Sun. July 4, 2021


Welcome and Announcements

We are incredibly thankful to God for calling us together to worship today in person. We have missed worshipping God together. It has been difficult for us not to feel and enjoy Christ’s presence because two or more could not gather together. We are so excited to see you because in your gathering Christ is present.

Please pray for those who are not able to be here today. Some are still trying to get a second dose of vaccines. Some are still cautious. Many are requiring your prayer to continue in their life. Remember that your prayer is their strength. Keep praying for Hugh and Judy, Judy and Kyle, Bob and Virginia, Wayne and Eva, Doris and many others.

Please remember to support your church as we continue to carry out Christ’s ministry. If you are concerned about Residential Schools etc. please check the church website. We have posted helpful information.

The steadfast love of the Lord (#20)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Your mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning, new every morning:
Great is your faithfulness, O Lord, great is your faithfulness.

Call to Worship:

Leader: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
All: God’s mercies never come to an end.
Leader: the mercies of God are new every morning.
All: Great is your faithfulness, O Lord!

This is the day #78
This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.
We will rejoice, we will rejoice and be glad in it, and be glad in it.
This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made.

We begin each worship service with Call to Worship. To begin this way is to declare to the world that we are being gathered by Christ. Those who seek Christ have this call that they have received from Christ to join in worship. This notion of being called is very quaint and outdated in our world where everyone chooses what they want to do. Yet, beginning our worship with “Call to Worship” is our way of saying that in faith we are called to participate in this wonderful spiritual feast of life God has put on in our midst. Worship after all is an event that is set aside from all other human activities to enjoy God as we come in the presence of God’s glory.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the Lord.
Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands
to God in heaven.

Lamentations 3: 22-26, 40, 41

Prayer

Lord, have mercy.
We have been away too long from your house, O God. In this pandemic we were unable in gathering to worship you. Yet, we have not forgotten you. We worshipped you every Sunday together through sharing of the liturgy of worship until now in this pandemic lockdown time staying apart from each other at a distance. In our weakness and fear, we prayed and stayed away from each other.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

Though we were isolated and distanced, you have been with us, O Christ. It was our hope in you that kept us together. You did not forget us. You reminded us each Sunday how your love was sufficient for us. Now we are present together as one in you.
Christ, have mercy upon us.

Now you gather us as one in body. Help us to overcome the distance that still separates us. Guide us to become one body in your Son our Lord all over again. In your Spirit strengthen our faith to stand together to minister and share in your Love.
Lord, have mercy. Amen.

The steadfast love of the Lord (#20)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Your mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning, new every morning:
Great is your faithfulness, O Lord, great is your faithfulness.

Calling or vocation was once known as what one’s life was all about. God called us to be a faithful servant as a doctor, nurse, teacher, mechanic, janitor, etc. Each person was to take diligent care in carrying out these tasks to which they were called. In true Christian understanding there was no terrible or bad job, but a task of service that each Christian participated in life to glorify God. During Reformation, Calvin wrote eloquently about vocation or God’s calling and how each person was to respond.

Today, the whole sense of calling or vocation as a rightful service to humanity is completely lost. Jobs are doled out in exchange for money. Those who grew up in the last 50 years think that jobs are something we do in order to live comfortably, not necessarily to serve others to one’s best ability. In this new world, speaking of being Christians as fulfilling a call is quaint and outdated at best. No one understands what it means to be called into life of service as Christians where financial or psychological compensation is not the outcome. The Christian calling does not worry over what is in it for me. It is concerned with the notion that I am doing my best to love others unconditionally.

This understanding of calling was based on how Christ was called to serve humanity by loving unconditionally. Yes, in this unconditional love, there is no concern for receiving anything in return for what I do. This is where Christians struggle the most: constantly searching and living ways to love unconditionally like Christ.

Amigos de Cristo/Friends of the Lord

Refrain:
Amigos de Cristo; we’re friends of the Lord;
amigos de Cristo; we’re friends of the Lord.
For we’ve been forgiven, and we’ve been restored;
amigos de Cristo; we’re friends of the Lord.

1.
Friends of the covenant renewed each morn;
baptized and loving it, we’ve been reborn.
Gift of the dove is ours forever more.
Amigos de Cristo; we’re friends of the Lord. (refrain)

2.
Born of a family, the young and old,
We’ll be on hand to see new life unfold.
We understand the need to be made whole.
Amigos de Cristo; we’re friends of the Lord. (refrain)

Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-5
He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD." Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

Father I adore you
Father, I adore you. Lay my life before you. How I love you.
Jesus, I adore you. Lay my life before you. How I love you.
Spirit, I adore you. Lay my life before you. How I love you.

