STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH October 4, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Call to Worship: Ephesians 1: 2 0 – 23
All this energy issues from Christ:
God raised him from death and set him for eternity on a throne in deep heaven,
in charge of running the entire universe,
no name and no power exempt from his rule.
At the center of all this, Christ rules the church.
The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts,
by which he fills everything with his presence.
Music: We are God’s People
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Lord God our only King and Head,
You are above all and in all and through all.
In you we live and move and have our being.
Be exalted Lord, above the heavens,
Let your glory be over all the earth.
You are the sovereign of all people. Lord over every nation.
God of Grace,
As your human creation have broken your heart
You ask us to seek justice, healed the wounded,
Fed the hungry or given water to the weak.
You want us to bless others as we’ve been blessed,
You lay down your life so we can have life
You rose from the grave so we can lift you up.
We grieve that the Church which shares one Spirit,
one faith, one hope, and one calling,
has become a broken communion in a broken world.
The one body spans
all time, place, race, and language,
but in our pride
we have fled from and fought one another,
and in our fear
we have hidden our light.
We have not embodied your grace,
In our pettiness
We have squabbled with one another over extraneous things.
In our self-righteousness
We have shut out your Spirit and are empty vessels – beautiful in appearance but dry and unmoved within.
Yet we marvel that you gather the fragmented bits and pieces of your body to do your work.
You bless us with joy,
and with signs of unity.
Forgive our sins as we commit ourselves
to seeking and showing
the unity of the body of Christ.
In his name, Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: 1 Corinthians 1: 2 & 3
I send this letter to you in God’s church,
believers washed by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life.
I include in my greeting all who call out to Jesus, wherever they live.
He’s their Master as well as ours!
May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father, and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours.
Prayer for Illumination: Lord Jesus, ruler of the church. In hearing your word today, give us a vision of your eternal church, across all time and space, now and forever, so that we may live as your chosen people and build one another up in love.
Ephesians 4: 1 – 16
Matthew 6: 5 – 18
9 “Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” NRSV
With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” The Message
Message: In it together
Here we are on World Communion Sunday and the table is bare. The bread and wine, the symbols of the foundation of our faith – the death of Jesus Christ – are nowhere to be seen. The sacrament through which the Holy Spirit blesses us again with grace, cannot be celebrated. This year, we will not gather around the Lord’s Supper to remember our Saviour or renew our unity with Christians throughout the world. This year of self-isolation touches every part of our lives, including this day. But what kind of World Communion Sunday is this?! It appears Christians must content ourselves with, “you in your small corner”, 6 feet apart and wrapped in a mask, “and I in mine”. We can’t have communion without communion.
Or can we? The word “communion” comes from the Latin “communio” which means “sharing in common”. Clearly when Christians around the world gather to drink from a common cup and divide the one loaf of bread, we share something of immense value with one another – the re-enactment of Jesus’ last supper. Through this action, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, we remember Jesus’ suffering, God’s grace, our common human sin, and our redemption. We remember that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. We recall that, together with all other Christians, we are “The Church”; that is, the living, walking resurrected “body” of Jesus Christ in our world. No one can be the Church alone. Each of us, on our own is only one small part of the body – a hand, a mouth, a liver. We all do our part so that the whole body can function. And each congregation or denomination on our own is less than we are meant to be. We are a part of the eternal, ever-present Church but we are not the whole. There’s the joke about the man who is being given a tour of heaven and he meets Christians of every age, race and denomination. Then he comes to a large wall and asks, “what’s the wall for?” And his tour guide says, “Shh, that’s the Presbyterians, they think they’re the only ones here.” Nope, we are only one small sliver of something much greater. We cannot be Christians in isolation – we are a unity and only as we’re together are we whole.
Coming back to the word “communion”, if Communion is about sharing in common, what are the things, along with the Lord’s Supper, that Christians “share in common”. What are the other ways that we are bonded with Christians across the room and across the globe?
