St. Stephen’s Worship – September 6, 2020
Rev. Dr. Terry Ingram
Call to Worship (based on Isaiah 55:6-7)
Seek the lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. Forsake wicked ways and thoughts and God will have compassion. Let us worship the Lord, the creator of all.
Prayer of Praise and Confession
Loving God, you call and we answer; you direct and we go; you bless and we praise;
you gather us and we worship you. All goodness in this world finds its origin in you; all right uses of power find legitimacy in you; all peace finds its source in you; all life finds its fulfillment in you.
And so, we bow in awe and wonder, and praise you as our God who created all that we can see and know and feel; and the God who continues to create in so many ways.
We praise you Jesus, the Christ for you first loved us and love us still. We praise you Holy Spirit for you guide us day by day prompting us to walk in the ways of Jesus. Almighty God, Three in One, all praise and glory are yours, now and always.
Loving God, you send us into the world as ambassadors of your love and peace, yet too often we create discord and division. We have this innate ability to serve our own interests first, ignoring those who need help the most. We value our possessions and our own comfort over the well-being of others – in fact, even over your call in our lives. We struggle to trust you and your providential care. We look to things to give us meaning rather than framing meaning on your plan for us and all creation. Forgive us for our self-centered ways and help us to become faithful disciples of Jesus, eager to serve and satisfied by your love and grace. We pray these things in the name of Jesus, the Christ, Amen.
Assurance of Pardon (based on Isaiah 43:1)
- God, who made us, says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” In Christ Jesus, we are forgiven and set free to live as the children of God. Thanks be to God!
Prayer for Illumination: Gracious God, enlighten our spirits as we read your word so we may be faithful servants of Jesus Christ. Amen.
But I will remember the Lord’s deeds;
yes, I will remember your wondrous acts from times long past.
12 I will meditate on all your works;
I will ponder your deeds.
13 God, your way is holiness!
Who is as great a god as you, God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have demonstrated your strength among all peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people;
redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16 The waters saw you, God—
the waters saw you and reeled!
Even the deep depths shook!
17 The clouds poured water,
the skies cracked thunder;
your arrows were flying all around!
18 The crash of your thunder was in the swirling storm;
lightning lit up the whole world;
the earth shook and quaked.
19 Your way went straight through the sea;
your pathways went right through the mighty waters.
But your footprints left no trace!
20 You led your people like sheep
under the care of Moses and Aaron.
5 So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things. 7 You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. 8 But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and abusive language. 9 Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices 10 and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. 11 In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.
Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. 2 He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. 3 He told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 5 Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 6 They departed and went through the villages proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
Sermon – “Packing Light”
One of the things I used to really enjoy in the summer months was canoeing in the wilderness of northern Ontario, where the challenge of nature became an adventure. I had one or two good friends who were equally enthusiastic about 7-10 days in the wilderness and were game to join me. We’d spread out a map looking for a new route that we might explore. On one occasion with a newbie partner, we decided on a route that I had never before paddled. We read some descriptors offered by other experienced paddlers who had taken this route or one close to it which helped us make our plans. In my mind’s eye I could see it all. Big open bodies of water, medium grade rapids to test my growing white-water skills and winding, flat marshy waterways filled with toothy northern pike.
There was going to be some tricky take outs and one or two long portages, but the trip on a whole promised some fantastic views and lots of wild life as well some good fishing. Fishing by the way is the source of most of our protein on these trips. Remember, all we were to eat and wear for rain, sun and snow (yes snow, in August in Northern Ontario), had to be packed. Our normal practice was one water proof canoeing bag per canoeist and one food barrel per canoe. The day arrived for us to load up and go – you likely could see the smiles if you were within a mile.
My buddy showed up – and as this was his first such adventure, he had planned as best he could. This included enough gear to outfit a battle-ready military regiment. He had a big two burner Coleman stove – with a back up single stove and several containers of extra fuel. If these failed, he had two bags of fire bricks that guaranteed to light regardless of weather conditions. And this was just the warm up for the trip
He had three changes of clothes for warm weather and the same for cooler weather. He had several rain suits of differing weights complete with repair kits. Then there was the large sleeping bag and two sleeping mats. Added to that was the food he had brought – enough I’d say for a family of five on a two-week vacation. My heart sank because knew I was about to have one of those uncomfortable conversations with him. Most of what he had lovingly packed would have to be left behind. After all, there is only so much room in a 16 foot canoe.
