Sunday, July 11, 2021

Welcome and Announcements

Thank you for joining us. We are enjoying worshipping outside this Sunday again. Starting next Sunday, as the weather gets hotter and we move into the Stage 3 of Reopening Ontario, we may worship in the hall. One of the restrictions of Stage 3 is that we may be indoors as long as we keep our distance from each other to be safe. If the temperature is comfortable, we will do our best to worship outdoors as well.

Our Wednesday worship is far different from our Sunday worship. We share stories and enjoy each other’s company. If you would like to join us, remember to come at 6:30 pm.

Thank you for your support in all of our ministries. As we begin to prepare for full opening, we are planning to return to the sanctuary in September.

Call to Worship:

Leader: Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised!
All: Your name, O God, like your praise, reaches to the ends of the earths.
Leader: We consider your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of our worship.
All: Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised!

Hymn: How Great Thou Art

O Lord, through your love, you have given us life and filled our lives with good things. In times of need or trouble, you have always been present walking with us every step of the way. Now we come and ask you to hear our prayer.

In this time of pandemic lockdowns, we often have despaired, lost courage to love others fully, forget to care for each other fully, and failed to remain patient, kind and gentle. We were quick with our annoyances and expressions of frustrations. We passed our judgments on others far more than usual. We became ones with criticisms rather than ones with encouragement.

Change us, O God, through your Holy Spirit so that we may become more like your Son our Lord each day.

In this prayer, we also ask you to come to us and be present with us. Fill our hearts with your presence so that from our hearts we may sing joyful songs to you. Fill our spirits with your Spirit so that we may glorify and enjoy you.

All these we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Offering (Holy, Holy, Holy/Santo, santo, santo)

Offering Prayer
O Dear Lord, we give you all that we are. We commit to you our future. We promise to witness and share your good news with our neighbours through our words and deeds. May you receive these symbols that represent our promise, commitment and our all. Give us courage as you send us into the world to be your hands that tend to all those who seek you, your voice that reaches out to all those who search a way to hear you, and your feet which bring you to those who are in despair. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 85:8-13
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.

Sermon: Steadfast Love and Faithfulness
We have been talking quite a lot about “steadfast love” of God. We have experienced it throughout our lives without often knowing about it or being aware of it. God’s love for us has always been present. Life has a strange way of making us realize the presence of God’s love sometimes long after we felt alone and abandoned. In these graceful moments we can look back and see how we have been carried by this limitless love, sustaining and nourishing through all the hardship we have faced.

This steadfast love also reminds us of God's faithfulness. Because of love, we are assured over and over how God has believed in us, had eyes on us, trusted us, and relied on us always. This is a very strange thing for us to acknowledge. Because faith flows both ways in order to be complete, it first flows from God to people, then, from people to God. Yet, for a long time, we have talked mainly about faith from our or human side. Because it is so easy for us to fail to believe, set our hearts on, trust and rely on God, we have often talked about our failures in believing, occasions of betraying, acts of deceptions and mistrust. Yes, we have been focusing on our sins first and foremost. It is easy to finger point, reveal, and confess on things that we have done wrongly. But doing this constantly can make us lose sight of the other part or God’s part in this relationship. Today we will try and meditate on God’s faithfulness to us.

Theologically speaking, God loved us even before the world was created, God has not stopped loving us, and God will continue to love us as we are brought into life after death. God’s love shown in this way and was made definitive through Jesus, is taught to us as the essence of our lives. As the most crucial necessity of life in Christ, it nurtures and sustains life so that life can be lived fully. This love is self-giving, self-emptying, and unconditionally directed outward in order to give life to others.

This understanding is different from love that the world understands and knows. Our world has adopted a view that love is ultimately something that is beneficial to an individual without any negative effects. This version of love is selfish and self-centered, conflicting with the love that God has given to us. This is why it is so easy for many people to claim that loving God would not let God’s creation suffer terribly. For example, loving God ought not let millions of innocent children die of hunger, disease, or due even to human caused disasters. The argument is that God who does nothing to save people from terrible suffering is not God whom we ought to worship. Also for many people, God who does not do anything about human suffering is not God at all. The question, often put to Christians, is: why do Christians have God who in reality of suffering does not do anything for human beings in any meaningful way? Why should anyone believe God who would do nothing for humanity when God is love?

It is difficult to explain to those who speak from this selfish love how the love that is unconditional, altruistic, and giving life to others even at the expense of our own lives is ours to feel, enjoy and share freely. For many, it is difficult to understand how we can say we love when actions are not responding to physical and psychological needs of those who are suffering. In suffering people feel abandonment, betrayal, and being lost. Look at when disasters strike or death is the reality they are facing. In these terrifying situations of loneliness, abandonment, poverty, and despair in pain and suffering, with the worldly view of love, God is unresponsive to prayers and does not offer immediate reliefs. No wonder in prolonged suffering many people end up rejecting God’s existence altogether and/or cursing God. One classic way this is expressed is found in the Book of Job where Job’s wife tells Job who was suffering terribly in agony to curse God and die. Job’s wife expresses for all who see futility of faith in God or divine beings when the outcome is not the one people desire.

Strange thing about Christians is that in spite of all historical situations where death ends lives of an untold number of people ever lived, including Christians, we hang onto God and stand for life in opposition to death. For us, life loses meaning if it stops at death. Life is more than an existence between birth and death. Each person is given life to participate. A person does not become an owner of life in a way that one can do whatever one wants to do with it. Rather, life belongs to God and is a gift to be used in glorifying and enjoying God. It finds its full meaning in God. Its fullness will be revealed when Christ comes again. Since life comes from and returns to God, in our faith we stand against the negation of purpose and meaning through death. Through the death and resurrection of Christ we are accorded this way of confronting death.