Sermon: The purpose of being Christian in the 21st Century

In this passage it is clear to whom God is sending Ezekiel. He is being sent to the people of Israel. He is being sent by God, not because God has good news to impart to them, but because they have been a nation of rebels who have rebelled against God. It appears that this rebellion is an ongoing concern for God and the people. Not only the ancestors, but also the current generations are involved in this “impudent and stubborn” act. Here God makes a point that Ezekiel is being sent whether they will hear or refuse to hear whatever God will say to them through Ezekiel. The last sentence is very clear: they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. Yes, the purpose of sending Ezekiel is to make sure that the whole nation will have an opportunity to hear what God has to say to the people. In a way, Ezekiel will become a witness to the fact that God will have spoken to the people and told them of their wrongs. Ezekiel and the entire nation will witness to fact that God’s pronouncement against the people of Israel has been delivered. Israel will not have an excuse to say that God did not warn them. What does this do?

The question I have been pondering about is why Christians remain as Christians in today’s environment when most people in our neighbourhood are turning away from Christianity. In truth, not only are they staying away, some work actively against anyone who continues as Christians. In this hostile and difficult age, what is the purpose of being Christian? At best it does appear knowing the hostility we face, some of us have made decisions to be as anonymous and invisible as we can among our friends. So why, oh why do we answer the call to be Christians in this unwelcoming world?

I travelled through Europe and Palestine. I saw many churches standing empty. On Sundays, there were hardly anyone. These historic buildings were often open to tourists. On Sundays these historic buildings used to be filled with tourists of all kinds. Many tourists were not Christians. Many of these churches did not even have staff to provide Sunday service for tourists. Initially I used to wonder what the value of having these buildings were. At least in North America, when churches close, these properties were sold and new owners replaced them with something they could use. So was the purpose of holding on to these old historic buildings nothing more than having them as historic relics?

As I was watching the news this past weeks on catholic churches being set on fire, many people demanding apology from Pope Francis, and many struggling to argue that criminal investigations ought to be opened against those who worked at Residential Schools and officials of, then the Department of Indian Affairs, I began thinking about the role of being Christians in Canada in a totally different way. I came to the conclusion that the time for the 21st century Canadian Christians has come to take the call from God seriously and once again stand out in the world to uphold the call. Let me explain.

The main task of the disciples of Jesus soon after Jesus ascended was witnessing. They witnessed to the world the death and resurrection of Jesus. Their vocal testimonies as witnesses to the death and resurrection began the process of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. As witnesses they shared how God through Jesus’ death and resurrection made salvation available to those who did neither know nor hear of Jesus. They became bold in public spheres as they testified this news. Later Paul gave testimony of his own as the witness of the risen Christ. From the disciples and apostles, Christians learned to be witnesses to the gospel and to the world. They became the sharers of the good news as ones who heard from the original disciples and apostles.

Witnessing the good news was not easy. First Jews of deep faith, soon Romans and others, began persecuting Christians. To the Jews Christians were spreading the dangerous new ways of faith. To the Romans, Christians were bringing into their world atheism which was undermining all their religions based on gods. Christians became clandestine and secretive at one point in Roman Empire just to survive. For some local governors rounding up Christians and killing them was an act of patriotism. Rooting out Christians was very important for many rulers since Roman times. In the Leninist and Stalinist communist countries one of the first things they did when they took power was to round up Christians and imprison them.

Throughout history, the Church stood. It was not without its faults. It became corrupt, ended up becoming something that did not resemble anything remote to teachings of Christ in various times in history. Indeed, more than often the Church became the very opposite institution of Jesus’ teachings. Most clergy today continue to use Jesus and his teachings instead of following him in order to gain power and fame. Last week and this week, in Canada we have been witnessing how this twisted Christianity was used to run the residential school system in order to “take Indian out of Indians” with fear and isolation to the indigenous children and their parents. We are now seeing the anger being displayed through the burning and vandalizing churches in the Western Canada.

To defend the indefensible by insisting that Christians of the past did all these terrible acts with good intentions does not really make us more credible. To defend evil done in Christ’s name saying our ancestors only intended to share love in the best ways they knew is to legitimize all the terrible evils carried out by the Church. Inquisition anyone? Torture and buring peole at the stake anyone? Murders by public hangings as spectacles for entire families? Genocide in the name of salvation in Christ? Religious wars anyone? Horror after horror, like any human institution, the Christian Church marched on in the name of Christ and his love, leaving behind unbelievable harms done against anyone seen as enemies. Still the Church is filled with grifters, hustlers and power-mongers. Rightly, we have lost our credibility. Many people can see not only the hypocrisy, but also the evil that is being perpetuated by many Christians and their leaders. Finally, the vast majority of populations in once strong Christian countries shuns the Church, not one or a few denominations, but the entire Church.

