15th Sunday after Pentecost- Rev Elaine Julian, Sept 5th


Welcome & Announcements

Land Acknowledgement: As we gather, we acknowledge with respect the history, spirituality, and culture of the K’omoks First Nation and the Coast Salish peoples on whose traditional and unceded territory we meet.  We also honour the heritage of all Indigenous peoples as we recognize the need to seek a new relationship between the descendants of settlers and of those who were here before colonization.  As a congregation of The United Church of Canada, with them, we take responsibility both for past injustices and the need for healing and reconciliation.  We love and honour this land upon which we meet and live and all whose footfall has trod and will tread upon it.

The Singing Bowl is Sounded and the Lantern is Lit

Call to Worship: 


The expectation is curt rejection.

The reality is loving attention.

The expectation is good words but little action.

The reality is few words but prompt action.

The expectation is “keeping to the way things are done.”

The reality is do what brings wholeness and healing.

The expectation is disregard for nearest and dearest.

The reality is compassion for loved ones.

Today and every day, as caregivers and as healers, we will follow Jesus.

Let us worship our Healing and Loving God.

Choral Opening:  MV#21 (repeated)  SH V4 #4

Open our hearts, open our minds,

Open our lives to you O loving God.

Opening Prayer

Over time, over space, over matter, over thought, you are our God, in all and through all.

The noises of war are loud in your ears, as is the cry of a newborn child.

You share the excitement of those pioneering research as well as the last breaths of those nearing death.

And in Christ, all the pain and potential in the world are held together in the hope of healing.

Be present to us here, gracious God, and let your Spirit open us to glimpse that fairer world which you intend for us and for all people. Amen.


Scripture Readings:

James 2:1-10,14-17 (Common English Bible)

My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges?

My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself.[a] But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. 10 Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it.

14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.

Mark 7:24-37 (New Revised Standard Version”

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir,[b] even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus[c] ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Reader:  Holy Wisdom, Holy Word. Thanks be to God!

Reflection: “Be Opened”

Let us pray: Living God, as we listen to these old, old texts may we listen with inquisitive minds and compassionate hearts. May your words of wisdom speak to us in unexpected ways and unexpected places in our lives in today’s world. May your wisdom move, illuminate, deepen, inspire and motivate us to act in your world, of which we are part. Amen.

The “elevator speech” is a popular tool used in some churches for reaching out to potential new members. It’s a short speech, the length of an average elevator ride, memorized and used when we want to tell someone the difference that being a Christian has made in our lives.  Yes, it sounds pretty evangelical and formulaic but it’s not as easy as it sounds! It challenges us to think about what it means for us to follow the Jesus Way, and why that should matter to anybody else.

Imagine the “elevator speeches” that the two main characters in the passage we heard from Mark 7 might write about how their encounters with Jesus changed their lives!

Imagine rubbing elbows with the Syrophoenician woman at the market in Tyre, where she is shopping with her bright and lively little daughter.  “What difference has Jesus made in my life?  He gave my little girl her mind and her life back when she was consumed by madness.  I begged him to cure my daughter, and when he told me that he needed to feed the children before the dogs, I thought my fears were confirmed and he wouldn’t help me.  But something gave me the courage and the words to answer him, and I said, “Even the dogs are given the children’s crumbs.”  There was this awful pause, and I thought he’d have me thrown out but he said, “Because you said that, you may go.  Your daughter is well.”  And when I got home, there she was, in her right mind.  I still can’t believe what happened, but I know that was one of the most important moments of my life and I thank God every day that Jesus listened to me and helped me.”

And what about the deaf and mute man that was brought to Jesus on his way home to Galilee?  

“If it weren’t for Jesus, I wouldn’t be able to tell you my story now.  I was deaf, and when I tried to speak it all came out so garbled that people thought I was crazy.  Jesus was in the middle of a crowd, but when they asked him to touch me and heal me he took us away to a quiet corner.  I was pretty frightened and even a bit grossed out when he put his fingers in my  ears, then spat and touched my tongue.  I saw his mouth move, something about “open” and all of a sudden, I realized I could hear and when I tried to speak it was as clear as you hear me now!  Jesus can do anything, and I’ll tell this story to anyone who will listen.  Five minutes with him and I’ll never be the same.”

Well, maybe those stories took a bit longer than an elevator ride, but it’s clear that the lives of the Gentile woman, her daughter, and the deaf mute man were changed forever by their brief encounters with Jesus.  And I don’t think it’s too big a stretch to imagine that they told those stories for the rest of their lives, and that many others felt an invitation through their stories to find out more about Jesus and his new kind of kingdom.

