It is our 221st Anniversary Sunday. Let us give God thanks for the steadfast love of God that has sustained us.
The welcoming words come from Psalm 121.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.
Preparation: Unto the hills
Call to Worship:
Jesus answered Nicodemus, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." ...
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." Let us come and worship God who loves the world!
Come into his presence singing
From before our beginning 221 years ago until the time we find ourselves in the fullness of time in your reign, we worship you. It is you who called us to be here, signifying to the world your presence and love for the world. It is you who call us today to be the very hands and feet of your love at work in this part of your vineyard. How wonderful is your grace, O God!
Come now and receive this worship as our thanksgiving. Come and be with us as we rejoice in you for all your blessings. Bring us together by the Holy Spirit and be glorified in this worship as we praise you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Sermon: Refusing to test God
It’s our anniversary, a joyful day to remember how God has blessed us and will continue to guide us into the future. It is also the day we re-commit our future in God’s hand. It is the day to rejoice in God.
On this day, we remember the second temptation Jesus faced. The tempter was very clear. Test your faith in God, says he. If you throw yourself down, God will save you from death. What an astounding yet timely temptation this is. Does Jesus really trust God? Can he totally put his life in God’s hand?
After Jesus made it clear that a person requires both bread and God’s word, he faces the next hurdle regarding his own faith in God. Surely, Jesus should trust. Jesus could try to find out if God is really there for him. How else would he and others know that he is from God? He may think he knows, but is he really certain? Can he trust his own faith in God who cannot be seen, felt or known? If he can prove to himself that he is from God, what is there to lose? By demonstrating to himself and to the world that God has his back will solve all kinds of problems he will face.
Do you love me? A woman asks her husband. For some reason, her husband was acting strange. He comes home late, appears deep in thought, hardly communicating with her and seems to have lost any interest in what children were doing. She wants to know. She needs to test their relationship in order to find out if he still loves them as he always did in the past. When she shared her concerns with her friends, all her friends agreed that she should find out what was going on with him in order to make sure he still loves her. They came up with various questions to ask.
Not too long ago, Rogers cell phones stopped working without any warning. The network went down. No one could call out or in. People began panicking right away. If my phone did not work how would I know whether everyone in my family is well or not, in trouble or not and is safe or not? How could businesses operate when clients had no way of connecting to them? How would delivery companies notify their customers? How could anyone check emails to see if there were urgent messages? How could a person late for an appointment notify that she was still coming for the appointment? Rogers was no longer reliable.
From a very young age, everyone is taught to look for evidence and is encouraged to verify even those things that look like irrefutable evidence. Science and technology emphasise the importance of evidence from the get go. Our ways of thinking are built on testing our assumptions and what we know as facts. In all areas of our lives we question, test and verify in order to make sure that our knowledge is on solid ground. This is why faith is seen as being outside of the scientific domain. Faith is a stab in the dark, leaping into the unknown without full understanding. Many scientists, therefore, think faith is dangerous unless tested.
We can appreciate what the tempter is trying to do here with Jesus. Having proof or evidence is important in demonstrating to others who you really are. We think that proven faith is far more convincing than unproven knowledge. If Jesus is among us today, we do not mind asking him the similar question in order to be sure that he is who he says he is. Atheists, agnostics and sceptics can be convinced if we have fail-proof evidence to show that there is God. There would be no dispute about God’s existence and Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our faith can be shared without question. This, however, is not the way of Jesus.
For Jesus, trying to let God prove God’s existence, power or ability is far more than where our lives are at. This certainly is not a stance against proofs and evidences. Rather it is about the way in which we understand who we are. Later in his ministry, Jesus carried out many miracles and healings, indicating that God’s reign is near. Here, however, the tempter’s attempt is to test Jesus on his own personal conviction regarding who he is as well as what he can do in the world. The question gets to the identity of Jesus. It starts, “if you are the Son of God…”
We have been on this hill for 221 years. As we face many challenges, we are confronting many questions about who we are and who we can be. Only thing we know for sure is who we were. Today with all the changes and difficulties, we often second guess ourselves. Who are we? Even before I came, the session went on retreat to figure out the vision for us. As membership numbers were declining, the church wanted to know if we could sustain ourselves in the near future. When I was interviewed, the thought in the mind of the search committee was finding a minister who could help us flourish and grow in number.
After all these years of ministry, we once again wonder if we have a future. We are certainly declining even more rapidly. With the cost of upkeep increasing and along with wear and tear of the building continuing, worries fill us. That is because we think in terms of where the Christianity is at. Along with many institutions like Kiwanis, Rotary, YMCA and YWCA, churches in general are declining. Here and there we see an anomaly, but in most cases Christianity and its influence are in a steep decline. We have lost all the mojo we had as a young and growing church. Now we wonder who we will be as a church.
