- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JULY 18, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Call to Worship 1 Peter 2: 4 & 5
Come to Christ,
a living stone,
though rejected by mortals
yet chosen and precious sight, in God’s sight
and like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,
to be a holy priesthood,
to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn: In Christ there is No East or West
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Holy Triune God, you are a community within one entity. You are also love and will love for all eternity. These truths are so awesome, they are difficult for us to understand.
We praise you.
Creator God, one of your first acts of creation was to make a human body, in all it’s balance and perfection. We treat our bodies with disdain and abuse them.
Lord Jesus, you came into our world taking a human body and revealing God to us. We took your precious body and broke it.
Spirit of Holiness, you form us into the body of Christ. This interdependency is hard for us to sustain. We want to break away, or take your place as the head. We fail to love one another in a bond of unity. We fail to reveal you to the world. We fail to grow into your image.
As we gather today for worship, we do not gather as individuals in front of a computer screen, but as your Body. We are grateful for every part. We are grateful for the whole.
May our worship today be pleasing to you and may we honour you with our unity, our community and our love, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Ephesians 4: 32
Be kind to one another,
forgiving one another
as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord Jesus, may your word enlighten our minds, guide our actions and fill our hearts, so that together we may be your body, bringing hope to a world in need. Amen.
Ephesians 4: 1 – 7 & 11 – 16
Acts 6: 1 – 7
Mark 6: 7 – 13
Message: Being the Church: Participating
Those of us who are older than the dinosaurs remember singing the children’s hymn that goes:
Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light,
like a little candle burning in the night
He looks down from heaven to see us shine,
you in your small corner and I in mine.
I recall talking to a colleague and mentioning I thought those words were lovely. I was thinking of the “pure, clear light”. His immediate response was, “Are you kidding me?! You in your small corner and I in mine!!” I had to concede that the withdrawn, passive individualism described in the hymn is not what Jesus hopes to see when he looks down from heaven.
During the last year and a half, though, we’ve been just that. Little candles, shining our flickering flames all by ourselves – “You in your small corner and I in mine”. By now, even the most introverted among us want out of our small corners and back into relationships. Of our many relationships, the bond we share with other Christians, and particularly with those in our local congregation, is central. We’re missing each other. And so we should. Not only because God created people to be social beings, but more importantly because we are the Body of Christ. A body is a single entity. Although CoVid demanded that we keep apart for the well-being of everyone, it also dis-membered us. The pieces of the Body which we each represent have been pulled apart and put away – at least physically. I hope and believe the spiritual unity of the Body of Christ is indestructible. I’m looking forward to when the magnetic pull of the Spirit brings us, physically, back together.
The body of Christ is a single organism, which mirrors the nature of God. Tim Keller notes, “God is a community of persons who have loved each other for all eternity.” The Triune God is perfect unity – three persons bound together into an absolute entity. The Triune God is perfect community. Each member of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are individuals with distinct and complementary roles. Author of Life, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Creator, Messiah, Comforter. Source, Living Water, Breath of Life. Each member of the Trinity is unique and whole on their own. And each is needed to complete the totality of God. The Triune God is perfect love. Father, Son and Holy Spirit have loved one another since before time began and will go on loving each other without end.
The Church, then, is to be united. Like the Triune God, we’re not made for uniformity, but for unity. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield writes, “There is no such thing as an independent Christian”. In Canada 55% of the population claims to be Christian, while only 13% actively participate in the church. Those in the first group think of themselves as “independents”. A finger disconnected from the body withers and dies. A Christian is made and called to be an active part of Christ’s body. We can’t be indifferent to or hate the Church without being indifferent to or hating Christ. We are one in the same. Apart from his body, we die. In Ephesians, Paul reminds the church that just as God is one, we are one. He writes, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4: 4 – 6). That’s a lot of oneness. Unlike God, oneness doesn’t come easily to people. Our sinful natures get in the way. We don’t always reflect or glorify God. Like any body, we are constantly growing and changing, hopefully for the better.