All these about life and steadfast love of God are very interesting. As we mentioned earlier, our focus for meditation today is on faithfulness. For our faithfulness to work, we needed to understand that the steadfast love of God for us was present before we have been able to respond to God in faithfulness. Faithfulness, however, was not something separate from steadfast love. Rather, it is learned, experienced and existed through the steadfast love of God that was given to God’s own people. The very nature of steadfast love of God exudes faithfulness. Without this ever present and unconditional love, faithfulness becomes meaningless. At least for Christians, one way we experience God’s unconditional and steadfast love is through God’s faithfulness to us.

In today’s passage from Psalm 85, we see, “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet.” It is curious for us to see steadfast love and faithfulness are not one and the same, but two entities that are to meet. It is together, yet, they are not identical. Nor are they embodying the same qualities. Is steadfast love precondition for someone being faithful? Is it the case that only in faithfulness we can discern steadfast love of God given to this world? Is faithfulness required for someone to realize and enjoy steadfast love that is being given? Does faithfulness make it possible for the other to offer steadfast love? In many ways, these two appear so closely intertwined that it is impossible to untangle and figure out whether they are two separate entities or one. Like the proverbial question, egg first or chicken first, it is hard to sort and come to a definitive conclusion on whether steadfast love or faithfulness ought to be first.

Thankfully, we do not need to separate the two. It is wonderful to read from this passage that steadfast love and faithfulness will meet. They will intersect and become one. They do not need to be separated and learned about as two entities. In this intersection, life finds its meaning. At this very intersection we experience Christ. There, life’s purpose is revealed as we come to see God’s steadfast love and faithfulness meet our steadfast love and faithfulness. God’s steadfast love is revealed because God's faithfulness gifts our eyes with revelation of this wonderful grace. At the center of the intersection we come to reflect God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in our own steadfast love and faithfulness back to God and share them with those around us. Yes, our neighbours can witness and share in our steadfast love for God and faithfulness to God as we let them experience God’s steadfast love for the entire creation and faithfulness to this world.

Angel came. She rang our church bell like everyone else. The loudness of the bell almost threw me off the chair. Her dyed hair was all over. It was obvious she did not sleep well. She had air that was full of marijuanas mixed with vomit. Buttons of her shirt were all crooked and in the wrong places. Her pants were dirty and revealed too much.

“Can I help you?” I muttered.
“I want to sit with God,” she said with slurs slowly. It was obvious that she had too much to drink and smoke.
“What is your name?”
“My name is Angel.”
“Do you have a last name?” I don’t know why I was asking for the last name, but that was the only question I could think of at that moment.
“I am Angel. Can I go sit with God now?”
“Sure. You can sit with God as long as you like.” With that I took her into the sanctuary.
“When you want to go, let me know. I will be in my office. If you need anything, come and get me.” I left her in the sanctuary.

After twenty minutes, having not seen Angel, I went into the sanctuary. There she was sitting straight up. With her head vowed. I went back to the office.

Fifteen minutes later, I returned to the sanctuary. She was still sitting there where she sat for the first time. She did not move. She was not sleeping. She was not saying anything I could here.

Finally about an hour later, she came out, “I am ready to go now. Thanks.” With that she left.

Steadfast love of God did not leave her. It was always with her. God was faithful to her for her to seek God and sit with God. In this miserable life she was living through, God did not leave her alone, but was faithful and loved her without fail. She sat with her God.

To our eyes, she was a lost, abused, sexually used, drugged, and vulnerable human being. Yet, she belonged to God. God’s love for her was evident. God’s faithfulness was everlasting for her. She had her love for God. She returned God’s faithfulness with her faithfulness. That it was not Sunday did not matter. That she was full of drugs did not matter. She came with smells of drugs, vomit, and unthinkable refuse did not matter. That she probably spent a night being used by an opportunistic man or men she did not know did not matter. God’s love was steadfast for her. God’s faithfulness to her did not cease. In Angel, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness met in the sanctuary as she sat. She reflected these love and faithfulness by sitting with God for over an hour.

I was given this grace to witness God’s steadfast love and faithfulness that morning as I saw her sitting in God’s house in silence fully attending to God’s presence. Through my witnessing, everyone who hears this testimony from me now experiences third hand that in this broken Angel God’s steadfast love and God’s faithfulness as well as her steadfast love for God and her faithfulness to God.

“Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need anything?” I was more than ready to give a gift card we usually keep in my office.
“No, I am okay now. I will come back when I need to sit with God.” With that, she left.
As I looked at her leaving, I knew she did not need anything at that very moment. Somehow, I did not detect those foul smells she came with. I did not hear her slurring her words. The sound was as clear as anyone sober. Her posture was straight.

O God, we thank you for your steadfast love that never ceases. We thank you for your faithfulness. You are always with us. When we think that we have lost you, that we are unable to see you because you abandoned us, and that we are incapable of hearing your Word because of our sin, you are faithful to us and you fill us with your love. We thank you.

We thank you for your steadfast love and faithfulness to everyone in this world. To everyone, you give life and fill them with the never ceasing love and support them with the unfailing faithfulness so that life may be full through thick and thin. We thank you that you are with all those who are suffering in the world, though we have abandoned them by forgetting them and turning our eyes from their suffering.

We thank you for your grace of love and faithfulness that is given to all those who are struggling with physical and spiritual illnesses. Remind us to be like your Son our Lord each and everyday reflecting and sharing your love and faithfulness so that everyone who is walking through the shadow of death will know that you lead each one to life.

O Lord, as our world struggles and tries to find a way back to normalcy of life in which people may do what they desire to do, be with everyone who is feeling isolated, is full of worries, and is being crushed by the burdens of today. May they come to know and experience your steadfast love and faithfulness.

All these we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

Hymn: Great is Thy faithfulness