Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may be only a radiance of Yours.
Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church (Sunday worship under one roof) Sunday, January 24th 2021.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.
For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Reflective music: Prayer by Rene Clausen words John Henry Newman adapted by Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may be only a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me.
Song: Come Lord Source Of Every Blessing
Song: Aaronic Blessing
Praying the Psalm
In this part of the service we pray a psalm together. We listen in on the story from which the psalm arises in order to pray these words for us and for the world. We will pray Psalm 139 together. As it is long, we will pray a section from it. Before we do, I will provide some background.
Psalm 139 arises from a dark place. There is a story of being dealt unfairly, being falsely accused, and wrongly portrayed. In this injustice, the poet turns to God. Consolation is found in God that God knows truly without deception and distortion. For God knows, for God understands, for God knows in love. So, like a couple in love, the poet marvels at how it is that God knows him, how it is that I am known just as I am, that I am understood and perceived truly by the one who loves me. The section we will pray, highlights the reason for God knowing us so intimately and truly. It is because God has created us, God looks upon us and God delights in us.
Have you a story of being misunderstood and judged unfairly? As we pray this together, know that you are known truly by God in Jesus, who understands us. As we pray this together, may it become a prayer for those who are framed, scapegoated, stereotyped, that the truth will be revealed. May we be consoled and find joy in that we are God’s delight.
Let us pray the psalm together. Please respond with the words in bold.
Psalm 139:1-3; 13-18 (abridged for worship)
O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and you know all my ways.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
I come to the end—
I am still with you.
Prayer for others
We respond by singing the Lord’s Prayer together [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]:
Offering & Dedication Prayer
Song: Love Divine
Scripture: John 1:43-51
New Revised Standard Version
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Have you heard of a concept called “thin places”? One author puts it this way: “Thin places are those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses.” They are places where the boundary between heaven and Earth are so close that it almost feels like there is only a mere veil separating the two. They’ve been called the places in the world where the walls are weak, where heaven seems nearer than usual. Do you have an experience of a thin place? What was it like?
For many people, thin places are traditional and historic religious and spiritual places like temples and cathedrals. However, it seems that it doesn’t necessarily need to be so. For many seekers of spiritual truth, thin places are found being in the wild, in nature (whether it be mountains, rivers, at the sea) and they experience something different, unique and special. For others still it may be particular music they heard or a particular piece of art they have seen too. There is something about a particular experience one has that leads them to declare the place they were in particularly “thin.”
One of the common characteristics that determine a thin place seems to be a kind of experience more so than an actual place. Many who encounter a thin place, experience that they are left without words. They are left in silence. One commentator says: “We’re in the territory, here, of the ineffable: the stuff we can’t express because it’s beyond the power of language to do so. Explanations aren’t merely useless; they threaten to get in the way. The experience of a thin place feels special because words fail, leaving stunned silence.” These are moments “that are saturated with meaning, but whose meaning cannot be put into words.” (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/22/this-column-change-your-life-heaven-earth)
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus proclaim “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Jesus is quoting a story from the Old Testament here. This image of angels ascending and descending is an experience of Jacob. He is on the run. As he becomes tired and the night has come upon him out in the wilderness, Jacob decides to make the ground for his bed and a rock for his pillow. During the night, in his sleep, he sees a vision. He sees a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Above it stands God who blesses him and promises him the very land for his descendants.
When Jacob awoke, he proclaims “Surely YHWH, God, is in this place, and I was not aware of it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28:10-17). Perhaps this is a biblical example of a thin place experience. The presence of God is so near and close that it seems the wall between heaven and earth collapses. Jacob expresses it in his own way that this very place is the gate of heaven. Where there is a gate there is a house. This is the house of God, the dwelling place of God.
Isn’t it intriguing and remarkable that Jesus would use these words to himself? In effect, Jesus is declaring himself as the house of God, as the gate of heaven, as the thin place. Jesus declares that it is Jesus the person, his presence that is the experience of heaven, experience of God. Does this give a clue to the fact that the thin place experiences are neither determined by a particular physical place nor particular situations but rather by a kind of experience? Jesus declares that it is not a place we experience but a person when we are lost for words, when we are in the territory of indescribable, ineffable.
Did you know early Christians (as we hear and see in the New Testament of the Bible) mention no place that is considered more important, more thin (therefore recommended for believers to seek it out)? We know that Jesus withdrew to places for prayer regularly. It is reasonable to think that these places where Jesus actually prayed could have been offered to future Christians as thin places, because Jesus prayed there. But we don’t have that in the New Testament. Moreover, if we look into where it was that Jesus went, they weren’t one or two specific places. Rather they are described as deserted places. In other words, Jesus sought out places – wherever they may be – where he could be free from the busy distractions of our lives. (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/thin-places/)
What do early Christians offer to us then as thin place where heaven is close, where God’s presence is near? As we began our worship service, the temple of God, the thin place, the gate of heaven, is in us. Yes, in you. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” To be more specific, the “you” here is not a singular you but plural you. In other words, it is in our coming together, it is in being together, it is in our fellowship, it is in our communion, that God dwells, that is holy temple of God.
This is faith founded on Jesus’ promise: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Mat. 18:20. This is faith founded on Jesus’ proclamation that we shall see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Jesus is our thin place. Jesus is the person we encounter God in. And yes, this Jesus dwells within us and with us even now by his Spirit. So friends this means as we go out into the world, as we meet people, as we care, as we take notice of people, as we take the time to reach out, we offer to them a thin place, inviting them to come and see, Jesus the gate of heaven.
As disciples of Jesus, Christ sends us out so that the people will experience God of Jesus Christ through us. Jesus does not expect the people to seek him rather Jesus finds them. Just as in the Gospel Philip is found by Jesus, we are found by Jesus. Once we are found, we are sent out to find those like Nathanael to invite to come and see. There are no words to convince, no words to persuade people to experience God in Jesus. There can only be experience, an encounter of us through an invitation. So it begs the question: what do people experience from us? What do people experience from us through community English class, knitting group, foot clinic, retired people’s fellowship, art group, choir, ladies home group, in our worship services? What does this reflect about who God is in Christ Jesus?
I want to close with a story. It is a story about Mother Teresa told by Rev. James Howell. A rich donor was visiting Calcutta and met Mother Teresa. She pulled out her chequebook and said “How can I help you in your work?” Mother Teresa pressed the chequebook back into the woman’s purse, took her by the hand and said, “Come and see.” She led the woman into an impoverished neighbourhood, and found a hungry, frail child. “Care for her.” The woman took the child in her lap, wiped her brow, and fed her. Transformative. Mother Teresa was right when she said “When we care for a child, we are caring for Jesus. When we love the unloved, we are loving Jesus.”
Song: Nothing is Lost on the Breath of God
Sharing the Peace of Christ: Peace of Christ be with you.
Song of Sending: Now as we go
Benediction: The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen