The End of 2018 Sermon

What does one do to conclude a year that has been intriguing to say the least but as it draws to a close has seen an up-tick in tragic and sad moments?  This is not a letter per se, and I am not sure I have a good response to my initial question. So I’m giving you a head’s up — this final commentary consists primarily of the highlights of a service I conducted this morning at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian in Penticton. I’m including it as a way of letting you who have suffered loss or tragedy or confusion or discouragement that I have been thinking about you and praying for you.  If you have not experienced the darker side of life later, count your blessings and then too say a little prayer for those whose worlds spun even a little off the grid in these latter months (whether that was the need to place someone dear in special care, or to undergo seriously medical attention that was not always successful at curing the illness, or it was dealing with death of a loved one). It is not enough for me to say, it comes with the age because that assumes we deserve bad things as we grow older; no one should ever wish tragedy or difficult moments on anyone. When it does strike close to home, all we can do is reach out, pray, hug and listen — occasionally we can try to say a few words of comfort or attempt to give some joy.

It is with this latter challenge that I offer the following excerpts from the service.

The Scripture Lessons came from Psalm 25 (read responsively), Isaiah 52 (verses 7 to 9) from the New Revised Standard Version and the Gospel of John, Chapter 1 (first 18 verse) from the P.B. Phillips Translation.

The Pastoral Prayer basically followed these notes:

On this end of another year, O God, we ask first of all that you watch over all those who are travelling either to visit or to return home. Be especially with those who have heavy hearts due to tragedies that have occurred during this past year. Give each and everyone a sense of your presence, your love and strength. Help each of us serve as minstrels to such folk to help them connect in a successful way to your faithfulness and support.

For those who are gathered before you this morning, we ask simply that you continue to watch over each and every one of us as we prepare to move into a new year. Grant us insights into Your wisdom so that we can make better decisions about our lives and the tasks that You would have us undertake. Give us courage to try new ways to move and reform our mission in this world. Grant us courage to be ready to fail if necessary in order to experience the joys of reformation.

Bless each and everyone one of us that we may faithfully carry out Your mission here on earth and in particular within our local community. Give us faith and understanding to maintain our witness of the Holy Spirit, by whom we are strengthened and made holy in faith and hope and love.

Lord in the midst of our plenty and our wonderful lives, we remember those less fortunate than ourselves. In particular we ask that You visit all those who are sick and in pain, those in the hospital or extended care or assisted living or confined to their own homes. Be with those who are confused or uncertain or lost. Visit each and every one and wrap them in a spiritual blanket of comfort and hope.
Be with those who are sad or depressed, those who are lonely or alone, those who are lost or remain angry long after the issue should be forgotten. Help us all to be agents of your restorative and reforming Spirit. Help all of us who fall short of your glory but still desire to be numbered within Your mighty host of those who will remain with You forever.

We thank you Lord for the leadership in this congregation that continues to help keep the lamp of witness burning. Such energy and commitment makes the world a better place for those we love and for ourselves and for the future of the Church. Be with those tasked with moving us forward with our Vision Statement and with the establishment of a long-term financial foundation.

O Lord, You have done much for us… Help us to attempt to return the favour… Make us more appreciative of the work that others do, and whenever we are near to them, strengthen us to ensure that they get equal rest with us. In particular, guide us to help our minister get the rest and revitalization he needs to continue in Your Call to vocation.

Be with your church throughout the world. May all who worship today, no matter the location, no matter the denomination, no matter the time or the inconvenience, remember that Your are God and that You want us to get rid of anger, bitterness, envy, falsehood and pride…

So strengthen us Lord that we may hold and show such love that all who meet us will know we are Yours by our love… Let’s sing forth your praises… Let us support those around us… Let us be glad and be ever mindful of your presence and your challenges to us…

And most of all, make us proud to be part of your Kingdom and make us humble to realize our responsibilities as participants within that Kingdom…

 

The following Sermon notes guided my conversation with the congregation:

There’s a Slow Train Coming…
Today is the last Sunday in 2018.
My father used to call it, no show Sunday
as he contended one could fire a cannon through most churches
and not even hit the minister
– everyone being too churched out after the Christmas season
to attend one last Sunday before the new year…
So as I pondered what God wanted me to say today,
it seemed that the message needed to be joyful.
We aren’t to end the year on a down-note.

But how does that tie in with common practice??

As we get to the close of a year,
too often we simply spend our time looking back…
Trying to determine:
• the 10 best, or
• the 10 worst
things that happened to us during the year…

If we are really thoughtful we might take time to reflect upon:
• the 10 best people, or
• the 10 best blessings
that came into, or are in, our lives

Today I’m not going to do any of that…
I wanted a real upbeat moment and one with a Reformer’s bent to it:
And with that I began to recall the variety of musical artists
who have contributed to upbeat moments in my lifetime.
What surprised me in this journey were the number
who, in their songs, exhibited real faith…
Soooooo, let’s go back 4 & 5 decades…
To an era when our music was criticized by the older folk
AND
Everyone thought we were going to hell in a hand-basket

When I listen again, one thing stands out
Our music and the musicians who created much of it
had more spirituality in it than many realize…
And joyfully so…

There is an amazing range of music throughout the 60’s & 70’s??
From acid rockers through balladeers to folk groups
from the Jefferson Airplane to Arlo Guthrie to Simon & Garfunkel
not to mention The Kingston Trio and Glenn Yarbrough

These individuals took time in their recordings
to include songs about their faith…
NOW,
few of these faith-type songs played on radio
& none were singles on the hit parade
Nevertheless,
since most of us, at the time,
were buying LP’s (& then cassettes & eventually CD’s)
their pieces were heard and slipped into our subconscious…

But why is this important…?
Why am I bringing it up today…?

