Sunday, March 7, 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 for Drummond Hill Church on Sunday, March 7

Spring is coming! I was assured by a weather person yesterday that we will hit over 10 degree Celsius this week. Welcome! Thank you for being part of our worship. By being here, you are able to build up our community of faith. Today is our anniversary Sunday. We usually invite you to communion service on our anniversary. We will postpone the communion service. We will do it as soon as we begin our in-person worship.

Please continue to pray for all those whom we have named before. Also continue to pray for families of those who passed away.

So far you have contributed $525 to our Lent Mission Fund project. Our goal this year is to serve more meals, provide more nights for those who need shelters, and help them in times of need.

We thank you for continually supporting the church’s needs. Our offering has not been as good as it needs to be at the moment. Please, prayerfully consider supporting generously.

Hymn of Preparation: In Moments Like These

Call to Worship

The church lives to praise God. We have no higher calling than to offer the worship that belongs to God day by day, Sunday by Sunday. It is right that we come and worship God.

Opening Hymn: Here I am to Worship

Opening Prayer

Through the ages, you have been faithful to us, O God. You have nurtured and sustained us since you have gathered us together to be your loving presence on this hill. On this anniversary Sunday, we come with deep gratitude for helping us to minister to all those whom you sent to us. May you receive our thanks.
In this worship, fill us with your love. Make us experience your will again. Grant us ways to witness your Word becoming flesh among us, being the light of the world, always setting us on the way, the truth and the life. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Offering: I Love You Lord

Offering Prayer

In the darkness we cry out to you. From the light you answer. In the poverty of your Spirit we pray to you. Out of the abundance of life you send us life through your Son our Lord. Having always received, we come bearing small gifts in response to all that you have given us. These are gifts offered to you with love and hope. May you receive our hearts, minds, and souls that are represented in them. In your grace, fill us with the abundance of your mercy and send us out as your servants to bring your love to all who need you, search for you, and cry out to you. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-9

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.

Sermon: Thinking about what our church building represent

Today is our anniversary. We trace back ourselves to 1802 when early settlers chose to gather together and start a church here. In those days, when settlers from Europe arrived in this new continent, the first institution they built were churches. These churches became their hubs for worship and cultural gatherings as well as being centres of their communities or villages away from their home countries. We see this happening with the newcomers now. People from Ghana, Africa, built a church in Toronto and began gathering there. In the 1990s, Drummond Hill had Koreans gathering in our building to worship and gather on Sundays. Last year we had Hungarians in Niagara Region gathering worshipping in Hungarian. We were once like that in 1802 when we began.

Since then, we grew as more Presbyterians from Scotland and elsewhere came to this new land. We grew to be a large church after World War II as many immigrants from Scotland and Ireland joined us. For those new arrivals, this church was one of the first entries into Canadian society. The church was where they found a familiar world in the new world. Many people spoke with accents the newcomers recognized. You could meet someone who knew the place you came from. Most people in the church shared similar food, music, and habits. Many newcomers who were not really regular Christians back home became regular active members of the church in the new world of Niagara Falls. The building and the land on which the church buildings stood became a symbol of life for many.

What happens in the Genesis passage is worthwhile looking at. Like any other migrant, Abram leaves his home. In his case, there is this promise from God that he will be blessed. However, he has no idea what that promise means. He uproots Sarai and his nephew Lot heading off into a new world he had never been to. Unlike us, he carries no map, cell phone, credit cards, foreign currency, hotel reservations, and destination. Only thing he knows is that he is not coming back, ever. In this departure, I wonder if he had some fears about going to a place he never knew or been to, if he grasped what it meant for Sarai to go with him just based on his words.

In a strange and foreign place, as he and his party enters Canaan, God comes to Abram. How relieved Abram would have been. God’s appearance assures him that he is on the right track and that his God is with him. God has not simply told him good things and disappeared. God is with him even in this foreign place. So Abram continues. He goes to a place between Bethel and Ai. There, he builds an altar and invokes God’s name. That is, by invoking God’s name, he reminds God where he is so that God continues with him. His family is not alone: God is with them.

In 1802, the church met in a log cabin used also as a school. The early settlers, some migrated from Scotland, some migrated from the US as loyalists, were gathered together by Rev. Daniel Eastman from the Presbytery in New Jersey to invoke God’s name in the little school house built on the site of the current cemetery. In that very first worship service, I wonder if they ever imagined a red brick church or even the shape and size of the building which would be built in 1886, if they were able to hope for a church that would be overflowing with people on Easter and Christmas with chairs put out along the aisles and in the narthex.

For many people travelling or moving to unfamiliar foreign places, being able to meet your God is very assuring and empowering. That God is already in place where you have arrived for the first time affords us to belong to that new place. It is as if God is welcoming you there. You are not alone. You are not left to fend for yourself. Your God is with you. In this spirit, Abram, Isaac, and Jacob built altars as their acknowledgment of God’s graceful presence. It is in this same spirit, Drummond Hill was built and many who moved to Niagara Falls came to join and be part of this very church.

