Welcome (Isaiah 9:2-4)
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Arise thy light is come
Call to Worship (Psalm 27: 1, 4-9)
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
Praise the Lord with the sound of trumpet
Come to us. Come to us now, for we have come to you to worship you. Come to us with grace that allows our presence before you, with mercy that forgives our sins and with love that recreates us as your beloved people.
We, O Christ, bring praises and blessings for you and you alone. We bow humbly as we come before you because you alone see us as who we truly are, sinners requiring your forgiveness. Without pride, we confess our sins to you. Be gracious to us.
O Holy Spirit, come and put the right words in our mouths when we proclaim, praise and profess your love for us to the world. May our worship be the very blessings by which we glorify you this day.
All these we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Sermon: Finding Hope in Unity
I remember the first time a group of us were slinging fire. We collected small cans, made lots of holes with nails, tied cans with thin ropes, put dried twigs we collected, insert smouldering moss at the bottom and starting to swing circularly until twigs catch fire, then, swing faster and faster until a can is full of flames and let go to see where it lands. When I was around 7 and 8 years old, we thought this was wonderful fun. We soon figured out that the faster we swung, the farther it went. Each year we did this in the middle of winter in order to burn dried grass and dried up rice straws left in rice paddies. In fact this burning of dried grass served as fertiliser for the next crop that would be planted in spring.
It was interesting to see how different can spread fire differently. Each one seemed to bring different ways of burning straws in rice paddies depending on how cans spilt twigs with flames. There was a unique pattern based on amounts and locations of straws. In a way this controlled burning was similar to what forest rangers do in order to minimize the risks of fires in the Western provinces and states. At least our fires were confined to rice paddies and they did not go out of control. Last year, one of the major wildfires in New Mexico began as prescribed burns.
I have been thinking a lot about how to create a Christian community that will give hope to this despairing world. One song I keep singing starts, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going…” I chuckle when I sing this song remembering those fires a few of us used to set and remember how quickly some fires became fierce consuming all those dried up straws. We never knew which way these little fires would go. In churches we would hear from visiting preachers how we ought to be like fires for Christ and his Gospel. They also reminded us that our faith ought to be like fires burning strong. Of course, we were reminded over and over how Moses encountered ever on fire, yet without consuming burning bush. In a way we were fired up by these sermons. Even at our young ages, my friends and I used to talk about how we should have faith like fires.
I am sure that if I have those friends gathered up and ask what we did and talked about, they would have a very different version of what took place, why we did what we did and whether we talked about having faith burning our hearts. Each one probably remembers differently and is convinced that his version is the right one. Of course there will be some details we change based on what we hear from others, but I am pretty sure on certain things, we will fight over whose version is the correct one and whose version is very different. We remember differently not only because we are different people, but also because we experienced what we did differently.
No wonder, then, people in the church in Corinth were divided. They identified more with Paul, Apollo, or Cephas. Some went beyond those three they heard from and became ones who belonged to Christ. We may think these groupings are silly. After all, as Paul was saying, they were all united in Christ. They were Christ followers. Why would they divy themselves up this way when they could have united simply as one under Christ? Were they fighting to see who was more powerful? Were they divided up based on their theological understanding? Were they fighting over something else we do not know about? After all, the church at Corinth was probably a small church.
The Roman Empire in Paul’s time was very open to trades and commerce. Corinth was a port city, busy with people coming and going. Probably the city of Corinth was very much like Niagara Falls in summer months, full of people who were from many different places of the Roman Empire. Those who were part of the church were from many different parts of the empire, too. It would not be a stretch of imagination to think that some people could understand and like Paul more than others, while others chose to rally around Apollo or Cephas. Paul was a Jew who had a very open view about non-Jews. Apollo might have been a gentile based on his name. Cephas would have been a Jew whose views were more in line with those who were in Judaism. Each one appealing more to those who were like them.
This life of the Corinthian church, in my view, parallels ours in Canada. We have people from all over the world. Our churches are having people from different parts of the world. Now PCC is made up of English, Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese, Ghanaian, French, Indigenous, Arabic Speaking, Spanish and Hungarian congregations. Even in these unilingual churches that use one particular language for worship are composed of people from all different parts of regions of their countries. Each person brings a very unique way of thinking and becomes part of a subset in their congregations. For example, an Arabic speaking congregation has people from Syria, Palestine, and many other Arabic speaking countries. A Korean congregation has people from all different regions of Korea with different history, theology and ways of being part of a congregation. No wonder Paul’s address to the divided congregation sounds so timely for us in Canada.
Divisions, whether based on race, gender, language, culture or tribal relationships are real and often very strong. It is natural to belong to a group where one is comfortable. It is also easy to see other groups as rivals who do ont understand one’s concerns. Obviously, these divisions can easily lead to very serious situations. From what Paul was hearing, the church in Corinth was under such unhealthy situations. Paul was doing his best to bring the people together in ways that the church would be exemplary in the eyes of the world. Paul’s intention was not to make the church exemplary for the sake of how the world would view Christians, but because he was convinced that these divisions would destroy the church.
