become good seeds for God and Jesus in their Kingdom on earth.

Here is a example of each of us represented by a sunflower seed. May God and the Spirit of Jesus richly work within each of us, and may we be blessed!

1. Holding the seed in the right palm of the hand.
This seed is special. It contains life waiting to break out. It is precious and valuable. It is a gift from God.
Like this seed, each of our lives is precious and special. God has given each of us a life that is beyond price.

Then God said, ‘Let the land produce seed-bearing plants and trees that bear fruit with seed in it according to their various kinds…and God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1
Prayer: (Please repeat this prayer)

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of life.

Help us not to take it for granted.

Help us to treat each other as a precious seed. Amen.

2. Holding the seed in the left palm of the hand.
This seed is patient. It doesn’t grow in an instant. It needs time and care and the right conditions. The future of the seed is only for those who can wait. It is the way of God.
Like this seed, God’s plans for us are long term and the best. He works that plan through the grace of friends, his words, and our worship together. But he won’t rush what is so important.
“Behold the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until the early and the late rain.” James 5
Prayer: (Please repeat this prayer)

Thank you, Lord, for your patience with us.

Forgive us when we want the quick and easy way.

Help us to treasure the people, and ways, you want to help us grow. Amen.

3. Holding the seed up between finger and thumb.
This seed is small. It seems too tiny to be anything important or significant. Yet it contains a surprise waiting to happen. It is a lesson from God.
Like this seed, God planned each of our lives to become something surprisingly more than we yet are, or appear to be.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed… the smallest of seeds, but which, when it is grown, is the greatest of plants.” Matthew 13
Prayer: (Repeat this prayer)

Thank you, Lord, for surprising growth.

Help us recognize the small beginnings of your work in us.

Help us believe in your surprising plans for our lives. Amen.

4. Holding the seed hidden in the closed fist of one hand.
This seed is hidden. It remains out of sight so it can grow in secret. The miracle of the seed can only happen as it dies in the depth of the earth. It is a sign from God.
Like this seed, God wants us to be with him in secret. He wants to work in depth in our lives. We can only grow as we trust in the miracle of His new life out of death.

Truly, truly I say to you, unless a seed of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  John 12
Prayer: (Repeat this prayer)

Help us, Lord, to spend more time with you.

Bring us new life out of death,

and put to death the things in our lives which stunt our growth. Amen.

5. Holding the seed in the cup of your hands.
(Optional: place the seed on a prayer book/hymn book or Bible)

We pause to consider what this seed will become one day. (pause)

We pause to consider the hidden mysteries held within this seed.

We pause to consider what this seed represents for us.

We have mysteries held within us.

We are already planted. We are growing.

What have we become as we’ve grown?

What will we become as we continue to grow?

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” Matthew 7:16-18

Accept the word that God plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.” James 1

God, who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your sowing and increase the harvest of your kind deeds.”  2 Corinthians 9

Prayer: Gracious God, let me grow into the person you intend me to be! Amen.
(Hold up an example of what the seed will become: a sunflower!)

(Illustration from The Gathering, 2016)

Blessings to all, Rev. Mary

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, October 1, 2017. Sermon Topic: Feasting Together

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Worldwide Communion Sunday: Feasting Together

Today we celebrate, with our fellow Christians around the world, the Sacrament of Communion. In some places it is called “The Eucharist” – in other services it is called “The Table of the Lord” or “The Lord’s Supper.” This meal may be called “The Table of Love,” meaning the great feast of love provided by God for all. The names for our sacrament are varied and so are the ways our brothers and sisters come to the table – as well as the understanding of what people and their pastors, priests, and ministers are doing.

Some will come forward to receive bread in the form of a wafer, either placed into the palms of their hands or placed directly on their tongue. Others will tear a piece of bread from a broken loaf and then dip it into a common cup, the practice known as intinction. Some worshippers may sip from a communal cup – which may be real wine – or grape juice – or even some other liquid if those traditional juices are not available. Other worshippers will be seated in their pews and have individual small glasses of juice and cubes of bread passed from person to person.

Some worshippers may be gathered around a table in a sanctuary, or kneeling at a bench in their pew, or at a rail in front of the altar. They may be in a church hall, or a home, or a school building, in a hut, a clearing, a forest, in a jungle, at a sandy beach, or on a rocky mountain top.

Some will regard the consecrated bread and the wine as being fully and actually changed into the body and blood of Jesus: the elements will look like bread and wine, but after they are blessed, they are miraculously changed into the body and blood of Jesus – this belief is called transubstantiation. Others will regard the sacrament as holy in the sense that Jesus IS spiritually present in the elements but not physically present in the bread and wine. And others see the communion meal as simply symbolic – communion is a memorial meal with the bread representing the body of Jesus and the wine representing his blood.

Some worshippers think that their way is the only proper way to take this meal. Some traditions only welcome people who have made a public profession of their Christian faith, while others will welcome everyone to join in, even young children. Some insist that each person must belong to a particular denomination and community where the sacrament is being observed – while others, like us, will have a table open to all who seek the Lord Jesus Christ and desire to be in communion with him.

There is a tremendous variety of practices and understandings as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – but one thing stands out above all the differences, and that is that all of us think communion is important, so important that sometimes we allow ourselves to argue quite rigidly about its meaning, with great conviction, and we argue quite heatedly about our differences, with great determination.

But think of our own families for a minute – families of our own flesh and blood and how we function. Do we all agree about everything? Are there members who believe that the family should do this, while others believe that the family should do that, something entirely different? Even though we have these kinds of disputes, don’t we sit down together and eat together at special mealtimes? Especially special occasions? And think of a meal: some take more of a particular dish as their taste buds desire, and some refuse foods if they really dislike them, and don’t we graciously allow for these differences? We gather as a family and join together at the dinner table even if our diets are different and we don’t agree on everything. We bless one another and pray that each may prosper – we care about each other and help each other – without demanding that our loved ones do exactly what we do, or think exactly the way we think. We allow for differences.

Well, in the same way, the church of Jesus Christ around the world is a family. We are the family of God, the children of God, called together around this table. We strive to follow Christ faithfully and keep the special meal he asked us to keep in remembrance of him. “Remember me,” said Jesus. Eat the bread, my body broken for you, and drink the wine, my blood shed for you, says Jesus. “I am the Bread from heaven,” says Jesus. “I am the true Vine.” “Remember me!”Remember me!”

