Sun., Aug. 22, 21

Welcome and Announcements

As we begin our preparations for Re-opening, we thank God and ask you to pray. It will be a very different experience since we have been away from the sanctuary so long. In the meantime, many things have changed. Our reopening will offer us a new chapter in our faith journey. Your prayer for the church will set us into a new direction in God.

We are preparing various ways to reignite our enthusiasm. Please ask God for patience and abilities to endure. With this prolonged lockdown, many of our weaknesses are exposed. The session will meet on Wednesday, August 25, at 7 pm to begin charting a course. Please pray for the session members.

We are glad to report that most of our members have been able to come through the pandemic. However, we did lose a few members through death. We ask your prayers for those families.

We are planning to return to worship in the sanctuary on Sunday, September 12 at 10:30 am. We are keeping up with all the health requirements as our Province faces the fourth wave and are delaying the move to the fourth stage of reopening. We ask you to keep your masks on (unless you have medical reasons) indoors as much as you can.

Father, I adore you

Call to Worship

Minister: How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!

All: My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.

Minister: Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah

All: Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Prayer

We come to worship you because we love you and on behalf of those who are unable to worship this day as they fear for their lives. O loving and life-giving God, receive this worship as from all your people. Give us hearts that are set on you no matter what our circumstances are. Give us courage to share your love whatever our situations are. Give us hope to be made one in you with all our brothers and sisters everywhere so that we share in their fear, pain, hope, and love. Be with us also as you tend to your people who struggle this day under the power of death. May your Spirit guide and lift this worship up to you as the show of our love for you. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Create in me a clean heart

Call to Worship

Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-20

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Sermon: Armour of God

We always wonder about ways to look, be seen, and stand out as Christians in this world. The author of Ephesians draws a picture of the two powers at war and how Christians are seen as the soldiers of the good side. The picture of Christians as God’s soldiers ready to battle, taking up God’s armour, is very visually appealing and spiritually motivating. To be on the right side, having the truth and righteousness as armours protecting us while wearing the helmet of salvation and carrying the sword of the Spirit to slay those enemies of darkness helps us imagine our purpose in life clearly and succinctly. Perhaps this is why so many Christians throughout history used this passage to teach themselves to fight against any evil they saw around them. Whether these Christians demonstrate against abortion, temperance, or any other issues which are perceives as evil or being tools of evil, being able to stand on God’s side and fighting the battle to save the world is always exhilarating and purposeful.

In a way this passage gave and continues to give permission for many Christians to use army and war imagery to describe Christian existence in the world. This way of describing Christianity has attracted many people who are bored in life without a clear purpose, confused because the world appears to them as having too many terrible choices, and lost or searching for the meaning of life. Through the war imagery and being able to fight for the right cause, countless numbers of people became crusaders of one kind or another since the very beginning of Christianity. Sadly this imagery of Christians being God’s soldiers has caused more harm than good in our world. Some took this metaphor literally and formed God’s armies throughout history. Many kings and rulers insisted that they, as Christians, were fighting on the right side of history against heathens and forces of darkness. It is not a coincidence, but an extension of this kind of thinking that made American presidents fight against the Axis of Evil (countries that have been considered American enemies) and many of America’s allies to join in the wars on the American side. In other parts of the world, some even named themselves. One rebel group in Uganda carries the name, Lord’s Resistance Army, raping and killing people and destroying villages. The justification given by these groups continues to be that they are on the good side fighting for peace and well being (or democracy) of all against the forces of darkness of this world.

As we see the chaos due to the American withdrawal from Afghanistan is showing, the war that was waged by the Americans and their allies for the last twenty years had nothing to do with the fights between the good and the evil of our worlds. What we are witnessing at the Kabul Airport and the surrounding areas as so many Afghans, who were on the side of Americans and its allies, attempt to save themselves from the Talibans, is how the war had divided the nation, families from families, friends from friends, and neighbours from neighbours. Our media, in the meantime, are at their usual overdrive and full throated in shouting that we need to rescue women, children, activists and minorities. One commentator even suggested that we need to airlift “all” women and children from Afghanistan to save them from the evil forces that are the Talibans. I am describing these simply to point out how easily the use of the imagery of war between the good and evil forces can influence minds of people and cause greater difficulties in the world.

The thing is, if we begin from the perspective that we are on God’s side and that we are chosen to be God’s soldiers to fight for righteousness, we are doomed to repeat the very temptation of crusading against all who are not Christians with the mighty force of God at any cost for the ultimate victory God will give us. Early crusades were miserable failures because they misunderstood what it meant for Christians to be the soldiers of Christ. In whipped up frenzies to fight for God, many innocent people were deceived into armies to fight and put their lives on the line to enrich, expand, and give glory to popes, kings, and rulers. This is still happening today. In many denominations, the cry to battle the evil of this world and to rescue the lost heathens draw many young people into the battles against the forces of this world. On the extreme edges of this war against the dark forces, we see established cults like Unification Church (Moonies), Jehovah’s Witness, and the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and occasional cults like Branch Davidians (led by David Koresh and were killed in Waco, Texas), the People’s Temple (led by Jim Jones committing mass suicide in Guyana) and many others. No wonder that we saw how some of these cult members died clutching the Bible, convinced that they were fighting for God’s righteousness against the darkness of this evil world. The current conspiracy theories floating around on the internet in many social media sites have eerily similar echoes of fighting for the good and on the right side. Sadly many mega-churches preach similarly telling their people to be the soldiers of Christ fighting against the darkness of this world.

