Worship Start Time: 10:30am
Theme: First Sunday after Epiphany - Gifts to Giftedness
Come to Scarboro as we worship together every Sunday at 10:30am. We will have the coffee on at 10, so come early and catch up with your community. Over the season of Epiphany ScarboroArts will bring us gifts of artistic talent to compliment and deepen worship.
The Environmental Team is meeting early this Sunday at 9am in the Chapel.
After church, gather in the Marilyn Perkins - Memorial Hall and catch up over a cup of tea or coffee. See you there!
This year's Annual General Meeting will be on Sunday, February 10. The Annual Report will be out by the end of January for your review.
Also on February 10, we will gather in the Memorial Hall after service to celebrate Rev. Lee Spice as she prepares to move into her new role as Pastoral Relations Minister for Region 3, Chinook Winds. Come for lunch and help to wish Lee well on her new adventure.
Through the Waters
Rev. Lee Spice
At this time of year, it is customary to look over the year that has passed and take stock. For those who are committee chairs and in leadership, this has real consequences, as our annual reports are due in the office.
So we look over the year. What has happened? Who is with us, that was not with us the year before? Who is not with us? What revelations have we had? What surprises happened? What has made us happy? What has made us sad?
One of the difficulties that I have, when I’m looking over the year, is that the path is so varied. There have been times where the going was easy, and times when the going was tough. But, always, it’s a journey.
And, as with all journeys, where sometimes you walk and joke and jostle your companions on the way, sometimes, it can feel like you’re all alone.
The passage that we heard from the prophet Isaiah was written to a people who needed to hear a word of hope. They were on a journey, too, only their own journey led them on a forced exile to Babylon – a foreign land. There were times, I’m sure, that they thought they would never get home. There were times that they felt so, so alone. Abandoned. Perhaps, even by God.
And so Isaiah writes a love letter – the love letter from God to the people named Israel – Jacob, Leah, Rachel, and all of the descendants.
As I was thinking about what I would say to you today, I felt in danger of delivering one of those sermons that was full of platitudes. You know. You’ve probably heard one or two. Those “God will be with you, don’t worry” kind of sermons that you may or may not really believe.
I think we’ve talked before about how platitudes are really not helpful. After a little while on this earth, a person starts to realize that things are not going to go well all the time.
Our book club is starting a memoir by Kate Bowler called “Everything Happens for a Reason – and Other Lies I’ve Loved.” She begins with a takedown of what is called the “Prosperity Gospel.” In short, this is the belief that, as long as you love and serve God, everything is going to go well for you. At its best, it’s the belief that nothing will ever go wrong. At it’s worst, you get the almost profane televangelists with their mansions and expensive cars – if you do everything right, then God showers you with good stuff.
Kate Bowler points out how bad that theology is, maybe looking down her nose a little – but then something happens that makes her realize that she, too, was expecting that God would protect her from all manner of bad things, because she is a good person. But God did not protect her from cancer.
In the passage we heard from Isaiah, there is no guarantee that bad things are not going to happen. The prophet is speaking to people for whom the worst thing imaginable has already occurred: they have been moved by force off their own land – the land of their ancestors.
These people know that bad things happen, even to good people.
Isaiah speaks in beautiful poetry, and names the things that that threaten them: water, rivers, fire, flames. WHEN you pass through the waters; WHEN you walk through fire…it is clear that God is not protecting anyone from the threats on this treacherous path.
And the words are: “People, you are going through some deep waters. People, you are going through flames; but they are not going to get the best of you. They are not going to overwhelm you. Don’t be afraid, because I created you, I love you, and I will be with you.
“You are not an anonymous person – I have called you by your name.
“Don’t be afraid, because I created you, I love you, and I will be with you.”
The people who first heard these words really needed to hear them.
And we need to hear them, because there will always be waters that threaten to rise.
You may be passing through the waters of a relationship breakdown or the loss of someone dear. God says, “I will be with you.”
You may be walking through the fires of a new diagnosis or a chronic illness or cancer or dementia or addictions. God promises, “I love you, and I will be with you.”
You may feel the rivers of depression or anxiety rising up, and God says, “Don’t be afraid. I created you. I love you, and I will be with you.”
Looking back over this year, we can see that we have been through some deep waters together. We have suffered together, having lost so many loved ones. Many in our families continue to struggle with unemployment or underemployment. New diagnoses have been made. Tragedies have happened. Changes in the church are happening.
It can feel like the waters are rising.
Has anybody seen that Facebook video of the guy who falls through thin ice? He is doing it on purpose to demonstrate how to get out of it. He shows us, first, how there is a natural panic reflex (no kidding), but once your breathing slows (as much as it can slow in ice cold water) – placing your arms out on the ice, you stretch your body out, using the buoyancy of the water to help lift your legs behind you, and then, stretched out horizontally, you kick your feet, propelling yourself out of the water. In this case, the water, the very thing that is the danger, is used to help you.
There’s a beautiful book by Margaret Wheatley, in which she writes a poem based on teachings from the Elders of the Hopi Nation. I may have shared with you before, but it’s worth sharing again:
TO MY FELLOW SWIMMERS:
Here is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid, who will try
to hold on to the shore.
They are being torn apart and
will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore.
Push off into the middle of the river,
and keep our heads above water.
And I say see who is there with you
At this time in history,
we are to take nothing personally,
least of all ourselves,
for the moment we do,
our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude
All that we do now must be done
in a sacred manner and in celebration.
For we are the ones we have been waiting for.
Beloved community, even though God cannot give us guarantees about life, God has given us each other. And, as community, we look around at who else is in the water. We help each other keep our head up, and, with the help and promises of God, we will not be overwhelmed.
At this time of year, it’s also appropriate to look forward, into the future. We don’t really know what the future holds, any more than we knew exactly what was going to happen this year. We have no guarantees about the difficulties that will come into any of our lives. There will be joy, and there will be struggle. The waters could rise. There is no protection from bad things, even for good people.
But there actually is one guarantee, after all: The words of God through the prophet Isaiah: Don’t be afraid, because I created you, I love you, and I will be with you.
I have called you by your name.