So after nearly two thousand years of this terrible history, what are we saying that we are to do in this world? Is it not the time to throw the baby out with bathwater altogether?

What the Book of Ezekiel reminds us is that the world was already corrupt and full of sin. That is, those whom God called were already beyond saving. God’s teachings were tools to benefit them when they needed to exert their power. God’s teachings were useful insofar as they were able to justify their evil acts. In reality, the truth was that God lost faith in humanity already by the time of Ezekiel. As the psalmist cried, no one was righteous: no, not one. This was the long standing concern of God as God continued to love the world through those corrupt, sinful, and evil people whom God chose to side with in this world. Yet, in spite of this grace of God, the very people of God were beyond redemption. Yes, they went to the darkside. In this hopeless world of God’s people, God came speaking to Ezekiel.

To love, in love, because of love, this God spoke to Ezekiel. Because of this God of love, Ezekiel was to go to Israel, the nation full of rebellious people, whose ancestors betrayed God and rejected God’s ways. It was clear from the very moment God spoke to Ezekiel that they would not turn away from their ways and return to God. Indeed, God foresaw that they would continue in their evil ways. God’s steadfast love, however, did not turn away. Instead, God prepared Ezekiel to send him. For what? You ask. Was it not foolish to send Ezekiel knowing that he would be rejected? Why not simply let the world know that the chosen people were absolutely corrupt and deserving of destruction? That would be the way of the world. God’s way was different. Against all odds, knowing there was no hope of turning them away from their evil ways God sent Ezekiel. In God’s own words it was so that they should know that there had been a prophet among them. In other words, God's love did not fail them under all circumstances and leave them.

“They shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” This is the key. Having a prophet among them is to realize that God has been among them even when they went away from God and were engaged in their evil ways. Their sins, betrayal, and evil ways did not deter God from being there continually reminding them right from wrong, love from hate. As was mentioned earlier, the Church and its people have done evil beyond imagining. That does not mean that Christ left us. Christ has been always with us since the resurrection. He kept reminding us that God’s love is unconditional and in grace we are constantly called back to God’s ways. Like Ezekiel being sent among his people, Christ sent his disciples, apostles, and servants to remind us that he has been with us and that we are to turn from our ways. By being present Christ became a witness to all wrongs and evil acts Christians committed. Yet, because he has stayed with this broken Church, Christ’s unconditional love has been present throughout history. To make this love reality in every moment of history, Christ has called and sent his servants so that everyone would know that Christ has always been in the world and has made his unconditional love available to all.

The church buildings that were burnt down this past week and many other church buildings that are still standing, signify to the world that Christ has been silently witnessing all that took place in this world including the atrocities caused by Christians. These buildings, empty or full, are the symbols of Christ’s witness in this world. In the same way, we, Christians, are called and sent into this world. Sadly many Christians continue to perpetuate evil and sin in this world with condemnations, delivering judgments, and perpetuating corruptions. However, there are those Christians who have been called and sent so that among all peoples, Christ, who invites all to participate and share in God’s unconditional love, has been in the world to witness, cry with, walk with, suffer alongside, and be present to those who have been harmed by the very churches and Christians who use his name to harm others. As this Christ with unconditional love continues in his ministry in the world, those who choose to follow him by denying themselves at his call are sent into the world in the same way God sends Ezekiel to the people of Israel in this passage.

Our task is to be Christ’s presence, sharing his unconditional love with all, witnessing both the good and evil that are being done through and by those who call themselves Christians, and continually being the true followers of Christ in our meekness, weakness, powerlessness, humbleness, gentleness like our Lord, always working as ones who boldly live out life of justice, peace, faith, hope, and love. This is our vocation. This is our calling in this world. Along with empty church buildings, we stand to point to Christ and his love for the world.

Prayer:

We have failed you often, O God. Yet, you call us back. We have done evil in this world, yet, in your grace, you forgive us when we repent. When we are mired in guilt, you reconcile us to God. God of faith, hope, and love, do not cease from calling us whom you will send into the world. Send us as your voice, your hand, your heart, and your wisdom. May the world come to know that you have not stopped loving the world in its hurt, pain, and anguish. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Offering:

Offering Prayer:
Out of much, we bring you little. Out of plenty, we offer to share very small amounts. In riches, we share modestly. Yet, these offerings are symbols of our love for you and for our neighbours. May you receive them as tokens that represent our faith, hope and love. Bless us in ways to continue your ministry in this world according to your unconditional love. Amen.

Hymn: I am gonna live so

I’m gonna live so God can use me anywhere, Lord, any time! (2X)
I’m gonna work so God can use me anywhere, Lord, any time! (2X)
I’m gonna pray so God can use me anywhere, Lord, any time! (2X)
I’m gonna sing so God can use me anywhere, Lord, any time! (2X)

Benediction