Good Friday Worship Service – March 25th, 2016

Good Friday Worship Service

March 25, 2016

Penticton United Church


Lighting the Christ Candle

Call to Worship

One: Will you walk the lonely path of rejection and fear? 

All:        We make this journey, accompanied by God, our Lover.

One:     Will you speak up for Jesus, acclaiming his mercy?

All:        We stutter and cry, with hearts open to the miracle of redemption.

Prayer

Steadfast God, we journey the path of death.  We stand as witnesses to injustice, greed and indifference.  Courage fails us.  Let us not be immobilized by obstructions and burdens.   And yet we stand at the foot of the cross knowing that your love is greater than any short-coming.  Empower us to receive your life-giving grace.  Amen.

Hymn – VU # 142 – Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross

Rock liturgy (from Fern)

Scripture – John 18:1-11

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Courage

Year after year we approach Good Friday with sadness and apprehension.  Even though we know the story well, most of us are a little uncertain of all the recorded details.  Today, we hear the Good Friday story in a fresh way.  Each rock represents a specific part of the crucifixion story.

In the telling from the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus strongly and clearly declaring that he is Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus owns up to his identity and home community.  With the soldiers and police before him, Jesus acknowledges that he is the sought after One.  Showing courage and leadership, Jesus does not shirk away from the military officials.  He understood Judas’s betrayal.  With great courage, Jesus declares that he is Jesus of Nazareth.  – The Rock of Courage

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response – MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Scripture – John 18:29-38

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Truth

Jesus is arrested and bound.  Appearing before Pilate, Jesus and Pilate engage in some verbal jousting.  Jesus declares that his mission and ministry was all about truth-telling.  Pilate ultimately declared that he could not keep up with Jesus in the round of verbal gymnastics that they were engaged in.  But finally Pilate declares that he finds no case against Jesus and that the custom of releasing someone at Passover would be upheld.  Rather than selecting Jesus, Barabbas was discharged.  Jesus would be crucified.

Telling the truth had a great cost.  May we listen for the truth.  – The Rock of Truth

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response – MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Anthem

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Faith

We have heard the Good Friday story countless times.  And yet today we hear it with new awareness.  The rocks remind us of the steadfast faith that is ours.  We keep going, even in the hard, lonely, and vacant times.  We pour our hearts out to God, knowing that prayers are heard and needs are addressed.  Why then did Jesus die, we wonder?  Jesus confronted human arrogance and evil.  We acknowledge that Jesus, like us, must die to the forces of power and control.  Jesus stood up to greed, manipulation, and coercion.  And the cost was his life.  May our faith be strong enough that we will turn our selves over to God’s great heart.  The rock of faith

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response –  MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Scripture – John 19:1-16

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Leadership

A crown of thorns, a purple robe, shouts of “Hail, King of the Jews!”  and the last cries to crucify Jesus set the stage for the most horrific drama.  Jesus is adorned like a king and yet he refuses to accept either the label or the role.  Perhaps you too have wondered about Jesus’ leadership style.  He was a story-teller, a friend to children, a healer, a rebel, and a model for others.  He lived the Good News by showing the chosen disciples and friends the way of radical love.  Jesus humbly teaches until his final moments on earth.  – The Rock of Leadership

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response – MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Scripture – John 19: 17-30

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Love

Imagine you are Jesus’ mother, Mary, standing at the foot of the cross.  Next is Mary’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and the disciple whom we think must have been John.  These friends who were the closest people to Jesus were huddled together to witness to Jesus’ torturous death.  Oh, how they loved Jesus.  He had been so good to them.  And they would do anything they could to show their love to Jesus.  But – this time, there was nothing they could do but helplessly watch and cry.  With a bowed head, Jesus gave up his spirit.  – The Rock of Love

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response  MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Act of Confession

Prayer of Confession/Offering of Rocks

Merciful God, our hands hold rocks – solid and sharp.  Life is firm and full of piercing edges.  Forbid that we hurt others with words that harm.  Stop us from wounding others with our indifference and injustice.  Smooth the hard edges and soften the unpliable that is within us.  May these rocks remind us that you are our firm foundation.  Amen.