Paul begs the Ephesian church to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (vs. 1). That calling is to be the revelation of God on Earth until Christ returns. We are Christ’s hands, feet and voice in this world. To do fulfill our calling, we need to be unified. All the parts of the body need to work in harmony. Apart from the general plea to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vs. 3), Paul suggests the Ephesians grow in their humility, gentleness, and patience. We are to “bear with one another in love” (vs. 2). The word “bear” makes it sound like we’re to put up with one another. And at times, we feel that’s the best we can do. Not only are we expecting too little of ourselves, we create an undercurrent of tension not unity. The Message uses the word “discipline”. The difference between a unified body and one that “puts up” with the other parts is commitment and practice. Unified congregations choose to be patient with one another and practice kindness because they’re devoted to Christ and therefore, to one another. As with any form of exercise, this isn’t a “one and done” process. Without persistent effort, our muscles go to mush. In the same way, one attempt to be accepting, will not produce the desired result – no pain, no gain. This is where humility comes in. None of us is better than the person who irks us. The fact that they irk you is a sign of that. You too likely have faults and flaws others find annoying. Perhaps someone’s instinct is to avoid you. Differences between each other can be dealt with maturely. This is a surprise to many people. First, check out what you are perceiving. You may find the person you thought was angry at you is going through a tough time that has nothing to do with you. If there has been a problem, sit down and talk it out. Mend the fences. Or if you simply disagree on something, agree to disagree. Opinions will differ. Let your ideas be known in a constructive way and then carry on. Is there a divide that seems unbridgeable? Rifts are Christ’s specialty; if Jesus can bridge the gap between humanity and God, he can heal our rifts as well. Rifts are often a result of needless pride. Pray. Ask for the Spirit’s help. Learn to let go. Act lovingly towards one another and love will start to flow. The person with whom you “put up” is a gift. They are the one who will help you become like Christ, if you regularly move towards them in love.
The word “bear” also has the sense of carrying one another. The Message encourages us to “steadily pour yourselves out for each other in acts of love” (vs. 5). Unity is not brought about by omission but by commission. It is not enough to put up with others and walk away or avoid them. We need to actively love one another. Love is evident in what we do. So, that person you want to steer clear of or shun, is the very person you are being called to move towards. Talk with them. What burden do they carry? How might you share the weight of it? What brings them joy? What small act of kindness might you do for them? Changing our attitudes and behaviours opens the way to new friendships. Opening our hearts in love will strengthen the unity of the Body. Those undercurrents of tension will disappear, people will be happier, the congregation will be more appealing to newcomers, and we will accomplish more because there is a positive Spirit between us.
The Church is to be a community. Jesus knew the value of community. One of his first actions was to choose disciples. Jesus wasn’t a maverick, or a one man show. He couldn’t do it alone. He knew that he needed to prepare his disciples to share in his work. The more people participated, the more he could accomplish. We are in this together. While each member needs the others to survive spiritually, the body as a whole needs each member. In the church, when one person stops contributing, it endangers the whole body. Everyone of us is important and needed, so the stronger and healthier each member is, the stronger and healthier the whole body will be. The more active each part is, the healthier the whole body will be. Paul frequently spoke of the many and various gifts the Spirit gives to each person. He emphasized that all gifts were unique, all were necessary and all were special. A heart cannot do the job of the liver. Rick Warren writes, “Only you can be you.”
God always has something for you to contribute. As life goes on, what that is may change. We may not be as active as we’d like to be or once were, but showing up is participating, praying is contributing, listening is giving. There is always something you can do. Sometimes, we’re unable to function. We may be recovering from surgery, depressed or needing to be present elsewhere. For a time, the body compensates. We cover for each other. My eyesight isn’t as good as it was, sometimes my hands shake. It’s amazing I don’t find fingers in my vegetables. These days, Terry does a lot of chopping. Mrs. McNeill had extremely low vision. Mr. McNeill had become deaf. They each supported the other and got by just fine. That’s one of the values of community. In such expressions of love, we’re able to be a blessing to one another. But when an organ is missing or not functioning fully, the body starts to decline. Whenever some leaves the church, whether by choice or by death, the body goes through a time of adjustment. Too many losses, and the congregation becomes to frail and weak to continue. And when a vital organ is sick, it endangers the whole system. If it’s not addressed, it will kill the entire organism. When an extremely dysfunctional person comes into a congregation, they create problems. Drama ensues. Arguments erupt. Accusations are made. Usually, the source of the problem is the one who claims to be a victim and others pay the price for the chaos they’ve created. Divisions occur, people line up and eventually, there’s a split in the congregation. However, a healthy body is able to fight off a virus or keep it contained. The organism as a whole works to protect itself. Together, the community needs to create boundaries to limit that which could be destructive.
