Here is the link to the video of the service: https://youtu.be/OdyRoE2dyqg
Here is the message for June 28:
Exploration of the Word
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is one of the more difficult stories in Genesis. In this time before Moses and the 10 Commandments, people were regulated by tribal laws. For the Semitic people like Abraham, they usually did not condone child sacrifice, even though it was a common practice for the farming people in Canaan and in many other places. Farming and imperialism partnered in feeding and controlling people. Fear was and is an effective control mechanism, and farming depended on many factors from weather to pests like locusts. Knowing this the leaders of agricultural and imperialist societies cultivated a culture of belief in agricultural gods that needed to be kept happy to contribute to maintaining the hierarchical social structure. Sacrifice of first fruits (grain, fruit, lambs, calves, etc) was a common practice and it included sacrifice of one’s first child as an act of trust in one’s relationship with the gods. The Hebrew attitude towards this practice is hinted at in describing the last plague that hit the Egyptians. In this plague the first born children and animals were killed across Egypt. It was probably offensive to them and Abraham’s intent on sacrificing Isaac would not have occurred to Sarah or Isaac.
The clear purpose of the story was verification of Abraham’s complete loyalty and devotion to God, but it has been handled in many ways by rabbis over the years including versions where Abraham does kill Isaac and Isaac is resurrected. The trauma of this incident could be linked to Isaac’s close attachment to his mother as an adult, and his fragility which required Abraham to send his servant off to Abraham’s family to find a wife for Isaac.
All I want to take from the story for today is the demand for complete commitment, a demand which is repeated in our reading from Matthew. The Matthew reading fits very comfortably with evangelical faiths like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but is uncomfortable to most members of mainline churches like the Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and United Church.
However, it is tied to the general truth that satisfaction tends to be linked to depth of commitment. Most entrepreneurs would recognize that unwillingness to give a project 100% of what you have often or usually leads to failure. Great art almost always has a period of time where its creation takes everything the artist has to offer. Parenting is a project that requires 100% quite often, especially at the baby stage and adolescence.
While I suspect verses 34 to 39 had little actual input from Jesus, they were essential to a community where many or most members had experienced alienation from family and friends. Like in all of history, even today, many people who chose to support the message of their faith community would have been reported to the authorities by their own families for advocating beliefs that threatened the stability of their society. While the parables offered by Jesus generally promoted dreams of shalom, of peace, the history of the movement was marked by division, persecution, and death.
As hard as those verses are, they spoke to the reality of the community which first heard them. They also speak to the reality today that people who deeply support the message of Jesus continue to face powerful opposition inside and outside of churches.
He advocated right relationships above wealth and power, and we live in a society dependent on most people accepting the current distribution of power and reliance on the desire to acquire to maintain a social order that leaves many hungry in a country with abundant food, homeless in a country were the number of second homes is probably greater than the number of homeless people, and the health of the land takes second place to a consumer society. Changing our society to be more like what Jesus promoted requires 100% from the people wanting those changes, though not necessarily all the time. As we approach Canada Day, I personally long for a country that reflects the values and commitment of Dr. Fitzgerald, a country where the well-being of marginalized people is more important than profit or prestige.
Many people today are joining in fighting racism. I believe it is important to recognize the depth and nature of that challenge. Tribalism is part of our DNA, and has pervasive effects on our actions. There is a Gospel story that reveals the depth of the challenge. A disturbing preacher was slowly gathering followers as he preached and acted in ways that undermined the authority of the religious leaders. Their anger reached a point where he left Galilee to avoid being arrested by them at the wrong time. He went off to another province where almost everyone was not a Jew. We think of him as one who was committed to helping everyone regardless of race, and as having divine insight. When a foreign woman asked him to help her sick daughter, he replied, “It is wrong to give the children’s food to the dogs.” How could he have said that? He grew up a Jew in a Jewish village, a place with a reputation as a hillbilly place such that about 60 years later, a gospel writer had a person ask, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He grew up immersed in a set of attitudes about non-Jewish people which he overcame most of the time, but not that time. Tribalism reveals itself in obvious and non-obvious ways, and we are all part of a variety of tribes. Sometimes I am a member of the white tribe or the male tribe or the clergy tribe or the Deep River tribe or the Alberta tribe and so on. Each tribe that is part of our identity shapes our perceptions and attitudes, and the perceptions and attitudes of the tribe associated with our role of the moment shapes our words, thoughts and actions. We may overrule their influences most of the time, but there will always be moments when they burst through, just as they did at that moment for Jesus. When this happens, do not condemn ourselves, but do be quick to say, “That was wrong. I am sorry.” Then try to remediate any harm that action caused.
