STEPHEN’S PRESYBTERIAN CHURCH MAY 30, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram TRINITY SUNDAY
Call to Worship 1 Peter 2: 4 & 5
Welcome to the living Stone,
the source of life.
The workmen took one look and threw it out.
God set it in the place of honor.
Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life,
in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
We praise you. You are a mystery beyond our understanding, glorious beyond our comprehension, beautiful beyond our imagination.
Yet we expect to understand you and we treat you like the dirt beneath our feet.
You bear the hostilities of our day.
Creator God, by your Word and your breath, you have brought life to all creation.
Your creativity is too marvelous to describe, and you have given us a sliver of your ingenuity so that we may celebrate life and serve our world.
Yet we have polluted your Earth and have used our abilities to bring curses upon our fellow human beings.
You bear the universal sorrows we have spread throughout history.
Lord Jesus, you laid down your life in sacrifice taking our sin and showing us the way of service.
You gloriously arose bringing the hope of new life to every person and every aspect of creation.
Yet we take your sacrifice for granted and even mock your death and resurrection.
You bear the sin of the world.
Spirit of Holiness, you come upon us to empower us to be your Church.
You have given us gifts, comfort, and wisdom. You pray for us when we cannot pray. You remind us of all Jesus taught us.
Yet, in our need to be in control, we shut you down. We do not always live as your Church. We do not always appreciate our community.
You bear the wreckage we leave in our wake.
Forgive us. Recreate us, forgive us, renew us. Make us one as you are one.
May our worship rise beyond our need to know, into your presence which is far beyond the limitations of our understanding and may we praise your holy and mystical name, Three in One; One in Three. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Colossians 1: 15 – 20 selected verses
Absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible,
got started in Christ Jesus and finds its purpose in him.
he holds the church together, like a head does a body.
All the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—
people and things, animals and atoms—
get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies,
all because of his death,
his blood, poured down from the cross.
Prayer for Illumination
Lord Jesus, open the eyes, ears, minds and hearts of your Body, so that we may be your hands, feet and voice in our world today. Amen.
1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 27
1 Peter 2: 9 & 10
Acts 2: 41 – 47
Message: Being the Church: One in Spirit
On a religious studies exam, students were asked to “Name the three parts of the Holy Trinity”. One not-too-bright student mistook “trinity” for “trilogy” and wrote, “A New Hope; The Empire Strikes Back; Return of the Jedi”.
Today is Trinity Sunday. The day we acknowledge and celebrate the three-in-one divine nature of God: Father Son and Holy Spirit. The God who is active in our world creating, redeeming, and sanctifying. The Trinity is a difficult reality to understand. In a world where people have trouble believing in any power higher than themselves, a Triune God is too great a mystery.
Christians often use this diagram to illustrate how the Trinity works together. It shows that all three persons are distinct from one another, and each one is God. For those who are visual learners, it may be helpful. For those who would quickly dismiss it,
However, to simplify matters, I have here a rock. It’s a single unified entity. However, this rock is also trinitarian in nature.
It is made up of three pieces.
Each rock is made of the same substance. Each slice is as important as the next. Each part has a distinct pattern. Each part is separate from the others, a rock on in it’s own right. Yet each part has it’s place within the whole, that can’t be replaced by the others or with a different slice from another rock. Without each, the larger rock wouldn’t be possible.
Together they are one.
In the same way, the Trinity is one God in three parts. Each is equally important. Each does the work of God in it’s own distinct way. Each has the attributes of God. And each is need to complete the whole. 3 persons, 1 God.
Desmond Tutu said, “Isn’t it wonderful that we have this doctrine of the Trinity that speaks of God as a fellowship, a community. So you have this wonderful image of community that is God, The Trinity.”