What we are not seeing is that in a way, we are at the beginning of a new phase of God’s ministry through Christ. It is true that the old form of what Christianity is waning, but a new way of following Christ is dawning on us. As self-doubt grips those churches whose number and influence are diminishing, tempter’s question becomes a real challenge for us. Are we truly the body of Christ? Are we the very representation of Jesus Christ who is the Son of God? This has become a very existential question for us as we grapple with possible closures of so many churches in Canada.
After 221 years, we ask this question once again. Are we really the representation of the Son of God? How can we prove to ourselves that we are? Isn’t the decline and closures of many churches show that we are not? Did not God promise to make us grow and flourish if we are faithful and righteous? What seems to discourage so many mainline churches is the explosive growth of some churches. They seem to have no doubt about their faith and who their God is. They are confident and jubilant. They have no worries and cares as they go about doing Christ’s ministry with certainty.
Testing our faith and living with doubt has been part of who we are. Yet, Jesus handles the same question on identity totally differently. He focuses neither on his insecurity, nor on his identity. He responds to the tempter to refrain from testing God. After all, self-doubt and identity have nothing to do with God and God’s love for the world. The tempter’s issue is not on Jesus’ identity. The tempter already knows who God is and who Jesus is. By challenging Jesus to jump, Jesus is being forced or coerced to test God. If Jesus goes along with this dare, Jesus is the one who ends up testing God and his relationship to God.
Our existence as part of the Church of Jesus Christ is the same. If we are to seek a way to reassure ourselves of God’s presence, providence, protection and guide, then, we end up falling into temptation to prove God’s love for us. We are called, just as Jesus was, to be the body of Christ, an earthly presence of Christ in the world. Our faith is not to worry over our identity and whether God is truly faithful to us or not. It is also not about if we see ourselves as the body of Christ, but all about being faithful without putting God to the same test. Our success or failure, our wealth or poverty, our well-being or illnesses are not what makes us followers of Christ.
We are God’s people who have been called, baptised and made into the body of Christ bringing God’s reign ever real to everyone around us in all that we do. This is what we are sure of as we celebrate our 221 years of being Christ followers here on this hill in this city. It is important to remember who we are and not test God. May God continue to bless us as we go forward into the future as followers of Christ, denying ourselves, picking up our crosses. Remember! Our eyes are fixed on Jesus and we do as our Christ did as his church.
Throughout all ages, you have been the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. In you we find our purpose. Because of you we find our place in this world. By you we gain strength to share your love with the world. As you have done so for 221 years for us, now come and hear our prayer.
Humbly we ask you to tend to this world. It is filled with battles and wars. People are searching for peace without end. In many countries lives of people are no longer considered worth a bother. In this cruel world, O God, we pray for all those who are voiceless and in suffering. Be with them. Give us courage to be their voices.
We pray for your people struggling everywhere. So many are worried, fearful and angry over things they have no control. Be with them. Fill them with your love to share patience, gentless, kindness and humility.
We pray that you will be with all those who are sick, broken and in despair. Do not neglect them, but fill them with your grace and mercy. As they struggle each day with ageing bodies and minds, keep them in your care. We pray especially for those who are waiting for life beyond this life. As they struggle each day, waiting for you to call them to yourself, walk with them. Do not leave them for a minute. Fill us with compassion to be your presence to them in their struggles to return their lives back to you.
We pray for this congregation. You have blessed us for 221 years. Continue to bless us in ways that we truly bless others with your love. May we not fail to bring about your good news to all through what we do as much as what we say. Give us your presence. Walk with us. Help us to follow Christ with all that we are.
We thank everyone who is here to worship you today. Fill us with your Spirit. Send us into the world with your blessings.
We pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
Sharing and Announcements
We thank Jerry, Mike and Rob for helping us with music during worship, Jon and Pat for music in refreshment time and Linda and Gail for preparing the lunch.
Please remember that we are continuing with our Lent Devotions at 10:30 am every Wednesday until Easter. Come. Bring a friend. Enjoy the Lenten journey together.
We are continuing to raise money for those who suffered earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. There are small cans on tables at refreshments for you to put your donations.
Donations for gently used clothes, kitchen utensils and small kitchen appliances are received for those in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees settling into a new life in the Niagara Region. We are collecting here at the church. You can also take them directly to St. Peter and St. Paul Ukrainian Church on Sylvia Place on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 4 pm and 6 pm. We are asking you to make sure that if you like to donate pillows, they ought to be new.