Easing the Burden

Jul 3, 2020 by

 

Preamble/Welcome: 

Welcome to MacNeill’s virtual worship for July 5, 2020.  Today we welcome our friends from St. Cuthbert’s Presbyterian and Westdale United Church who are joining us today for our virtual worship. We are here together in spirit, a community of believers who make room for the Holy One to move graciously among and through us. May God’s grace and peace be with each of you, as we settle and prepare our hearts to worship God.

 

Prelude   Amazing grace

 

 

 

Lighting of the Christ Candle

(you may wish to light one in your home)

 

 

Together, We Come to God

 

Call to Worship

Come from your work, come from your ease.

Come from silence, come from clamour.

Come from need, come from plenty.

Come find a resting place in Christ who makes us glad.

 

 

Hymn # 671    I heard the voice of Jesus say    

(lyrics in video)

 

 

 

Prayer of Approach 

Gracious God, in whose Son Jesus Christ we live and die and live again, grant us the Spirit of humility and gentleness as we learn to let go of our burdens and seek to lighten the loads others bear.  Make us worthy to be called your servants, sharing your work of making all things new.  Amen.

 

 

Sung response

 

 

Text and music: © 2006, Barbara Bridge. Published by OCP. Reprinted with One License A-722822

 

 

God Speaks to Us

 

 

Old Testament Reading:  Zechariah 9:9-12

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

 

 

Hymn 104      Psalm 145   Your faithfulness, O Lord, is sure

Tune:MARYTON (O Master let me walk with thee)

 

    1. Your faithfulness, O Lord is sure in all your words, your gracious deeds;

You gently lift all burdened souls and well provide for all our needs.

 

    1. The eyes of all are fixed on you; by you, their wants are all supplied;

Your open hand is bountiful, and every soul is satisfied.

 

    1. Lord, you are just in all your ways, and kind in everything you do;

Forever near you stand to hear and help all those who call on you.

 

    1. My mouth shall speak your praise. O Lord, my soul shall bless your holy name;

Let all things living join the song of praise, from age to age the same.

Words; paraphrase © Joy E. Patterson, 1990. Reprinted with One License A-722822

 

 

 

Epistle Reading:  Romans 7:15-25a 

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

 

Musical Reflection  Rise up my fair one               

Healey Willan

This Song of Solomon text is an alternate for today’s lectionary readings. Willan’s version of it is both familiar and beautiful. Since it was also liturgical appropriate, some of MacNeill’s choir members thought they would like to sing it especially since no one’s being singing for months now. So, they braved the heat in the sanctuary and for the first time in 4 months we have music at MacNeill.

 

 

 

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

 

 

Reflection: Easing the Burden

I have to chuckle when I hear the line, “his yoke is easy and his burden is light.”  It reminds me of singing Handel’s Messiah in the days when I was a soprano.  I figured Handel was having a bit of fun at the expense of sopranos.  At one point in the music, that sentence, “his burden is light”sailed up to a B flat.  Easy burden, indeed, if you’re Renee Fleming!

It was only a week ago that I discovered how many Scriptural references there are to that image of the “yoke.”  The Lamentations writer confesses: “My transgressions were bound into a yoke.” (1:14) The author of Leviticus repeats the proclamation, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” and adds, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” (26:13) Isaiah prophesies: “Is this not the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke?” (5:8)

In our day it’s hard to read these lines and not picture that metaphor made real.  Over and over we have watched a black man, George Floyd, weighed down by a policeman’s knee on his neck until he died.  The yoke of oppression is all too visible and more than a metaphor.  Into these dark days comes Jesus’ voice: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

COVID-19 has placed a heavy burden on so many people.  It makes us see with sharper focus those things that control the lives of people.  Sometimes I find myself saying, “Well, we shouldn’t complain.  We’re all in this together.”  And we are, but not all in the same boat.  I may complain about choir being suspended, about missing get-togethers with friends, about how hot I feel wearing a mask.  But, really, how heavy is that?  My family still seems to eat like royalty, especially now we have more time to cook.  I can read for hours every day if I want to.   So, what would it look like for me to answer Jesus’ call:  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…and you will find rest for your soul.”  Gentleness and humility would be our way of living, as it was Jesus’ way.

