Wolfe Island United Church
Welcome to Worship
June 21, 2020
Artwork created by Maggie Crothers
Student Minister: Elizabeth Amirault M. Div.
Musician: Robert Douglas
Wolfe Island United Church
June 21, 2020
Welcome faithful ones. Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers every day. This is an important day. It is, of course, Father’s Day, but also Indigenous Day of Prayer, Summer Solstice, and the first day of summer. Well, what a day for celebration, and a wonderful day to be God’s people wherever we are. Welcome to our time of worship.
Lighting of the Christ Candle – If you have a candle available, please light it before you begin to read the service. Take a moment to centre yourself and feel the presence of all of us with you today. The longest day, the day with the most sunlight for us in the northern hemisphere, but without the light of Christ, it feels dark. Light you candle to shine the true light of love on yourself.
I wish the peace of Christ to be with all of you
And also with you.
Hymn: “We Are One” VU 402
Call to Worship:
Come to God who gathers us in.
Come to God who nurtures us like a father.
Come to God whose arms are open and waiting.
Come to God who welcomes and forgives us.
Come to God who journeys with us
Come to God who sees us as we really are and loves us anyway.
Come, praise our loving nurturing God!
Prayer of Approach:
Loving God, you call us to turn away from our own selfish interests, to take up our cross, and to follow you. To find our lives, may we live them in service of your mission.
As we come before you this morning, give us open hearts and open hands. Make us eager to hear your voice and seek your guidance.
Open our minds to your ever-present spirit that is always moving within and around us. Open our spirits to your nudging and open our lives to your love. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Hymn: “Faith of Our Fathers” VU 580
First Testament: Genesis 21:8–21
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The child grew and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.
But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”
So, Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Psalm 86:1–10, 16–17
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl.
Show me a sign of your favour, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
Hymn: “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky” VU 509
Sermon: “Feel the Fear”
Let us pray. Help us now to hear your message as we seek to know you better. Amen.
Susan Jeffers, who was styled the Queen of Self-Help, sold millions of books exhorting readers to strike out boldly to conquer their fears and improve their lives. First published in 1987, her work Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway became one of the biggest selling self-help books of all time A legion of mostly female fans has provided testimonials that her dozens of books led them to shake off their apprehensions, build up their self-worth and attempt to realise their real potential. Today’s story is about finding real potential, working through the fear and recognizing that with God’s help, fear falls away and opens to grace.
Abraham and Sarah’s story, both throughout Genesis and encapsulated in the reading today, is one tumultuous soap opera. Today’s “episode” highlights several themes relating to our relationship with God. First of all, God’s perspective is always bigger than all our dramas. Secondly, God notices us at our weakest and least likeable, and loves us regardless. Thirdly, God listens to our cries for help.
“Genesis: The Soap Opera” is in desperate need of God’s healing grace. Following in Jesus’ footsteps, however, is easier said than done, and when we seek help for this, we can always turn to Psalm 86 and bring our fears and requests to God in supplication and gratitude.
Before we get to far into today’s saga, let’s get a better handle on the back story. In ancient culture, status for women came through marriage, but higher status came through childbearing. So, while Hagar started out with lower status than her mistress, the roles between she and Sarah flipped when Hagar got pregnant.
What happens on the day that you realize that you can do something the boss can’t? Or when someone who works for you suddenly surpasses your ability or status? Exactly, instant conflict- role reversal! Hagar starts looking down on Sarah, and Sarah in turn becomes abusive to Hagar, so Hagar runs away. God finds Hagar, and tells her to go back home, and basically… suck it up- God promises that Hagar’s offspring will also be so numerous that no one can count them, and that she should call her son Ishmael, which means- God hears.
And after seeing that Hagar is so excited to hear about her son’s future, God continues… “He’ll be a wild man, fighting everyone, and everyone fighting him; he won’t even get along with his family.” (Gee, thanks God)… but Hagar hangs on to what God has told her about the big family and the nation to be born through her son, and she begins to call God- “the one who sees”
I love that name for God! It reminds me of this wonderful moment in the James Cameron movie, Avatar- When the natives on the planet greet one another they say, “I see you.” Not like, ‘I see you,’ like, ‘I’ m looking at you…’ rather, ‘I see inside you.’ I see you, meaning, a bringing of a readiness to be fully present with the other. I see you, meaning, ‘I understand you, I am with you…’ How different would the world be if we “saw” each other on the inside, with the heart- instead of just on the surface…
But back to the story…
Hagar goes back home, and gives birth to Ishmael- Abraham is delighted to have a son; and as Ishmael gets older, he and his old dad have a true father-son relationship. Abraham teaches Ishmael how to hunt, and answers all of his questions about the stars, and teaches him about God- and the two of them play checkers on Saturday afternoons, and go camping, and watch sports, and all is right with the world.
