Guest Post — R. Matthew Stevens

I have been gifted with some remarkable guest content for my blog this strange Lent when so many people are looking for work online. I am posting these guest posts mid-morning each day and continue to post my series of Prayers in a Lent of Coronavirus. Feel free to read one or both, but please privilege my remarkable guests and, as always feel free to share these gifts — they come in open hands. R. Matthew Stevens is my guest today. As we follow along Matthew’s gospel Tuesday is one of those days with teachings and conflicts and parables and warnings … a great miscellany. Matthew has sent me pieces from his interim work at St. Paul’s United Church Sarnia, Ontario which is a church which does not have online worship during this time but is staying in touch in a variety of other ways online or mail and then offering their own worship outline and the weekly sermon via YouTube of United Church of Canada Moderator Richard Bott.

Matthews bio: Being a person of Métis heritage (sometime referred to as “Mixed Blood”) I consider myself particularly fortunate to be able to occupy a space between cultures, with access to both. I’ve been privileged to learn many of the traditional teachings from some very gifted and patient Elders, and to have availed myself of some excellent formal education as well. From both of these sources I have learned how disabling a pervasive sense of guilt can be to an individual, and how collectively it can incapacitate society from appropriately redressing prevailing circumstances.

Time, Circumstances, and Changing Perspectives

My parents both died in their mid-eighties. When I was in my thirties that seemed a long way off. I had young children and every part of life was about celebrating the constant wonder of birth and growth. Besides, it takes a lot of conscious dedication to evolve into “whole-earth-parents” – especially if you don’t particularly care for homemade yogurt.
In my forties and fifties the probable span of life still seemed to stretch to a distant time. I was far too busy for such sombre reflection, with my children firmly mired in that adventurously obnoxious period we define as “teenagerhood”. Although I didn’t much consider my demise, it was time to begin tidying-up all those tasks I’d thus far left incomplete.
I’m not at all sure where my sixties vanished, but I seem to recall a lot of children graduating, getting married, and spontaneously producing the whole new flock of grandchildren. There was also a lot of planning toward the life transition of retirement, an experience I was told by those around me, that I should be ready to wholeheartedly embrace. This was a time to let go of things – like my fifty year smoking addiction, and any pretensions to owning an imported Jaguar XJ.
So, here I am in my mid-seventies and still working on a part-time basis, which in ministry comes-in somewhere around forty hours a week. My perception of the remaining time for me to achieve my parents terminal age has significantly shrunk, yet I have no difficulty appreciating all that can be accomplished in ten or twelve years. Could it be that there’s still time to complete that long neglected PhD Dissertation?
But, we’ve all been granted a new challenge and unanticipated learning opportunity by a novo-corona virus. Known from Wuhan to Winnipeg as COVID-19, we are experiencing first-hand an enormous paradigm-shift from everything we once knew and essentially took for granted, to a society characterized by separation, isolation, and uncertainty. A microscopic virus that none of us can even see, has effectively penetrated and anaesthetized our personal and corporate economy of greed and entitlement.
What is my concern about aging, when compared to the circumstances that have at last coalesced to grant us the privilege of contributing in the moral and ethical evolution from a society of “ME” to one of “WE”? The sweeping aside of national borders we witness every time COVID-19 engulfs another country, must conclusively demonstrate the utter futility of nationalistic and populist political leadership.
The Creator has called us into this time to at long last offer guidance toward a genuine egalitarian global community. This is the first great step toward addressing all of the critical problems that face us – not as residents of certain geopolitical constructs – but as co-dependant residents of this fragile planet. Like no generation that’s gone before us, we’ve been granted a vision of just how bleak and destructive the future could be if we don’t end our constantly acquiring and consuming lifestyle.
Is it scary? Well of course it is! Any change worth bothering with is always scary as it upsets the status-quo and seeks to end the unwarranted privilege of a minority. Will we make some mistakes along the way? You bet we will! However, if we take our moral compass from Creator, we’ll recognize the course corrections required, and the healing forgiveness we’ll need to practice.
But friends, can we please get at it, for after all, if I’ve only ten or twelve years till I reach my parents age of demise, then I really want to see how the whole thing finally works out.

The Worship Outline — Palm Sunday

FOCUSSING OUR THOUGHTS FOR WORSHIP:
This is a day to let our hearts take control of our lips.
In spite of the shadow of the cross over the palm-strewn way,
Jesus rides in the hearts of those who surrender to him.
Let us commit ourselves wholly to Jesus
and ask him to be present in our lives

A PRAYER FROM THE INDIGENOUS MINISTRIES AND JUSTICE CIRCLE:
Creator, God,
We ask you to be with us.

We pray for those who are ill, and for those we cannot be with as closely as we wish.