And so we do. Men, women and children all around the world today are remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord in the bread and the wine. And yes – the Spirit of Christ is present. We eat and drink of Christ’s Spirit. “I will live in you, and you in me,” says Jesus. He tells us so. At the Last Supper, the meal before his crucifixion, when Jesus asks us to break the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him, at that very same meal as it is being served, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the future, knowing that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. In John chapters 13, 14, we are told: “It was the Passover Feast…the evening meal was being served Jesus knew that he had come from God and was returning to God…[He said:] ’My children, I will be with you only a little longer…I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

We are connected to God and the Spirit of Jesus. It is a divine and inexplicable and amazing and wonderful mystery! It is the miraculous communion we celebrate today: God is with us, Christ is with us, the Holy Spirit is with us, and all our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are “with us.” Communally, we are all joined together with the Spirit of Christ as God’s people in our world. It’s an amazing, amazing realization! For the death, resurrection and the Spirit of Christ alive and with us, we say: thanks be to God! Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Sept. 24, 2017. Sermon Topic: Working the Vineyard

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SERMON: WORKING THE VINEYARD

The Parable of the Vineyard: Matthew 20: 1 – 16

When we read this parable about the vineyard and the kingdom of heaven, it is the kingdom of God, God’s realm, the mighty, vast, universal, eternal existence and habitation of God. Jesus, of course, is a part of this kingdom. Jesus, God’s Son, is with God and “in” God, as he tells us: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words I say to you are not just my own…it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work,” John 14: 9, 10. Jesus is one with God. So think of the vineyard in our parable as God’s kingdom with Jesus and God co-owning and co-working their vineyard. And they need helpers.

Think of Jesus as the landowner. Out he goes at different times in the day to seek workers. Early in the morning, he finds hired help, but then later, every time he goes out to get workers, they’re “doing nothing.” Verse 3: “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing,” Verses 5, 6: “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour…the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’” These two words “doing nothing” caught my attention when reading this parable, which I’ve read many, many times. As you know, Jesus’ parables can offer us several viewpoints and perceptions of meaning, and interpretations of the vineyard parable mainly focus on the payment of the denarius and the message: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” We usually interpret the equal payment of the denarius as meaning that ALL have entry to the kingdom of God and Christ’s salvation despite our earliness or lateness when we come to it. And we usually interpret the message that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” as meaning that there is no favouritism or inequality in God’s Kingdom. We are all equal in God’s sight.

But the two words “doing nothing” seemed to literally jump off the page as I read this parable again. I hadn’t really noticed these words before. And I found myself thinking about the marketplace in the story and picturing this scene – the men are standing around all day long, doing nothing? Nothing? What are they doing? Just standing there? They aren’t doing anything? No other jobs? While they’re waiting?

Now imagine if I asked you to go down to our main city square in Stratford and just stand there for several hours or even all day, and you are to do nothing – you are not to do anything. Can you picture yourself in this scenario? You go to the square, stand there, and do nothing. Nothing. What would you be doing? I imagine you would look around, you would observe others, the buildings, the weather, and the traffic, and perhaps you would interact with people who would pass you by – they may chat with you – but then they’d be on their way and you are left standing there – doing nothing. How do you feel? Besides being tired, no doubt you’re bored? Impatient? Listless? Angry? You feel useless? Unmotivated? Immobile?

The men in our parable are standing around in the marketplace all day long doing nothing. We can picture a group of listless people, inactive, immobile, directionless, loafing around. Their “work” is stagnant – they are accomplishing nothing. Isn’t it a remarkable image! And when the landowner asks them – why? Why are you standing around here all day long doing nothing? – they reply: no-one has given us a job, or a task, no-one has told us what to do, or given us any direction. We haven’t been called. We haven’t been hired.

Does this remind you of something? Think of Christ’s church as the vineyard – the Church of Jesus Christ our risen Lord of which he is the cornerstone, the cap, the Head of our faith. Think of the day in our parable representing two thousand years and the hours represent centuries of time between them. Who were the early workers in our early Christian church? Certainly the disciples, apostles and believers in Jesus who, despite persecution and martyrdom, were faithful to their Christian beliefs. Jesus commanded: “Go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” Matthew 28: 19, 20. The early believers in Jesus Christ did just that – they spread the word and preached the gospel and helped to establish our early Christian church. Then, as time went on and as centuries passed, other workers came into the vineyard, Christ’s church, and they worked hard, too – they did their bit by strengthening the church and helping others to come to know Jesus and believe in him. Continuing throughout the ages, other workers came on board – they got “hired” by the landowner Jesus to come work in his vineyard, his church, and they worked hard and long and many years to keep His church going strong.

Where are we today? What are we doing to help Christ’s church, the vineyard? Are we standing in the marketplace, the sidelines of life, doing nothing? Are we immobile? Listless? Standing around? Do we want to work, or are we happy to just loaf around? What does Jesus want us to do? What are we doing for Jesus and his church, his gospel? There are many tasks. We can individually feel called to respond in certain ways, and we can be attentive to call other helpers into the vineyard – give them a task. Give them the chance to use their capabilities and skills. Ephesians 2: 10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has a job for you! And remember that Jesus’ Spirit is with us always, speaking to us, directing us, calling us and prodding us on.

Let’s willingly work in God’s vineyard, His Kingdom, and let’s work for Jesus, for his gospel and salvation freely given to all. Let’s make Jesus proud! Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, September 17, 2017. Sermon Topic: Abundance & Blessings ~ Fall Festival Times

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Sermon: Abundance & Blessings ~ Fall Festival Times

To everything, there is a season. Friday this week is the autumn equinox which marks the arrival of the season of fall, traditionally seen as a period of change. On the autumn equinox, day and night are of equal length. We begin to balance our daylight hours with darkness arriving earlier in the evening. We value more than ever the hours of light left to us and the warmth of the sun as fall progresses! We watch the leaves changing colour and fluttering to the ground. Autumn reminds us more than ever that to everything, there truly is a season. We experienced the budding of life in spring, the flowerings and profusions of summer, and now we see the leaves exhibiting their beauty, showing off their magnificent colours.