Well, for one thing, again in 2018 critics have claimed
our music is often the reason for keeping people from church
it’s too stale – it needs to be more with it
Seemingly we’ve forgotten that church music as we know it in the Reformed Tradition came from popular artists — the church sanctuary has unleashed/inspired many musical talents & genres

For example:
Bach was writing NEW music every week
he had no choice
the congregation (where he was music director & organist) demanded it
he couldn’t just pull out some old Gregorian chant
and pass it off as something tried & true and therefore good for you
While he was a Lutheran,there were others who up-dated their own denomination’s music
e.g. later the Wesley brothers (Methodists no less) did the same,
all helping peoples’ brains develop on both sides, simultaneously!!

So why don’t we let some of our contemporaries do the same for us?
And being good Presbyterians, we can move carefully – even cautiously in our Reformation Re-boot…remember, there’s a slow train comin’
let’s add some of our music but from when WE were young!! (which still gives us a 50 year time-delay!!)

After his conversion to Christianity, Bob Dylan penned these words as part of his song of our sermon’s title:
Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can’t help but wonder what’s happenin’ to my companions
Are they lost or are they found?
Have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon?
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

later in the same song…

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it does to give it
They say lose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love
Show me someone who knows how to live it
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

In another Dylan song, you gotta serve somebody, we find these words:

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Here is a Nobel-prize winning poet/author reminding us…
Not only do we need to have faith {and it may cost us…}
We also need to be ready, willing and able to serve

But it isn’t just the suddenly converted societal critic
that reaches out to touch the roots of our spirituality

Even the hard-core acid rockers were not afraid to talk about faith

Hear the words of Jefferson Airplane (from Volunteers):

If you want (if you want) to get to heaven
Over on (over on) the other shore
Stay out of the way of the long-tongue liar
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep
One for Paul
One for Silas
One for to make my heart rejoice
Can’t you hear my lambs are callin’
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

Of course folk singers like the Kingston Trio, the Highwaymen, etc.
offered up spirituals and other faith-type songs
in their repertoire

A good example:
a song sung by Arlo Guthrie (from Washington County)…
As I went down in the valley to pray
Studyin’ about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way
Come on sinners and let’s go down
Let’s go down oh, come on down
Come on sinners and let’s go down
Down in the valley to pray

And then there are the prayerful words of Paul Simon
from the Simon & Garfunkel composition, Bleeker Street:
I heard a church bell softly chime
In a melody sustainin’
It’s a long road to Caanan
On Bleeker Street

These all are but examples of the myriad diversity of faith-related songs; if time permitted we each could doubtless add some to the list

But it has certainly taken some time for me to bring the idea forward
so why did I miss the opportunities to add to the music of the various pulpits I filled
sometimes on an interim though regular basis?
Was the train that   ?
Was I afraid to get on board?

Isaiah said it many centuries ago…
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for you…
Break forth together into singing…
…for the Lord has comforted his people…

We can be more than sentinels
We can be the reforming ministrels

Let’s expand our songs of joy —  what are we waiting for?
We’ve taken long enough
the train may be slow
BUT IT’S COMING…
2019 gives us a whole new year to work on it…

So let’s make one collective resolution
to re-invigorate our own
reformed yet always reforming tradition!!

Let’s dig out our favourite artists
and find at least one piece our choir can work on in 2019
to lead us into trying something new…
Let’s not be guilty of missing one more opportunity
to expand the joyfulness in our experience of worship
Let’s not be the minstrel wrote about by Charles Aznavour
{and sung by Glenn Yarbrough — available via YouTube}

Now as the wheel of life turns faster
Now as the seasons seem to fly
I see so many things at last, but didn’t see the time go by…

…I’ve sung a hundred songs of longing,
Of sweet regret and hope(s) run dry
I’ve searched for melody and rhyme,
But never saw how time can fly,
Never saw the darkening sky
I was a minstrel of my time
Who did not see the time go by

Each of us is called to serve as one of God’s own minstrels
each & every day, singing joyfully of God’s reforming love
Make sure it can’t be said of us…

I was a minstrel of my time
Who did not see the time go by

Let us pray…..

Heavenly Father, give us strength today, as we leave your sanctuary, to try to live up to our vows we have made to you. Now that we have again been re-assured that our souls have been purified so that we have again received your genuine love, help us that we may love one another deeply from the heart…and may we sing joyfully in as many different ways as possible our gladness that you continue to be our God and that you allow us to be part of your kingdom… Amen

 

Happy New Year and I do hope that 2019 brings you more joy than tears, more laughter than feeling sorry, more upbeat notes than off-keys… Don’t let this coming year pass you by, and don’t sit and miss as time goes by…your sparkle will help brighten someone else’s gloomy moment…

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