When we are afraid, help us to remember and be grateful for:
Water, which gives life.
The land, which sustains us and restores us to health.
The wisdom of Elders, who guide us.
Our young people, who deserve a bright future.
Our strength and resilience, which will bring us to a new day.

Help our leaders respond appropriately to the specific needs of Indigenous communities.
Help us to walk compassionately with all who are ill or afraid.
Help us to understand that we are all relatives.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

OUR GOSPEL FOR THIS MORNING – Matthew 21:1-11 – Jesus enters Jerusalem

SOME THOUGHTS SHARED:
How are you doing this morning? How are you feeling? This is the second or third Sunday that none of us have been able to gather as a church family. For some of us, this may very well be the first time in our adult lives that we have gone that long without worshipping together with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
For many of us, St. Paul’s United Church is a huge part of our existence. The people of this church are our family. Some of our closest relationships are with members of this church; some of our fondest memories took place among the people of this church.
Some of you were married at St. Paul’s, or maybe your children were. Perhaps your kids were baptized in the Sanctuary – indeed, maybe you yourself were baptized there. You’ve likely prayed here hundreds, if not thousands of prayers. How often have you shared Communion together?
St. Paul’s has been a primary forum through which your spiritual life has grown. How many sermons have you heard there? How much laughter? How many tears? Many of you folks have been a part of this church for a very, very long time.
And so, doesn’t it feel a little strange to be worshipping via email, rather than in the St Paul sanctuary? Especially on Palm Sunday? You’ve been isolated for several weeks now, and I know that some of you also live alone. This social distancing is incredibly necessary, but it sure can feel pretty lonely, can’t it? And the truth is we humans just weren’t created to be alone.
Well, nonetheless, it’s Palm Sunday. You know, I think these may have been some of the same feelings Jesus was dealing with on that very first Palm Sunday. How could he not have felt alone and cut-off? He knew what was coming – what lay ahead.
He knew that even though his disciples and the rest of the crowd were in a state of euphoria as they waved palm branches and called him Messiah, that in a few days he’d be betrayed. The disciples would fall away, Peter would deny him, the religious leaders would plot to kill him, Pilate and Herod would sentence him, and soldiers would mock and beat him and nail him to a bloody Cross.
Jesus knew all this, even though, on Palm Sunday he was allegedly the celebrity of a big Parade as he entered the city of his death. And so, in the midst of all this excitement, there is a deepening despair. There was sorrow. Jesus knows what it is means when a smile hides a tear.
Do you suppose that even as the parade wound it’s way into Jerusalem Jesus might have been silently repeating those words from the fifth verse of Psalm 31 to himself: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” According to the Gospel, these are the exact same words Jesus spoke before he drew his last breath on the Cross.
A number of scholars have speculated that Jesus may have been reciting this entire Psalm as he hung from the Cross. We don’t know that for sure, but what we do know is that Jesus knew this Psalm very well. And, he not only knew the words, he lived them—especially during that last week of his life. And as he lived them, likely he was reciting and praying this Psalm over and over again in his head—even as he rode that donkey with all that fanfare.
This must have been how Jesus felt as he entered the last week of his life. No one but Jesus knew that death is so close at hand—and imagine how lonely that must have left him. He must have sensed the isolation and rejection, as slowly his very life was overcome by grief. You see, misery isn’t just physical; it is psychological as well.
Isn’t it reassuring to know that Jesus understands the very worst aspects of human suffering? Always remember that whatever you are going through, no matter how bad it might be, Jesus Christ has been there as well—and he is there with you now. He can comfort you, for he understands what you are dealing with, and he loves you.
Jesus is in such solidarity with you and with me that when we suffer he suffers with us. There is no greater psychological pain than to be betrayed by one’s friends; there is no greater physical pain than having one’s hands and feet nailed to a cross. This is the faith of Jesus the Christ, who said, “I do nothing on my own, but speak just what the Father has taught me.” God has been present, God will continue to be present—no matter what the situation—Jesus knew this.
Jesus knew this, but do you know it as well? Many of us may ask ourselves, “How can a person count one’s blessings in the midst of such a great pandemic? How can a person possibly trust in God when one’s life is filled with such devastating uncertainty. How can I trust when my strength is paralysed by fear and abstruseness?
But, because of Jesus’ trust; because of what Jesus has done; because God is proven trustworthy; we too can receive from God the greatest gift—the gift of trust. We too, can put our whole lives into God’s hands. And no matter what is happening around us…
…no matter whether we are all alone due to the Coronavirus;
…no matter whether we are facing possible financial suffering from Coronavirus;
…no matter that the world now seems a whole lot different from before Coronavirus;
…we too can say with certainty: “I trust in you, Lord; for you are my God”.
Amen

