Before beginning, take a moment to find a comfortable position, and allow your body and mind to become quiet. Take a few deep slow breathes and let any tensions or worries ease away. Just breathe for a moment or two. Then begin with Psalm 139.
Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night.”
Darkness is not dark to you;
The night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.
For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you because I am marvellously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them.
How deep I find your thoughts, O God! how great is the sum of them!
If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.
Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts.
O God, You know us. Around the world today there are so many who are suffering and in need of compassion. Help us to understand how deeply you love each of us. There is not a thought in our minds, or worry, fear, or even detail of each moment that You do not know. Every single breath taken in each moment by the billions of souls in this world, You breathe with us. Grant us a sense of your closeness as we walk through this day. Amen.
O God, the source of all life, you have filled the earth with beauty. Open our eyes to see your gracious hand in all your works that rejoicing in your whole creation we may learn to serve you and one another with gladness, for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A READING FROM THE BOOK OF ACTS
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
O God, we look to history for the lessons that may change and evolve humanity. For all who suffer persecution or are harmed for their beliefs, let us devote ourselves to the spirit of open minds and hearts, that we may celebrate the many ways You are known in the world, and the miracle of Your love, found in all. Amen.
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
O God our Maker, help us to understand with humble hearts that You are more than any religion can describe or contain. Your heaven is not ours, but Yours. And in it, you have created room for all You love. Help is to look upon all your children in this world, and see in everyone, someone full of Your love. Help us to create a world that is a reflection of that all-inclusive love. Amen.
Prayers of Intercession:
5th Sunday of Easter
Today, as we gather together as disciples of Jesus, we bring
our doubts and fears, our joys and our concerns, our petitions and
our praise and offer them for the earth and all its creatures. Let us,
then, offer our prayers saying, God of love and grace, abide in us.
God of love and grace, abide in us.
For the church. At this time when our doors are closed, let us be
reminded that we are more than a building. Instead, as the Body of Christ, we are multi-colored, multi-shaped and stretched worldwide.
Bearing your image, we seek to make you visible through acts of love: feeding, healing, welcoming and teaching mercy.
God of love and grace, abide in us.
For the leaders of government and for all who they serve. We give thanks for the many levels of government in Canada and their work to restore the health of this country that we call home. May we always know a system of government that is open, fair and responsive to the needs of all its citizens.
God of love and grace, abide in us
For all things on the earth. May we take the time to listen to the birds, the waves and the wind; to breathe in the air, the earth and the ocean; to be still and silent and allow ourselves to stand in awe of the beauty and magnificence of creation. May our eyes be opened and our hearts and minds fired up by this power moving around us, between us and within us.
God of love and grace, abide in us.
For all mothers, for all caregivers who share their mothering spirit with others, and for all whose unfulfilled dream it is to be a mother.
We offer our thanks for all they have done to bring love and grow love in this world. And for all parents who fulfill the role of both mother and father, giving all of their love.
Equally, we know that motherhood has not been easy for many. Family experiences have often resulted in estrangement, abandonment and every form of abuse. May we never turn away from this pain and may we work to bring hope, healing and reconciliation into broken lives and relationships.
God of love and grace, abide in us.
For those among us whose hearts are troubled and anxious, for
those who are ill at home or in hospital, for all those in need. Help them to set down their fears and burdens, to find rest, sleep, and healing dreams that connect us to you and all of your creation.
May they know what it means to be guided, awakened, refreshed and comforted – that they would always find support in our caring and concern.
God of love and grace abide in us.
God of love and grace, we have chosen to follow Jesus as our Way, our Truth and our Life. We pray that we will leave behind all selfishness, overcome our fear, and take the risk to love more generously and trust others more fully. AMEN
Heavenly Creator, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts to comfort us in all our afflictions, to defend us from all error, and to lead us into all truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
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 trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Note: this prayer service is based on the Prayers at Mid- Day in the BAS, modified with prayers written by the Rev’d Mark Pretty (rector of St. Andrew’s Anglican parish Timberlea), with the prayers of intercession as composed by Gerry Punke (layreader, New Glasgow).
The story from the book of acts today, is a pretty upsetting one. It’s the stoning of Saint Stephen. Why? For nothing more than saying something that the dominant religion of his day did not agree with. Sounds pretty primitive doesn’t it? Hmmm. Well today in Myanmar Buddhists terrorize and kill Muslims. In Nigeria Islamist extremists target Christians. Christians have targeted Mosques around the world. Sometimes its religion motivated by racism, sometimes it is politics motivated by culture, sometimes it’s an ideology looking for an excuse. Sometimes it’s all of the above, using religion as a focal point for prejudice. But always, when it happens, we see all sides of a conflict coming out with their reasons for doing it, and arguments from the other side about why it’s wrong… usually with many sides completely missing what matters.
