God Tears the Fence Down

October 15, 2017
Bible Text: Jonah 3:10-4:4, Philippians 1:1-11 and Matthew 20:1-16 | Preacher: Speaker: Kathy Spruit PRESBYTERIAN SHARING SUNDAY,OCTOBER 15, 2017 MEDITATION GOD TEARS THE FENCE DOWN Jesus was the master of teaching in parables. Jesus’ parables are short stories that teach a spiritual lesson and help explain the character of God by using similarities. They are often based on agricultural life that was intimately familiar to His first century audience. Unfamiliar concepts, such as the kingdom of God, were compared to something from everyday life that could easily be understood. In this parable of the vineyard, Jesus is speaking in opposition to our current world’s definitions of justice. He is offering an alternative that is actually God’s definition and is God’s promised hope for all people. In this parable, Jesus tells of a landowner who is looking for people to work in his vineyard. At the beginning of the day, he finds some labourers, agrees what to pay them, and then sends them to work. He does the same thing at nine, noon, three and five o’clock and each time he finds people who haven’t been hired yet. He tells them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” We are surprised at the end when those who began work at the end of the day receive the same wage as those who began first thing in the morning. Naturally, those who worked all day in the scorching sun begin to grumble – why should those who worked only an hour get paid the same? But the landowner says he paid them what they agreed – why should it matter that he paid the last people the same? This goes against our own idea of justice and fairness. There is a cartoon that shows the difference between justice and equality. Three people are trying to watch a ball game through a fence. Each is different height. In the first scene, each person stands on a step that is the same height. This is equality – each have the same size step, but only the tallest person was able to see over the fence. In the next scene, each person stands on a step of a size that best suits them. And each can see over the fence. This is justice. But guess what – Jesus’ parable goes even beyond this idea of justice. God actually takes this fence down. 2 He offers love and grace and justice not just for some – not just for those who may have worked for it or deserve it – but He offers it for all. Jesus gives us a definition of justice that is God’s definition. God breaks down the barriers that we use to organize the world. Life and death are polar opposites. But we see these human boundaries broken down in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In God’s world, hope is offered to those who don’t expect it – who don’t think they deserve this hope. In God’s world, the ‘least of these’ are considered equally. In God’s world, tears are turned into laughter. In God’s world, the blind are given sight. These things shouldn’t happen. Somehow, by our definitions and ideas of justice, these things are not deserved. In the parable, the fact that all the workers received the same wage for different hours worked seems to be the opposite of justice. However, it is instead, a different definition of justice and a reminder that God’s justice is first and foremost an expression of God’s generous grace. In the Presbyterian church, one way we express our desire to follow Jesus is through our support of ‘Presbyterians Sharing.’ It is our attempt to bring Jesus’ parable to life – to live out the grace that we have experienced in Jesus, and to share that grace as widely as possible. When Presbyterians from across Canada join together to share in mission and ministry through ‘Presbyterians Sharing,’ we are collectively putting our faith into action – across Canada and across the world. And we are working to create a world according to God’s vision – where all have equal access to God’s love and grace. By pooling our resources, we support leaders, create resources and connect together to do things we couldn’t do on our own. Together, we are able to proclaim a message of God’s hope through our actions. Let me share with you just a few of the ways this is being lived out. Supporting Congregations Congregations across Canada want to share the gospel in word and in action – wanting to be vibrant expressions of God’s love. Congregations helping congregations is at the core of ‘Presbyterians Sharing.’ Together we help equip congregations by providing materials and resources; we support theological education; we encourage visionary leaders; we support 3 mentorship and provide grants to start new congregations and renew established congregations. And it is working. Congregations are stepping out of their comfort zones to try new things and witness to the resurrection of Christ in new ways. Members from St. Luke’s Church in Bathurst, New Brunswick, where they are being supported by renewing a regional ministry, say, “Working together in service for others has strengthened our faith as we support each other and the wider community. There is great power in prayer. We thank God for all who have encouraged us in our journey of faith.” The Rev. Deb Rapport participated in a mentoring program to support her leadership in Toronto’s ARISE Ministry, which provides outreach and pastoral care to human trafficking victims and people involved in the sex trade. She shares, “I have grown and strengthened my leadership capabilities through this process. I have been blessed and encouraged by the coaching, guidance and wisdom of my mentor.” Offering Hope Another way we help live out God’s vision of abundant life through ‘Presbyterians Sharing,’ is by supporting ministries inCanada that reach out to some of Canada’s most vulnerable people: refugees, Indigenous communities and inner-city communities. These include ministries like Tyndale St.-Georges and action Refugies in Montreal, ARISE ministry in Toronto and seven ministries serving primarily Indigenous people. And lives are transformed. Livesof people like Jane who participated in Tyndale St.-George’s employment program in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood in Montreal. The statistics for Little Burgundy are grim: 2/3 of children and youth live below the poverty line and 32% of students drop out before finishing high school. But Tyndale St.-Georges is helping provide community member – children, teens and adults – with the tools they need to realize their own dreams, at every life stage. Tyndale’s employment programs not only teach job search techniques, but also build self-esteem and life skills. Jane shares, “I came to Tyndale during the lowest time in my life,and I decided to give it a shot. I was looking for something to bring back my self-confidence that would enable me to go back to the workforce. And Tyndale delivered exactly what I was looking for. And now I’m strong – I’m back again – and I’m ready to go back to work.” You don’t have to look very far to see and hear stories of the tragic legacy of the Indian residential schools. ‘Presbyterian Sharing’ is helping congregations and individuals walk alongside Indigenous people on a journey toward reconciliation. 4 In June, 33 Presbyterians from across Canada travelled together to visit Presbyterian Indigenous ministries; worship at a Presbyterian church on a reserve; and visit the sites where two residential schools were run by the Presbyterian Church. The group listened to stories of anger and pain and offered apologies. They also witnessed some of the ways in which Presbyterian ministries are transforming lives. At Birdtail Sioux First Nation, site of the Birtle residential school, Doug Hanska thanked the visitors with an honour song. He explains, “The stop they did in Birdtail, I know it may not mean much to a lot of people, but to some of us it means a lot,” he said. “We can forgive and move one, like our teachings tell us.” Supporting International Mission Partners Our efforts at tearing down walls don’t stop in Canada. In a broken world desperate for God’s vision of grace and justice, our gifts to ‘Presbyterians Sharing’ support international mission partners by sending mission staff and short term volunteers and by providing grants. The Rev. Dr. Paul McLean has been working with the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan for more than 30 years, helping them translate the Bible into Indigenous languages so that people can begin to really know the gospel in the language of their hearts. Jackie Bannerman, a young adult intern, recently spent eight months in Hungary supporting the refugee ministries of our partner, the Reformed Church of Hungary. This September, The Rev. Blair and Vivian Bertrand began a 3 year term with the Presbyterian church of Central Africa, in Malawi. Blair will support leadership development through a youth department and theological education in Zombacollege. Vivian hopes to help combat poverty. Rev. Glynis Williams who is Associate Secretary for International Ministries in the Presbyterian church spoke in Chesterville for St. Andrew’s Anniversary Service the end of September. She shared with us the experiences of certain missionaries and I would like to briefly review three missionaries that she talked about. Dr. Nick and Becky Bauman were appointed in Feb. this year for 2 years to the United Mission to Nepal. Dr. Bauman is training doctors and providing surgical services in the Tansen Mission Hospital. David McIntosh is a co-Director of the Center for Mined minority Issues and Mission based in Tokyo. The aim of this centre is to respond to the rise in racism and hatred in Japan against minorities, such as the Korean people. 