SHARING TIME – “PALM SATURDAY” – by Joanne McRae
Years ago, I was in charge of planning a theme day, Palm Saturday. The day before Palm Sunday, children everywhere were invited to a special day of storytelling, arts & crafts, bread making, egg painting, treasure hunting and much more.
The main event involved a walk to Jerusalem, complete with costumes and role descriptions to help the children get into character. As you can imagine, motivation was high! Exactly what the storyteller was looking for in terms of a triumphant entry into Jerusalem waving newspaper “palm branches” , rolling out a red carpet as we hollered and sang Hosanna!
Our journey included different stations around the church as the story unfolded. We calmed down a little as we, the characters from Luke’s gospel, passed animal crackers and grape juice around the table in Dixie cups. We quieted ourselves as we watched “Jesus” and his disciples enter Gethsemane, only to be whisked away to where the High Priest was waiting. We caught Peter telling lies and heard the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.
The storyteller encouraged her willing crowd to shout out words like “Barabbas” and “Crucify” until Jesus was handed a 4 foot wooden cross. “Orders” to drag/carry it and stand in front of the altar brought about a somber response. As Jesus’ body was taken away, the storytelling moved to a darkened room where construction paper tried to block the spring sunshine from entering in.
Sitting in a tight circle in the “tomb”, we felt a chill as we shared our own impromptu stories of loneliness, sadness and loss . . . someone moved away, another had changed schools, a beloved dog died, a grandparent was in hospital . . . Listening skills had improved steadily over this journey to Jerusalem.
So when the second “Jesus ” (the Jesus no one knew about ) mysteriously appeared in the room dressed in a white bathrobe with an oversized hood hiding most of his face, holding a candle, silently touching a shoulder, a face, a head, a quiet moment filled the tomb. As Jesus left waving a silent goodbye, the storyteller, now holding the candle, explained that although Jesus had to go away, we know in our hearts that the “light” of Jesus is with us still. The Holy Spirit remains present to this day. We are never alone.
When the back door swung open and warm, inviting sunshine poured into the room, our helpers, along with both Jesus figures, passed out Easter baskets (made during arts & crafts). The children broke their silence as they giggled and squealed and raced to find tiny bits of homemade fudge and other Easter symbols wrapped in pretty foil, hiding in the fresh new grass!
As years come and go, I remember the weeks of planning it took to make this day happen. Time well spent. I usually find a quiet moment on “Palm Saturday” to thank God for the blessings I’ve received working with children over the years. May this story bless you also with fond memories of time spent with the little people in your lives, especially this year!

A DEVOTIONAL FOR TIMES OF ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
I pause (breathe in and out) and thank you for this day. For the challenges, the emotions, the struggle. For in all this, I grow closer to you.
I pause (breathe in and out) and ask that in the darkness, I see your light and in my fear, I feel your strength.
I pause (breathe in and out) and remember that today, As in days before, I have survived. When I’ve wanted to run, I’ve stayed. When I wanted to hide, I’ve faced the day.
I pause (breathe in and out) and ask for forgiveness for The days I falter and the disease takes over. I ask for compassion and love when I’m unable to give those to myself.
I pause (breathe in and out) and resolve to love myself more tomorrow. And always feel your spirit surround me in safety.
I pause (breathe in and out) and rest. Amen

Credits & Acknowledgements: Today’s scripture readings are cited with permission from: (CEV) Contemporary English Version, Second Edition (CEV®) © 2006 American Bible Society. All rights reserved, All based upon First Nations, inclusive language renderings. Portions of this morning’s liturgy were based upon the writings of Erin Roush; Indigenous Ministries and Justice Circle; Kenneth Sauer: and Nancy C. Townley.

A Newsletter to engage folks:
GOOD MORNING TO ALL MY RELATIONS:
So, here we are together again, and as always let’s start with how are you doing this morning? It’s very important that we keep checking-in with ourselves as the days of social separation stretch out into a second or third week. It’s easy to fall into a sense of despondency as the days all seem to meld into one another in boring sameness, and we start to loose interest. Finding new interests to challenge ourselves isn’t easy, but when we share with each other the task gets more readily accomplishable. If you’ve found some new activities that have sparked your interest, please share them and we’ll pass them along to others in upcoming newsletters.