To counter these temptations of being on God’s side, of fighting the battles as God’s soldiers, and having the cause of righteousness, we need to rethink the way many of us as Christians have been interpreting this passage.

A great temptation at this point is to do what many Christians have been doing: going through every word, parsing for meaning as we argue against each point. In so doing, without realizing we are doing everything that those who fell into temptation were doing--establishing a coherent argument to convince others that “we” are on the side of truth and good while others have misread or misinterpreted this passage. Our task is not emotionally, rationally, and intellectually to win others to our side. Our very being in Christ has an entirely different purpose of reading this as a passage to meditate on God’s will. In this struggle to discern God’s will, we need to remember to care that whatever we ask, we will be given and whatever we search, we will find. That is, we will end up with what we want because our desires in faith will find justification in this passage. We will end up with the confirmation of what we suppose as God intends for us. That is, We will be able to demonstrate to others using the passage what I always suspected God wants us to do. Yes, this is why it is so very difficult not to fall into temptation of having our faith bias affirmed through our study and research.

How, then, do we read this passage to hear what God is saying through this passage? As John Calvin insisted, we temper everything with other Scripture passages. All passages in the Bible become aids for us to receive God’s Word. Thus when in this passage we hear,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

We immediately remember how Jesus lived and ministered. Through the Gospels, we see Jesus standing against “the wiles of the devil.” He did so not by fighting against the powers by using forces. In fact in Matthew 26: 52,53 he said the following when one of his disciples used a sword to cut a ear off one of the ones who came to arrest Jesus,

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

Jesus did not fight power with power. Instead, he showed that there is another way. At the same time, Jesus was very clear in teaching his disciples to love the enemies. So when we read this passage from Ephesians to put on God’s armour, fasten the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, take the helmet of salvation and sword of the Spirit, our minds are taken back to Jesus and the way he lived, ministered, and died on the cross. In this way, our prayer is to commit our present and future in God’s hand. Does this mean that we don’t fight to win over the evil of this world? Does this mean that we are not to demonstrate against the powers of this world? It could. It sometimes necessitates. However, whatever the way it is, one thing is clear for us when we focus our eyes on Christ to follow him in life and death and into life after life in death. The way of the cross is to love God and neighbours, including the neighbours who are our enemies. This passage reminds us to set our eyes on Christ because he is the one who readies us for the battle in this world by dressing us with God’s armour, fastening us with God’s truth around our waists, putting his righteousness as our breastplates, helmets of salvation and sword of the Spirit. Christ is the one who readies us to follow him in this world so that the world will hear his message that he is the way, the truth, and the life.

If we veer off from Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life by taking on the world with our power against the power of this world, our intellect against the intellect of the secular world, love for God against love for the world or self, then, we become part of those cults and those Christians who drove the Church into disasters and destructions. This Ephesians passage, if anything, is the very passage, like all other passages in the Bible, that turns our eyes back on Christ no matter what my faith says, my hope insists, and my love cries for. In so doing, it compels us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow the one who so loved the world that he came into the world to give his life to save the world by loving God and neighbours. Yes, our armour is nothing but Christ and his love for the world.

Prayer

Lord, hear our prayer, O God.

Fear, pain, and anguish are gripping your people all round the world. COVID-19 virus is relentlessly spreading and afflicting your people. Many Afghans are desperately trying to get out of their own country to be safe. Many Haitians are hurt and made homeless due to another earthquake. In our prayer, we lift up their cries.

Hear our prayer, O God.

With worries and hope, our children and grandchildren are preparing to return to classes in September. Our family members and friends are waiting patiently for life to return as before so that they can see their doctors to find relief for their ailments. Many of our neighbours are trying their best under the circumstances hoping for a new beginning. We pray that your hope be theirs each and every day so that your love may cast out their fears.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Fill us with enthusiasm and true hope in you as we prepare for our reopening. Be with our elders. Fill them with your wisdom. Guide them with your Spirit. May they find the courage you require as they find a way to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow your Son our Lord. Give them your wisdom to lead the entire congregation to do the same.

Hear our prayer, O Holy Spirit.

Recreate us, O Christ. Make us yours. Lead us in your ways so that we may embody your love to the world with conviction and commitment. Awake our spirits to be the glimpses of those who bear the promise of the resurrection life. Shape us in ways that we may work to lead your people in forgiving and be forgiven in all that we do.

O Lord, hear our prayer.

Our words, O God, are never enough to express all that are in our hearts. Hear our prayers as we bring all our concerns in your Son’s words when we say together: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Offering (I trust in God)

Offering Prayer

A world apart from chaos and tragedies of Afghanistan, wars in Syria, hungers and destitutions of refugee camps around the world, we come with our love for you and for our neighbours near and far. We offer this love as our offering to you. Receive these small symbols of our love for you. Help us to share your love with all your people in this very troubled world. May this offering of love be acceptable to you. In Jesus we pray. Amen.

Lord, I lift your name on high

Benediction