Moses and the Ten Commandments  by Marc Chagall

Moses and the Ten Commandments
by Marc Chagall

Every time I look at this painting by the great Belarusian/French painter Marc Chagall, my heart is warmed. The scene shows Moses, just after he has received the Ten Commandments from the Holy One on Mount Sinai. I do not see some executor of an arbitrary code of law. I see one holding two stone tablets as a parent might hold a new-born infant, filled with affection and joy. I wish I had been introduced to this painting earlier in life.

Gazing at this painting now, I am reminded that the original description of the ‘ten commandments’ is the ‘ten words’. These are words given to us by God, born of love and passed on for life. When we hold them, we hold God’s love and life.

Because the ‘ten words’ are shaped by grammar using negatives, the ‘thou-shalt-not’ language, I have for too long thought of them in terms of constraint and restriction. Now I realize they are all about freedom. Now I think of them like the tethered but floating plastic bottles placed at various rocky areas around the lake at the cottage, warning all boaters of certain areas of danger … and with the whole rest of the lake to enjoy.

And how wonderful that these ten words begin with an introduction of God as the one ‘who brought you out of the house of bondage’ (Deuteronomy 5:6) – the commandments point us beyond themselves to the One whose chief characteristic is the ability and desire to work freedom for the oppressed. We live in a world that knows the experience of bondage all too well, from addictions to possessions and substances, to whole peoples who live under the rule of oppression and war. How good it is to be reminded that God’s will and God’s work is freedom. Amen!

If you are in the area, join us Sunday morning as we begin a new congregational year. Kingston is alive with the abundance of farmer’s markets and students returning to Queen’s and St. Lawrence – St. Andrew’s shall be filled with the praise of God and the joy of freedom. Have a look at the Order of Service …

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Lorna Jones - Artymess

Lorna Jones – Artymess

For many of us in Kingston, this long weekend may bring family BBQs and a variety of outdoor festivals but also a sense that the summer is coming to an end. School buses have already been seen in the streets and the university students are infusing the city with an infectious sense of new beginnings. It is good to pause and remember the origins of the weekend – Labour Day. Its origins in Canada can be traced to December 1872 when a parade was held in support of Toronto newspaper employees trying to limit their work week to 58 hours. The union leaders were arrested under laws that deemed union activity criminal. In protest, an even larger parade was held in Ottawa on September 3, 1873, and in response Sir John A. Macdonald arranged for the anti-union laws to be repealed. Parades have been held the beginning of September ever since, and in 1894, Prime Minister John Thompson made Labour Day an official holiday, to celebrate the value and dignity of work.

It is a theme that we will take up with a prayer crafted by Janet Morley:

God of wholeness
you have created us bodily,
that our work and faith may be one.
May we offer our worship from lives of integrity;
and maintain the fabric of this world
with hearts that are set on you,
through Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the worship of God, we will be reminded that this world is a creation of God and that it is good; that we are called to work with God in God’s continuing providential care. In Christ, we will be reminded not only that ‘matter matters’ but that ‘people matter’. As we are confronted this week with tragic scenes of whole nations seeking refuge from violence and poverty, and with questions in the midst of an election campaign about what sort of nation we wish to shape, it is good to pray that God might take us and weave us into our communities to ‘maintain the fabric of this world’. Amen.

I hope you can join us. There are some great additional prayers within Sunday’s order of service …

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Intercession might be compared to loving our neighbours on our knees Charles Bent

Leo Tolstoy tells the story of three hermits who lived on an island. Their prayer was as simple as they were simple : ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us. Amen’. The bishop heard about these hermits and decided that they needed guidance in proper prayer, so he went to their small island, and instructed them : after his instruction, the bishop set sail for the mainland, please to have enlightened the souls of such simple men. Suddenly off the stern of the ship the bishop saw a huge ball of light skimming across the ocean, it came closer and closer until he could see that it was the three hermits running on top of the water. Once on board the ship they said to the bishop, ‘We are so sorry, but we have forgotten some of your teaching. Would you please instruct us again?’ The bishop shook his head and replied with new-found humility, ‘Forget everything I have taught you and continue to pray in your own way.’

The bishop spoke humbly and truthfully, and yet … this summer at St. Andrew’s we are receiving encouragement from fellow Christians in prayer: prayers by women and men, from 20th century America, Celtic Scotland, eighteenth century England, medieval Germany, and this Sunday we go right back to the first century of the church.

It is a prayer composed around the year 96 A.D., found in a letter sent from the Christian community of Rome to that of Corinth, an epistle known as I Clement (after the bishop of the time). It is a time of great insecurity even persecution for God’s people, and yet they look beyond themselves, in trust to God and in care of others. Intercession was a significant dynamic in the ministry of Jesus (‘I am praying for them’ John 17:9) and remains an integral part of his work (‘Christ Jesus who died and who was raised, who is at the right hand of God … intercedes for us’ Romans 8:34). Intercession is also a integral dimension of the witness of his people. It is the experience of many that through our prayers of intercession, not only does God work in this world but God also works upon us.