Autumn is traditionally the time of fall fairs, agricultural shows and plowing matches. We show off, or exhibit, not only the earth’s bounty and harvest, but like the beautiful trees each showing off their beautiful colours, we show off or exhibit our talents and skills. At a fair or agricultural show, you can enter a contest for any variety of hobby or skill. We women bottle pickles and relishes, we sew amazing quilts,.knit blankets and sweaters, we enter artistic floral arrangements and paintings and crafts. The gentlemen like to show off their prize animals and crops, antique tractors or cars, and win the straightest furrow at a plowing match competition. We like to show off or exhibit our various talents and skills. We take pride in entering, competing and winning a ribbon! A fall fair provides us with great fun, entertainment, and community spirit.

When we speak of harvest time, reaping the crops off the fields and from our gardens, we thank God for all the gifts of food and good weather, our rain and sunny days. We praise God for all the plants and seeds which mature in autumn and nourish us all year. We celebrate the farmers and workers who bring food to our tables grown on the farmlands. It is true that we are completely dependent on people we don’t even know, people who do their jobs quietly, conscientiously, efficiently and faithfully in the background without being noticed. Our food is planted, harvested and shipped to suppliers who keep our grocery stores stocked.

It is good to take a look at our own work and celebrate the fact that we are part of something bigger and larger than ourselves. Nature matures in autumn without human help. But we want to participate with the earth’s goodness and welfare, too. Enjoying our harvest time, the earth’s bounty, and contributing to and with our fall fairs and exhibitions helps us to feel connected with our earth’s bounty. It makes us want to be part of it, to celebrate this season, and contribute our own little bit.

The transformation of the earth in autumn and at harvest is a sign of God’s miracle, a transformation of material matter into something new. The seeds are planted in the spring, and up comes a different plant, a different flower, a different bean pod, or vegetable, or tree. We don’t work this miracle – God does.

This morning we read the parable of the sower of the seeds. When the disciples ask Jesus – what does it mean? – Jesus explains that the seeds represent God’s kingdom. God’s message will be scattered throughout the world like seeds, hopefully received in receptive hearts and minds like the earth’s good soil. God’s Kingdom will grow like a bountiful harvest – all can eat this goodness and share with others. The gospel of Jesus Christ is planted like seeds scattered throughout the world, and it is the seed of Christ which takes hold within ourselves, within our hearts and minds, which grows and nourishes us and enables us to become rejuvenated or regenerated in Him. II Corinthians 5: 17 tells us: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We experience this reality when we invite Christ’s Spirit into our life. We are transformed just like the growth and newness we find in seeds.

Can you believe that within the seed of yourself, the unique you of which there is no duplicate, God has blessed you to grow into a beautiful creature? That God has designed or pre-ordained a life for you which is part of our Maker’s amazing creation? We have imprinted within us the potential for beautiful growth, a newness of life, a flourishing and blossoming and bringing forth of wonderful developments and possibilities which God has pre-set or pre-determined from the time of our seeding, our germination, the very moment of our conception. God has blessed us with a holy blueprint, so to speak – the traits, characteristics, and make-up which are designed uniquely for each of us.

If God is in control of the miraculous bounty and goodness of nature which we consistently and faithfully witness each year and each season, why would we doubt that God wouldn’t bless us too, with incredible beauty and rich development? We are part of creation. We are part of this marvelous nature. God has created us to be beautiful, to be marvelous, to be a wonderful entity in which God takes delight! Our scriptures tell us that God takes delight in us! If you’ve never thought of that until now, I want you to start believing, today, that God takes delight in you! Now, if you say, “I don’t think God takes delight in me right now because of da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da,” THEN, you need to start cleaning up your act. Because, like the parable, we need to be the good soil. We need to be the fertile ground which responds to God’s calling and the Spirit of Jesus. We will be convicted of what needs changing. Ask Jesus to transform you. And like the parable, keep away from the sharp stones or environments which give your faith no root. Keep away from the weeds or people or temptations which choke you or distract you from your Christian walk. When we follow a right relationship with God and Jesus, we cultivate sustainable roots in God’s Kingdom. We grow in healthy directions. We blossom today to become Christ’s seeds for tomorrow.

So as we celebrate our fall fairs and exhibitions, as we celebrate our autumn season and all its bounty and beauty, celebrate Christ’s Spirit planted within you – invite that Spirit into your life – and become a bountiful harvest for him. The reign of Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom are eternal. Isn’t that a wonderful realization? And we are a part of it! Let God our Creator, Jesus Christ his Son, and God’s Holy Spirit take delight in us, each and every one of us! Amen.

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Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Sept. 10, 2017. Sermon Topic: Old Folks Tales

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Sunday: Grandparent’s Day Sept. 10, 2017

Sermon: Old Folks Tales

Today when we see the Sunday School kids come back into our services, I think it is so good to see our energetic young people here to learn about God and Jesus God’s Son. That’s pretty wonderful! And I am so glad that their parents and other caregivers feel that this spiritual part of life is really important – which is why you bring them. Today is Grandparent’s Day, so what better way to celebrate the generations of our families?

In 1995, the Government of Canada decided to officially recognize the value of grandparents (like 15 other countries around the world) by declaring that the second Sunday of September would be designated Grandparent’s Day. The idea of a national Grandparent’s Day was submitted in the House of Commons by Mr. Sarkis Assadourian. Part of the official Grandparent’s Day statement says:

This day recognizes the importance of grandparents to the structure of every family and in the nurturing, upbringing and education of children, when both parents have to work hard for economic reasons. Grandparents become the role model for many children, who see their parents seldom or don’t have them at all.”

One Member of Parliament, Ms. Hedy Fry, had this to say:

I was brought up by a grandparent. My parents both worked outside the home for most of my life. They needed to for economic reasons. It was my grandmother who nurtured me, gave me a sense of worth, and molded in many ways the course my life was to take. My grandmother was my role model, my mentor, and my confidant. I do not hold grandparents to be glorified babysitters but rather as parents’ surrogates who bring love, a continuance of generational values, and a sense of the child’s worth to the integrity of the family…”

One person we know very well whose grandmother made a difference in his life is former U.S. President Barack Obama. He was raised by his maternal grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who died on the eve of his election. I hope she lived long enough to see the election results. Obama cited his relationship with her as both formative and transformative. He said: “She’s the one who taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me.”

One very important function of grandparents is that they are often the transmitters of faith. Their continued devotion and attention to the spiritual life of their family is a blessing. For many of us nurtured in our Christian faith, we owe it to our grandparents.

In our scripture readings today, grandmothers and mothers are honoured. The apostle Paul in 2 Timothy chapter 1 writes to Timothy: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…”

The disciple John in his letter 2 John writes: “The Elder, to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth…because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever…” John wrote his letter about 90 A.D., sixty years after the death of Jesus. So John is not a young man – he refers to himself as an Elder. In the very early Christian church 1st century A.D., an Elder was a direct disciple of Jesus, living when Jesus was living. John was a direct link between the followers of Jesus in Jesus’ time, and the new generations of Christian believers.

John’s letter is addressed to a Mistress or a Lady and her children. Who is this person? It is a mystery. Biblical scholar William Barclay thinks the letter may have been written to a church. The addressee is deliberately unidentifiable. John’s letter was written at a time when Christian oppression was a very real threat. Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire until 325 A.D., almost 300 yrs. following Jesus’ crucifixion. In the 1st century A.D., if John’s letter fell into the wrong hands, there could be real trouble for Christian believers. It may be that John’s letter is addressed in such a way that its destination is quite clear to an “insider,” while it would look like a personal letter from one friend to another to an “outsider.”

If the letter is addressed to a particular Christian community or church, when it refers to “her children,” they would be its members. It brings John joy to know that some of its members are walking in the truth. And if the letter is addressed to a particular lady and her children, it brings John that same joy to know that they are walking in the truth. That’s what we see with our Sunday School kids in church. They are walking in the truth along with us, families and members together, walking in the truth of Jesus Christ.

How do we know we are walking in the truth? Immediately John’s thoughts go to the teachings of Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13: 34, 35). The words of Jesus speak truth. The proof of our love for God and Jesus is our love for each other. This is the commandment, says John, which we have heard from the beginning and in which we must walk. Truth and love walk hand-in-hand.

And we have often experienced this with our grandparents, haven’t we? We have been nurtured in their love and we have gleaned their truths. We have learned their teachings and wisdom in the stories they have shared with us. Often we have learned about our Christian faith from their own true-life experiences. I remember a story my mother told me about her mother. It was in the days of the Depression, a time when people were suffering in great need. So many people were out of work and in financial distress. My mother said her mother was sweeping their kitchen floor, when she suddenly leaned on her broom, broke out crying, and prayed out loud: “Dear Lord, please send us food. We haven’t anything to eat. Please send us some food.” My mother was one of five children. Soon after her mother said this prayer, a knock came at her door, and two men came into the kitchen each carrying a large bag full of groceries. They were an answer to prayer. I remember this story about my grandmother because my mother told it to me. She passed it on. It is a powerful story of faith. It taught me that God listens to our prayers. That God loves us. That God knows our needs and God responds.

What stories have been passed down to you either directly from your grandparents, or about your grandparents?

Here’s a funny one:

Young Sarah was watching her mother prepare a roast sirloin of beef. Mom cut off the ends, wrapped the roast in string, seasoned it, and set it in the roasting pan. Sarah asked her mum why she cut off the ends of the roast. Mum replied, after some thought, that it was the way that her mother had done it. That night grandma came to dinner, and Sarah and her mother asked why she had cut the ends off the roast before cooking it. After some thought grandma replied, she cooked the meat the way her mother had done it. Now great-grandma was quite old and still living in a nursing home. So Sarah, her mum and grandma went to visit great-grandma and again asked the very same question. Great-grandma looked at them a bit surprised and said, “So it would fit in the roasting pan, of course!”

And so we learn from our grandparents! They have great influence on our lives. They are part of our heritage – our families journey with them – and they are often part of our faith heritage – we journey with them in our Christian walk. For their presence in our life, we are grateful. May all our grandparents be blessed and honoured today on their special day. And may we always walk in truth and love, as Jesus commanded us.

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Sept. 3, 2017. Sermon Topic: What is our Labour?

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Labour Day Sunday: September 3, 2017

Sermon: What is our Labour?

Happy Labour Day Sunday! This weekend is the time when we celebrate our labour, our work, and we even get a holiday to do so! Have you ever wondered how this holiday came about? In 1872, the workers at the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to get a shorter work week – they wanted their hours shortened to 58 hours! Some of these strikers were arrested, so members of many other unions marched on Ottawa on September 3rd. Prime Minister John A. MacDonald vowed to repeal the laws that made it illegal for union members to strike. And to honour the productive role of workers and labourers in our society, a national holiday known as Labour Day was established on the Monday of the first weekend in September.

We have the opportunity to celebrate our own hard work, and we respect the many ways we earn our living, whether we receive a pay cheque, volunteer our labour, or simply use our labour for our own relaxation and recreation. Whatever we are doing with our time and our work, we all seek meaningful labour, and hopefully we feel fulfilled. But, have you ever wondered – does what we do really make a difference?

Well, within many vocations and for many labours, what we do makes a tremendous difference. Where would we be without our Drs., nurses, teachers, firefighters, road work crews, farmers, scientists, paramedics, police, and the list goes on and on, with so many professions and labours crucial to our well-being. These labours supply us with the necessities of life. But, also, where would we be without all our volunteers and the organizations and charities which help so many people right here in our own town and community? We have our Food Banks, Community Meals, the Local, the House of Blessing, our Stratford Summer Music with bands and concerts, and so many other organizations depending on its staff and volunteers. We mustn’t forget you – our very own Parkview United Church – you give of your time, talents and labours freely and generously! You sit on Committees, fundraise, cook delicious meals, teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, help our youth, and again – the list goes on and on – you participate in so many ways contributing to the welfare of our church life! For your dedication and labours, I thank you!

Work is important. All throughout the history of civilisation, we can see this one enduring thread. As we are reminded in Genesis 3: 19, God told Adam: “By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat your food.” Humankind needs to work to make a living. People are called to specific work in many ways and for many reasons. It may be determined by location. It can also be determined by skill. If a person is artistic, or has great abilities with engines, or can handle figures or numbers well, they may find suitable openings in their related fields. In all our labour, a good job, well done, brings its own sense of satisfaction.