But after a while, God takes Abraham aside and says, “Abraham, It’s great that you have your son Ishmael-and I’m always going to take care of him, and he is going to be great; but you are still going to have a child with Sarah. I made that promise, that covenant with you, and I am not going to break my promise. Abraham, it’s through the child Isaac, not Ishmael, that I will keep that promise.”
So when Ishmael is 13, and Abraham is 99 and Sarah is 90- Sarah has a baby- and they realize why God calls him Isaac- because the name Isaac name means laughter- and if you don’t think a 90 year old lady giving birth to a baby is funny… come on…
So, that brings us to today:
Isaac is now old enough to be weaned, and Abraham throws a party! Anybody who is anybody is there; he even invites his relatives from the old ranch, and he parades toddler Isaac around like the proud papa he is.
And even though this should have been a great time for everyone, for Sarah- not so much- because she knows that even though Isaac may be, “the promised one,” and God may have great plans for him, she still isn’t sold. The birth right laws of ancient times declared that regardless of the parent’s wishes the eldest son inherits everything… in fact he becomes even the spiritual leader of the family.
So as Sarah is mulling all of this over in her mind, she happens to go out back and sees Ishmael teasing Isaac, as older brothers do- holding a ball just out of his reach, saying, “come on, take it… take it,” and pulling it away at the last moment. She steps in like the mama bear she is, scoops up little Isaac, and as she carries her toddler away from the obnoxious 14 year old, all she’s thinking is- “There is no way that THAT kid is going to be in charge of MY son in any way, shape or form!”
And she marches straight into the den- stands in front of TV, shifts Isaac to her hip and points a finger right at Abraham and says, “You need to get that woman and her wild son out of our house! NOW!” And she spins on her heels and storms out of the room.
Abraham sinks deeper into his lounger and begins to think of ways around the problem… maybe let Sarah cool off for a while and then take her out to dinner? Maybe a cruise?
He doesn’t get very far into it when that now familiar voice of God intervenes. “Let them go, Abraham- they will be OK- I’ll take care of them. I know it seems harsh- but things have to happen this way- the birth right has to go to Isaac.”
And, I’m not sure how he does it, because it’s a scene I can’t imagine playing out in my own life- but somehow, the next morning, Abraham gets up early, takes a water bag and a piece of bread, gives it to Hagar and tells her to take her son and go. He tries to say goodbye to Ishmael, but the boy doesn’t even look up to meet his eyes… instead he runs from his dad into the wilderness. As for Hagar… I imagine she glared at Abraham and maintains his gaze a while as she walked into the wilderness as long as she could.
The desert is so hot- and with a teenage boy along it doesn’t take long for the mother and son to run out of water. As the days go by they grow weak, and Hagar watches the energy drain from Ishmael; his skin is parched and burned from the sun, his walking becomes slow and staggered, until he finally just collapses face down in the sand. Hagar stoops down and turns him over, but he is disoriented, and his breathing is shallow… “Oh My God… Don’t do this! Don’t take my son… please.. He’s all I have… Please…”
And Hagar drags the boy over to a bush, she kneels down beside him, and brushes the sand from his face… but when the boy doesn’t respond, it all becomes too much for her, and she stands upright, puts her fist to the sky and screams, “WHYYYY!!!”
Why would God let this happen? Why, after the first time she ran away, would God tell her to go back to Sarah if this is how it was going to end up? Why would God bring her out here just to watch her son die?
“Why?”…. She has no other words… and she falls to the ground in a heap and just cries…
I’m not sure how long she was there like that- in that state of confusion and grief and dread- with her arms wrapped so tightly around her knees, rocking back and forth… it was so quiet… she hadn’t heard a sound from Ishmael in so long, but she was afraid to look, and so she rocks…
But then, a word from God breaks the silence… “I see you…”
Hagar looks up, eyes swollen and cloudy… and letting the tears come she responds… “I see you… ” and God brings Hagar over to Ishmael and helps her lift his frail shoulders in her arms… and God looks deep into her eyes and says, “Don’t be afraid, Hagar… Hold on… tight!”
And Hagar let’s God gently touch her eyes, and then follows the path of God’s finger as it points there…there… not 50 yards away, is a well… A spring! A fountain of life-giving water that Hagar had not seen- until she let God open her eyes.
There is a beautiful quote from the children’s book, the little prince. “What makes the desert beautiful… is that somewhere it hides a well…” “But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart”. Hagar allowed God to touch her eyes, and she was able to look with her heart…
And they lived… and Ishmael, just as God had promised, became a great nation…
I read this story and every time I do; I have more questions.
How can I not be angry at Abraham for listening to Sarah?
How can I not be angry at God for letting Abraham push Hagar and his firstborn son out of his life?
How God could allow what I perceive to be injustice, and selfishness, and manipulation on Sarah’s part to have such an impact on the innocent?
But sadly, I never get the answer to those questions… because the text doesn’t give us anything to satisfy.
