Coming to Restore His People – November 29th 2020
Welcome to worship at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Salmon Arm. We are delighted that you have joined us online.
- During Advent each year we at St. Andrew's support a PWS&D project (Presbyterian World Service & Development) in lieu of sending each other Christmas cards. To learn more and how to give see the "Recent Posts" to the right of your screen
- December's Loonie Offering will be going to the SAFE House check the "Recent Posts" next week for more info on that.
Please have an advent wreath or a candle handy to light as a part of the call to worship.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Reader: The season of Advent begins, and we celebrate the hope we find in the good news of the Gospel.
All: Through the birth of a tiny and helpless child, God comes to save the world.
Reader: While we watch and wait for Jesus, we join God’s mission by bringing grace and mercy to those who need it most.
All: We engage the poor and the poor in spirit, letting Christ’s light shine through us.
Reader: We speak words of comfort and love to a world in need of hope and healing, as we share our stories of God’s transforming Spirit.
All: Together, we are a sign of God’s hope for the world.
The candle is lit
Reader: Let us pray:
All: God of surprising grace, when we least expect it you bring fresh new life; and where we feel that all is lost, you bring redemption. Give us courage as we share all you have done, all you are doing, and all you will accomplish through Jesus Christ. Amen.
PRAYER OF INVOCATION
O Holy God,
maker of every thought and thing,
open our hearts this day,
that we may know your presence
in this time and place.
Restore us now,
so we may see the special gift and calling
that you have for each of us.
Masterful potter of life,
mold us into the vessels
you would have us be.
Help us be ready for your promised return,
when you will be among us and within us
with new, creative, healing energy.
Seeking your creative and healing energy
we come together to pray, trusting in you to hear our confession
UNISON PRAYER OF CONFESSION
O God, sometimes we don’t know where to turn, or what to do. “Make it easy for us to figure out,” we cry as we seek signs of your presence. We want it simple. Just tell us and we can take the proper precautions. We don’t want to be left out on the Day of the Lord’s Return.
We want signs to show us the way, yet there are signs all around of your presence among us, and your activity in our world. We’re looking for signs of gloom and doom – but we should be looking for signs of hope and triumph. Forgive us, merciful God, when we spend so much time looking for the scary things in life. Focus our attention on ways in which we can be of service with whatever time we have. Forgive us when we seek the darkness of anger and fear and turn our backs on the light of possibilities and peace. Open our hearts once again to your redeeming love and transforming peace, for we ask these things in Jesus’ name. AMEN.
Assurance of Pardon
O People of God, hear the good news of hope and triumph. In Christ we are made new. We are healed and forgiven, we are challenged and guided to become those who work for the better rather than those who would destroy and damage. You call us your people, O God, and we are eternally grateful. Praise be to God, in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
PASSING THE PEACE
The face of God shines brightly on us,
that we might be saved.
The love of God revives us,
that we might call upon God’s name.
Seek out the shining face of God in one another
as we share the peace of Christ.
We share the peace of Christ.
Share a sign of peace with those nearby, or ask the Spirit to bring his peace to another you may know, or to a world situation.
Psalm 80: 1-7
1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
4 How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us an object of derision[b] to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
7 Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved. (NIV)
Mark 13: 24-37
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (NIV)
SERMON: Coming to Restore His People
A few years ago, I was at home alone in Alberta while my daughter and her family were away camping. Suddenly the tv started blaring with an emergency alert. Immediately the security system started blaring a tornado alert. Then someone started pounding on the door and ringing the bell at the same time.
I turned off the tv, and bypassed the security box on my way to answer the door. It was a neighbour making sure I knew that there was a tornado alert. Yes I knew.
Then I tried to figure out the security system, I acknowledged the alert, and pressed the cancel button. But a few minutes later the alert sounded again. Again I turned off. This went on for quite a while.