5 In the Middle East, probably one of the hardest places to be a Christian, ‘Presbyterians Sharing’ supports the Near East School of Theology as they equip Christian leaders to serve congregations there and maintain a Christian witness of peace in the turbulent countries of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Liza Titizian works as a librarian at the Near East School of Theology. She is completing her Masters & received a Leadership Development Grant from the Presbyterian Church. Liza is from Syria and is Armenian. She is the first indigenous librarian at this school. These are just glimpses into some of the ways gifts to ‘Presbyterians Sharing’ are making a difference in the lives of thousands of people – across Canada and around the world. We still struggle to follow Jesus. We may understand God’s definition of grace – grace that is undeserved and is offered to all – but it is still difficult for us to offer that same grace to others. We still have our own ideas of justice and equality – and we forget that God through Christ has knocked down those fences and boundaries. We are tempted like those in the parable to resent the generosity of God. But if we are led by the Spirit, perhaps we can be inspired by it. I would like to end this message by remarking on how Julie Payette’s inspirational and eloquent speech this past week is so relevant to the role of ‘Presbyterians Sharing.’ Julie Payette recently took the oath to become the 29th Governor General. She is a former astronaut. She remarked on how well the astronauts worked so well together on their space missions in order to achieve their goals and she extended this analogy to how Canadians could make a difference in so many areas such as climate change, poverty and cultural divisions just by working together. One quote that stood out for me was, “We share this extraordinary world that looks so small from space with no divisions visible.” From this perspective ‘Presbyterians Sharing’ represents how much our church can accomplish just by working together. Working together to share God’s love and grace and see God’s generosity at work, not just in our country but all across the world. Together we can make a difference! RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 145:1-8 One: I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise your name forever and ever. All: I will praise you every day; yes, I will praise you forever. One: Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure His greatness. All: Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power. One: I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. All: Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. One: Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness; they will sing with joy about your righteousness. All: The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. ANNOUNCEMENTS I’d like to start by thanking everyone for taking part in today’s service. Thank you Bob, Doris, Phyllis and I greatly appreciate your input. There are envelopes and bookmarks inserted inside the bulletin. If you would like to make a donation to ‘Presbyterian Sharing’ you can place the envelope on the offering plate. Any money given after this service goes over and beyond the $2,500 that St. Paul’s gives already to Presbyterian Sharing. If you wish to support the Syrian refugee family that our Presbytery has sponsored, you can place an envelope marked ‘Syrian Refugee Family’ on the offering plate. There are several announcements in the bulletin. I would like to highlight the Fall Extravaganza that supports the Dundas County Hospice at Winchester Olde Town Hall next Sunday. I would also like to point out the Paint Night hosted by Ladies Aid. It will be here at St. Paul’s on Thurs., Nov. 2 at 7. Tickets are $40 & need to be purchased in advance. You can buy tickets from several people – Doris, Libby and myself& Jen all have some tickets available. Part of the proceeds are supporting Ladies Aid. If you have any more questions you can speak to Libby Pelkey. It should be a really fun evening and be sure to spread the word around about it. There are special services coming up in November and please mark them in your calendar. Take note of the Joint Service November 12. There will be no service here at St. Paul’s. Are there any more announcements?

FOLLOW THE BETHLEHEM STAR

December 11, 2016
Preacher: Speaker: Kathy Spruit A five year old boy was traveling in the car heading to a family Christmas get-together. As they passed by the Anglican church where a manger scene was in the yard, the little boy asked about the meaning. “That is Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, there in the manger,” his Mom replied. A few blocks further on they passed the United Church where a scene was depicting the journey of the Wise Men. “Who are they?” the little boy asked. His Mom said, “Those are the Wise Men, who are looking for the Baby Jesus.” “Well,” the little boy said, “they won’t find him there. He’s down at the other church.” The choir just sang a song about the Wise Men crossing the desert following the Bethlehem Star. Do you know what ‘wise man’ is? A wise man was someone who was an expert at looking at the stars and telling the meaning of dreams. These wise men saw an unusual star and believed that it was a sign that a King was about to be born. So, of course, they wanted to go and find this King. When we are planning to go somewhere we haven’t been before, what do we use? We may ask directions, we may use a paper map, or go on the Internet and get directions that way. The wise men didn’t have these tools. But they did have something better – they had a star to guide them. The star was a sign for them. We are like the Wise Men today – we are looking for Jesus too. We need signs in our life too to guide us along the way. We may not have a star as a sign but there may be other signs. I would like to share a quick story about what I believe was a sign. I was parked along the side a road waiting for a store to open. While I was waiting I was thinking about something & had questions in my mind about how to proceed. There was a stop sign ahead of me & cars were stopping there of course before turning. I noticed the licence plate of a car that stopped there – it said ‘PRA MOR.’ Pray more. If that isn’t a sign I don’t know what is. And of course praying more is a good thing to do anyway. And what about our own church sign. Many, many messages have spoken to me and to many other people who have read them. God gives us signs just like He did for the Wise Men because He has a plan – a path for each one of us to follow. Did you know there is no one in the world exactly like you? And your path in life and my path and each of your paths are different. God promises to help us follow the right way; to follow the signs he wants us to follow. He says in the Bible, “I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide ….. directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don’t fall into the ditch. These are the things I’ll be doing for them – sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.” Isaiah 42:16. We all can follow our own pathway to a wonderful relationship with Jesus. 2 Where do we find these signs that can help give us directions? That will enable us to follow Jesus? BIBLE Remember how the star is like a map that helped guide the Wise Men to Bethlehem? Well, the Bible is like a map that we can use to find our way to Jesus. We need to read the Bible to make sure we are headed in the right direction and to make sure we stay on that right path. In Sunday school we talk about the Bible stories and we can learn from those Bible stories. Sometimes, we may think that the stories are too old and have nothing to do with today. But if we take a closer look, we can learn the same things that people learned way back then. The Bible is also like a light that shines in the dark and shows us the way to go. You know when you are in a dark room and you don’t know where to go? You can turn on a light or use a flashlight like this to shine in the darkness and show you where to go. The Bible works like that too. HOLY SPIRIT When we let Jesus in our hearts and ask Him to forgive us and to take control of our lives, the Holy Spirit will live in our hearts. The Holy Spirit will guide us, teach us, comfort us, and lead us and will give us the strength and the wisdom to follow Jesus. OTHER CHRISTIANS We can receive love and support from other people – like everyone here in church today, our minister, and others who believe in God. It says in the Bible, that Christians are to love one another and accept one another without judgment. In that way we can also learn from other Christians about how to follow Jesus. In turn, we can love others. God does not have feet or hands. He needs us to show His love to others. You never know if someone else receives God’s signs from us without us even knowing about it. CREATION/NATURE God is the Creator of our earth. We learned in Sunday School about how God created our world, including us. When we look all around – at the plants, trees, animals, bodies of water, the millions of stars in the sky, we are amazed at the power of God. When we are looking for Jesus, we can see Him at work in the wonder of creation. It is a constant reminder that God is in control and always with us. Nature can also provide a wonderful place to be peaceful, to be quiet, to connect with God. 3 PRAYER Did you know we can talk directly to God? It is called prayer. No matter where we are – if we are in our room, or the car, or in our backyard, we can tell God what is on our minds. We can thank Him for all the wonderful blessings He’s given us; we can tell Him about our problems and worries and ask Him for help; and we can ask Him what we should do. God will always listen. All these signs that are provided by: the Bible, the Holy Spirit, other believers, Nature, and prayer, will help us to follow Jesus. Let us end by reading together this poem as a prayer: The Christmas Star A diamond shines no brighter Than that lovely Christmas star It shines in all its brilliance It’s seen from near or far. A symbol of the Christ child As He lay upon the hay. It tells to all the waiting world A King was born that day. O Bethlehem Star keep shining Give us faith and hope and love. Keep our thoughts forever turning To the Saviour up above. Give us strength and hope and courage To do our best by far And never falter in our faith As we watch that Christmas star. Amen Everyone knows Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star? How about we sing that song with a few different words: Twinkle, twinkle, Bethlehem star How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, Bethlehem star Show me the way to Jesus.