Hymn – VU #183 – We Meet You, O Christ

Extinguishing of the Christ Candle

Departure in Silence

“Can’t Stop Crying” – Easter Sunday – March 27, 2016

“Can’t Stop Crying”

Easter Sunday – March 27, 2016 – Year C

Last September I returned from a 3 month sabbatical and shared with you that I am profoundly changed.  The time of rest, renewal and new experiences was a life changing gift.  I am better able to speak up for myself.  I have better clarity when to address an issue and when to let it slide by.  But most important, I feel sadness with greater intensity and joy with more delight.  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

It was liberating to visit the various sister churches and witness that they are facing the same challenges we are.  The myth that our partners in faith have lots of children, many small group ministries, and vibrant youth ministry programs is simply not true.  They struggle just as much as we do to draw the younger demographic.  Their music ministry is louder but not any better than ours.  So, I stand before you proclaiming loud and clear that Jesus Christ is as dramatically present here at Penticton United Church as He is in our sister churches throughout town and indeed throughout the world.  With humble pride we announce, “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

While in Scotland last August I was intensely changed.  I walked the land of my forebears and saw the cathedrals and remnants that date back to the first Christian message in Scotland.  It was humbling to sit in 1700 year old pews.  It was haunting to feel Christ’s presence as I prayed while in cemeteries holding the last earthly remains of sojourners of the 3rd and 4th Century.  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

4 weeks ago 20 people of our congregation sat in the parlour and participated in a workshop on “Looking to our Future” facilitated by Rev. Richard and Joanne Simpson.  We looked at our Mission and Vision statements and listed all that we do to live out what we proclaim Penticton United Church to be all about.  7 pieces of flip chart paper were quickly filled identifying what we do so that we are “a place of nurturing, spiritual growth and Christian service”.  After spending a year or more feeling discouraged and ready to give up on being a vibrant church, we left that workshop feeling positive about ourselves and our ministry.  We do indeed have a vital ministry on the corner of Eckhardt and Main streets.  We are planning a follow up meeting to guide us for the next 5 to 10 years.  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

Throughout the 40 days of Lent, I have been using John Randolph Price’s book “The
Abundance Book” as a guide for meditations.  There are 10 meditations that are to be used 4 times each for 15 minutes each day.  These short, but evocative reflections have helped me to know God in new and exciting ways.  Experiencing God as Abundant I Am, Truthful Prosperity, and Source of Delight has been a remarkable practice.   I am overwhelmed by the power and grace of God’s mystery.   “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

I invite you to walk with Mary to the empty tomb.  It is a journey we all must make.  It can feel like a long, lonely walk.  Although, the vision ahead is so startling that we forget that we are in a burial site.  A man runs ahead and looks into the cave.  He is startled.  And so am I.  What about you?  An empty tomb catches us off guard.  I start crying.  Something has happened.  “Where have they taken Jesus’ body,” I cry?  Mary also is crying.  She stands weeping outside the tomb. 

Jesus whispers her name, “Mary.”    “I have seen the Lord,” she tells the disciples. Tears continue to stream down her cheeks.  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

Have you too seen the risen Christ?  Have you encountered the Holy Mystery? Are you filled with Holy tears?  Will you breath in the awe and wonder of Christ’s resurrection?  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

Easter is a time of many miracles.  Often we limit it to birds in flight, animals birthing young, and tender plants sprouting new life.  But the greatest miracle is each one of us gathering in worship acknowledging that “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia.  May it be so.  Amen.   

“Love Story” – March 20, 2011

“Love Story”

March 20, 2011 – Lent 2 – Year A

One Sunday on their way home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, the preacher’s sermon this morning confused me.”  The mother said, “Oh, what is that?”  The little girl replied, “Well, she said that God is bigger than we are.  Is that true?”  The mother replied, “Yes, that’s true.”  “And she also said that God lives in us?  Is that true, mommy?”  Again the mother replied, “Yes.”  “Well,” said the little girl. “If God is bigger than us, wouldn’t God show through.”

There is a lovely movie called “While you Were Sleeping” about a girl who takes tokens at a subway station.  She finds herself falling in love with a man who comes through the turnstiles every day.

Then one day he is held up and pushed in front of a train.  The girl saves his life.  And he finds out that she is in love with him.

It turns out that his life-style has been less than admirable.  But then he says to the girl, “Because you love me, and because you saved my life, I will have to change the way I am and the kind of person I have been.”

Now – that sounds a lot like being “Born again” – like a profoundly Christian confession.

“Serving on Palm Sunday” – March 20, 2016

“Serving on Palm Sunday”

Palm Sunday – Year C – March 20, 2016

We have shouted hosanna while waving tree branches.  We have joined the parade, feeling the excitement and awe of this blessed season.  We have heard the timeless story of Jesus and his disciples coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.    Oh – what an amazing season this is! 

However, we know the rest of the story.  Even though we strongly believe the profession of faith described in Philippians 2 and read by Cindy, we find ourselves puzzled by Christ’s life story.  We just don’t get humility and meekness.  It is so easy for us to assume that it means weakness and passivity.  Perhaps non-resistance comes to mind.  In our very self-centred culture, none of these attributes are very appealing.