First and foremost, we are bonded by our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And even beyond our faith, we are bonded by the Holy Spirit in whom we have a mystical union. We are like a variety of vegetables, thrown into the Living Water of Christ and held in the stock pot of the Holy Spirit. We are brought together so God can produce something greater than the sum of it’s parts. It’s amazing to think that no matter what doctrine we ascribe to, every true Christian throughout the world believes that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, that he lived, died and rose from the grave and through that process he offers a way of salvation to all of humanity. You may call yourself a Christian or even belong to a group that gathers for spiritual encouragement, but it is Christ that makes us Christian. Only as we bind ourselves to Christ can we claim the label “Christian”. And what is amazing is that what began as one woman’s encounter with the risen Jesus in Gethsemane has grown to include 3.3 billion people or 1/3 of the world’s population. Even global corona virus numbers look small in comparison to that. At the same time look how much of our attention and excitement in given to CoVid over the honour and joy of being part of the body of Christ. Although the number of Christians in Canada is dropping all the time, we are not alone. Billions of people stand with us to declare, “Jesus is Lord!”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave the Church what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Our Father”. In teaching us to pray, Jesus gave us something else we share in common. (I’m not going to do a detailed lesson on The Lord’s Prayer today, however, I have a sermon from a few years ago that I would gladly send to anyone who wants to read it). Every Sunday or whenever people worship, that prayer is uttered on the lips of billions of Christians. It’s a sad statement though that even in a prayer that is meant to unite us, Christians have found ways to create disunity. Some say “trespasses”, we say “debts”, still others say “sins”. In part, this is because Matthew and Luke used different Greek words to try to convey what Jesus meant (Jesus spoke Aramaic – a common Syrian dialect used in the Middle East at the time). There is theological meaning behind each of those words. Trespasses refer to the active ways in which we’ve transgressed. Debts cover not only what we’ve done, but what we’ve failed to do. Sin is a catchall word for our offenses of God and others. What’s sad is that the use of the first two words is based in theological pride. Even perhaps a desire to out do one another in repentance. Perhaps the simple word “sin” is one that draws us together. Another word, which Matthew used might also be ‘guilt” – “forgive us our guilt as we forgive those who are guilty.” While words are important and right theology is important, what’s more important here is that we say the prayer from our own hearts and now and then it’s encouraging to know that many other Christians are doing the same thing. Billions of prayers are spoken to God each week, asking for forgiveness, praying for unity, and pleading for the coming of God’s kingdom on Earth. As we pray, so we become.
Christians are also united in our worship of God. Week after week, billions of Christians gather in sub-groups to honour the God of our ancestors, the God of grace, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. We lift our hearts, hands and voices to show our love for God. We listen for a message based on our holy scriptures, in the hope of hearing a word from God and in the hope that through our intellect the Holy Spirit will cause us to repent, grow and change. As Paul says, part of our goal as Christians is to “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 13). To grow out of our childish ways. Normally, we sing. Hymns are songs that tell the stories of our faith, offer our gift of worship, move us from our heads to our hearts. Through our music we lift up God. The image I have is like a crowd lifting the hero of the day on their shoulders, like people at a Jewish wedding lifting the bride and groom to single them out and celebrate them as the special couple of the day, like a group of peasants who hear the king they love is coming towards town, so they rush out to hold up his litter for everyone to see him. This is why it’s hard to be a Christian in isolation. None of us is spiritually strong enough on our own to elevate our God as he deserves to be exalted.
Christians are united in our service. To be like Christ is to serve. It is to take off our cloak and to pick up a basin and to bend down before the feet of others. It is to remove our pride and lower ourselves without looking for praise or approval. It’s to make ourselves vulnerable by putting aside the things that hide and protect us to tend to the needs of others. When I first arrived at St. Stephen’s a reporter came by to affirm her theses that all main line churches are dying. She remarked on how surprised she was to discover how much volunteer work in the community was done by Christians and she wondered what would happen when those people were gone. Throughout the world, Christians serve others with quiet, private acts of love. The Church is also a place where the gifts of people are fostered and used. We all have gifts – not all of you are livers, some of you are spleens or lungs or gall bladders. Each of us has the ability to do something that is unique to ourselves. My gifts lie in the use of words but also in kindness, in patience and listening, in visioning and encouraging. They do not lie in administration or numbers or crafting or hospitality. I can do those things – if I must, but I value those who have those gifts. As we come together to serve, the church is drawn into a unified whole. And Christians serve one another through the support we offer each other. As we do so we build up the Body.
I could go on to talk about our bond through scripture, our common goal of inviting and welcoming people to a relationship with Jesus, our shared moral values which grow more different from our culture every day, our laughter and joy which are signs of the Holy Spirit among us, the sense of oneness when we meet another Christian whether they live next door or half way around the world and many other things. But I only have so much time left, and I need to mention that in many ways unity is a fragile reality for the Church. We are like a balloon floating towards heaven that is easily popped. And we can be our own worst enemy. Our faith, our unity, our prayer, our service, our worship flips completely from pleasing God to being shameful by the ways we treat one another. A lack of grace, a lack of love, a lack of kindness, patience, or self-control can turn a joy-filled encounter into a spiritual wound which causes hurt and estrangement. As a minister, I exercise patience, self-control and humility every day. I practice discernment thinking through the best response to people, whether to protect them or challenge them to growth. There are times when that need for self-discipline creates inner turmoil and many times when I have to catch myself to keep from lashing back, particularly if I’m tired or overwhelmed. And since, I’m human there are more than enough times when I say things for which I need to confess and apologize and then repent – act differently. I work at healing relationships and building understanding and harmony. I say that not to brag about my saintliness (you know me too well for that) but to encourage you. If I can push myself to do better maybe you can too. What is terribly sad is that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and we think service in weaving the basket. Christians have taken the towel meant for service and reduced the gospel to arguing about which drawer the towels belong. To bring about the true unity and communion of the Church, we are called to mature. It’s time. Time we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4: 15 & 16). For while we’re distracted from being the Church, our brothers and sisters around the world suffer persecution and lay down their lives. In the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, let us lead lives worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” Ephesians 4: 1 – 6). When we do that, we’ll know what communion truly is. We will be one in the Spirit.