God knows us by name

October 2, 2016
Bible Text: Jeremiah 31:1-3a, 6-15 and 1 Timothy 6:6-19 and Luke 16:19-31 | Preacher: Speaker: Kathy Spruit American theologian Donald Messer tells the story of a rich man who was approached to contribute to a major financial campaign: The urgent need and compelling case were stated and the call was made for his support. The man responded: “I understand why you think I can give fifty thousand dollars. I am a man with my own business and, it is true, I have all the signs of affluence. But there are some things you don’t know. Did you know that my mother is in an expensive nursing home?” Well, no, we didn’t know. “Did you know also that my brother died, and left a family of five and had almost no insurance?” No, we didn’t. “Did you know that my son is deeply religious, has gone into social work, and makes less than the national poverty level to meet the needs of his family?” No, we hadn’t realized. “Well then,” the rich man said, “if I don’t give any of them a penny, why do you think I’ll give it to you?” This rich man reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ story “A Christmas Carol”. Ebenezer cut himself off from his family and friends, and making money was his only concern. One Christmas, when approached to make a donation to help the poor, Ebenezer refused to help, saying that he minds his own business and expects others to do the same. He wasn’t interested in helping anyone but himself. We see parallels from these two stories with the rich man in our Gospel lesson. The rich man isn’t interested in the poor man who sits at his gate. The rich man pays no attention to Lazarus, even though he is sick and starving. The rich man has no sense that his wealth should be used to help Lazarus. In the rich man’s mind, there is a big wall that separates him from Lazarus. And he allows poor Lazarus to die in agony, just outside his gate. It is hard for us to relate to the rich man. “That’s not me”, we think. “There aren’t any people sitting at my gate, begging for food. I do what I can to help the poor.” But maybe we all have a bit of the rich man in us – and that’s what makes the text so uncomfortable. We all know people who are in need, but we don’t always notice and sometimes we willfully look away. Did you notice that the poor man has a name? He is actually the only person in all of Jesus’ parables who is given a specific name. The rich man doesn’t get named, but Lazarus does. The poor are so important to God that God knows them by name! Even after the rich man dies, he still never learns Lazarus’s name. From Hades he looks up and sees Lazarus sitting beside Abraham in Heaven. But even in Hades, the rich man shows no remorse for how he neglected Lazarus. All he wants from Lazarus is something for himself – a drop of water. There is no change in the rich man’s heart. Before he was separated from Lazarus by a wall and gate of his own making, but now he’s separated from Lazarus by a great abyss that cannot be crossed. Ebenezer Scrooge, however, does change. In a dream, he is shown people whose lives he can transform while he is still alive. He learns their names, he sees their need – and his heart is changed. Giving to Presbyterians Sharing is one way that our congregation supports the mission and ministry work that we do together as The Presbyterian Church in Canada. We support Presbyterians Sharing through our congregation’s budget and through designated gifts in offering envelopes. Our gifts encourage and equip congregational renewal and development; support inner city, native and refugee ministries; support students studying for ministry; equip clergy and lay leaders; send mission personnel to work with international partners . . . and so much more! Though many of us don’t know the names of the countless people who are supported through Presbyterians Sharing, we have collectively discerned, as members and adherents of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, that God is calling us to do this important work. And the work is important. Even though giving to Presbyterians Sharing can sometimes feel like an obligation or even a tax, it is a wonderful opportunity to minister to others. Today, as we remember Lazarus – who was so important to God that God knew him by name – let us learn some of the names and stories of the people who are ministering on our behalf and those whose lives are being changed. The Rev. Deb Rapport is the Director of ARISE Ministry, a mission of the Presbytery of East Toronto. ARISE offers hope to victims of sex-trafficking and sexual exploitation through a ministry of outreach, case management and pastoral care. Deb shares a story about Ashley. “Ashley and I have an ongoing outreach relationship. ARISE has been present with her through her struggles with abusive men, addiction and streetlife. We have helped her get to detox and safety, and talked about the sense of failure she feels in each relapse. One night, as we walked towards Ashley, we could see that she was talking to a male customer. She asked if we could come back later because she really wanted to talk. We were about 20 metres away when she called out, “Deborah, I’m sorry. Can you come back? You’re worth more to me than him right now.” It was a bold statement of affirmation