What makes the Trinity important? Why not go with one God, demote Jesus to a mortal underling, and let the Spirit blow away like a puff of wind? Apart from the fact that each member of the Trinity is a “person” in their own right (so it would be like choosing your favorite family member and killing off the others), and each has a role to play as Maker, Saviour and Comforter, the Trinity gives us an image of the Church. The Church shares God’s divine nature in the sense that we are a community. We are many, yet one. Parts of the same body. Building blocks for the same edifice. Pentecost is the season of the Church and over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the Church’s discipleship role.
The book of Acts gives an outline of the development of the early Church. On the day of Pentecost, after Peter’s stirring sermon of hope, there was an overwhelming response. 3000 people (Acts 2: 41) came to believe and were baptized. Talk about church growth! Acts 1: 15 tells us there were 120 followers of Jesus before Pentecost. Suddenly there were 30 times that many. Many congregations seem to have difficulty absorbing one new person into their midst. 3000 is a lot of people! What did the disciples do with them? Well, they were eager not only to teach them more about Jesus but to show them what life in Jesus’ community looks like. So, they did what came naturally to them. They did what the Church is meant to do.
“They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers” (Acts 2: 42). Things branched out from there. The new believers were in awe of the gospel and of the power of the Holy Spirit. They melded together as a group and there was a spirit of harmony among them. They shared. We know they didn’t set up a commune because they had private houses and owned land but what they did do was care for one another. In a country without social support, EI or Health coverage, there was a large discrepancy between the wealthy and the poor. People went so far as to liquidate their assets in order to provide for those who had less. They leveled the playing field, as they provided for the needs of each person. Moreover, everyone was important, valued, loved, and included. Every day they went to the Temple to worship. Then, they went back to one another’s homes and feasted together in a spirit of joy and celebration. Praise for God was a way of life. The result was that
“People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved” (Acts 2: 47).
Overall, we’re left with the impression of a happy, generous group of people who were grateful to God and excited to worship. They were eager to learn, grow and pray. They enjoyed being in each other’s company. The example of Jesus and their love for one another moved them to sacrificial acts of care. They spent as much time as they could together, frequently sharing meals. Overall, they were a harmonious, unified, group.
If all congregations were that harmonious, faith-filled, and happy, we too would be adding to our numbers on a daily basis. As I remind the Session on a regular basis, no one wants to go to a Church where everyone is miserable.
When I read of the fellowship shared by these Christians, I miss the fellowship of St. Stephen’s. I miss the warmth, caring, laughter and the food. I miss celebrating each other’s joys and supporting one another through hard times. I also miss the worship, the learning, growing, and serving that we do together.
A huge part of being the church is being a community together. Church is about people sharing life together in Christ, and we don’t need to diminish that. Sometimes though that sense of community can take the place of Christ. We aren’t a community for the sake of being a community.
We are a community living, learning and sharing the love of Jesus Christ. We are a community with the distinct purpose of worshipping, celebrating the work of Jesus, and praying together. The church is not only about “life together and common meals” it is also about “learning the teachings of the apostles” through scripture, and prayer, worship and praise.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “The church is not a religious community of worshippers of JC but is Christ himself, who has taken form among people.”
What do you value the most? Do you emphasize one aspect of our life together over the other, and if so, what will need to happen to have a fuller, balanced experience of being part of the Church?
As time went on, not all the churches were happy places. The Church in Corinth had many troubles and conflicts. The divisions between the rich and the poor were emphasized through self-centred behaviour. They were fragmented and fighting. Paul used the metaphor of a human body to give them an image of a unified parts working together as one.
“No matter how many body parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
The Church is a whole, a body, of which Christ is the head who leads and guides each part. As at Pentecost, the Spirit gives gifts to each Christian, which are to be used for the common good. Everyone has a part to play. No one body part is more important than the others. There’s no need for comparisons or for trying to outdo the other parts. In a body, a part can only do what it’s created to do. The church runs smoothly if every part is happy to be what it is and does what it is best at doing to the best of our ability for the good of the whole. Paul is clear that all gifts, no matter what they are, are given through the Holy Spirit. All parts have one common purpose. We share the same goal – to create a healthy, living, growing organism that exists to glorify the Triune God and serve God’s kingdom.