As Christians, in whatever we do, we mustn’t forget to ask ourselves if our work is important to God. In James 1: 22, we are told: “Do not merely listen to the word…do what it says.” We are to be “doers of the word,” meaning that we don’t just give lip service to our faith, but we are to work at it. We are to apply the word. We are to focus on the work God calls us to do. How do we do this?

Applying the word means to live by the standards and teachings that have been handed down to us through our Holy Scriptures. We are especially to follow the teachings and example of Jesus God’s Son. God came to us in Jesus to show us what pleases God, how to live, how to treat each other, love each other, and take care of each other. Jesus shows us how to forgive each other, show mercy in our lives, and have compassion for one another. The parables of Jesus constantly remind us to feed those in need, clothe the poor, assist the helpless and comfort those oppressed. The words Jesus taught and the example of how he lived are like beacons of light showing us the way. The love of Jesus which took him to the cross is the salvation we seek in our own lives, and the salvation we are to share with others. It offers us a new way of living, a new way of having the Spirit of Jesus live within us, and through this Sprit, we respond to the needs of others. Our labours are to reflect the Spirit of Jesus living within us. When we offer our service to Christ, we offer his labours to the world. We fulfill the work and labour Jesus would have us to do. We are responsive to the tasks Jesus calls us to fulfil in His name.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brethren of mine, you did for me,” Matthew 25: 35, 40.

As we celebrate our Labour Day weekend, let’s remember to take pleasure in our real labour – the work of God – and as children of God, let’s focus on our scriptures and its lessons, and apply them to our lives. It will change us. To apply God’s Word is God “working” within our lives. To hear the voice of Jesus is to follow him and answer his call. Let’s “work” our faith and accomplish the tasks which we feel God and Jesus are calling us to do.

Happy Labour Day, everyone!

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, August 27, 2017. Sermon Topic: Scripture – The Words of Faith

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Sermon: Scripture – The Words of Faith

Over the past weeks, we have looked at several of the prime elements of our worship experience. We began with Celebrating the Psalms, Celebrating Music & Song, we moved on to Prayer last week, and this week our focus is on Scripture – the Words of Faith. Our official United Church doctrine states: “We receive the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, given by inspiration of God, as containing the only infallible rule of faith and life, a faithful record of God’s gracious revelations, and as the sure witness of Christ.” Scripture is the authoritative core of our faith.

Our Holy scriptures are so beautifully written that they have shaped our entire English language. We regularly use phrases out of the Bible in our ordinary day-to-day conversations. “Out of the mouth of babes,” we say. ”Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Words teach, instruct, and can be powerful calls to action. No-one knew this better than the disciple John who witnessed Jesus spreading the Word of God throughout his ministry on earth. John realised that not only was Jesus a master of words but He was the beginning of all words. Listen to the opening verses of John’s Gospel (John 1:1-5):

In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. And with this Word, God created all things. Nothing was made without the Word. Everything that was created received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone. The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.”

How do we hear the words of God and Jesus? How do we “see the light,” hear the divine Word, discern its meaning and apply it? We can read our scriptures and let them speak to us. Our scriptures are like a lens, as we were taught in theological school, and we are meant to look at the words but also look “through” them, look past the words, look between them and the lines, so to speak, as we are meant to discern the context and the setting in which the words were written in their time. What was God saying to the people then? What was going on in their lives? What was their setting? What issues were addressed? What Godly wisdom, teachings and messages did God want the people in their time to hear or understand?

Our scriptures are largely historical writings – in the Old Testament, we find a record of the Israelite people, their Kings, prophets and a nation established thousands of years ago, and in our New Testament, we find a record of the coming of Jesus God’s Son, and his followers, the disciples, apostles and a nation of believers established through him. And despite this vast distance of time then and since, the Spirit of God and Jesus continue to speak to us today in our own context and setting. The Word of God is alive. The Spirit of God speaks regardless of time or any age in which we live. God’s messages will change as humankind changes. God doesn’t change. We change. Humans change. And God’s messages change as we are ready to receive them. God’s messages are never stagnant because God’s Spirit is always on the move.

And because of this, we are not to believe that every word of scripture is “cast in stone,” so to speak, which doesn’t allow for a change in interpretation or understanding. Reading scripture this way means to apply it “literally.” Some religions and denominations do this. Creationists claim undisputedly that God created the world in six days as written in Genesis Chapter One. Is it possible that this creation story is an analogy about creation or a parable, we may ask? Creationists say – absolutely not! My mother later in life joined a religious group which forbade women to cut their hair or wear jewellery, based on 1 Corinthians 11: 13- 16 (head covering) and 1 Timothy 2: 9 (modesty). They say – “The Bible says such and such; this is what God wants us to do!” – and they don’t accept another perspective or interpretation for today. They freeze God into that time and space. They freeze God’s words. They “freeze” whatever scripture says or teaches, as written, and they apply it for modern-day usage and application. Reading scripture “literally” doesn’t allow for God’s messages to change, and it doesn’t allow for the freedom of God’s Spirit. It boxes God in. But God’s Spirit is ever on the move, prodding us and enlightening us and challenging us throughout all the changes of human history, and God’s messages change with us. We are certainly to take our scriptures seriously and apply its messages to our lives, especially the words of God and Jesus, but the days of old are not the days of today, and God’s messages of old may, or may not be, God’s messages for today.

Example: In the Book of Leviticus, there are many, many Jewish rules and laws which the people in their day followed with strict adherence. But we don’t follow them today. These old laws don’t apply to us today. Does that mean that we can’t trust scripture? No. It means that God’s voice comes to us in different ways for different times. We are to be open to new revelations and new discoveries that God will show us and reveal to us when we are ready and when God’s timing is right. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” says God in Isaiah 43: 19.Behold, I make all things new,” Jesus says to us in Revelation 21: 5. God will speak to us in new ways, in new times, and just where we are in the present.

So our scriptures are not just historical documents telling ancient tales. They are like a computer App that listens to our questions and responds with a message that is meant for each one of us today. God’s Spirit breathes through the scripture, through the words we find, and God’s Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit and the Holy Spirit breathe new life into its meaning for us today.