It wasn’t my first tornado. I knew what to watch for and listen for. That first time, I heard the rush of the wind, like a train roaring by, and saw the dust and dirt swirl past my window as the screen was pulled from it’s bracket. Then silence as the tornado moved on, apparently not quite ready to completely touch down. It finally touched down about a mile away and took down 3 miles of power poles.
Warnings and signs.
What do we make of them?
Jesus is speaking to the disciples about his return, saying:
“But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
Then will the Son of Man come in great glory.
These words from Mark are a reminder that God surprised people with the first advent of Jesus, and will again for the second advent. More than that it is a reminder that God’s intervention in the world surprises us even today.
So we look around with eyes of hope. Do we see signs. Surely the signs around us now are dire.
and a record number of Hurricanes—is there anything we haven’t seen in 2020?
Yet with all that we still don’t know when Jesus will come again. But we need to keep the eyes of hope in order to see all the things that God does reveal to us.
They might be as blatant as the tornado warnings that don’t stop coming, or they could be subtle, visible only to those who recognize the signs.
We recall that the first time Jesus came to earth there were signs. However, not everyone recognized the signs.
Yet we can learn a lesson from those select few who did see, and hear, and believe.
Those who watched with eyes of hope saw the star and came and greeted and worshipped the baby.
Those who listened with the ears of faith, heard the song of the angels and come down from the hillside to behold for themselves the salvation of God.
Those who observed through a life of dedication and prayer, recognized the baby when his parents brought him into the temple, and they beheld him in awe.
That was a pretty small and select group. Surely others saw the star. Surely a host of angels singing in the hills would have been heard by many others, especially if they were outdoors or nearby. Surely all faithful in the temple would be able to see Jesus with his parents and recognize him.
Yet, it was not so. All the same signs were present, and not everyone saw them. Or maybe they didn’t recognize them for the good news that they were.
It would seem that many, if not most of us, simply don’t know the signs when we see them, or hear them, or even know that what is happening is the answer to our prayers.
That truth is evident in the years that Jesus ministered here on earth. Many saw the miracles and the healing of multitudes from all sorts of disease. They saw and yet did not believe he was the Messiah.
Many saw him on the cross, suffering pain and anguish, and only one soldier recognized who he truly was.
Even his followers when they saw the empty tomb were shocked and did not initially believe that it was a sign that he had risen.
This seems to be a part of the human condition; and goes back to the beginning of time.
Because from the beginning of God’s interactions with his people the signs have been there that what God desired above all else, was a relationship with his people.
All the signs pointed to God’s desire to restore his people.
Sometimes the signs were subtle, sometimes God sent prophets to declare his good news, sometimes God sent warrior angels. Almost every time, the people failed to see, failed to hear, failed to know, and failed to obey.
What makes the difference?
Don’t we all want to know God’s salvation?
Isn’t there a part of all of us that hungers after the peace that God brings us in Jesus?
What holds us back?
That day, with the alert on the tv, the neighbour pounding at the door, and the continually blaring of the security system, what did I do?
I did what I always did. I may have looked out the window a little more often, especially every time I had to turn of the security alert—again But I didn’t prepare. I waited and read, I prepared for work the next day.
If it looked like it would get bad, I’d go into one of the windowless rooms; but I didn’t really prepare. I didn’t even go looking for the cats, who were cowering somewhere afraid of all the loud noise and sirens.
Admittedly that could have meant that I would be caught off guard, but I was in truth more concerned about the annoying security system than an impending tornado.
We see those same signs around us right now. Daily the rise in numbers of covid cases come served with our evening news. We have grown accustomed to the large and growing numbers, so we barely listen. There are regular cautions and pleas concerning the ways we gather and interact. We hear the cautions and the medical orders and restrictions, but we want to gather with friends and family.
Some of us listen. Some of us do not.
The truth is that there are so many things that clamour for our attention, that we tune out what we don’t want to hear. Sometimes the messages are couched in ambiguity and we are confused and don’t bother to try figure them out.
Sometimes we just don’t care.
Such is the human condition.
We are too busy.
We are not sure what we heard or what it meant.
We don’t really care that the message is for our own protection.