and of hope. Ashley talked about her desperate need for change and her hope that this time would be different. Then she said, ‘You’re doing some revolutionary work and I need to be part of it.’” Joseph has been at Blantyre’s maximum security Chichiri prison since 2006. Overcrowding is a critical problem in Malawi’s prisons. At Chichiri there are 2,000 prisoners housed in a space built for 800. Cell blocks are so crowded that there is no room for them to lie down at night – they must try to sleep sitting up, pressed against one another. It is brutal during the hot summer months, and the unhygienic conditions lead to the spread of illness and disease. There is not enough food, and the food that is available lacks protein and nutritional value. Many of these men have not been given a trial. Presbyterians Sharing supports the prison’s chaplains and has helped provide sleeping mats, blankets, soap, hymn books and Bibles to prisoners. Joseph started attending Blantyre Synod’s weekly Bible study soon after he arrived at Chichiri. The prison’s ecumenical chapel was built with grants from gifts to Presbyterians Sharing. Before the chapel was built, studies were held outside – a challenge during hot weather, and an impossibility during heavy rains. Joseph shares, “It is by the grace of God that I am alive. I remembered the advice I got from my mother – to pray while I am in prison, as only God can change you. I cannot stop praising God because he is doing great things. Once I finish prison life, I will keep praising God because of what he has done for me.” Donovan is a member of the Wabaseemong Ojibway Nation. A crown ward from an early age, he ended up homeless after bouncing from foster home to foster home. At the age of 12 he got involved with the wrong crowd and started using drugs and alcohol. Today, Donovan is a participant in Kenora Fellowship Centre’s mentorship program. He has benefitted from life-skills training as well as the centre’s shelter program and residential transition program. Donovan shares, “The staff work hard to make programs which help the people. There have been many times recently I wanted to end my life and the centre has helped me through these times. I am so thankful they cared for me and stood by me during the tough times.” After Donovan attended Canada Youth – our national youth program – he shared, “I was very thankful for the experience, met many people and was very encouraged. I enjoyed listening and talking with Eugene Arcand and thought a lot about my life and family after hearing his residential school experience. It was truly an awesome experience. I learned a lot, cried a lot, and shared a lot about our community with Canada Youth. It was like I was supposed to be out there. Thank you to all of you who support the Kenora Fellowship Centre. You are helping to make a difference in people’s lives, like mine.” These are just a few names and stories of the many people who receive support through our gifts to Presbyterians Sharing. It is by learning about our mission and ministry that the stranger at our gate becomes a friend who is welcomed inside and given help. There are many ways that our congregation can get to know more about people supported through Presbyterians Sharing: We can learn more about our mission and ministries through resources like mission moments, bulletin inserts and videos. We can invite someone from one of our ministries in Canada to visit us and share their stories, or visit a congregation that has been newly planted or replanted to see how God is at work. We can plan a trip to visit Winnipeg’s Place of Hope congregation or Kenora Fellowship Centre and meet some of the people seeking fellowship in the inner city. Or we could go to Prince Albert and worship with people of the Mistawasis First Nation. We might visit some of our international partners to see how God’s word is proclaimed in a different country and culture, and be inspired to reach out to our community when we return. Members of our own Church Community, Diana Kemp and Ruth Pollock did just that last year when they visited Guatemala on a mission and return to speak about their experiences at our St. Paul's Ladies Aid meeting. We can encourage our youth and youth leaders to attend Canada Youth and to share their experiences with us. We can get to know students studying for the ministry, learn their names, and pray for them. Some of us could join a committee of the national church and work with others to help shape the mission and ministry of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. When Ebenezer Scrooge realized how important it was to have loving, personal relationships with others, he opened his heart to them and shared his wealth generously. Our faith in Jesus Christ starts with a personal relationship with him and with the Creator and the Holy Spirit. Our congregational life extends our loving relationships to our fellow members. But it takes even more effort to develop relationships with people who are outside of our gates and needing our help. Personally knowing people – learning their names and their stories – inspires us to help them generously. May God inspire us all to reach out to others through our support for Presbyterians Sharing, as we strive to love others as we love ourselves.