Being open to change is at the heart of both of these stories:  Jesus can change and heal people, open them up so they can hear and speak his message.  And just as important but more puzzling, Jesus is also open to being changed by those he encounters, and it’s because of this that we know we can trust Jesus.  We can trust Jesus because Jesus is open to a full relationship, a relationship that changes everyone including himself.

The news today is full of stories that challenge us to this kind of radical openness.  

The pandemic challenges us to weigh our strong cultural values of individual freedoms and rights against our reponsibility for the common good. And it challenges us to listen to the fears and concerns of those who disagree with our individual decisions and the rules and recommendations of our government and the organizations we belong to.

Elections also challenge us to think outside the box of our traditional values and allegiances. Should I vote for the party I have voted for my entire life, or should I take the time to look at the individual candidates in my riding, and to consider the party platforms in detail, before making my decision?

And foreign affairs challenge us too: for example, if we think of ourselves as pacifists, we wish we could celebrate the long-overdue withdrawal of US and Canadian troops from Afghanistan. But what about the terrible suffering of those left behind, those who don’t support the victors in that struggle? What about the women facing unbelievable oppression? 

Like the people in Mark’s miracle stories, lives are changed by these and many other events. Like the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter, like the deaf mute man, Afghani refugees’ lives will be changed by the risks they have taken and the help they have received.  Like the other guests in the home that Jesus is visiting, like the people who bring the deaf man to Jesus, our lives and the lives of others are affected by the vaccination and masking choices we make.  

When he is healing the deaf mute, Jesus says “Be opened”.  Jesus himself is open to the suffering he sees, open to a person who is completely marginalized in a culture where wholeness of the body is a prerequisite for full participation in the community.  Jesus is open to ignoring the purity laws that victimize and isolate this man, spitting and touching him in the places where he needs to be healed.  He is open to the power of God working in and through him, but he also involves the man in his own healing, asking him to open himself up and trust in that power.  When that happens, God’s healing love can work and he is made whole.

This is the way it works in Healing Touch, now known as Healing Pathway. There is no belief required of the person practicing the pathway or the person receiving. The practitioner opens him or herself up as a conduit between the healing power of the Spirit and the person they are working with, and the person they are working with only needs to open themselves up to receiving that energy and the possibility of healing.

And what about the Syrophoenician woman, who in today’s world would probably live somewhere in Syria or Lebanon?  What about a woman who challenges Jesus when he says that she is not from the people he is called to feed?  She is not a Jew, she is not a man, and Jesus’ first response seems impatient at best, perhaps even cruel.  Maybe, as he sometimes did, he was just looking for a little break away from the huge demands of his work.  Maybe putting limits on his ministry made his job seem less overwhelming.  

The important thing isn’t that first, very human reaction.  The important thing is that when he is challenged by this foreigner who only wants the leftovers from the table for her child, he is changed by her rebuke.  He is open to seeing this woman and the needs of her and her daughter in a completely different way.  He is open to acknowledging her power and ability to teach him.  Together, they are open to the work of God’s healing grace and the little girl is restored to wholeness.

This is why we can trust Jesus: because Jesus does not ask us to do something he won’t do himself.  Jesus asks us to be open to the kind of change that can change lives, both ours and those whose lives we share.  Jesus asks us to be open not just to the people we know and understand, but to those completely outside our limited experience.  Jesus asks us to trust and to risk even though to be opened is to be vulnerable. Jesus is asking us for full relationship.  

I wonder how many of you, like me, have one or two friendships that are stronger because they began in conflict?  A full relationship doesn’t back off from disagreements but is strengthened when both parties are open to each other, when they are able to say how they really feel and work through the differences.  And Jesus models this for us in his reaction to the Syrian woman: he is open to fully hearing her and to being changed by what she says.

What difference can that kind of life-changing relationship make to how we treat each other and the world we all share?  What would it mean in this season of creation to be fully open to a relationship with our mother earth and all the lives that depend on her?  And grounded in God’s love demonstrated by Jesus, changed by that relationship, open to risk and to love, how do we respond to all the polarities that challenge us in our daily lives?  Do we respond by building walls, by not hearing or seeing?  Or do we respond by witnessing, by letting ourselves be broken open by what we see, by willingly entering into the mess of uncertainty?

As we open ourselves to the Jesus who is open to us, as we trust him to change us so that we can change the world, God’s grace is working through us towards a new kind of kingdom, a new kind of world, a kin-dom of love and relationship.

And perhaps we can start small, with one conversation with someone we don’t agree with. Ask them, “why does this matter to you?” and listen to the answer. God’s kingdom grows, God’s world is healed, one relationship at a time.  

Praise and thanks be to God.  Amen.

Questions for reflection:

Can you think of a time when being open to another person or point of view changed you or your opinion?