How might you and I be actively involved in the events of this Holy Week when we hear the call to humility, awe and praise?  Like Christ, we are to follow the path that serves others.  And so we open our hearts to hear the cry of the hungry on our streets and we donate food.  As we feast on the bread and wine of communion, we think of the hungry in our community who today will be eating a simple meal of soup and sandwiches at the soupateria at 11:30 am.  This week, our church has given out 15 bags of food and helped one person with medication.

We serve others as we parade towards the garden of Gethsemane and faithfully phone, visit, and send cards to those who are ill or hurting.  We follow the way of Christ as we show tenderness and compassion to our brothers and sisters of God’s delight.

We serve others as we focus on the empty cross of resurrection hope.  That service takes the form of championing justice as we welcome the young people from Pen High as they gather in our stair wells and on our emergency exits.  Stopping to talk with these interesting young people helps them to feel comfortable on our property and helps us to learn about their dreams and desires.

We serve others as we wave the banner of inclusion.  All are welcomed at our table of acceptance.  The bread and wine of new life is for the able-bodied and the disabled, the young and the not so young, the regular church attender and the first time visitor.   

So, I ask, will you join the parade and come to the table where Jesus is host?  Will you eat the simple food of bread and wine?  Will you eat bread remembering that Jesus is Lord?  Will you dip the bread in the grape juice and profess that Jesus Is Lord? 

We are part of the procession of long ago.  It begins in Jerusalem and continues to Penticton.  It changes all of our lives.  We have heard the ancient profession of faith.  It reminds us that Christ humbly and meekly served, so that you and I might live abundantly.  May Palm Sunday 2016 forever transform you.  Glory be!  Amen.

Extreme Extravagance – March 13, 2016

Extreme Extravagance

Lent 4 – Year C – March 13, 2016

A middle aged professor has been living alone for the past 10 years.   He was withdrawn, lifeless and rather crotchety.  But, it is hard to say when you began to notice the changes in the good professor – he doesn’t look down walking across campus – he smiles more – is uncharacteristically chatty – he starts wearing ties made in the past decade – he was even heard laughing out loud.  Suddenly, to everyone’s astonishment, a wedding announcement arrives, along with an invitation to the reception at the Faculty Club.  No one knows the woman, but word circulates from the graduate assistants that until just a couple of years ago she made her living dancing on tables wearing not much more than a smile.  It’s a celebration!  They’re so happy after so many unhappy years.  It’s a celebration!  You are invite.  Will you go to that party?    What will we do about the next year’s Christmas party?  What if the children hear of it?  That reception will cost something, not only for the happy bride and groom, but also for friends attending.

Let’s face it, parties are expensive.  Parties cost you something.  While I could be referring to the cost of food, I’m thinking beyond physical expenses.  The cost that most concerns Jesus is not the cost of the party itself, but what it will cost people to come. And that has been true throughout the ages.  Just look to the gospel story that …. read.

For the writer of the gospel of Luke, this is how the Kingdom of God invades the world – as an invitation to a celebration.  A few verses before, Jesus told another parable about a banquet where invited guests were too busy to attend.  But now, in our story, people refuse the invitation because they don’t like the guest list – “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them”.  Horror of Horrors! Is that a reason to include them in the guest list?

The father is the heart and centre of this story.  Although he had been rejected by his sons, he transcends.  He embraces the one who is undeserving and calls for an extravagant celebration.  Equally he went out to the one who believed himself to be more deserving and offered him words of affectionate endearment.  “My dear son.”

It truly is an amazing tale.  The grace of acceptance and the extravagance of feasting surprise us and in the process also reveals how God’s reign expands our vision. The great party thrown to celebrate the younger son’s return would have included the entire village in a feast of reconciliation.

As part of that village, you and I are included in the invitation.  Will you come to the party?  Will you embrace the young son?  Will you encourage the elder son to be part of the festivities?   Will you accept the invitation if you are the miss-fit – the sinner – the righteous – the ordinary? 

It is fitting, Jesus explains, appropriate that we should celebrate.  Our story pleads that the invitation not be rejected.  Come to the party, because it won’t be the same without you.  Jesus explains himself to those who sneer at his hospitality. 

Through this tale we see the difficulty the 2 sons had responding to the father’s unusual response to both of them.  Reprimand is noticeably absent.  The father reaches out with amazing grace, interrupting the younger son’s confession and offering reconciliation far beyond expectation.  Similarly, the father goes out to the son who stayed home but who also embarrasses the father by breaking the communal expectation of family solidarity when he refuses to participate in the celebration. 