In the Upper Room daily devotional, writer Delores Kight from Florida suggests a way to help us develop a positive attitude in reading scripture and applying it to our lives. Delores suggests taking a Bible verse in small chunks and spreading it over a week. She quotes Philippians 4: 8: “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

So, using this Philippians verse, on the first day Delores applied “Whatever is true” and focused her Bible reading looking for God’s truths. The next day she tackled “whatever is noble” and focused on the selfless acts of others. The following day she looked for “whatever is right” and considered her life choices. On the fourth day she thought about “whatever is pure” and meditated about the love of mothers. “Whatever is lovely” filled her thoughts the next day as she looked for beauty. The next day she contemplated “whatever is admirable” and looked for the best in other people. Then finally, “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” caused her to search for the good in all situations and in all people. “Throughout this process,” says Delores, “I began to see with new eyes and to appreciate the goodness of God that surrounds me.”

Isn’t this a great way to apply scripture? It’s a very helpful exercise.

If we want to grow spiritually, the scriptures make that possible. Reading opens us up to new ideas and viewpoints we may never have considered before. We can regard our scripture reading as a kind of conversation. We choose to expose ourselves to an ever-widening circle of ideas and thoughts. Listen to how a passage speaks to you. Read a verse or one word over and over. Listen. Our scriptures are alive with God’s presence. The Spirit is alongside us. As we read and question and interpret our holy scriptures, God’s Spirit speaks to us in fresh and sometimes surprising ways. God can teach us something new every day, and a different perspective enlightens our time and where we are in history. The Holy Spirit of God blows through the words we read and raises up the ones we need to pay attention to. That is why scripture is so crucially important – God speaks to you and me in fresh, modern-day messages for our modern day. We will learn new understanding and new insights.

In closing, imagine a dying King’s final advice to his son. Would you expect him to talk about alliances or enemies, politics, or the Gross National Product? Listen to what King David said to his son Solomon in 1Kings 2:1-4:

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. I am about to go the way of all the earth, he said. ‘So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’”

King David’s advice when passing on his throne to his son Solomon was to walk in the ways of God and listen to God’s voice. That was the most important advice David could give his son. May we also listen and learn from God’s word, so that we too will live more fully in God’s world and Christ’s kingdom. May we be daily blessed as we attentively and devotedly read God’s word and the words of Jesus, the Word made flesh, and may we listen and be strengthened in the Spirit to obey and apply the messages we receive for today.

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, August 20, 2017. Sermon Topic: We Celebrate Prayer!

 

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Sermon: We Celebrate Prayer!

We Weave the Prayer that Jesus Taught

How often do we pray? And how do we pray?

People who go to church pray during the service, of course, and many of us pray over the course of each day. Regardless of time or space, we have a continuing conversation with God.

When praying, we often use lots of words. But are words the only way to pray?

People pray in many ways. Some Christians bow their heads and fold their hands. Some Native Americans regard dancing as a form of prayer. Some Sufis known as the Whirling Dervishes whirl around in elaborate dance moves. Hindus chant mantras. Jewish prayer may involve swaying back and forth and bowing. Muslims practice salat (kneeling and prostration) in their prayers. Quakers keep silent. In Tibet, the Buddhists turn cylindrical wheels that have prayers engraved on them. Many musicians see their music as prayer, and so do some artists as they consider their artwork a prayer.

In Canada, the practice of making Prayer Shawls or Prayer Quilts occurs. As each stitch is knit or sewn, as each knot is tied, a silent prayer is offered for someone in need. Prayer shawl/quilt books can be purchased with instructions which include prayers of blessings, and often patterns reflect a Godly symbolism, e.g. in knitting: the Trinity stitch – knit 3, purl 3; in quilting: fabric is chosen with images of a dove, rainbows, hearts, etc. The prayer shawl or quilt is then given to a person who is literally “wrapped in prayers” while a prayer of blessing is said over them. You may know the person who receives this gift, or you may not. These prayer shawls and quilts are given in times of joy or sorrow, and are especially welcomed by those who are grieving. To be wrapped in prayer is a very comforting experience which brings solace and peace to the receiver, recognizing and appreciating that prayers were specifically knit or sewn into the shawl or quilt.

Today, let’s try something different with prayer. Let’s “Weave the Prayer That Jesus Taught.” I found this idea in The Gathering, a ministerial resource, and it was sent in by Nora Vedress of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Each member of the congregation chooses a coloured ribbon – blue, white, purple, green, yellow, red, pink, and gold – and whatever ribbon you choose, I’d like you to hold it up when I start reading The Lord’s Prayer which mentions that particular colour.

The Lord’s Prayer

“Our father/mother who art in heaven.” Blue (hold up the blue). Blue is the colour of parents: God loves us very much and some people like to think of God as a mother or father.

“Hallowed be thy name.” White (hold up the white). White represents holiness: we believe that God deserves our respect and worship and so we see God as holy.

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” Purple (hold up the purple). Purple is a majestic colour: God wants us to work hard at making the world we live in a heavenly place, full of love, laughter, peace, and music.

“On Earth as it is in heaven.” Green (hold up the green). Green is the colour of the Earth: we have a responsibility to care for the planet.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Yellow (hold up the yellow).Yellow reminds us of wheat: every time we eat food we remember not only how God was involved in the making of our food, but all the thousands of people who work hard to bring bread to our table.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Red (hold up the red). Red is the colour of love: by trusting in God’s love, we find forgiveness and the ability to forgive others.

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pink (hold up the pink). Pink stands for temptation. Temptation looks appealing. Sometimes we are tempted to do things that are bad for ourselves or those around us. When we are tempted to make a bad decision, we can ask God for help, strength, and courage to make a good choice instead.

“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” Gold (hold up the gold). Gold reminds us of God’s Kingdom and reign where everyone is highly valued and everyone is treasured. Held within God’s love, everyone is cherished and has a place.

Now will each person tie their ribbon on to their neighbour’s ribbon? We should end up with one, long, multi-coloured ribbon. This is our prayer ribbon, weaving and tying us all together, held within The Lord’s Prayer. With this ribbon of multi-colours, we encircle our congregation and stand within, united in prayer.