Joy

December 13, 2015
Preacher: Speaker: Kathy Spruit Joy Joy – the joy experienced in the first Christmas – Angels announced to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10 . So what is joy? Joy means great happiness. However, joy and happiness are different. We are happy when things are going well for us. We are happy when are decorating for Christmas and wrapping up presents. But that happiness can go away when Christmas is over. Happiness is related to circumstances. Do you know what the word ‘circumstances’ means? Circumstances are all the things that are happening around us. It could be good things or it could not so good things, like when we are sick or someone else in our family is sick. When circumstances are right, there is happiness; but when the source of happiness departs, happiness goes with it. It is not this way with joy. Joy comes from God. Joy does not go away. Do you think Mary and Joseph had joy when Jesus was born? Of course they did. But the circumstances – all the things happening around them - were not good. Mary & Joseph were far from home, in a strange town without even a room to themselves in which Mary could give birth to the Child. But they were still joyful because it came from God and was centered in the birth of the Saviour. If we have Jesus in our heart we can also have joy in our heart even when things aren’t going well around us. And we can experience a peace of heart and soul which transcends understanding. We see and hear bells at Christmas. The joyful sound of bells reminds us that Christmas is a happy time. It is a happy time because it is the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. Look closely at a bell. Do you know what gives a bell its joyful sound? Inside there is a tiny ball which makes the ringing sound as it bounces around against the inside of the bell. Our joy comes from the inside too. It comes from having love for Jesus in our hearts. The Bible says that even though we haven’t seen Jesus, we believe in Him and love Him, and because of that love, we are filled with glorious joy. Now hold a bell tightly in your hand and shake it. It doesn’t have a very joyful sound does it? Our hands have dampened the sound of the bells. It is no longer bright and joyful. It is dull and lifeless. We must be careful that we don’t let anything dampen our joy at Christmas. Sometimes we get so caught up in giving gifts & going to parties, that we miss the real joy of the season. It is important to remember that the reason we go to parties and give gifts during Christmas is to share in the joy of Jesus’ birthday. If the gifts and parties become the most important thing then we will no longer ring out the true meaning of Christmas. It may help to look at the word ‘joy.’ J esus O thers Y ou When you let Jesus in your heart and feel His love, you will put Jesus first in your life. You will feel joy because you know God is in charge of the world and is taking care of it even when things are going all wrong at the moment. When we feel Jesus’ love, we want to help others. And how can we do that at Christmas time? We can feel joy by sharing with others. We like to receive gifts and that makes us feel happy, but we find greater joy when we give to others. By sharing what God has so generously given to us, we will receive an even greater gift, the gift of joy. Prayer: Lord, help us to clearly ring out the good news that Jesus is born. Help us to remember to put you, Jesus, first in our lives and to put others’ needs before ours. It is then that we will experience true joy. Amen
Bible Text: Matthew 5:13 | Preacher: Speaker: Kathy Spruit Children's Story Today we are going to talk about salt.  How many of you like salt?  Would you ever eat a spoonful of salt?  That would be pretty awful, wouldn’t it?   Hold up Table Salt - What sorts of things taste better with salt?  Who would like to taste popcorn?  How does it taste without salt?  It’s ok – but it is missing a little something.... Now, what happens when we add a little salt...how does that taste?  Better?  Without salt, popcorn doesn’t taste as good, does it?   What else does salt do?   It can keep meat and fish from going bad without refrigeration.  That’s why we eat beef jerky.   Hold up Epsom Salts - Salt has healing and cleansing properties.  It can be used to clean wounds.  It can also soothe sore muscles.  Runners sometimes use bath salts to relax after a race. Hold up Ice-melting Salt - Do you know what happens when you put salt on sidewalks in the winter when there is lots of ice on them?  That’s right!  It melts!  Salt can change ice ot water.   Salt can do ALL these cool things – and more!   In today’s reading, Jesus says that Christians are the salt of the earth.  It’s sort of funny to think of ourselves as salt, isn’t it?   In Jesus’ time, salt was very important and valuable.  In fact, it was so valuable, that people were sometimes paid with salt instead of coins!  Can you imagine your mom or dad being paid with a bag of salt?  That’s where the work “Salary” comes from.   So what do you think Jesus meant when he said that Christians are the salt of the earth?  Here’s one way to think about it: Just like salt makes things taste better, we can make the world a better place by looking after our neighbor and sharing God’s love. Just like salt saves food from spoiling and cleans things up, we can help clean up and care for God’s earth. Just like salt changes ice to water, we can change people’s lives through our actions. And just as salt soothes and heals, we can listen to people who are hurting and say things to make them feel better.   Today is Presbyterians Sharing Sunday.  Some of the money we put in the offering plate supports Presbyterians Sharing.  With this money, we work together with congregations across Canada to support all kinds of people – in Canada and around the world.  Together we are salting the world:  sparking love for God and love for one another. A little bit of salt – on food, in water, on roadways – can make a big difference.  And we can make a big difference too – in our schools, in our neighbourhoods, in our country, and even in the world!   You are the salt of the earth.  You can make a difference!