Offertory: Holy God, we are your people. Together we are your church. We offer ourselves to you. We offer our congregation to you. Help us to build up one another in loving ways. Help us to pray for and support our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Fill us with joy in doing your work, until that day when we are gathered together with all the saints around your throne. Amen.
Music: We are the Church
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession:
Creator God, we give you thanks for calling us as stewards. Open our eyes to the intricacies of creation. Help us feel the textures of the world. Breathe into us the sweet aromas of life, that we may taste the fruits of your promise even now;
Even now, O God, even in Africa.
Africa. Where your church grows rapidly. Where faith is exuberant. Where a bright mosaic of culture shows the world the vibrancy of your love.
But where there is also pain, and famine, and thirst. Where violent unrest and ethnic strife fill so many lives and resist the unity our Savior brings.
Help us to stand with those who suffer, respond when we are called, give in appropriate ways so that wells will not run dry, creeping deserts may be slowed, and the chains of despair may be removed. Help us to bring the gospel, that your realm may be realized, even now;
Even now, O God, even in Asia.
Asia. So vast, so deeply rooted in proud tradition. Where secular and religious doctrines abound but your church is small; where poverty is widespread, people are oppressed, the Earth is abused.
God of wisdom, teach us love and respect for those whose world view is different from outs. Humble us enough that we may learn from the values of others. Help us and the Christians who live in these ancient lands to witness meaningfully to the saving power of your Son.
Make us sensitive to the physical, political and spiritual needs of people. Give us respect for the people and cultures that differ from ours. Guide us in responsible stewardship, that your reign may extend throughout the world, even now;
Even now, O God, even in the Middle East.
The Middle East. The birthplace of our Lord; the cradle of the Church, the land we call holy. Where the pain of the cross is so poignant and the suffering of people so pervasive; where the dry earth is watered by the tears of its children.
Show us again that we cannot feed the hungry are not fed with threats. Transformation doesn’t come through religious intolerance. Your future kingdom can not be built on sands of hate.
Lift us above strife, that the captives might be freed, that the frightened might be comforted, that peace may reign and there may be room for everyone. Lift us, loving God, as you lifted the stone from your Son’s tomb. Make us joyous witnesses of his victory over death. Show us your grace, even now;
Even now, O God, even in Europe.
Europe and its magnificent Christian heritage. Where art, music, and architecture inspire generation upon generation with the beauty and the majesty of your gospel message.
Where people have fallen away from faith in you. Where dramatic change is influencing the values and stability of many countries. Where people face an uncertain future.
God of grace, revive your Church. Help us to share our faith so people can once again find the fullness of life in Christ. Help us to believe and trust in your eternal promise. Point us toward the pathway of peace. Answer Jesus’ prayer that all may be one in him, even now;
Even now, O God, even in Latin America.
Latin America. Where your church struggles valiantly for the weak and the poor. Where martyrs are made. In Latin America, where the rich bounties of creation, so misused by residents and outsiders, alike. In Latin America, where greed has tarnished your name and soiled the gospel.
Your servants in Latin America have taught us by example. Kindle within our hearts our own integrity of faith. Inspire within us a new sense what it is to be your church.
Give us such commitment so that your peace and justice will be revealed and lead to freedom for all, not in some distant time and place, but also right now, right here;
Here, O God, in North America, even here.
North America. Where so much affluence flourishes along side poverty. North America, where life is trivialized and your gospel exploited. Where Christians proclaim what we do not follow and many have no use for Jesus or his Church. Where people never have “enough”, yet we have so much to give. Make us bold in your Spirit, and humble in our work. Help us share your grace in Word and deed. Help us assume the servant’s role as Jesus did. Help us share our blessings as the Samaritan did. Help us to remove our sandals, hiking boots, sneakers and designer shoes to walk in the footsteps of bare and calloused feet.
Here, O God, and throughout all the earth, may we trust in your abiding providence. May we pledge ourselves to a deepened commitment to Christ. May we lift you up above all else and praise your holy name. May your Church always pray together saying…
The Lord’s Prayer
Invitation to Mission:
We go from here,
to be the body of Christ in our world
A witness to his death and resurrection
A witness to his grace and love.