As in Corinth, it’s possible for any Christian to have a cancerous effect on the body. Sin creeps in. We resist someone else – even Christ – as our head. We may not want to deny ourselves life’s pleasures. We may lose our compassion and stop caring for others. We may be envious of another’s gifts. I have a friend who talks about the ‘sexy’ gifts within the church. For the Corinthians the sexiest gift was the gift of tongues. For us, it may be music or leadership. We may want recognition and feel hurt if someone else takes the credit that we feel we deserve. When I worked as an associate minister it was an on-going lesson in letting go of ego and being a team player. Your value in the body is not measured by the recognition you get, but by what you contribute to make the body stronger and healthier. I rarely thank my liver for cleaning my blood or my stomach for breaking down my food or my blood for running around in those arteries or my bowels for… well you get the idea. But I’m grateful for them all and I couldn’t go on without them. When we see and value the whole of the body, we’re happy to serve and build it up. When we build up the whole, we give life to every part, including our own.
Peter too encouraged individual Christians to think of themselves in a different light. Speaking from a Jewish background, Peter had a deeper sense of community. The Jews are a covenant people, a nation, who exists together in a relationship with God. As a community, in a hot and hostile environment, they needed one another in order to survive and thrive. They worked together to accomplish their goals. The whole was greater than the parts. Individuals worked together to serve the community.
Peter’s image of the Church is that of a building made up of many blocks. Christ is the cornerstone, the stone which shapes the whole structure and on which the strength of the building stands. He encouraged the Church, by faith in God’s mercy, to be a new “nation”, a new “people” in a covenant relationship with God. He reminded the Church,
“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2: 10). He urged them to live up to their new status in Christ and to their collective calling, “you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you —from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted” (vs. 9).
Being the Church is to be in a covenant relationship with God. While God was concerned for every Israelite in Egypt, he had a larger purpose for the nation as a whole. The Church is part of God’s larger purpose.
We’re chosen by God not to be special, but to be servants.
We’re called to be priests. Priests reconcile people to God. We do this by living, learning and sharing the love of Jesus Christ, by giving people the hope of forgiveness, grace and peace that’s found in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. While Jesus is the bridge between humanity and God, we shepherd people across to green pastures and the fullness of life.
We’re called to be holy people. Not that we’re holy in ourselves. We have nothing to boast about. The Spirit works within us transforming us, with our co-operation to make us more and more like Jesus. We’re not holy because we’re less sinful or more morally upright than other people – because, news flash, we’re not. We’re holy only by grace. We are God’s instruments. What difference does knowing Jesus make in your life? Have you had a night and day change in yourself or your circumstances that Christ made possible? Every Christian has come from being nothing to being something. From a position of rejection to one of acceptance. From being a no one to being a child and heir of God. Because of Christ, we belong to God. We’re God’s people – part of God’s family. We exist in relation to all other Christians now and for eternity. The Church has a story to tell and hope to share. We are God’s mouthpiece, telling with joy the hope that’s possible because Jesus is risen.
All this is significant only if the Church means something to us. Just as it’s impacted every aspect of our lives and society, CoVid has had an interesting influence on the Church. Last March, we took the first lock-down in stride, figuring things would return to normal in a few short weeks. When it came to worship and fellowship, some sloughed off the importance of church, because “we don’t need church to be Christian” and “we can worship from home just as well as in church”. In times of crisis, we may indeed need to exercise our faith in isolation but as the pandemic has dragged on, what have we discovered about the value of a worshipping faith community?
