If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1,2)
Today, during the service of worship we will vote on the session’s recommendation that the congregation downsize its facilities. The method of voting is by secret ballot. That means each person is given a ballot and the voting will take place anonymously. Online voting for those who are not present at the meeting will start at 3 pm on Sunday. Please check your emails. Click the link and vote. The online voting will remain open until Tuesday, June 28th midnight.
Cinnamon Bun Tuesdays continue this Tuesday at 10 am. Please mark the time. Join us.
Tea Tasting was postponed from Thursday, June 23 to Thursday, June 30 at 1:30 pm. Everyone is welcome.
In the session meeting, the decision was made that our worship services for July and August will remain at 10:30 am on Sundays.
Preparation: You are my all in all
Call to Worship
I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.
May you gather us and be glorified as we lift up our praises!
Hymn: Joyful, joyful
Glory, honour, blessing, and power are yours, O God. How great you have been as our God in guiding, protecting, and blessing us! In wonder and gratitude we come. We bow before you in this worship. Knowing that we are who we are because of you, we bring who we have been this past week. Now we turn our attention on you and give you glory, honour and praise. May you be glorified. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture: Luke 9:51-62
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
Sermon: Following Jesus all the way
Most of us do not like uncertainties. Especially when we are thinking about the future, we do our best to lay out our plans so that we will not have to deal with any sudden difficulties in life. The trouble is, none of us knows what awaits us tomorrow. No matter what we do to plan and make sure all the dangers are averted, there will always be surprising events which throw our plans totally off course. Our lives, indeed, are full of surprises no matter how we plan them to be smooth and peaceful. We like to think we do. We put aside money for retirement. We buy houses to make sure we have a roof over our heads. But we still are unable to know what will happen when we open our eyes the next day.
Who in Ukraine 5 months ago thought that they would be at war with Russia and millions of Ukrainians in other countries as refugees? Ukrainians could have done their best to plan, but they would not have known that Russia would come into their country to fight. Who in Iraq ever thought that the Americans would invade them when they thought life was relatively peaceful under Saddam Hussein? Was Saddam Hussein not a friend to Americans at one point? Who could have predicted the earthquake that took place in Afghanistan this week? They have been suffering terribly and were facing all kinds of dangers, but an earthquake? How about those accidents? Who would ever think that some drunken drivers would kill so many on our roads?
I used to do lots of hiking. When I planned for hiking in a new area, I would pour through maps of terrains, trails, distances from a landmark to another, and check the weather pattern from many years ago. In difficult hiking trails like New Hampshire’s Presidential Mountains, Grand Canyons, and Rocky Mountains, it is also important to find out which dangerous animals are present and ways to deal with them. After all these, on the day of hiking, once again all information is reviewed, weather–especially the incoming one is reviewed, the amount of food needed is carefully checked, and maps and adequate clothes are carried. But the second time I hike the same area, my planning is far less comprehensive. Having travelled once, I can usually be confident enough to go without all these preparations.
I have been musing about where I am today as a minister in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. In the first decade of following Jesus’ call, I had to prepare a lot, learn a lot, review a lot, and be very careful in doing the ministry. Like the first time hiker, I did all kinds of research about ministry including how to preach better and depended greatly on information shared by those who have done longer pastoral ministry than I did. I attended workshops, diligently read books by seasoned ministers, and returned for continuing education. In the second decade of this call to serve Christ, I began to put into practice many things I learned. By trial and error, I learned to improve my skill sets and abilities. I was still relying on many experienced people who shared their wisdom, continued my studies and attended many workshops to learn new ways to do ministry. Through these experiments, I could see what would work and what would not, who could be trusted and who should not be encouraged, and who needed help and who ought not be helped.
In the third decade I began to see the difficulty Jesus faced in sharing the Gospel. Indeed, with some understanding of these challenges Jesus faced, it became easier to follow Christ. Denying myself and taking up my cross and following Christ became a reality in a way that it had never been. Each day I was struggling with what it meant to give up what I was taught to do and enjoy doing, what I believed because I learned so much from theologians, philosophers and other wise Christians, and ways I carried on in doing pastoral work. To deny myself was to give up what I knew in theology, what I made my own in terms of pastoral ministry, and all those skills and know-hows that I picked up in the ministry. Also I was enlightened to see that ministry was not accomplishing my goals, but Christ’s goals that were being shared through God’s people. In other words, I learned not to impose my will as God’s will, but listen carefully to what Christ was saying through other people inside and outside the church. It was a real difficult battle to give up everything that made me who I was. Yet, Jesus’ command to deny myself was ringing in my ears louder and louder.
How do I give up all things that made me who I am and still be me? In theology, can I give up everything I have learned as correct and right and still be me? In pastoral ministry, can I give up everything that a minister is expected to do and still be an effective minister? In being a Christian, can I really consider myself as empty and be a follower of Christ? Surely Christ would be pleased that I have done so much preparations to be a good minister, that I have continue to learn new ways to be a better church leader, that I have served more and more with all that I have to be a better Christian, and that I have done my best to be faithful to our Presbyterian tradition to glorify and enjoy God. Yet as I continue in my fourth decade of ministry, “emptying” like Jesus emptied himself is beginning to dawn on me.