Prayer comes in different forms, shapes, sizes, and languages – we all have our own way of speaking with God – but when we join our prayers to others, we are united in a beautiful display of faith and hope. May we all be held within God’s love for each of us, and held within the love we share with each other as Jesus taught us to love. May we all be united, encircled and encompassed in prayer.

Amen.

 

 

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Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, August 13, 2017. Sermon Topic: We Celebrate Music and Song

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We Celebrate Music and Song

Today we celebrate music and song. The two go hand-in-hand and have been always a wonderful way for us to express our feelings and adoration about God.

Music is one of the most glorious gifts of God. We are able to hear beautiful harmonies, rich melodies and engaging rhythms that speak to us in a way that surpasses all language. Regardless of race, culture, or the multitude of different languages spoken, we all appreciate music. Music is a language unto itself, understood and enjoyed by all. Throughout humanity’s existence, music has been a constant presence. Music may have existed before we humans came along. In the book of Job, God is quoted as saying that when He laid the cornerstones of the earth, “the morning stars sang together,” (Job 38:7). Within our universe, there is a deep musical note known as the “OM” sound – it is heard in space. The universe sings!

We humans are not alone when it comes to music. Many animals from humpback whales to birds to bats to toadfish make musical sounds. Some even seem to sing. Why do they do it? Well, it seems many vocalizations are to attract members of the opposite sex. They make beautiful noises to attract a beautiful mate, beauty being in the eye of the beholder, of course! Whales are known to change their songs from year to year – they call to each other and sing to each other. Perhaps they are establishing their territory or location. They may be communicating in a way to express alarm, danger, or even a source of food.

Humans use music for a huge variety of purposes. It wakes us up, fills the quiet times and helps our moods. We also use music sometimes to simply express how we feel. If we’re happy, we sing and if we are sad, we sing. Couples will talk about “their song” and get all mushy when they hear it. We have our favourite composers and tunes we like to hear.

Japanese companies often have their employees start the day by singing a corporate song together. Some North American companies like Walmart have tried this, too. This is using music in a corporate way to bind people together. Patriotic songs have a similar purpose. When elevators were invented people were fearful of riding in them, so music was piped in as a distraction to help calm them down. We now refer to a calm, uneventful song as “elevator music” or Muzak, named after the company which pioneered this use of music. During the Second World War music was played in factories to help productivity. This became a radio show called “Music While You Work.” Music has selling power and it has been used to sell products for hundreds of years. The street vendors in early England used to sing little ditties about the products they had for sale. Do you remember the movie Oliver? “Who will buy my sweet red roses?” Molly Malone in Dublin sang “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!” We use music to hook people’s attention in TV and radio commercials. There is a whole industry of commercial musicians creating ditties to help open our wallets.

For untold millennia, we humans have used music and song to worship God. Even the most primitive societies had some form of music during their ceremonies. Throughout the ages, religious services have been accompanied by music, both instrumental and choral. Held within our Christian religious tradition, we look back to the foundational texts of the Bible and see continual references to music and song. After escaping from the Egyptians and crossing the Red Sea, the people of Israel sang a song to the Lord (Exodus 15). Music was part of Israel’s formal worship in both tabernacle and temple. The psalms we read each Sunday were sung in their services, often accompanied with the instrumental music of flute, harp and the lyre.

Here’s the way Martin Luther in the 1500’s spoke of music:

I wish to see all art, principally music, in the service of Him who gave and created them. Music is a fair and glorious gift of God. I would not for the world forego my humble share of music. Singers are never sorrowful, but are merry, and smile through their troubles in song. Music makes people kinder, gentler, more staid and reasonable. I am strongly persuaded that after theology there is no art that can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart…the devil flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”

English theologian William Barclay wrote this about the early Christians:

It was a singing church; the early Christians were always ready to burst into song. In Paul’s description of the meetings of the Church at Corinth, we find singing an integral part (1Cor.14: 15, 26). The Christians they speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). The word of Christ dwells in them, and they teach and admonish each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in their hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16).”

Over the centuries great musical composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Handel have created beautiful compositions that inspire and uplift us all in the name of God. Every Christmas, you can hear Handel’s Messiah performed in some church or music hall.

Music continues to be a huge part of our worship still today. Can you imagine a service without music? From the musical prelude to the introit to the hymns and sung responses, it flows throughout the service. And at the end of the service, when we are driving or walking home, perhaps some of that music is still echoing in our ears and reminding us of our worship time. Augustine, the well-known 5th century bishop from North Africa said, “Those who sing, pray twice.” When we sing our praise and prayer rather than just saying it, we seem to double our efforts. Our words are heard and so is our melody.

Each Sunday, we continue this great tradition and present both our words and music to God. May God bless our efforts and enjoy the worship we bring. And in our daily lives, we continue to celebrate music and song. Thanks be to God for these glorious godly gifts!

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, August 6, 2017. Sermon Topic: We Celebrate the Psalms

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WE CELEBRATE THE PSALMS!

The Psalms of Hebrew Scripture are the oldest worship songs of the Jewish people. The traditional Hebrew title tehillim means “praises” and tephillot means “prayers.” The psalms were mainly sung and accompanied with stringed musical instruments such as harp, lyre and lute. When you read the psalms, you often see “To the Director of Music” or “To the Leader with Stringed Instruments.” Many psalms were composed by David the shepherd boy (Psalm 23) and later when he became King of Israel. One of the first collections in the Psalms is titled “The Prayers of David son of Jesse,” Ps. 72: 20. David’s reign as King began in 1,000 B.C., so the psalms are very ancient. Whether they are prayers, petitions, songs or poems, the Psalms are prayers of the individual (Ps. 3), praise from the individual for God’s saving help (Ps. 30, 34), prayers of the community (Ps. 12, 79), praise from the community for God’s saving help (Ps. 66, 75), confessions of confidence in the Lord (Ps. 11, 52), hymns in praise of God’s majesty and virtues (Ps. 8, 29), hymns celebrating God’s universal reign (Ps. 47, 93), songs of Zion the city of God (Ps. 46, 84), royal psalms concerning the King, the Lord’s anointed (Ps. 20, 110), pilgrimage songs (Ps. 120), liturgical songs (Ps. 15, 68), and instructional songs (Ps. 73, 119). All the Psalms teach and assure us of God’s goodwill and faithfulness to all humankind.

