Welcome (Isaiah 49:5-7)
And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’
Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
‘Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’
O Lord our Lord how majestic
Call to Worship (Psalm 40: 1-11)
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
you have not required.
Then I said, ‘Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.’
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever.
Call to Worship (Psalm 40: 1-11)
Praise, honour and glory are yours, O God our God! In you life flourishes as you provide sufficiently day in and day out. In you our world is blessed by your Word. In you we find Life that is the Light of this dark world.
We come humbly, not as ones who deserve to worship you, but as sinners who require your forgiveness. We come on the promise that through your Son you forgive those who repent and turn to you. Be gracious to us for the sake of your Son our Lord. Receive this worship as our faithful confession that you are our God and there is no other God in our lives.
All these, we pray in the name of your Son our Lord. Amen.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sermon: Hope in what God reveals
1st and 2nd Corinthians are letters. Paul wrote them to address some very difficult issues the church in Corinth was facing. For us today, our discussion is not centred on these issues, but Paul’s approach to this troubled congregation. By looking at what Paul is doing in today’s paragraph, we will learn a bit about a Christian way of addressing an urgent case in Corinth. It is our hope and prayer that our learning will guide us in wrestling with our adversities today.
We live in a very different world today than fifty years ago or, for that matter, the time of Paul. Today we hardly use Canada Post. When we send a card or a letter, we are very mindful that it takes a few days. Emails, on the other hand, get to their destinations almost instantaneously. We use Canada Post for things that are not time sensitive. If we think Canada Post is slow, think of those who were sending things in Paul’s time. Back then, things were delivered when the messenger arrived. Paul sent the first letter to Corinth from Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8) with Timothy. For Timothy to walk from Ephesus to Corinth (just over 570 Km–slightly less distance to Ottawa from Niagara Falls) it would have taken probably up to two weeks of nonstop walking.
Let’s think for a moment about the sequence of events. Something drastic was happening in the church in Corinth. The news filters from the church in Corinth to Paul taking its own sweet time. We really do not know how long it took for the news to get to Paul because he does not tell us. Then he ponders about what to do and eventually writes a letter addressing the issue at hand. Whether Timothy was already planning to go to Corinth or he had to be summoned and told to be ready, we do not know. Eventually Timothy takes the letter and goes to Corinth. We also do not have an idea whether Timothy had other chores to do on the way or went directly as quickly as he could.
The church at Corinth was divided into many factions. Some claimed to belong to Paul, others to Apollo, and so on. It was unlikely that they were waiting for Paul to sort things out for them, especially if they did not belong to Paul as they claimed. These divisions among people might have been very severe for Paul to intervene. If the problem was of a little significance, Paul would not have chosen to write a letter and send it via Timothy. In the meantime in the Corinthian church, everyday life went on. The division was probably getting worse as each faction tried to dominate others.
The letter seems to start with Paul’s standard greeting. In the first sentence, however, he already makes an interesting choice for Corinthian Christians to take a look. He includes “brother Sosthenes.” We can easily assume this mention of Sosthenes as nothing more than Paul simply indicating that Sosthenes was a co-writer of this letter. For that matter, no one would have cared if this name was left out of the letter. Paul chose to include this person and emphasized he is a Christian by calling him brother. Already Paul is making room for someone else as his co-worker. By this the impression one gets is that Paul is one of many apostles and by inference Sosthenes is also a Christian who works with Paul.
Obviously when Paul mentions Sosthenes by name, we can assume that Corinthian Christains would have known who he was and how he was connected to Paul. It appears that Paul is counting on the recognition factor. However central or marginal Sosthenes is known to the people in Corinthian church, they knew him and he knew them. Paul seems to lay out the point that he and Sosthenes were working together for Christ. Instead of minimizing or ignoring this lesser known person, whom we would never hear about again, Paul puts his name at the very beginning for all to hear and connect with as a brother.
In a way mentioning Sosthenes’ name is not as unusual as we might think. In public speeches and other forms of acknowledgement, we mention our spouses, family members or others for helping us to do work that was necessary. We mention the hidden contributions from these often hidden people. Without their willingness to help, most of our work would not have been done. This is why there is the saying, “behind every great man/woman, there is a greater woman/man.” This is the reality of our world. Without cooperation and those who work willingly behind the scenes, not much can be done.
Christ’s ministry is no different. A long time ago, congregation members came to see that a minister alone could not make the church grow and flourish, no matter how wonderful and excellent that minister could be. There were always those who were willing to work so hard with their minister and do all kinds of work quietly and without fuss. In the reality of church life, everyone’s hand is in getting something done. So many people contribute to what we are as a church. This is why the old saying applies to all human life. You know the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
It is quite disheartening to hear how the church in Corinth was divided. As Paul begins to show a way to unity in Christ by including Sosthenes as his partner in serving Christ, he begins to lay out a way of hope for this very fractured congregation. The reality of being so severely divided as a church is that the entire congregation gets involved in infightings. They are so focused on winning these fights and justifying their own actions, they do not even realize that they are acting out their desperation in despair. The intensity of these struggles show how little hope there is for serving Christ instead of serving their needs to win.
We are seeing something similar in Ukraine. Apart from who was right or wrong, who was the bad one instigating the war, who is winning or losing, who has right to defend or to invade, what we are witnessing at the moment is the hopelessness pervading everyone. It is plainly seen in soldiers’ faces. None of them want to be in the business of killing no matter how justified. They want to be with their loved ones at home in peace. They are mired in frontline battles, feeling trapped and desperate. This is why wars take so many people away. The exhilaration of winning battles is followed by the despair of an individual's brokenness. Even those who are on the winning side are traumatized. Our veterans carry the scars of these devastating battles where hope was nowhere to be found, while they suffer in destroying others.
Paul is doing his very best to steer the people of Corinthian church away from these spirit killing divisions. His entire strategy depends on establishing hope–not just any hope, but hope in Christ. Without putting their hope in Christ, they cannot survive as a church. They may succeed as a human organization, but not as a church. This is no different for us. Our divisions, currently very deep due to theological disagreements within The Presbyterian Church in Canada, veil our eyes from hope. Without our hope in Christ, we are nothing more than a human organization fighting for its own survival like all others.
Paul points out to Corinthians that they are already Christians who are waiting for the revealing of Jesus Christ. All their spiritual gifts are for this purpose. In them Jesus Christ is revealed to us and to the world. Yet, if we lose this goal because of the divisions among ourselves, then, we end up warring against one another. The church becomes a place of destruction, rather than a place of building up. Hope is lost. Hope of revealing Christ is lost. With all the gifts God has given, we become unable to reveal our Lord Jesus Christ to one another and to the world. This is what Paul is beginning to say before he addresses the actual division in the church at Corinth.
I remember visiting a Presbyterian church in another country. I was told by the hosts that they set a theme for all Presbyterians in their country to celebrate that year. They did not simply want to celebrate Christ, but they wanted everyone in their country to know that Christ was their only hope. They worked with cities and municipalities to get permits to parade with banners that had the “Christ our only hope” theme. All Presbyterian churches in the country were united under this theme. Each region set up special worship services and invited Presbyterians from everywhere including other countries. They welcomed each other, feasted on those special days, prayed for each other days and nights, and always began and ended with rousing worship services.
In these regional gatherings, everyone was welcomed, was able to share and became one voice and mind. This unity under Christ was something to behold throughout the year. Divisions of all kinds were set aside in favour of celebrating what it means to be Christian as Presbyterians. Peace, faith and love everyone participated in gave all hope. We need to remember that this country was very poor. People everywhere were struggling. Food prices soared. Yet, when Christians gathered to celebrate, everyone was fed, was welcomed and left these gatherings in hope.