The promise that softens all of this lies in the last three verses, the assurance that what Jesus asks or demands is actually less of a burden than what many people carry. Just believing in what you are doing can lighten the loads in our life. The cleaning person who takes pride in making a work place safe and attractive carries a lighter load than the cleaning person who focuses on the gritty work he or she is doing.
Believing we are called to what we are doing helps a great deal, whether that is volunteering or working. Over the years, I learned a great deal about kidney donation including meeting the woman who was the first person in Canada to receive a kidney from a living donor, her twin sister. About 7 years ago, a friend of Bonnie’s came to get some old carpet from us and we talked about his wife who was on dialysis and had the same blood type as me. I thought I will soon be too old to donate a kidney, so I started the process and became an anonymous donor 4 years ago. Instead of feeling guilty or inadequate or powerless about making a real difference in the world, I found a way to make a big difference to someone. Members of this congregation are making a difference in this community through the leadership they provide to community organizations, and the other kinds of service they provide.
Serving in ways like these gives greater meaning to our lives, and lives without a sense of purpose feel like a greater burden than any service we may provide. When we consider the number of people dying from drug overdoses and other signs of grasping for meaning or escaping reality, we see what real burdens can look like. From a glass of cold water for a thirsty person to serving as a nurse or doctor in a Medicine Sans Frontiers hospital in a war zone, acts of service matter. Saying yes to a call we recognize matters. And we receive a reward money cannot buy. In saying yes to a call to serve, whether small or great, we choose to be closer to or more in tune with what we are meant to be, and to the Holy Mystery we experience without understanding. In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Deep River Community Church will resume in-person services on Sunday, June 28 at 10:15 am. Here is the letter to be sent to all members of the congregation.
Worship Returns to Community Church’s Sanctuary
“I joyed when to the House of God, go up they said to me” is how the Scottish Psalter paraphrases the opening of Psalm 122. For people of all the faiths that trace back to Abraham, joining the congregation in worship has deep roots, roots that stretch back millennia—until Covid-19 came along to disrupt our traditions! Now the Province of Ontario has lifted the total ban on in-person church services. Our exciting news is that, after considerable discussion on the details of how we should respond, Church Council has approved our return to services in our Sanctuary. On Sunday June 28, Community Church will resume in-person worship at the usual time of 10:15. We know that many of you have been able to join in worship on-line this spring and we have decided to continue our on-line services but now you can again join worship with in-person fellowship as well as participating in the on-line presentations.
Understandably, for the next few months at least, the services cannot be quite worship-as-usual. They will include readings, prayers, a message and some organ or piano music. Generally, the services will be contemplative and shorter than normal. Communal singing will be absent, since it is considered more likely to spread infectious droplets. We are required to restrict attendance to no more than 30% of the Sanctuary’s normal limit on occupancy (not over 80 people). It would be helpful if you were able to call the Church Office (613-584-2812) in advance to let us estimate numbers. Naturally, anyone with Covid-like symptoms should not attend.
We plan to move every second pew forward to maintain the two metres of physical distancing and worshippers will be spaced along the pews. Masks must be worn and will be available, though you are encouraged to bring your own. Please use the front door; hand-sanitizing is mandatory when you enter. We are not allowed to offer coffee but you may bring a water bottle. The washroom off the narthex will be open but use it only if you really have to. Physical distancing of at least two metres must be maintained—this can be quite difficult so please try not to bunch up when moving.
After the service, worshippers will likely appreciate the opportunity to chat—always respecting physical distancing. For comfort, feel free to bring along lawn chairs—though these have to stay outside our building.
I do hope you are all coping with the current restrictions in your lives due to Covid-19 and the opportunity to return to in-person services is a welcome return toward normalcy. Continuing our on-line services will accommodate those who are unable to take in or are uncomfortable with being exposed to the Sanctuary services.
Margaret Miller Chair, Worship Committee