Phillip Keller, a real-life shepherd, wrote the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, explaining the many duties, responsibilities and challenges of a shepherd. Phillip refers to Ps. 42: 11: “In Psalm 42:11 he cries out, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God.” Phillip writes:

Now there is an exact parallel to this in caring for sheep. Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits understand the significance of a “cast” sheep or a “cast down” sheep. This is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself. A “cast” sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it flays away frantically struggling to stand up, without success. Sometimes it will bleat a little for help, but generally it lies there lashing about in frightened frustration. If the owner does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die. This is another reason why it is so essential for a careful sheepman to look over his flock every day, counting them to see that all are able to be up and on their feet. If one or two are missing, often the first thought to flash into his mind is, “One of my sheep is cast somewhere. I must go in search and set it on its feet again.” This knowledge that any “cast” sheep is helpless, close to death and vulnerable to attack, makes the whole problem of cast sheep serious for the manager.

The way it happens is this. A heavy, fat, or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet. As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen. As these expand they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs. If the weather is very hot and sunny, a cast sheep can die in a few hours. If it is cool and cloudy and rainy, it may survive in this position for several days.

Again and again I would spend hours searching for a single sheep that was missing. Then more often than not I would see it at a distance, down on its back, lying helpless. At once I would start to run toward it — hurrying as fast as I could — for every minute was critical. Within me there was a mingled sense of fear and joy: fear it might be too late; joy that it was found at all. As soon as I reached the cast ewe my very first impulse was to pick it up. Tenderly I would roll the sheep over on its side. This would relieve the pressure of gases in the rumen. If she had been down for long, I would have to lift her onto her feet. Then straddling the sheep with my legs I would hold her erect, rubbing her limbs to restore the circulation to her legs. This often took quite a little time. When the sheep started to walk again she often just stumbled, staggered and collapsed in a heap once more. All the time I worked on the cast sheep I would talk to it gently, “When are you going to learn to stand on your own feet?” – “I’m so glad I found you in time — you rascal!” And so the conversation would go. Always couched in language that combined tenderness and rebuke, compassion and correction. Little by little the sheep would regain its equilibrium. It would start to walk steadily and surely. By and by it would dash away to rejoin the others, set free from its fears and frustrations, given another chance to live a little longer.

All of this pageantry is conveyed to my heart and mind when I repeat the simple statement, “He restoreth my soul!” This is part of the pageantry and drama depicted for us in the magnificent story of the ninety-and-nine sheep with one astray. There is the Shepherd’s deep concern; his agonizing search; his longing to find the missing one; his delight in restoring it not only to its feet but also to the flock as well as to himself.

Many people have the idea that when a child of God falls, when he is frustrated and helpless in a spiritual dilemma, God becomes disgusted, fed-up and even furious with him. This simply is not so. One of the great revelations of the heart of God given to us by Christ is that of Himself as our Shepherd. He has the same identical sensations of anxiety, concern and compassion for cast men and women as I had for cast sheep. This is precisely why He looked on people with such pathos and compassion. It explains His magnanimous dealing with down-and-out individuals for whom even human society had no use. It discloses the depth of His understanding of undone people to whom He came eagerly and quickly, ready to help, to save, to restore. When I read the life story of ]esus Christ and examine carefully His conduct in coping with human need, I see Him again and again as the Good Shepherd picking up “cast” sheep. The tenderness, the love, the patience that He used to restore Peter’s soul after the terrible tragedy of his temptations is a classic picture of the Christ coming to restore one of His own. And so He comes quietly, gently, reassuringly to me no matter when or where or how I may be cast down.

Phillip Keller’s inspirational words and magnificent message depict Jesus as our loving, caring, and forgiving Shepherd. And it brings new understanding to Psalm 23, as the shepherd gently leads his sheep to green pastures, still waters, and paths of safety and rest.

Writing a Psalm of Thanksgiving: questions asked of Parkview’s congregation (answers):

1. Name a kind of song that you like. (Stairway to Heaven)

2. Name two places anywhere in the world. (Bali & Canada)

3. Name the greatest thing that God does. (Heal)

4. Name some people that you know. (Laura, Belinda, Annetta, Jim, Paul)

5. Name some people that you do not know (Andrea, Leena),

and who are far away (Justin, Ralph).

6. Tell me a word that describes something incredibly powerful. (ocean, typhoon, wind)

7. Name something worthless. (Chuck!) And something yucky. (mud)

8. Name the most wonderful thing you can think of. (love)

9. Name something bad that can happen to a thing. (torture)

10. Tell me how you feel when someone loves you. (fulfilled)

11. Name a sound you might make when you are happy. (laughter) And excited. (Whoopee!)

12. Name something that lives in the ocean. (whale)

13. Name something you might find in a field. (cows, flowers)

14. Name something you could find in the woods. (trees)

15. Tell me the best characteristic a person can have. (kindness)

16. Tell me the best feeling that someone can have. (elation)

PARKVIEW’S PSALM OF THANKSGIVING (based on Psalm 96)

O sing to God a (1) Stairway to Heaven song;

Sing to God, (2) Bali and Canada, and throughout the earth.

Bless God’s name!

Tell of God’s (3) healing from day to day.

Declare God’s glory among (4) Laura, Belinda, Annetta, Jim & Paul,

God’s marvelous works among (5) Andrea, Leena, Justin & Ralph.

For (6) typhoonal is our God, and greatly to be praised.

The gods of the people are (7) chucky and muddy.

But our God made (8) love.

All praise and thanks be to God! Say among the nations “God reigns!”

The world shall never (9) be tortured.

Let the heavens be (10) fulfilled and let the earth (11) laugh and say “Whoopee!

Let the sea roar, and every (12) whale be glad.

Let the fields exalt, and every (13) cow and flower praise God.

Then shall all the (14) trees sing for joy in honour of our God.

For God comes to judge the world with (15) kindness,

and all peoples will (16) have elation. Amen.

Well done, Parkview! It was a great Sunday to celebrate the Psalms. Blessings to all, Rev. Mary.

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