Sunday, Feb 21, 2021

If you desire to hear the whole service as one recording, click here. When before some hymns are played, there might be some advertisement put on by the makers of hymn videos.

Welcome and Announcements



Thank you for taking the time to join us in worship. We have begun our Lent season. Today, as you know, is the first Sunday of Lent. As we begin our walk with Christ in his ministry, we ask you to prepare your hearts and minds as we walk together with Christ sharing the good news of God.

As part of Walking with Christ During Lent, we ask you to consider walking with those whom our Lord spend much time with, the poor, the hungry, the sick. Yes, those who were outcasts from mainstream society. Last year, we participated in PWS&D project of planting olive trees in Palestine. This year we are asking you to take part in making a difference here in Niagara Falls through various projects we are undertaking.

Last year we gave out more than 2,500 meals, helped people to have a warm place to sleep for 30 nights, and helped other organizations who are also doing the same. With the pandemic, the needs have increased. Our goal for this year is to provide 4,000 meals and provide 70 nights of emergency stayover. Here is how you can help. $10 will provide meals for two people and $150 will provide a room for one week. If you wish to make donations, please mark your amount and check “mission” on Offering Envelope or speak with Betty-Ann. We will update you each week until Easter as to how much we are raising.

We are very thankful for all your support and prayers. Traditionally, we celebrate our Anniversary Sunday on the first Sunday of March. The first Sunday of March is also our communion Sunday. Due to pandemic lockdowns, it does not look like we will be able to hold our communion. We will let you know how we will celebrate communion and Anniversary in the future when in-person gathering is allowed.

Our Christian love and sympathy are extended to Moira Thompson’s family. We received the sad news last week of her passing on February 10. Moira was faithful to the end. Though she was told of possible death last summer, she stayed with us a lot longer than expected and provided much love for her family. Her husband, Doug, and daughter Kay were beside her every day at her bedside.

Our sympathy and Christian love are extended to the family of Marlene King (Black-Smith). Marlene passed away and the funeral service was held on Wed. Feb. 17th.

Please keep in contact with each other. Due to extra workload, I have not been able to keep in contact with many of you during this time. It will take another week to clear up all the work that has been piled up. Thankfully, many of you have been wonderful at keeping up with each other through phone and other means. Please pray for Doris, Genevieve, Phyllis B., Betty and Harry, Kathleen, Robert and Virginia, Isobel and Bob, Sandy and Dick, and others.

Hymn of Preparation: Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate



Call to Worship:



In the beginning God spoke.
In response to God’s word, the world came into being.
As part of God’s creation, we come to celebrate the grace given to us in Christ.
With joy filled hearts, let us worship God with songs and prayers!

Hymn: All Heaven Declare



Opening Prayer



Only in your mercy, we come, O God. Only in your Son our Lord, we gather up enough courage to bring praise and glory. Be pleased at our presence. Bless us with your ever loving presence.

In this worship, fill us with your unending love that was shown to us first in your Son. May your Spirit touch our hearts and cleanse our minds to experience your truth and to receive your Word. By your Spirit, may we find your forgiveness of our sins and your wisdom to perceive your ever continuing ministry in this world.

In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Offering (Anthem: Because He Lives)



Offering Prayer:



O God, thank you for giving us the opportunity to bring our offering to you. It is in times like this, when the world is troubled and under the threat of death, we are able to perceive what it means to be your children, blessed in ways that we may be safe and secure in faith and hope. Being given life without the fear of death, for your Son has won victory over death, we find in you courage to live life meaningfully in truth and integrity. In thanksgiving, we return a small portion of your blessings as a symbol of our love for you and for the world. Receive them as our commitment to be your loving presence in the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Scripture: Luke 14:15-24



One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

Sermon: God’s mission brings joys to outsiders



Once long ago, we were outsiders. Yes, before Jesus, non-Jews were not part of God’s people. Even now, we do not belong to God by bloodline. In Christ, however, we find ourselves in God’s presence. Somewhat like us Muslims understand themselves as being part of God’s people through Prophet Muhammad. How God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob became God of three somewhat similar, yet, very unique religions is at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For us Christians, everything that we understand, accept, think, and live by is shaped by the way we understand how God’s love ended up reaching those who were not related to Abraham biologically.

No one likes being excluded from something good and wonderful. Human history is full of stories of people trying to be part of a better world. Civil Rights Movement, Black Lives Matter, refugee and migrant concerns, prisoner reintegration programs, social welfare programs are all designed to include those who are left out from sharing the wealth and rights of our world. Canada’s history is the story of immigrants making better lives for themselves. The whole Truth and Reconciliation in Canada is to find ways to share what we have and enjoy with the indigenous brothers and sisters equitably and justly.