Learning is what this call to discipleship is all about.  We are here to learn what makes people vulnerable, what the yoke of oppression looks like.  Our eyes have been opened to those who are out of work and with too many dependents; those made vulnerable by being confined to small homes; those too poor to find nutritious food.  Our eyes have been opened to systemic racism, to a people cut off from physical and mental health, economic prosperity, and a sense of worth.  It was said after World War II that black veterans were struggling for equality while white vets were building equity.  If we want to learn, as Jesus directs us, we can begin almost anywhere.  We can turn on the news, any hour, to see protest marches.  We can watch the documentaries, read books and newspapers, and hear the stories of ordinary peoples’ struggles to be free of the yoke of racial inequality.

In Jesus’ day, the yoke was taxes.  A wide, powerful Empire was costly to run.  And then there were the Temple taxes.  They were intended not only for the support of priests and officials but also for distribution to the needy of whom there were so many.  There was no middle class.  And little money ever got to the needy.  Year by year, peasants lost their lands to taxes and were forced to work the land for an absentee owner while their own families went hungry.  They were not only economically impoverished but also socially disadvantaged.  Their honour status, theirs from birth, was diminished and could not be redeemed.  No wonder the yoke Jesus offered was lighter.

Religious obligations were a heavy burden as well.  The original Ten Commandments, often called the Law of Moses, had mushroomed into 613 laws by Jesus’ time.  It was the responsibility of the Pharisees to ensure that these 613 laws were obeyed.  We find in the Jesus stories the descriptions of Jesus breaking those laws, most egregiously by eating and drinking with sinners.  He also healed on the Sabbath, dismissed ritual washing, and repeatedly said that God’s honour and blessing were not on the powerful but on the weak, on those with nothing.  Today’s reading speaks of people so lowly they were like children who don’t even know how to dance at a wedding or grieve at a funeral!  Those who claim wisdom – the Pharisees – are ignorant.  It is to the foolish, those with nothing, that the good news of God’s reign is revealed.

In so many ways, the heaviest COVID-19 burdens have been visited on those who are already weighed down.  From the start of the shut-down, food banks closed, right at the time when lay-offs began.  Child care centres were closed and so parents couldn’t go to work.  Suddenly those families already living in over-crowded homes were confined even more, told not to go to parks or pools or playgrounds.  The premier of Nova Scotia told everyone to, “Stay the blazes home!”  Seniors and others living in long-term care bore the heaviest yoke.  Thousands died lonely, undignified deaths.  Even the consolation of funerals was restricted.

Perhaps the most shocking eye-opener in these days of loss has been the spotlight shone on racialized people.  The knee on the neck, the gunning down of a jogger, the despair of people long powerless and dishonoured, has been laid out there for all to see.  Millions are marching, pulling back the curtain on the story of Africans enslaved in North America and after 400 years, still deeply oppressed.  And if we have compassion as these stories are told, we may also feel hopeless about change.  How can we possibly reach out to remove the yoke of oppression caused by the double blow of disease and racism?

Last Sunday afternoon, I listened to Tapestry on CBC radio.  Mary Hines’s guest was Dr. Alice McLachlan, Professor of that branch of Philosophy called, “Ethics.”  It was a conversation that really helped me to learn where we might begin if we want to remove the yoke from the necks of the oppressed.

McLachlan spoke of our need for a new hierarchy of moral obligation.  She says there are five qualities we need to draw on if we want to act ethically.  And it struck me how close they are to the words of Scripture and to Jesus’ teaching about how we are to live.

The first quality McLachlan referred to is “moral attention.”  We need to see clearly who is being hurt by disease, by racial discrimination, by the inequality of women, men and children.  So, if my first impulse on seeing unmasked people crowded together is moral outrage that they aren’t following the rules, I might want to think more deeply.  I might want to pay closer attention to the needs of people who are missing companionship of friends and family, missing the outdoors and nature, missing the rituals of eating and drinking together.  No wonder the image of the heavenly banquet table speaks to us now as in Jesus’ time.  And change begins with paying attention, as Jesus did.

The other virtues in this hierarchy of ethics are:  compassion, responsibility, sacrifice and grace.  All of these qualities we find urged upon us in our Scriptures and certainly in the teachings of Jesus.  And all are underlaid with the need to get better informed, to educate ourselves in order to understand the situations that weigh heavily on so many people here at home and farther away.  Especially those of us who are secure financially and who have more time due to the virus can respond to the call to learn.  We can read papers, essays, books.  Watch documentaries as excellent ones keep turning up on TV and streaming devices.