But here’s what I do take away from this story: When things happen in our lives, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves seem incomprehensible, and we find ourselves standing with our little dust fists to the wide open sky screaming, “WHY???;” whether it’s at injustice, or unfairness, or out of grief, or helplessness… God hears!
Through the story of Ishmael, we know that no matter how we are treated by others, no matter how uncertain our future may look, no matter how hopeless things may seem- God hears…
And that when we are in that situation; when things have gotten so dry and parched and close to death that you feel like you can’t bear to watch, and you just want to walk away because watching something you love that much suffer, or possibly die is just too painful— God speaks… and tells us to hold on… and hold on tightly. We are to lift up those things that we think are beyond hope to the one who IS hope… and to be still enough to let hope touch our eyes…gently… and to follow the finger of God to life giving water that we weren’t able to see before.
And truly, this is more difficult than its sounds. Because when we are in a desperate situation, or a helpless situation, most of the time we close our ears and eyes and hearts to anything that could take our focus off of what’s dying in front of us. We wrap ourselves in the grief; and grief is a very personal thing. And although we may be desperate for relief… we can’t let it go. Taking our attention away from the dying, even for a second, is unthinkable. Yet it’s what we’re told to do over and over in scripture; focus on what God is showing you and take the relief God offers.
That’s the challenge isn’t it? Because part of being in the desert is feeling deserted. If God loved me, then why? If God were here with me, surely this wouldn’t be happening… If God knew me, God would know I can’t take this much pain… If God loved me, God wouldn’t let me suffer… How can I believe in living water when I’m dry as dust? How can I believe in resurrection when I only see death around me?
How, when we feel the fear that makes us want to fight, fly or freeze, can we do it anyway?
I don’t have easy answers… I suffer just like you. But I do believe this one truth… that the God who hears is also the God who sees… God is not just watching from a distance… The God of resurrection sees us from the inside… understands us… is fully present with us…
Every day, God points us to a well in the desert. We can see it… if we look with our heart.
”I see you…”
May those who have ears, hear the word of God. Amen.
Sharing God’s Blessings: VU 543
Please consider providing your offering by dropping a cheque in the mailbox of Doreen Joslin, leaving a cheque at Fargo’s store with “Wolfe Island United Church are of Doreen Joslin” on the envelope or sending an e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Receive these gifts that we have given, God, as a symbol of all that we seek to be and to do in your way. Bless what we have offered, and direct us in the use of these offerings for your glory and for the well-being of all. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
Sung Prayer: “Lord, Listen to Your Children” VU 400
The Prayers of The People and the Lord’s Prayer:
God of unfailing love, Saviour to whom we belong,
Spirit of truth, you we worship, you we love, you we trust.
We long for wisdom to live well and faithfully all the days of our lives.
Hear us today as we ask for your guidance.
You know the fears that bind us. You know how lost we get sometimes.
Yet, you search for us and find us; you never let us go.
God, the daily news brings us more to fear. How can so many lives be taken? How can people not see that simply physically distancing can save us from illness and death? How can the colour of our skin make us more or less than human? Do you see us?
You pour grace upon grace into our lives. Then, you send us out into the world, which needs your light. Even though we know that we are truly blessed, we ask for more. Even when we sit in our homes with full bellies, we cry; God, show me a sign of your favour!
Remind us, God, of those in our communities who are ill, who are alone, who are hungry, who are tired, who are mourning, who are weak, who are troubled, and who are lost. Help us to see you in them, help us to see ourselves connected and feel their plight as deeply as we would our own children. Help us see with our hearts, like you saw Ishmael and Hagar, like you see us all, love us all, and hear us all when we cry.
On this Father’s Day, remind us of the fathers who loved us, those who fathered us in the absence of our own. Remind us too, God, that those who were known as “fathers” in our society have brought about harm to other, made them subject to injustice and prejudice. Bring us to love as you have loved us. Mend our brokenness and help us walk together on a path of justice and true love.
As we seek to be what you have called us to be, fill our minds so that we observe the world through the light and love of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Then, grant us courage to walk in the Way of Jesus, our brother, who is our example of truth and life.
Hear us now as we say the prayer Jesus taught us to pray saying….Our Father…
Hymn: “Eternal Father” VU 659
Commissioning & Benediction.
Go forth, as God’s beloved children; know God’s love surrounds us like a father’s love.Go in the knowledge of God’s comfort and protection. God’s strength empowers us to be the best we can be.Go in God’s grace, to share the love of God with all we meet!
* Choral Blessing: (inside front cover of Voices United)
If you need to contact Elizabeth Amirault you can call her cell phone at (343) 363-0754. Her email address is Minister.WIUC@cogeco.ca.
Due to concerns around the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the instruction from Public Health Officials with reference to “flattening the curve”, Wolfe Island United Church has chosen to cancel worship services indefinitely. We will keep you updated as to when we will be meeting again in person.
Worship will be posted on the Wolfe Island United Church website after 9:30 each Sunday morning.
Join us at: https://wiuc.ca/