If one part of the body over-functions, we end up distorted. I’m righthanded and the longer I’m righthanded, the less useful my left hand becomes. Sometimes people get anxious when there’s a task that needs doing, so they jump in to fill the void. That’s great unless they’re the person filling every void. Then the rescuing person leaves no room for others. New people feel like they’re stepping on toes if they want to participate. Others leave or grow lazy. Then the over-functioning person becomes bitter because they “have to do it all”. Or they become the glue that holds it together and the body can’t function if they leave. The apostles knew their limits. As the early church grew, tasks began to fall through the cracks. People got onery. The community became an unhappy place, and no one wants to go to an unhappy church. The apostles didn’t take on more. They discerned what was their first calling and decided to put their time into preaching and teaching. They also knew other aspects of ministry were equally important. They found people with the gifts needed to serve the poor, make meals and wait on tables. The church was harmonious once again and continued to grow. Whenever we take on a task, we should be sure it fits our gifts. We need to give ourselves fully to the work we commit to do – as if we were doing it for Christ himself. We need to discern what is our task and what is not. If something is not your task, keep your nose out of it. Let other people do what they need to do to the best of their ability. If they ask for help be humble, be helpful. If a task goes undone, you have the choice to freely and cheerfully volunteer to finish what is needed, or to let it go. Sometimes a person nominates themselves to be the head of the church and run everything. They become rule bound, rude and bossy. They feel important. They forget that we are to think of others as better than ourselves. Congregations need servant leaders. Servants don’t insist on having their own way. Ministers often make suggestions that get outvoted or ignored. It can be frustrating. The word minister means “to act on the authority of another”. Minister’s act on God’s authority. We seek to serve. So we do what we can, be supportive and give guidance. We encourage other’s to use their gifts and do the same. Every body has a head that runs the show. The head of the Body of Christ is Christ. Without him we die. For another person to run things, they’d need to decapitate the body and transplant themself into Christ’s place. Let Jesus direct us and we will be and do all that God imagines for us.
Finally, like God the church needs to love one another. Jesus put this out as the first sign that identifies us as his followers. The church has two purposes. One is to help one another mature into the image of Christ. The other is to offer the salvation found in Jesus to the world. Love is what attracts others to us. Augustine said, “I would not have believed the Gospels, unless moved by the Church.” How many people would say that today? The Triune God lives in a perfect expression of love. We do not. Bonhoeffer reminds us, “The temple of God is the Holy People”. God lives among his people when we worship him and love one another. John tells us, “Those who say “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars” (1 John 4: 20). The two are inseparable. One comes with the other and to reject one is to reject the other. As we love one another so we express our love for Christ. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is alive within us, working with us, to help us be loving people.
In 1889, a man proposed an edifice for the World’s Fair in France. He claimed it would be an outstanding work of art and people would forever come from around the world just to see it. When the sketches were revealed, the popular consensus was that it was an ugly waste of money. That man was Gustave Eiffel and the tower named after him in Paris has proved to be everything he promised. On the day of Pentecost, God built the body of Christ. To many it is imperfect, even an ugly waste of time and money. But God knows what he’s doing and that body will become a thing of beauty that reflects the unity, community and love of God. It will bring glory to it’s architect and people will be forever drawn to our light.
Silent Prayer and Reflection
Lord, you have given your body, broken for us and for our salvation. We give you all we are and present our bodies to you as living sacrifices. May all the gifts we bring be holy and acceptable in your sight. Amen.
Hymn: A New Commandment
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Lord God, we thank you that you have honoured each one of us by including us in the body of Christ. We thank you for the Church throughout the world and for our congregation. We thank you for the unity, community and love which bind us. We thank you for our head, Jesus Christ, without whom we would be a completely unhealthy mess.
We pray that you would help your Church be the beautiful creation that you envision. Help us to love one another and appreciate each other for our uniqueness and gifts. Help us to be of one mind and heart and to care for one another. Make us the hands, feet and voice of Jesus. Help us to reveal you Christ to others, that they might be drawn to you for your saving grace. Do not let us be a stumbling block.
We pray for our world that needs your grace.
As we begin to open up after CoVid, help us to continue to be responsible and considerate of others. Remove our fear so we can live in freedom. Help us to remember that all life comes from you and is held in your hands.
We pray for the people of Haiti and South Africa, where rioting and looting are happening as people fight for power. We pray that countries everywhere would seek your kingdom and righteousness so that your ways would be a reality on Earth as in heaven.
We pray for those who are troubled by a lack of harmony in their homes, their relationships and within themselves.
We pray for those who are fearful of the future, financially stressed or lost.
We pray for those who see themselves as victims and are angry because the world owes them. And we pray for those who are legitimately victimized, that they may find healing, dignity and equality. We pray for those who seek power without service, who insist on their own way and who oppress others.
We pray for those who are ill, in body, mind or spirit. We pray for those who are undergoing tests or waiting for results. We pray that those who need help will receive it. We look to you as the source of all strength and health.
Hear us now and grant our prayers as we pray, in unity, in community and in love, the prayer Jesus taught his body, the church:
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn: This Little Light of Mine
Invitation to Mission
We go out to the world as ambassadors for Christ.
Offering our gifts in service to him
Building bridges with our community
And working together for his kingdom.
Benediction: May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.