Our chat was colourful and brief. I finally managed to talk him down to one large and one medium sized voyageur style packs both of which he stuffed to near the explosion point. My best talking point was about how many trips he would want to take on a 1.5 km portage which kind of went in an upward direction most of the way. Now, before you chuckle too loudly, thinking my paddling buddy to be out of touch, consider how difficult it is for the average traveller to limit selves to one large suitcase for air travel. I know some people who take weeks to get it down to one suitcase that needs two people sitting on it to clasp the locks. And what of families with young children? One almost needs a trailer in tow to visit for weekend. We seem to have trouble travelling lightly, don’t we?
When on a wilderness adventure, there are several reasons why it is wise to travel lightly. First and most obvious, when you get out of the canoe, you have to carry all your stuff, including the canoe. And usually it is over uneven terrain – sometimes blocked with “dead falls” (trees), marked with big and small rocks and filled with muddy quagmires for good measure. Going lightly just makes it all easier. Extra baggage makes the whole trip so much more difficult and less enjoyable.
Secondly, carrying too much adds to the risk of personal injury. Struggling with heavy load makes it difficult to find good footing in slippery terrain. And keeping your balance as you move from rock to rock, under trees and over mossy, wet ground coverage can be nigh impossible. Sprains or even broken bones can create potentially dangerous situations in this isolated, unforgiving environment.
And as you put all your energy into carrying all your baggage, you can miss danger signs. As sweat streaks down your brow it is easy to miss a fresh bear paw print on the portage which if seen prompts more noise and a wary eye looking out for an uninvited guest.
And finally, when you are struggling and overloaded, with your heart racing and lungs burning for oxygen, its easy to miss the all beauty around you. You might not hear the water rushing over a fall hidden by a tree. Or you don’t see a majestic bald eagle, talons extended, grabbing a meal from the water’s surface, because bent forward trying to pick way through difficult spots on the trail. You hardly have the energy to stop and pick the delicate, yummy blueberries by side of portage. So much of what is good and beautiful about this adventure is missed simply because you are carrying too much.
In some ways this might be a metaphor for our lives. My hunch is, at some level, most of us carry too much baggage around. The bag might be hash tagged “low self esteem”, or “I am a failure as parent/child”. It could be labelled: boredom with life, disappointments in life, hurts that have left deep wounds, weighty guilt or back bending shame. Still others are bent over carrying suitcases called: unsatisfying work or broken relationships or bags filled with pride or moral failure or an unforgiving heart. To these we should add the list that Paul provide his friends in his letter to Colossae. He was suggesting they get rid of (aka put to death) things that burden them down on the journey of live when he wrote, “And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy.” Colossians 3:5-6
The baggage we carry through life can complicate things. As they cling to us, or we to them, life becomes more an ordeal rather than an adventure planned for us by the Lord. It makes the journey more difficult because we are carrying so much weight. Here is what can happen when we are doubled over carrying weighty things: we hurt or diminish ourselves and we miss the danger signs around us falling prey to things unwanted. As we carry a bag of unforgiven hurts, we feel less and less worthy, more and more angry. We are diminished by our pride as good friends fall by the wayside. We frequently hurt ourselves as much as others with moral failings. Greed can turn us into someone that repels others, consumed with guarding and worrying about our stuff. Focused on all we are carrying: we are robbed from enjoying what we do have; we have difficulty seeing all the blessings in our life; we struggle to enjoy what God has provided for us – and give thanks. We are just too bent over with all the stuff we carry.
There is a story in the life of Jesus about a time when he tells his disciples to travel lightly. Jesus was about to sent his disciples on a trip with orders to heal the sick, drive out demons and preach God’s kingdom to all. It gives all the appearances of a critically important mission. One might think the logistics, given the magnitude of the mission, would be complicated. Lots to plan and suit cases to stuff, so to speak. But in his bon voyage speech Jesus counseled them to go lightly – actually with almost nothing. Listen to what he said, “Take nothing with you for the trip; no walking stick, no beggar’s bag, no food, no money, not even an extra shirt.” Luke 9:3. I guess this made packing for the journey exceedingly easy. But on the other hand, what was he thinking: no change of clothes, no debit care, no toiletries bag?