It can be like that with the messages and signs from God as well.
Today we read from Psalm 80, which is a reminder that God is a god of power and might and is fully capable of saving his people. Even in, and maybe especially in a time of crisis.
Madeline L’Engle wrote in An Advent Poem, c: 1973
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
We could echo those same sentiments. This is no time for a child to be born, in the midst of a pandemic, when the earth is torn apart by fear on one side and denial on another.
And yet we can also say that this is the perfect time for a saviour to come among us. To cure our land, restore health to the earth, and show us once again what we too often forget, that He is a God of love and mercy who wants to restore his people, even now. Especially now!
When we compare the readings from Mark and the Psalm we see the tension between our desire and our hope.
We desire a vaccine, and we hope for a return to what was normal. But can we really go back to what was? Even with a vaccine we will still have to be careful, and for many wearing masks will become a life-long precaution when out in public.
Do you recall the beginning? The signs that were missed. We looked to the wrong country for the routes of transmission. We were caught off guard.
Pandemics --like the coming of the Lord, come with signs that are difficult to read and we are usually caught unprepared.
The same is true with the coming of a saviour.
WE hope for him to come yet seeing the signs of his presence will mean that our lives will not remain the same as they always were. Isn’t the point of restoration and redemption to be given a new lease? Is this the time to be brought forth in God’s glory and restored to him in a new and eternal way?
That is why looking at the signs that God gives us means that we have to look more closely, listen more carefully, understand with a deeper spirituality… and then we will see the signs of hope.
Christ is coming, but we don’t know exactly when. Like a watchguard on duty we keep our eyes and ears open, alert to the signs around us. Like a saint bending before the altar we keep our spirits attuned to the sign that God is breaking in among us.
That is how we remain open to the coming of Jesus.
We see in the psalm the description of many impossible situations which God has already set right. This message is a reminder that no matter what we face, God WILL rescue us, and lead us to peace and to safety.
L’Engle’s poem ends with that promise. She writes:
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
The truth, for those of us who have eyes to see and ears to hear is simply this: that God’s glory is seen in the deliverance of his people and his presence among us people. God’s glory is seen in that he always takes all the risk, for the sake of his love for the people.
God’s plan is always and only for the restoration of his people. The birth of the Messiah and his return in glory, is for us and for our salvation.
We keep our eyes open with hope that we may see his glory, and as we watch and pray we will see that glory unfold for us and for our restoration. We will even see those signs among us this year and into the year to come.
We watch for the signs of his blessing and we know that his face shines upon us, and that his grace and mercy surrounds us.
The faith that we affirm in Advent is that the glory of God will be seen in the deliverance of his people.
We do not walk alone. We walk with an alertness that shows us that God’s presence is always with us. We watch with faith for the signs and we receive them with rejoicing.
Thanks be to God.
HYMN: all earth is waiting
Today we remember the gift of Jesus Christ given to us.
For ways in which to bring your offering into the storehouse check the front page of the website. Thank you.
Let us now pray for the offering received
Holy God, triumphant liberating savior of all,
receive these gifts
and the hopeful hearts that offer them
as part of your bountiful harvest.
Strengthen and sustain us
through our hungers and our fears
until your unexpected advent.
Help us as we wait
to know each day
that we are a part
of your generous, expectant household,
the body of Christ. Amen.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We call out to you, “Be the God we dream!”
You respond by being the God you are.
We discuss you and define you and expect of you.
But you unravel our expectations and definitions.
We seek to limit and control putting you in a box of our making.
You turn our boxes upside down.
We seek now. You bid us wait.
We seek obvious salvation. You send a child.
We seek clear-cut and easy answers.
You give us hope.
Upside down divinity,
give us the strength to resist a culture
of greed, of haves, and have-nots.
Most of all you remind us that you come to restore us in your image.
What is more wonderful than that?
Your answer to our prayers is always more than we expect, and always exactly what we need. Therefore we begin our prayers by uttering our ecstatic joy at being your people, being called in your name, and loved without measure.