This, I think, is what Paul was envisioning in the revealing of Jesus Christ. Hope, yes, not just any hope, but true hope in Christ is revealed in these types of unity in Christ as all divisions are put away and humanity unites to celebrate peace, faith and love. This hope does not solve all our problems, but it certainly fills us with expectations of life that is full and meaningful. In a way, we are creating this unity under Christ in our worship services. All the divisions and differences are set aside so that Jesus Christ who is our peace–shalom is revealed to us and to our neighbours near and far.
Who knows how bad things got in the Corinthian church by the time Timothy brought Paul’s letter. Yet, Paul was not discouraged. He knew that if everyone was able to understand the gifts each of them bring to the church and through these gifts everyone reveals Jesus Christ to each other and to their neighbours, the divisions will be secondary to being followers of Christ. Paul is full of hope as he encourages Christians at Corinth to share in this hope of anticipating shalom/peace in Christ because in revealing Jesus Christ to each other and to neighbours by pointing to spiritual gifts each of them bring. We, too, can hear Paul’s message and overcome our divisions and differences as Jesus Christ is revealed to each of us by others and we reveal Jesus Christ to our world as the only hope.
You are our God who created the world with your Word. You continue to create the world by your Word who became flesh among us. In response to Your Word who dwells among us, we bring our words. Yet, our words are small, self-absorbed, self-centred and selfish. We concern ourselves only with our needs as we search for your vindication of our words. Forgive our narrow selfish minds, O God. Open our hearts to be part of your Word rather than those who advocate their own words.
We pray to you O Redeemer. In your gracious love, you emptied yourself to be with us in obedience to the very God who brought the world into being. Your life for our lives in redemption bring us here to pray in your name. Make us yours wholly. Help us to share your love by laying down our lives for others Through our participation in your love, reach those who are lost, in struggles, poor, sick and in despair. May you continue to bring unto yourself the ones who are losing hope each day.
O Holy Spirit, be present with us. Sanctify us through your very presence in ways that our worship will be acceptable to God who is worthy. Shape our words in prayers to be acceptable to God’s ears. Form our thoughts in ways that they align with God’s Word given through Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill us in ways that our spirits shine your image in this world. May our worship and work always point this world to you and glorify the very God who is our Lord and Saviour.
Hear our prayer as we offer our concerns.
For the sick in our midst–because some of them are still in hospitals and some are recovering at home, we pray that you will strengthen their bodies and minds. Give them understanding to see how you are present in their lives each moment.
For the poor among us–because they still are unable to free themselves from the burdens of this world no matter how hard they try, we pray that you will bestow upon them wisdom. May your wisdom guide and protect them. Lead them to find your way in their difficult lives.
For the weak and the meek with us–because they are humble in their hearts, we pray that your strength be their strength. Help them with strength to withstand the forces of this world and bring about your will through their gentle and sustained efforts.
For those who are struggling–because addictions and despair have ensnared them over and over as they try their hardest to re-establish their lives, we ask you to stand by them. We also ask you to give us abilities to stand with, walk with and alway love them.
All these and more we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
O dearest Lord,
We thank you for your grace and mercy. Your guidance and provision have brought us thus far. In gratitude, we bring offerings. We also bring ourselves signifying all that we have done in these past seven days as our offering to you. Receive them. Receive also our commitment to participate in your work through these coming days. Continue to guide and provide us to carry out your ministry in this part of your vineyard. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Annual Meeting: Sunday, January 29, following the service of worship. Financial statements for 2022 and a proposed budget for 2023 are available. They were sent out on Friday. If you desire a printed copy, please let us know.
Lent Services: We will be starting our Wednesday Lent Lunches on Ash Wednesday, February 22, at noon. We are inviting you and Christians in Niagara Falls to come and join us for lunch and devotion.
Birthday Celebration: We are continuing with birthday celebrations on the first Sunday of each month during fellowship time for those whose birthdays are in that particular month. On Sunday, February 5, we will celebrate birthdays for everyone who has her birthday in February. Please come. Also tell those who have birthdays in February to come and be part of this celebration.
Hot and Spicy Group: Hot and Spicy Group is meeting on Friday, January 21.
How Great Thou Art