The stories of Abraham’s children, Ishmael and Isaac, as well as Isaac’s children, Esau and Jacob, are all about who gets excluded. By the time the story of Israel reaches Jesus, it once again becomes a story of exclusion and division. Behaviours of Priests and Pharisees are all about excluding and dividing. They have worked out laws in ways to keep so-called “sinners’ out while those whom they defined as “righteous” in for wealth and power. Jesus’ ministry is centred on restoring the “sinners” into the “God’s chosen people.” He is seen spending time with tax collectors, prostitutes, and those who are classified as sinners. The good news of Christ is to share the news that God’s kingdom is at hand for all those who are excluded for their sins.

The first Christians, the disciples and apostles like Peter and Paul, took the task of sharing God’s good news in Christ to the gentiles. They began inviting outsiders to the Lord’s Table causing all kinds of troubles for the Jews. The reason for their outward reaches was simple: God asked them to. Acts 10 records how Peter was told by the Lord to kill and eat what Jews considered unclean animals because God has made them clean. Paul was known as the apostle to the gentiles. Eventually Christianity became the religion, not of the Jews, but of the non-Jews who were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Most of us became Christians through the infant baptism. Our parents, being afraid that we may be lost in sin, took us to the Church when we could neither say, “Yes,” or “No,” to get us baptised. In this way, we have been taught from the very beginning we have our place under God’s reign or at the table of our Lord. We often take this privilege of being at the Lord’s Table for granted. Those who are more like Jewish Pharisaic brothers and sisters fret over seeing outsiders taking part in the Lord’s Supper or being at the Lord’s Table alongside us. That is, many Christians who have never been excluded or have a very strong view insist on excluding those whom they consider sinners.

It is true that lots of us are very uncomfortable seeing strangers, especially strangers who appear drastically different from us, seating beside or near us. We are very careful about those who look threatening, dangerous, and very different from us because of their appearances and manners. We have many subtle ways of knowing who belongs with us and who do not. It always amazes me when we are travelling far from home in another country, we feel instantly comfortable meeting people whom we do not know from our own city. I remember travelling in Europe and became friends with every Canadian or American I met. We are also very good at sensing whether we are welcome or not in a place or when we meet strangers. Yes, we are very good at dividing strangers into groups we like and dislike, trust or be suspicious.

What we often do not do is to think from strangers’ point of view. In most cases, we let the strangers figure out whether we would welcome them or not. We let the visitors figure out if we are their types or not when they search for a home church. We do not go too far to welcome them in. Sure we do our regular stuff like greeting, explaining, and so on. Our behaviours are different towards different people signalling whether they are our type or not.

Then comes Jesus. Drinking and partying with those who are always outsiders. Here is someone with authority saying to outcasts for the first time in their life, let’s hang out together. Now those ugly nerds are hanging out with the cool kid. So other cool kids want to know why he is wasting his time with the nerds. In the meantime, the nerds are feeling accepted for the first time. They have swagger in their walk, volume in their voices, and confidence in their manners. The usual cool kids are getting annoyed. The oppressed are now rising up. The weaklings are beginning to flex their muscles.

The powerful want to know. Why do you mix yourself with those half-breeds? Jesus answers them with a parable. This answer is totally unexpected. It does not point to how the weak deserve more than the strong. It does not shame the powerful, pointing out the virtue of the weak. It neither condemns nor judges the way the cool kids treated the nerds. It surprises both the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor. The answer is simple: the strong did not accept the invitation, the rich refused to come to the party, the mighty turned down the solicitation. The reason? They had better and more important things to do. They were not concerned about the gracious request to be at the feast. The chosen people declined to be with the Messiah. To fill God’s kingdom, the invitation was extended to outsiders, those who were always excluded by the powerful, the rich, the mighty.

The joy of being included for outsiders is due to the deliberate decision by the insiders to stay out. The excitement of the strangers/newbies/newcomers sitting at the table is the result of the oldtimers/insiders/chosen vacating their designated seats voluntarily. Jesus is saying, “You gave up your places, so I gave them to others.” Now the questioners are in a bind. Even if they want to join the party, they do not desire to be with these strangers/sinners. After all, they are better, superior, and privileged. They cannot mingle with the weak, the meek, the lost, the sinners, lest they become less than who they are. They made the choice. They feel good about themselves for making the choice looking at the crowd in the party. They can remain pure, privileged and superior as long as they do not accept this new event as the new norm. Their pride is preserved because they do not join in.

In a bit of irony, the ones who have become outsiders are there by their choice while the perpetual outsiders suddenly find themselves as insiders. Of course, this turn of events is not to last long because the powerful who are rich and privileged will exact their revenge by killing the one who would deprive them of the joy and privilege of being insiders. In anger they would do everything in their power to take back what they voluntarily gave up. That’s why Jesus ended up on the cross.