We praise you for the signs of your presence all around us:
For the sale of the orchard, your grace is amazing.
That Kathy got a text reminding her that people were praying for her at the time she had a chemo reaction and collapsed. You are gracious.
That we are again worshipping in our homes, a reminder that you are never contained, and always found in our praises. But also a reminder that we are called to do our part for the community around us. We stay home for their well-being, and we pray from home, for the sake of the world you love.
Add your praises and joys:
And now O God we bring our prayers for the people and places of your world that need your care.
Holy One, You call us to live in this world
as courageous bearers of hope,
standing in the face of all that seems
to contradict your Gospel and demean life.
Let us be courageous.
Let us be courageous as we are again limited to our household bubbles. Remind us that you are still among us, and that you are still Sovereign. Work in us and through us as we do what we must do at this time.
Help us to pray for all those whose work is strongly impacted with the new Covid Surges and Restrictions.
Hear our prayers for Doctors, Nurses, those who take the tests, those who prepare the hospital rooms, and all those whose work impacts patient comfort in ways we don’t think about. Kitchen staff, cleaning staff, maintenance staff. We thank you that hospitals, like the church, work best when all work together, each doing their part to make the impossible possible.
We pray for those patients in hospital. Be with them as a healing touch, and a source of strength and courage.
We pray for people who hoped to gather for celebrations and instead gathered because of yet another Covid death.
We pray for Dr. Henry making tough decisions. May you fill her with the courage to lead us, even when we do not want to follow. And then, fill us with the courage to follow. Remind us that you have sent her and called her to teach us how to live in the days of pandemic.
Bless with courage and strength the members of the Fire Department as they respond to fire emergencies in our town. Bless them that they may work in safety and protect them in your spirit.
We pray for those whom we know who are ill and recovering:
Teach us to celebrate in truth and in love
As the advertisements turn Christmas into a product, and elevate prosperity and material possessions, help us to show that the greatest gift of all is Your presence at the centre of our lives.
Remind us that the greatest gift was born in a stable and died on a cross. Remind us that Jesus came once to restore us in your kingdom, and he comes again to restore the whole earth. Help us to prepare the way, to reach out with love and mercy to all people at this time.
Be with those O God, who struggle with making the right decisions and choices. May they choose for healing. Choose for hope. Choose for reconciliation. Choose for love—love of self, love for others and love for you.
Hear our prayers for those who need your healing love.
Teach us to be a people of eschatological hope:
As families are unable to gather and tensions run high, save us from false expectations and false hope.
May this be a time when we gather differently and find in the moments of connection a healing of the love we have for one another as we are perfectly restored in you.
Hear our prayers for those in our families, be they relatives, friends, or people of the congregation, and remind us that we are all your children.
May we keep our eyes on you and your mission, and so above all we pray: Let us be loving.
And let us be risk takers.
Let our celebration of Advent and Christmas be characterized by our willingness to risk doing it differently, and our witnessing to a deeper source of hope than that which can be wrapped in bright paper or shared at a laden table. Create in each of us a desire to find you in new ways as we celebrate the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and anticipate his coming in Glory. Let us celebrate from the depths of our hearts the joy of the world, come down to earth, that we may know your mercy and have everlasting life.
Remind us now and always that we pray in the name and strength of Jesus who taught us to pray saying:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory for ever. Amen
CHARGE AND BENEDICTION
Go forth to be a light in the world that is drastically undersupplied with hope. Go forth and be tomorrow’s people, those who know the future is pregnant with promise and hope.
Remember that Jesus comes again with glory,
to judge the living and the dead.
Go and live out your hope graciously and courageously. Go live out your love, gently and humbly. Go live out your faith, joyfully and graciously.
This same Jesus comes again with glory,
to judge the living and the dead.
The grace of Christ Jesus who is the same today, yesterday and forever,
will lead you to the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
and then take you on to those tasks and joys
which will prepare you for the greater glory which is to come.
SUNG BLESSING: Emmanuel, Emmanuel