Why do you suppose Jesus instructed them this way? How could they travel so light when facing such an important and serious mission? Well take a look at what I have already said as it applies. To this Jesus adds something else. He focused them on faith. Telling them to take nothing meant they had to give up everything that made them feel secure. With nothing in hand, they would have to take him at his word and trust him. They would simply have to trust that God was with them and they were a part of a much larger scheme. If they were able to do that, they would be free to go were they needed to go and do what they needed to do.
The Apostle Paul spoke of it slightly differently, but its my hunch that he was thinking of travelling freely as a child of God when he writes, “8 But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and abusive language. 9 Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices 10 and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it.” Colossians 3:8-10. Which is another way of saying, get rid the baggage – the stuff that weighs you down and gets in the way of real living.
So how do we do that? How can we get rid of the baggage? One starting place is to make better choices in life – getting rid of the stuff that isn’t helpful and replacing it with ways of being that are. We can do this by asking for the Holy Spirit to help us name the things that get in the way, pulling us down as followers of Jesus. Then we can ask the Lord to help us to make good choices to get rid of the excess baggage. It is my conviction that in God’s mercy and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can make good choices. We can put behind us the things that Paul speaks of – things that hurt others and frankly pull us down.
Each and every day, we make choices. Some are small and some are huge. Will I continue to grab at all that I am or will I develop an inner attitude of thankfulness and generosity? Will I lie or will I choose to speak the truth in love? Will I give into my addictions or will I choose, with God’s help, to fill the emptiness with love and loving relationships and meaningful work? Will I use my words to tear people down or to build them up? Will I drag myself down being impatient or filled with pride or will I lift myself up in humility? Will I seek to do the small things I can to make this world a better place or will I grumble and complain all week long? Will I trust that God loves me, is always with me even in the most difficult of times or will I curse god for my heavy load?
Here is good news: in Jesus Christ we don’t need to do live the way we used to for he forgives and frees us. Which means, we can be different – we can be empowered to let go of the things that are burdensome and pull us down. And more good news: we don’t have to do it alone. Christ has promised us the Holy Spirit who guides us and empowers us to make the choices that we can and do make.
So, what kind of excess baggage are you carrying today? Why are you choosing to carry it?
Will you choose today to give it up so you can walk lightly into God’s future?
Offertory Prayer – Lord, your generosity staggers us. Your blessings testify to your goodness to us and all creation. With thankful hearts, we return a portion of what we have been given so that with your blessing, the Church might continue to live faithfully for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving, for Others and Lord’s Prayer
God, you call your people in every generation to worship and serve You. We come to you in prayer, aware that while your world is full of wonder and possibility it is also in desperate need of your reconciling love. We pray for the many different peoples of this world, divided as we are into nations, cultures, religions and various traditions. Help us celebrate life and love deeply those good things that bind us together despite differences.
Loving God, help us to act wisely and faithfully in the journey of life. When we have opportunities to share the Good News concerning Jesus, give us the courage to speak up and the will to work for justice and equality in all our relationships.
Thank you, compassionate God, for always being with us in the gift of the Holy Spirit. We delight in this wonderful news, and ask that you would help us to trust your goodness and providential care in our lives. We thank you that Jesus came to show us the way and to give his life for us. Help us to freely and joyfully walk in his ways accepting the new life he brings to us each day.
All-knowing God, you see into our hearts and know our sadness and joy. We pray for those living with illness and pain, for those who mourn or face fear and despair. Give them courage and faith to endure and help us provide whatever strength and encouragement we can.
Listening God, there are places hidden in our own hearts where we seldom go but you are there, to ease our fears and pain. Hear us as we offer our hidden hurts to you…
Wise and welcoming God, give us the grace to get rid of all the encumbrances that keep us from living out our faith among family and friends, acquaintances and strangers. When we feel ill-equipped and insufficient to the cause, keep us focused on Jesus’ promises. Give us ears to hear, a sympathetic heart, and a helping hand. Without prying or hurting, give us the wisdom to speak and act in ways that help lighten the loads others carry, knowing our kindness is also your kindness.
Assure us of your presence in all situations for that is all we really need. We continue to pray with billions of brothers and sisters all around the world, “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, forever and ever. Amen.”
Benediction – May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the continued fellowship of the Holy Spirit keep guard over your heats and minds today and always. Amen.