Our focus, however, is not the battle that is waged by the ones who made bad decisions to decline the invitation. Rather, we are focusing on the joys, excitement, and exhilaration of those outsides who, by grace, find themselves inside. They taste for the first time delicious food they have only seen and could never imagine enjoying. Their delight in seating at the best seats around the table filled with good things for the first time is as sweet as honey. Their joy of being included for the first time in life without condition and limitation is beyond anything they have ever felt.

Having been made the insiders for the first time, they cannot stop sharing this good news. They share this new joy with everyone they meet. They spread this wonder freely because they received it freely. They want other perpetual outsiders to join them at the Lord’s Table, too. They display their gift to the world without condition. This is what joy and excitement of inclusion in God’s kingdom does for all those sinners who find themselves at the table of the Lord.

At Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Christians have no qualms about sharing their place at the table with others. Indeed, many churches hold special dinners inviting the poor, the needy, the lost into their halls. Now, many non-profit organizations have joined us in providing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to those who are in need. Unfortunately all these dinners or events have become one way giving. Instead of everyone sitting together enjoying this joy and excitement, we allow those outsiders to be outsiders among us pretending they belong with us or sharing the place and blessing in our building on these special occasions. Those of us who are on the inside are now performing a charity event rather than permanently inviting these outsiders in so that they may rejoice with us together.

If the parable is to be fully appreciated, we, as once outsiders who have been given seats at the Lord’s Table, will gladly share this experience of inclusion and offer seats next to us to all those who are outsiders, who have always been excluded, who have always been shamed as sinners, who have never enjoyed the status of “chosen” just like us before Jesus came. This joy is what propelled Peter and Paul to go out and speak to the gentiles. Later it was the gentiles being received into God’s kingdom, in great joy and excitement took the Gospel of Christ to the end of the world. At the Lord’s Table, full of food, we sit with everyone without condition in joy and excitement, always making more rooms and calling others to join us. The grace of being given a seat at the Lord’s Table is beyond our imagining.

This parable also warns us how easily the insiders and outsiders can change places. Strangers today can easily be seated around the Table of the Lord while all those of us who filled the churches all over the world once may be outside because we had our own businesses to tend to. When the joy and excitement of being at the Table is forgotten, we can easily give our seats up just like the Pharisees, Sadducees, priests for our own convenience, therefore, finding ourselves left out of God’s kingdom.

In the past year, due to COVID lockdowns, we have not been able to sit around the table and share food, joy, and life in full with our neighbours who have been the outsiders in our world. In a small measure, by providing Saturday Lunch Takeouts, we have tried to keep Christ’s invitation open so that those who are outsiders may become one with us and also encourage many of us who take our place at the table granted to be faithful. These two tasks are of utmost importance to us who read this parable as a story of inclusion. We do so without judging. We do it in demonstration of God’s love given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord remembering only by his grace we enjoy our presence in God’s kingdom.

So, let us rejoice for God’s grace in Christ inviting us in when we were outside and were considered not fit enough to be insiders. Let us also in great joy invite others to come and seat alongside us as brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom.

Prayer



O God of love, who through Jesus, brought us into your presence, receive our prayer. Renew us in joy of being part of your kingdom by the Holy Spirit. In faith we bring concerns. Hear our prayer.

As schools open and children return, more and more people are being filled with fear and anxiety instead of joy. Everyone is watching carefully to see if the virus will spread causing another wave of hospitalizations and deaths. In this fear filled world, may your love prevail so that your love may dispel fears and fill us with hope and love.

As the news of slow trickles of vaccines get magnified in our media, more and more people are feeling defeated and hopeless. After a year of lockdown, even the smallest of concerns overwhelm many vulnerable people. They search for answers in drugs, alcohols, and thoughts of suicide. Give them your presence in ways that they may find the strength of life budding in their darkened souls.

As the cold weather stays and news of devastation to our neighbours to the South are heard, those who have been working hard to keep our world from crumbling are too fatigued to look after themselves and their families. All those who are in health care, all those who are in transportation, all those who are in supplying food, all those who are in menial jobs to keep everyone comfortable are wondering if they can ever rest and enjoy their own time. Guard and protect them. Give them wisdom to know that their care and dedication are what keep this world safe.

As each day passes, even the strong among us are beginning to feel the spiritual difficulties that haunt members and leaders of your Church. So many desire to worship you, praise you, and feel your presence in gathering together as one. Yet, being forced apart, we feel less certain about faith, wonder about hope, and less able in loving others. Help us to be united in your Son. Gather us together in spirit so that by your Spirit we may know you and one another even through these virtual internet worship services.

Bless our members who have been in isolation through this past year. Give them strength and health. Fill all of us with faith and hope so that love may be abundant in this part of your vineyard. May we find strength to uphold each other in prayer so that all may experience your love.

All these and more, we pray in the name of our Lord. Amen.

Closing Hymn: O Happy Day



Benediction