A great example from a conversation this week, came from the debate about firearm restrictions in Canada. And extremely emotionally difficult conversation that is about far more than firearms of course. It is emotionally loaded for an incredibly good reason. It’s a federal response to what happened here in Nova Scotia. Not unlike the federal response in New Zealand after a mass shooting at a mosque.
And it really only takes a minute, for people on all sides of the debate, to start failing to think intelligently about the real causes of violence. The causes were the same when Saint Stephen was stoned, as they are now. But the arguments start missing the mark pretty quickly.
In a very brief conversation this week, someone said (on the firearm restrictions happening now), with blunt effectiveness, “Can you picture Jesus carrying a gun around?” And of course I can’t … but Romans had arenas with lions, chariots with blades wheels, arrows, swords, spears, crucifixions, stockades, cages, prisons to starve, and Jewish Zealots had rocks for Stephen.
It has never been about the weapon of choice. It has always been about the loss of empathy, loss of human connection, and ideologies elevated above the value of human life (whether political, religious or cultural). That is as true of one individual picking up a stone, or a gun… as it is of something on the scale of political and religious conflict planet wide.
Whether it is mental illness, religious illness, or the illness of society, it begins with loss of empathy, loss of human connection, and the twisted thinking, whether of an individual or an entire nation that becomes a psychopathology.
What we should look for in our society today, is an understanding of the social disorders, personality disorders, mental illnesses (social, political, or personal), and to ask why it emerges again and again. Whether we are talking about stones and Stephen, crosses and Christ, 21st century violence, pollution and health, habitat loss and species extinction … it all comes back to the same issue. It requires a normalized human psychopathology, for any of the above things just mentioned, to happen.
If we are going to talk about religious illness with people dehumanized and hurt because of religious beliefs, the passage from today’s Gospel story is a classic example. We ascribe Jesus as saying I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the father except through me … a belief that was fundamental in driving the Crusades, the inquisitions, the witch hunts, and even modern religious conflict between Christians, Buddhists and Muslims. All based on each believing they have the way, the truth and the life exclusively.
In each religion that believes that, and its society normalized to it, there is a psychopathology happening … a reason to accept psychopathic choices like persecution, rather than seeing the way, truth and life as something that should bring us together to celebrate that God is known in every different culture and religion.
Cultural illness where people discriminate and hurt others based on skin color, place of birth, tradition… political illness where we see nations make war against nations for land, resources or wealth thinly disguised as differences in political ideologies… economic illness where there are unjustifiable differences between the wealthy and the poor, unfair lack of access to healthcare, senior care, or the gutting of education, healthcare…
… all of it is based on the ability to disconnect, from empathy, from a person, while valuing an economy, wealth, beliefs, differences, possessions, more. A psychopathology is defined as a lack of conscience, the inability to be empathic, someone who sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.
All of those things come back to the same simple piece of truth. For humanity to grow, our motivations must be based on political, economic, social, cultural, and religious wellness which can only come when the ideologies that allow one person, group, organization, nation, culture, etc., to practice exclusiveness, domination, profit, and ownership, are no longer the priority, or allowed to be the things that separate us.
I think today’s Psalm says it best, when it talks about God as our rock, our stronghold, the one who listens, the one in whom I take refuge …. when I read something like that, I’m not thinking about myself. I am wishing that everyone on this earth had a sense that not only is this what God is about, but this is what we want for each other.
Strength, being safe, that we can find refuge in one another, that we are about listening, that society can be a rock, something strengthening, and something we can stand on, for everyone. The whole point of recognizing those qualities in God, is the understanding that following Jesus, and being with God, is all about becoming those things ourselves.
Guns, stones, industrial waste, habitat destruction, human conflict… it is all about what is allowed. And then choice. It is all about what we empower. Which of course is why I cannot imagine Jesus carrying a gun… historical inaccuracies aside… it’s not about the gun. It’s about what he envisioned the world, society and religion could be. What he carried was love, compassion, and an uncompromised and passionate unwillingness to become a faction, political leader or start an insurgence.
What Jesus carried, was himself. And that is indeed what we carry in this world. Ourselves. Our love, compassion, integrity, respect, passion for justice, and uncompromised wish to make things better.
As you and I continue to make our way in this world this week, in such a different social environment due to the pandemic… let us continue to devote ourselves to doing the most good. Quarantined in our living spaces, feeling the stress and risk of doing jobs that are about caring for others or meeting community needs, struggling every day to survive financially, waiting for the world to change … we can still do the most good we are capable of. We can educate ourselves on the normalized psychopathologies that shape the world we live in. And we can be the rock, the refuge, the strength, the listener, for one another.