As we discussed briefly, when groups are in conflict, each group does not see the harm that brings to the whole community. Such negative in-fightings usually drive out hope. Each group wishes to win, but these wishes are not the hope in Christ that we are supposed to have as Christians and the hope that leads to the flourishing of life as we are to expect when we are with God once the time comes to an end. This desire to win at all cost does not lead us to hope in the resurrection life, given through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In this section Paul asked everyone to take their focus away from their own little groups and groups’ interests. He addressed the underlying reason that Paul, Apollo and Cephas came to them in the first place. It might have been true that Paul, Apollo and Cephas had their own particular way of bringing the Gospel, but Paul painstakingly explained that the most fundamental reason the Gospel was brought by apostles was “to proclaim the gospel… so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” In other words, divisions, according to Paul, undermines the power of the cross of Christ. The very essence of Christianity would get weakened by the divisions in a church.
Paul was not arguing against differences or arguing for uniformity. Paul was insisting on unity in diversity in order that hope in Christ might be retained in its full glory as Christians await the return of Christ. Hope in Christ would get crushed in a divisive church. Worshippers of Christ would lose any sense of future and hope for a future that brings people in unity to God’s peace. Battles and arguments have a tendency to make people focus on what is happening “now” and make us forget about God’s peace that brings God’s future into the present.
Hope is not something that will come in our future. Hope in Christ is something that we wait for, yet it is also present with us due to Christ’s death and resurrection. As Christians we know God’s peace we will enjoy is our hope–though we do not know what form it will take. At the same time, we live in God’s peace that opens faithful and loving relationships with God and each other. The hope is lived out as it is waited for by us. This is the reality of what Christian life is. Therefore, Paul speaks of Christ as the very centre from where our hope of God’s peace resides.
For us to declare that we are Christian is to carry this hope of coming shalom in the world by living it ourselves each day. Unlike the world around us, this hope helps us to be united in Christ with all our differences. This unity in diversity is the manifestation of our faith and hope. As we do our best to bless, follow, glorify, honour and serve Christ, our hope of God’s shalom as the reality of faith helps us to heed Paul’s call for unity in our diversity. With all our differences and uniqueness, we come together united as one in Christ realizing that differences and uniqueness are not the things that separate us but the very things that are to be in service to reveal Christ in this world.
O loving and compassionate God, you are the creator who called us to be your people in Christ Jesus your Son our Lord. In him, by his promise, we bring our prayers. Hear our prayer as we lift up our concerns, troubles and hopes.
We pray for the world. In many parts of the world people are hurting because of wars that are not ceasing. In Yemen, Palestine, Syria and Ukraine, ordinary people are losing their loved ones to bombs, bullets, sickness and hunger. Give us hearts to pray for all those who are dying, all those in grief for their loved ones who died and all those who are waiting desperately to hear news about their loved ones. Hear their prayers, O God.
We pray for nations in turmoil. In so many countries people are displaced, persecuted, oppressed, and abused. The powerful are mercilessly exploiting the weak and the meek. These political unrests not only divided people, but also destablized innocent peoples. Many are displaced. Many are seeking a safer life elsewhere. So many are roaming in foreign lands in search of peaceful homes. Yet, they suffer. They suffer in detention camps that are in worse condition than prisons, in bureaucratic nightmares wasting away waiting for an opportunity to live life meaningfully. Hear their prayers. Help us to open our eyes and hearts to see the pain and suffering these brothers and sisters endure day to day.
We pray for our city. Many are lost. In despair, some turned to addictions of all kinds, some have been living homeless, some express their anger by destroying anything they can and some try all means to take their own lives. Walk with them, O God. Be present with them. Give us your love to be present with all without judgement. Fill us with courage to extend our hands in love to share hope.
We pray for those among us who are sick or recovering from their surgeries. With your presence, they struggle each day as best as they are able. Hear their prayers. Be with them every moment of every day. Give them strength to love those who love them dearly. Guard them from the power of death. Give us understanding to tend to them and to bring your love through all that we are able to do with them. Help us to walk with them in patience and gentleness.
We pray for those who are called to care for others. Doctors, nurses, teachers, government agents, police and many others. There are so many on whom we rely to have decent and healthy lives. We thank you for their dedication. May they be strengthened by our prayers as you fill them with your love as they face endless challenges. In the past few years, as COVID pandemic caused all kinds of difficulties, they served as best as they could. Continue to guard and protect them.
We lift up our own needs in silence. Hear our prayers, O Lord our God.
All these said and unsaid prayers we offer in your Son’s name. Amen.
Annual Meeting: On Sunday, January 29, following the service of worship and refreshments, we will hold our financial portion of the annual meeting. Please mark the date and time. Come and join us.
Lent Lunches: We will do our best to revive Lent Devotions and Lunches starting on Ash Wednesday, on February 22 at noon.
We ae God's people