Being part of a family is sometimes difficult.  A number of years ago, a friend and I shared a home and made the decision to care for her then 16 year old niece.  Like the young son in Jesus’ story, this gal had run away from our home a number of times.  She threw away more years of schooling than I can count, in spite of being an amazingly bright young woman.  In her own words “She had messed up badly.”  Staying at her parents home was not a safe or healthy option for her, so living with us gave her healthy boundaries, rules and consistent love for the first time in her life.  However, for the first time in my life I learned what the inside of the police station looked like, met most of the troubled teens of the community, learned where the favorite hangouts for young people were and the list goes on.  Perhaps you can relate.  But, we also threw a party to welcome her into our home.  That is what forgiveness and love is all about.

In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevya says to his wife, Golda, do you love me?

She’s too busy for such frivolities.  All the housework to do and he’s getting mushey.  “Go lie down” she says.  ‘You’ll feel better after awhile.

But he persists.  “The first time I met you was on our wedding day.”  Tevya tells Golda how frightened he was, but his own mother and father had said to him that over the years they would grow to love each other.  “So now I ask you.  Do you love me?”

Golda begins to think out loud.  “For 25 years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him.  If that isn’t love, what is?

Tevya brightens, “Then you love me?” 

“I suppose I do” she acknowledges.

Together they sing “It doesn’t change a thing.  But after 25 years, it’s nice to know.

Fiddler on the Roof is about Tevya and Golda, who are the older brothers in the prodigal parable, and about their daughters who are all “younger sons” in one way or another.  All of them move outside the norms and conventions, and during a period of history when everything was in flux, kept pushing at the edges of the tradition Tevya and Golda value so deeply, a tradition that “Tells us who we are and what God expects us to do.”

But Tevya and Golda are also God in the parable.  Because in the end, against their own instincts, against the conventions of the community and the power of the tradition, they finally act on their love.

Returning to the gospel, a close examination reveals some interesting insights.  Do you remember how the story opens? The passage begins with some tax collectors and sinners drawing near to listen to Jesus.  The phrase tax collectors and sinners refers to a group of people so destitute they were forced to engage in dishonourable professions in order to survive.  Just like the younger son in the story, the tax collectors and sinners had lost their community – their status – and in many cases their self-respect.

The tale includes the account of a family consisting of a father and 2 sons.  The young son receives his inheritance and squanders it.  After a time of frivolous living, the young man returns home.

The story does not end with the father embracing and welcoming the younger son.   Even though we would expect a detailed account of the homecoming, our attention is diverted to the reaction of the other brother. The older son refused to join the celebration banquet, complaining that he has always been dutiful and yet was never so well treated.  In a sense, he was acting like his brother did – rejecting the home that his father had provided.  This is where the sub-text of the story lies.  It is not only the outcasts who have a choice about whether or not they will accept God’s welcome.  The dutiful – like the privileged elder son, or the Pharisees and scribes listening to this story – also have a choice.  They can stubbornly hold on to their own understanding of true righteousness and refuse to join God’s banquet, or they can choose to accept God’s welcoming, overturning, inclusive love.

  There is a story of a man in Italy whose son was estranged from him after a big fight.  A few months passed without word.  Finally, the father posted a notice all around Rome.  It said, “Palo, I forgive you.  I’m sorry.  I love you.  Please meet me at the square, on Saturday at 3 p.m.

That Saturday, 800 young men named Palo appeared at the square at 3 p.m.

Those who can find the strength to forgive themselves and others know the joy when forgiveness is given and received, when hurt is past, when new life is real, and the music from the celebration can be heard by everyone. 

The message of forgiveness and acceptance is timeless. There are many reasons for not forgiving.  There is the fear of being hurt again.  The fear of being seen as foolish.  There is the fear of being taken in.  Again.  And then there is guilt when forgiveness is just too hard. Does our God love us this much?  Could the accepting Parent love the child so much to forgive the son or daughter even when they don’t deserve it?  And how could a party possibly be thrown? 

A powerful story comes from the church in New Zealand.  It is about 2 brothers named Sam and Simon who were once convicted of stealing sheep, and, in accordance with the brutal punishment of the day, were branded on the forehead with the letters ST which stood for Sheep Thief.  One of the brothers, unable to bear the stigma, tried to bury himself in a foreign land.  But people would ask him about the letters on his brow and what they meant. Thus he wandered from land to land, full of bitterness, he died and was buried in a forgotten grave.

But the other brother, who repented of his mistake, did not go away from his home.  He said to himself: “I can’t run away from the fact that I stole sheep and here I will remain until I turn it around and win back the respect of my neighbours and myself”.

As the years passed he established a reputation for respectability and integrity.   One day a stranger in the town saw the old man with the letters ST branded on his forehead and asked a local person what they signified.  After thinking for awhile the villager said: “It all happened a great while ago, and I have forgotten the particulars, but I think the letters are an abbreviation of Saint.”

To all of us who are saints, let the celebration begin!  What a party it will be!  Amen.