What does emptying myself of everything look like? It is to erase everything that makes me who I am as a Presbyterian minister, and to abandon everything I have in going about accomplishing things so that success will follow and to discard the work that has been put in to bear fruit. This act of becoming totally empty for Christ sake by turning away from all that I am is what I come to wrestle with. This emptying of oneself so that Christ fills me is something the mystics of the early Church constantly struggled with. Those saints who ran far into deserts to run away from earthly temptations in order to devote themselves to Christ and his glory found out that deeper they went into the desert to isolate themselves from people and worldly temptations, more difficult it was for them to escape themselves. They found themselves unable to get away from worldly temptations of learning, doing more work, and trying their best to prepare in order to become better and more successful Christians. As I struggle, I think I understand better what Jesus meant when he said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
Can Christians truly let the dead bury the dead? Can we let everything we know go and simply trust Christ to lead us into the future? Can we stop falling into traps of doing all the measuring and research in order to mitigate any future dangers? As we think about moving into the future, this challenge is ours to face. In a way those unpredicted wars, like the one raging in Ukraine, or the ones ordinary Afghanistanis, Iraqis, Iranians, Yemenis, Palestinians, and many others had to deal with, were all begun and being prolonged by those who want to insure a better future for themselves. Somehow the ways of human beings in groups, preparing for a safer future by fighting and doing their best to defeat their enemies through armed forces and building up of arms have only brought the world into greater sufferings and pains of ordinary people. Christians are as guilty in these destruction of our world in the name of a brighter tomorrow as anyone else in the world. We became the dead burying the dead. So as we vote for our future, I ask you to wrestle with me on Jesus' call to deny ourselves.
Can we, as Drummond Hill, give up what we have, know, and live by in our faithful attempt to empty ourselves so that we can take up our crosses and follow Jesus? Or will we, like many of those early desert saints, find out that though we think we are doing our best to follow Christ we end up realising that what we have, know, and live by are too important for us to give up? Can we truly give up what we love the most in order to be blessed by God’s grace even more?
Let me end with the story of Abraham who was asked to give up his most important love, Isaac. Of course, Abraham loved Isaac. Isaac was his own flesh and blood born to him and Sarah at their impossibly old age. Having no son or child by Sarah, Abraham treasured Isaac even more when Sarah gave birth to their one and only son. As Isaac grew, Abraham’s love for Isaac grew. When Isaac was about to become an adult, God came and asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac for God. God asks Abraham to give up the most precious and beloved, the dearest son for whom he would have gladly given his own life. Abraham, having heard from God to deny himself in case of Isaac, his flesh and blood, obediently took Isaac to Mount Moriah. There he bound his only son by Sarah and was about to sacrifice when he heard God’s voice stopping him because God knew, then, that Abraham would deny himself while loving Isaac dearly. Abraham learned the price and depths of love. Two things happened through God’s request to sacrifice Isaac. First is that Abraham learned the truth about loving: giving up one's desire for another. Second is that Isaac became a young man who no longer belonged to Abraham, but to God as Abraham belonged to God. In this way, denying himself, Abraham was able to realise his son’s true belonging. As a result, God not only gave Isaac back for his love shown through this impossible faithfulness, but filled him with more blessings for showing his love for God while establishing Isaac as God’s own, just like Abraham.
As I ponder and meditate on what it means to deny myself, I have been wondering if God is asking us as Drummond Hill to do the same and is asking to give up what we love most as a congregation. If we truly understand Abraham’s saga, then, we would come to understand that for giving up what we love most, God will entrust us not only with what we give up, but also fill us with grace for the future of DH. Then, Jesus would say he has a place to lay his head and we are the ones who follow Jesus, while letting the dead bury the dead.
Lord, have mercy!
When we are unable to give up what we have, who we are, and how we do things, grant us mercy. Through the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see your will and find courage to follow your Son our Lord. In wars, we refuse to give up our territories, our wealth, our life. In everyday struggle, we are unable to part with wealth and privileges that come with wealth. In this world where images of who we are becomes the centre of our being, we choose not to say no to all the worldly temptations, always desiring to be served by others. Lord, have mercy!
Christ, have mercy!
Pains of body and mind detract us from serving others. Anxieties in everyday matters refocus our body and mind on worries and fears. Threats of dark and gloom force us to put our needs and concerts without any regard for the needs of others. As our Lord, you have given yourself so that we may have life. May we continue to live life according to your ways! May we also generously share grace and mercy with everyone around us near and far! O Christ, have mercy!
Lord, have mercy!
We live in your grace. We continue our faith journey in your love. We give you our thanks for your presence with us everyday. We are blessed as you walk with us, guide us, protect us, and bless us. O Lord, without you we are nothing. Make us yours. Never abandon us. Always be with us. O Lord, have mercy!
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
In spite of our own needs, because of the generosity you have given us, we respond in kind. We bring all these as our offering to you. Bless us and open our hearts to serve you and your people in this world. Give us courage to follow your Son’s way. In his name we pray. Amen.
Hymn: I know not why such wondrous grace