Even fiction can open our eyes to worlds we have never known or understood.  My own reading plan in this time of racial unrest has been to re-read all of Toni Morrison’s novels.  If you want to learn about the experience of African Americans, the Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison can be your guide.  Her books will break your heart but they will open you to compassion, to hope, and even to joy.  Begin with her earliest novel, The Bluest Eye, published in 1970.  Or turn to Beloved, the book and the movie.  Or you might try the harrowing novel, Paradise, which begins with this sentence: “They shoot the white girl first.”

McLachlan suggests that Sesame Street demonstrates many of the virtues we need to adopt as we face the world around us.  Sesame Street introduces little kids to people in the neighbourhood who are of many races.  It lets viewers meet our essential workers:  fire-fighters, grocery store clerks, trash collectors, those doing work we may have looked down open or ignored.  On Sesame Street we get to know them a little.  And when a crisis looms, we remember we’re all in this together, all in need of grace.

In Jesus’ day, it was to the lowest he reached out:  children, slaves, fishermen, a man chained naked in a graveyard and possessed by a demon; a woman who bled for 12 years, lepers, seasonal workers, those with nothing left to lose.  He gathered them into a family and taught them that most valuable lesson:  love one another as I have loved you.  Stick together.  Seek good for each other.  Be loyal.  Follow me.

 

We Respond to God

 

 

Hymn of Response  #649   How Clear is our vocation Lord

Tune:  REPTON (as in hymnbook) (lyrics in video)

 

 

 

The Offering of Gifts  The Lord’s Prayer

  

 

 

Sung Response  

 

 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise God all creatures here below.

Praise God above ye heavenly hosts.

Creator, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Text: © 1989, Hope Publishing Company. Reprinted with One License A-722822

 

 

Prayers of the People  

Holy and Eternal One, like Jesus we give thanks

that you have hidden Christ’s liberating power from the wise and intelligent

and have revealed it to infants:  the vulnerable, the defenseless,

those of little status or dignity.

We thank you that in times of crisis

you call us to open our eyes, to show compassion, act responsibly and with grace,

and to be ready to sacrifice our own abundance so that all may live.

We thank you for all the opportunities we have

to continue learning how to follow Jesus,

lightening the burdens others bear,

removing the yoke of oppression,

offering hope that change will happen through patience and perseverance.

 

We thank you, God,

for your Holy Spirit that holds us together in each other’s hearts

even as disease demands we stay physically apart.

And yet, in spite of all the ways to connect virtually,

many still feel isolated.

We remember before you Charles and Cheryl and pray for healing;

we pray for Jim, Nancy, Carol, Marian, and Glenna, and others we now name

as they struggle for renewed health….

We remember our elderly living in retirement homes and in long term care.

We pray that they may be tended with wisdom and tenderness.

And we pray that our health care workers

and other essential service providers may be regarded with respect and compassion.

We pray for those who suffer from racial injustice,

economic instability, job loss, and feelings of uncertainty for the future.

May these crisis times bring about change, remove yokes and heavy burdens,

and open possibilities for new life.

All this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ

who gives rest to the weary

and the assurance that nothing, not even death, can separate us from your love.  Amen.

 

 

Hymn  # 652    Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go

Tune: WARRINGTON (Jesus shall reign) (lyrics in video)

 

 

 

Benediction

Go into the world with the gentleness and humility learned from Christ.  And as you go, may the grace of Christ attend you, the love of God surround you, the holy Spirit keep you, this day and forever more.  Amen.

 

 

Sung Dismissal

 

 

Tune and Text © 1995, Desert Flower Music/Jim and Jean Strathdee. Reprinted with One License A-722822

 

 

 

Postlude   Little Prelude in D minor   J.S. Bach

     

 

2020 07 05 MacNeill News and Notes

 

With special thanks today to the following for our service: Paula Papky for our liturgy and message today; Leanne Tees as always, for the music; our quartet singers: Bev Leslie, Paula Papky, Brian Power, Garth Greaves; Brian Anderson for assisting with the video of the quartet; and Bev Leslie for making this service available on our website.

~Jennifer Nettleton, Coordinator of Worship

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