Here is a prayer of intercession, here is an opportunity to grow in the way of Christ for the sake of his kingdom of peace and justice for all …

We beg you, Lord, to be our help and our support.
Free us from our troubles; take pity on the lowly; raise up those who have fallen; give help to the poor, health to the sick, and bring home those who have wandered away. Feed the hungry, ransom captives, give strength to the weak and courage to the faint-hearted.
Let all peoples come to know that you alone are God, that Jesus Christ is your child, and that we are your people and the sheep of your flock.
(1 Clement c. 96 A.D.)

Join us in the worship of God!

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I was a very young lad when our family visited Albert Schweitzer, just a couple of months before he died in 1965. Renowned for his mastery of Bach on the organ and his radically open Christian theology, Schweitzer had answered a call to put the gospel into action by dedicating his life to service as a physician in a remote hospital in Lambaréné Gabon West Africa. It was there that I was introduced to this Nobel Peace Prize awardee. But all that I can remember of the visit are the frogs that jumped out of the bucket when I went for a shower!

In my study for the theme of this Sunday’s service of worship – gratitude – it was good to read again something by Albert Schweitzer and honour better hs memory. In a passage reprinted in the Order of Service (below), Schweitzer refers to the ten lepers healed by Jesus (Luke 17:11-19). He notes how many Christians dismiss the nine lepers who did not return to Jesus to give thanks. Schweitzer, however, encourages us not to give in to bitterness and judgement of the world. He suggests that all ten healed lepers were grateful, but only one articulated their gratitude. ‘A great deal of water is flowing underground’, he writes, but Christians should be the ones who express their gratitude to God in word and deed. ‘We ourselves must try to be the water which finds its way up; we must become a spring’, of gratitude. Such lives of expressed gratitude would give God glory and joy, and also be a witness and encouragement to others.

This Sunday we will hear a poem by e.e. cummings ‘i thank you God’, and consider ways we might take up the chorus and be springs of thanksgiving to God for faith, for life …


i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

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I was not really surprised. I usually try to find a work of art to place on the cover of the Order of Service, one that is related to the theme of the morning’s sermon. You will notice below that the photo that finally filled the place is a rather generic one of the church steeple with the St. Andrew’s cross atop.  My search this week retrieved little that was relevant.  When I typed in the word ‘eternity’, Google insisted on providing me with images of a perfume and the like!

We are continuing our series of summer prayers, and this Sunday will focus on one by the great English poet and preacher John Donne (1572-1631). We will read the biblical passage on which he was preaching when he shared these words (the story of Jacob seeing a ladder of communication between earth and heaven, between humanity and the Holy One: Genesis 28:10-19), and then his prayer itself:

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house where shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen. 

Donne uses four phrases that evoke four dimensions of human life as we know it – sight, sound, security and time – and after naming the extremes that we know only too well, Donne describes the promise of heaven as being ‘equal’. The declaration is of balance, of completion, in the presence of God. It is a perspective and promise that is not an escape but an encouragement for life now. Eternity not only provides strength for the journey but shapes the contours of the journey. We believe it is Jesus who leads us to ‘dwell in that house’, and also that his way is one of care for neighbour, of justice for the poor and peace for all. I believe it was Oliver Wendall Holmes who said that ‘Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good’, but perhaps he had it backwards – might it be that more consideration of eternity might shape a better life and world now?

Reflect upon the wisdom of other Christians printed at the end of the Sunday morning bulletin below. And if you are in the area, join us in the worship of God!

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O sweet and loving God,
when I stay asleep too long,
oblivious to your many blessings,
then, please, wake me up,
and sing to me your joyful song.
It is a song without music or notes.
It is a song of love beyond words,
of faith beyond the power
of human telling.
I can hear it in my soul
when you awaken me
to your presence.

These are the words of a prayer of Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207-1282?). As an adolescent, Mechthild received what she called a divine ‘greeting’ in the small feudal village of her birth, and she saw ‘all things in God and God in all things’. In her twenties she left her family and moved into the nearest town ‘to dwell in the love of God’. In Magdeburg, Mechthild joined the Beguines, a new woman’s movement, devotional and spiritual but not a formal ‘order’ of the Church, and in which she remained for over 40 years. The intimacy with which she spoke about God, with which she spoke with God, remains both startling and beautiful to this day. What I find most wonderful is how Mechthild speaks about the mutuality of a flowing love, about not only us loving God but God loving us. In this prayer, she is asking her Lover to rouse her from sleep and sing again the eternal song of love that we know in Jesus Christ.

It will be the same song of divine love that we will hear as the font is filled with water and we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, God’s gracious love that will not let us go.

If you are in the area, join us in the sanctuary. If you are at a distance, follow along with the prayers and readings as found in the Order of Service below.