A PRAYER FOR HEALING HANDS AND KIND HEARTS: By Rev. Suzanne Adele Schmidt
Holy One, We Call You By Many Names,
These are not “normal times” and yet the physicians, nurses, nursing assistants, receptionists, and technicians who staff our medical offices are expected to stay calm and carry on.
Keep them strong, safe, well, and of good courage.
Allow those of us who call upon them in these times to be kind and to be patient. Because our kindness and patience are concrete ways to show our appreciation.
May our gratitude toward one another flow like healing water. May our willingness to forgive “the small stuff” grow with each passing day.
Give us wisdom for the living of these days.
We place these precious words in your healing hands.
Let it be so. https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2020/04/01/11920/

IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE :
If you’re one of those people who always said you’d write a novel if only you had the time: this is your moment. As more budding writers self-isolate due to the coronavirus and finally knuckle down on their manuscripts, the publishing industry has already seen a surge in submissions. Editors at publishing houses are already seeing a spike in submissions. The award-winning independent Irish publisher Tramp Press, normally gets four or five submissions a day; they’re now averaging twice as many, having received up to 16 in one day. So, here are five tips for would-be authors, from a literary agent:
$ Finish and edit your novel before submitting anything to agents
$ Do your research and send the agents what they have asked for in terms of material
$ Have a think about where your book fits in the market. Would it be shelved as a thriller, romance, or perhaps reading group fiction?
$ Be patient: use the time while waiting to hear back to write something else or brainstorm other ideas
$ Don’t give up! Keep writing – the more you write, the more you’ll hone your craft

SOME THINGS TO DO IN SELF-ISOLATION:
Are you looking for something you can do with children? Well, here are Five Kid-Friendly Virtual Museum Exhibits In Toronto, that will do wonders to help break up their day. No matter where you’re reading this from across Canada you can still check them out, and then when it’s safe to travel again come and visit your favourite museums in person. The list includes The Royal Ontario Museum; The Hockey Hall Of Fame; The Bata Shoe Museum; The Art Gallery Of Ontario; and The National Ballet of Canada https://www.forbes.com/sites/miriamporter/
Now that you’ve done a virtual tour for your children or grandchildren, how about something of interest for you. Did you know that Goggle Arts and Culture has prepared virtual tours for over 2,500 museums and galleries around the world? No matter what you’ve always wanted to see for the first time, or a favourite you’d like to return to, it’s available for you to enjoy at: https://artsandculture.google.com/partner?hl=en Or how about a virtual tour of the Baccalieu Trail, the region of Newfoundland where Joanne and I like to go every summer at:
https://talltrueandtangled.com/tale/the-tale-blazers-s01-ep02-baccalieu-trail
Are you familiar with CBC Gem? The service provides update news and information highlights along with many of your favourite CBC programmes. CBC Gem is accessible online at https://gem.cbc.ca/ And also for free as an App for iOS, tvOS, Fire TV, Android TV, and Android phones and tablets. All children’s programming is always provided ad-free within CBC Gem. CBC Gem is exclusive to Canada. All content is available with Closed Captioning, and Described Video is available for most on-demand content. https://gem.cbc.ca/
Remember that radio programme you wanted to hear, but missed? Well, have you tried Podcasts yet. Many of your favourite programmes are available from the CBC whenever you’d like to listen at: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts One of my personal favourites is “Under the Influence” with Terry O’Reilly, as he shares fascinating (and humorous) stories that connect the dots between pop culture, marketing and human nature. Needing a good laugh, then why not try “Laugh Out Load” with Ali Hassan? There’s something there for every taste and interest so be sure to have a look. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts
E-books can open-up a whole new outlet for reading material right in your own home. There are many different services you can choose from, and most offer an initial one month trial period free. Over the years one of the consistently least expensive sources I’ve found is called BookBub at: https://landing.bookbub.com/ Their e-books are available in every sort of electronic format for whatever sort of device you might have. If you’ve found another inexpensive source please share your discover with others.

POETRY SHARING:
It seems that most folks enjoy poetry, so during these long days of social separation this might be a great opportunity to share some of what you written. Send it along in an email and we’ll be happy to publish it in an upcoming newsletter. To get us started Joanne McRae had shared the following:
God Responds…
I spoke with a child of a promise come true;
And God eased my troubled mind to dream anew.
I knelt with a child and taught him to pray;
And God’s healing grace moved in me that day.
I encouraged a child to teach his heart to see;
And God became more real to me.
I laughed with a child whose laughter did resound;
And God rejoiced with a sinner lost, then found.
I grieved with a child preparing to die;
And God lifted me up, heard my cry.
So I speak of this child, a promise come true;
And I listen for God, who transforms me anew.

Joanne McRae, is a very talented French language educator, who recently retired. Born and raised in Québec, she holds a Baccalauréat en Education, Majeure en lettres françaises, and now resides in Corunna, Ontario, with her pastor husband. Joanne recently drafted these two poems for the Newsletter that during the pandemic goes-out every few days to the congregation of St. Paul’s United Church in Sarnia, Ontario.

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