After a year and a half, can you say you’re growing as much as a disciple of Christ as when we saw each other regularly? Is your worship as regular, deep and joyful? Are you as engaged as you are when the community comes together? Do you miss the people with whom we share our spiritual journey? Do you miss the sense of belonging and of being one? Do you miss the excitement of having new people join us? What about laughing, eating, praying and serving together? Does being the church and coming together as the church matter? This past week in the National Post, Father Raymond J. DeSouza published an article entitled “CoVid may have hastened Christianity’s decline in Canada”. In it he expresses his doubts about people returning to worship and fellowship once the crisis is under control. He predicts that “there will be no members, no attenders or givers in The Anglican Church of Canada by approximately 2040.” As Presbyterians it would be foolish to assume we are immune from the challenges that our Anglican brothers and sisters face. An even bigger question is: does it matter? What does it mean to be the Church? Do we need to be united as one entity or is it okay for us to quietly be individual Christians until we and the church die? What is the value of Church?
I close with some thoughts based on the writing of Richard Rohr , “On my own, I don’t know how to believe that I am a child or heir of God. It is being together in our wholeness, with the entire body of Christ, that makes it somehow easier… We each have our own little part of the beauty, our own gifts of the Spirit…Since we don’t have the full responsibility of putting it all together as individuals, we can shed the false theology of perfectionism. All we have to do is discover our own gift, even if it is just one thing, and use it for the good of all. In our corporate wholeness, are the glory of God, the goodness of God, the presence of God. We participate in that wholeness, and that is holiness! It’s not my private holiness; it’s live in our connectedness. Paul uses the brilliant metaphor of the body to show how unity is created out of diversity. Peter uses the image of a building. John’s is the journey into mystical union where “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus’ corporate image is the Kingdom of God. All of them use a corporate, communal, participatory image for what’s really happening. An image not only of our communion together but of our participation in the community of the Trinity. We need this community, because an individual cannot carry such universal suffering and sadness – and neither can the individual bear such extensive glory and greatness.”
Silent Prayer and Reflection
Holy Spirit, you have blessed each one of us with gifts so that we may build up Christ’s body. You have blessed us with each other and with Christians of all times and places. We bless you with the gifts we bring – our talents, treasure and time. Use all we are and have to the glory of the Triune God. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Thank you for the gift of life, the beauty of the Earth and the blessings of each day.
Thank you for being a friend to sinners and restoring our relationship with you.
Thank you for making us your Church, chosen, royal and holy. You have brought us from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted, from darkness into light.
Thank you for the gift of community. We envision all the people in our congregation and give you thanks for each one. We thank you for the love and support we give, for the worship, prayer and praise we offer, for the fellowship and laughter we share, for the learning and growth we gain from one another. We thank you for the unity we have in you.
We pray today for people who do not know you or who treat you with contempt. Soften their hearts so that they may know the hope of new life.
We pray for your Church and for the unity of the saints. As we are pulled down by CoVid, help us to remember that you are the God who raises us up to new life. Give us hope for the days when we will gather again as your people. As we struggle to find our way forward in a post-Christendom world, give us the flex-ability to do things not only in new ways, but to do new things. Give us the ability to draw others to you. Help us to see that we are not the church for ourselves and our own comfortable preferences, but we are the church for others.
We pray for places where CoVid is running rampant. For medical workers who are weary and overwhelmed. For essential workers, many of whom feel underappreciated and who are fearful. We pray for people who are sick, anxious and in grief.
We pray for the many places in our world where there is political unrest. We think of Belarus, Myanmar, Israel, Syria, Nicaragua. We pray for people who are seeking dignity and safety, in our own country and around the globe. We pray for countries which suffer under dictatorships. May your kingdom come.
We pray for refugees trapped in camps on borders, belonging no where. We pray for the homeless. We pray for the poor.
We pray for those with addictions.
We pray for your healing upon those who are ill, in mind or body, and those who are in grief. We particularly remember those we love…
We thank you for hearing our prayers and answering them in your wisdom, according to your will. Hear us now as we pray…
Invitation to Mission
We go into the world as individuals
but we don’t go alone.
We go in the unity of the Spirit.
We go with the power of the Spirit.
We go with the gifts of the Spirit.
We go as members of the Body of Christ.
To build one another up
and to be his presence in our world.
Benediction May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.