Try this sentence: I used to think _____ but now I think ___

Is there an issue right now in your life or in the world where the stories we heard this morning challenge you to be more open to another person or opinion?

How might it change your life to be open to Jesus speaking to you?

The Welcoming Prayer

The Welcoming Prayer is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life.  By recognizing and letting go of harmful reactions such as fear, need for approval, or need for control, we welcome and make room for the Holy Spirit to transform us into our true selves.  We acknowledge the wild beasts and let them go, and we welcome God’s healing action.

Here is how the Welcoming Prayer works:

Start by sitting comfortably with both feet on the floor, and close your eyes.  Take a few calming breaths, and let your attention move throughout your body.  When you find a place of tension or discomfort, pay attention to that place and the physical and emotional sensations associated with it.  Focus, feel and sink into what you are experiencing in this moment in your body.  While still focussed on that sensation, silently say welcome to what you are feeling, as an opportunity to consent to the action of the Holy Spirit in that experience. You may simply say welcome, or you may wish to name the sensation, such as “welcome, anxiety”.

While still focussed on what you are experiencing in your body, say silently:

“I let go of my desire for safety, security and survival.  Welcome, welcome.”

“I let go of my desire for approval, affection and esteem.  Welcome, welcome.”

“I let go of my desire for power and control.  Welcome, welcome.”

And finally:

“I let go of my desire to change what I am experiencing (or change this situation).  Welcome, welcome.”

When you are ready, slowly open your eyes.

This is a practice that you can use throughout the day, whenever you become aware of something happening in your body in response to the events of daily life.  

Here are a couple of quotes from the Welcoming Prayer brochure:

Father Keating, the founder of the Centering Prayer movement, says that the Welcoming Prayer “embraces painful emotions experienced in the body rather than avoiding them or trying to suppress them.  It does not embrace the suffering as such but the presence of the Holy Spirit in the particular pain, whether physical, emotional or mental.”

Mary Mrozowski, who developed the Welcoming Prayer, says “To welcome and to let go is one of the most radically loving, faith-filled gestures we can make in each moment of each day.  It is an open-hearted embrace of all that is in ourselves and in the world.”

This information is adapted from this page https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/welcoming-prayer-method/ where there are links to additional background articles if you’re interested.

HYMN: MV#145, “Draw the Circle Wide” SH V. 1 #20


A Shared Time for Reflection, Prayer and Offering

You are invited to reflect on the readings and ideas shared today, to light a candle or place a stone or shell as an expression of your intention or prayer, and/or to place an offering in the basket.  If you get up to move about, please maintain safe physical distancing.  

Offertory Prayer:
Take what we offer this morning, O God: take our caring for our neighbours from a distance; take our phone calls, texts and social media greetings with our families; take our action of staying home and physical distancing; take our careful return to worship and other activities; take all we offer this morning in word, in action, and in donation, blessing us and our giving in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Prayers of the People

In the light of your love, O God, we acknowledge the many things on our minds, and the concerns that we carry with us…..(silence)

Free us from the grip of busyness and worry; help us to put any anxiety into your hands….

Enable us to be open to the healing and humour and hope of the coming days. And, while we are together, we commit to your care those we name aloud or silently in our hearts….

Now, grateful that we are free to unite in prayer, we pray in words Jesus taught his friends:

The Prayer of Jesus (an adaptation by Parker Palmer):  

   Heavenly Mother, heavenly Father,

   Holy and blessed is your true name.

   We pray for your reign of peace to come,

   We pray that your good will be done,

   Let heaven and earth become one.

   Give us this day the bread we need,

   Give it to those who have none.

   Let forgiveness flow like a river through us,

   From each one to each one to each one.

   Lead us to holy innocence

   Beyond the evil of our days,

   Come swiftly Mother, Father, come!

   For yours is the power and the glory and the mercy—

   Forever your name is All in One.

HYMN: VU#701, “What Does the Lord Require of You” SH V.5 #14

Commissioning and Blessing

May our Creator bless us and wrap us round in love and tenderness.

May Jesus our brother bless us and ask us the questions that lead us to do justice.

May the Holy Spirit bless us and fill our lives with her courage and wisdom.

May we live bravely in the love of the Trinity all our nights and days.

Response: AMEN!

Choral Closing: VU#964, “Go Now in Peace” (once in unison, twice as a round)

Go now in peace, go now in peace.

May the love of God surround you

Everywhere, everywhere you may go.

Call to Worship by David Sparks, Prayer for Illumination by Sheryl McLeod, Offertory Prayer by Gord Dunbar, used with permission from Gathering, Pentecost 1, 2021. Opening Prayer, Prayers of the People, and Blessing from the “Iona Abbey Worship Book”.

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