The very first picture of the church comes from way back before the current sanctuary was built. As you can see here, it was a small structure. It signified to all those who were passing by that there was God who was welcoming God’s own people to this very place. In the early 1800s it must have been a very welcoming sight for many Presbyterians who left their homes to come and live in Niagara Falls where much of the land were empty and houses were very sparse.

Later, in the 1880s when the current sanctuary was built and in the 1920s when the church hall was added at the back of the church, the site was far more improved and became a prominent building in the area. It certainly looked more like a church and easier for people to realize that they were looking at a church. At the same time, The architecture of the building signified a well constructed establishment giving the impression that God who was worshipped in this building would be strong, definitive, permanent, and demanding of moral uprightness. This photo from the early 1900 shows how austere Presbyterians understood their God to be. Looking at the building you get an impression of God who would be firm, strict, mighty, practical and difficult to get to know. It is another way of saying that the very building we have built projected what we thought our God was like and how that God was going to be experienced at this very place.

As the time went, the church was added to and renovated with various extensions. In this current iteration of the building, in which we still worship and work, we can witness to the world the very God who welcomed those early settlers and subsequent newcomers to Niagara Falls. When you first see Drummond Hill Church, you notice straight vertical and horizontal lines. Angled lines are closer to 45 degrees sharp. These lines show stability and strength. With red bricks surrounding the entire building there is a sense of weighty importance that is being expressed. The architecture of these buildings seem to have been designed to share with the world God we knew as immortal, immutable, certain, demanding and straight forward. Though God was described as loving in earlier decades, our members worshipped God who dispensed tough love. Those who were not Presbyterians often stayed away.

I, as your minister, have been thinking a lot about the kind of God we project through the architecture, colors and other design elements to the world. After all, these physical elements do shape our ways of thinking to a degree as we inhabit these spaces. This is important in so far as how newcomers to our church, our city, our country, experience God’s presence here through their eyes first. As much as we joke about how much we enjoy certain hymns, passages of the Bible, colours, smells of food, and shapes of rooms, our church buildings, offices and rooms reveal our preferences, comforts, and experiences of God’s grace. This is why we are so attached to our church. We have enjoyed certain spiritual experiences here that are not tangible.

I wonder if Abram were to have seen our building as he was passing through Bethel, whether he would have felt welcome and would have entered to worship his God with us. I wonder if Jacob could have dreamt the same dream on the very site of our sanctuary. I wonder if God saw Jacob sleeping in our narthex whether God would have come to him in his dream. I wonder if those gathered with Rev. Daniel Eastman heard God speak to them as they began worshipping here. I wonder whether our neighbours see the loving and caring God we worship when they see our buildings. I wonder if we want to remember the first time we have heard God speaking to us in this building on this hill. I wonder if a newcomer can feel like Abram hearing God for the first time near Bethel, or Jacob dreaming God as he was fleeing his brother’s wrath at Bethel when they sit and pray on our pew.

Since Abram, people began marking sacred places. Today we see sacred places of many religions. Jews have Jerusalem. Muslims have Mecca. Roman Catholics have Rome. As Protestants, however, we have very utilitarian views of our church buildings. Apart from our own sense of historicity, we see churches primarily as a place of gathering for worship and being the centre of our spiritual lives. Beyond these functions, we see not much else. After all, we have been singing, “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.” In the past fifty years, there has been a move to build churches as “useful and multipurpose” spaces. Many new and growing church buildings are more like an auditorium or a theatre. Most megachurches hardly look like the churches of the past, looking more like mega box stores with vast parking lots. It is quite easy to think about redeveloping church properties according to needs and functions change. Again, we sing, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together…” Why bother with a place that is transitory?

From very early on, when Christians were building the church, those churches and lands on which they were built were consecrated, that is, set apart for the sacred use of worshipping and being the visible symbol of God’s presence in the world. This practice often took a superstitious tone as people began insisting only the Christians who were not considered sinners were buried on the church properties. Soon, a new practice of de-commissioning arose for those properties when church buildings and lands were no longer used for the purpose they were intended and people moved on either closing the churches or selling the properties. Nowadays, in many cases we do not even de-commision. We simply sell off churches and lands along with all the contents within them stressing on the fact that the church is the people, physical buildings and properties are not the church of Jesus Christ.

One trouble with this way of utilitarian thinking is that we end up devaluing anything physical and material. Sacred or spiritual realms are separated out from physical and concrete. It drives us into materialism. In this way of thinking everything physical is commodified and is at our disposal. We can use these material things anyway we like. As mentioned, church buildings and properties are nothing more than buildings for our use and can be bought and sold. They are useful so far as we are able to extract some use out of them. The trouble is, in our effort to extract maximum value from them, we end up forgetting what these church buildings and properties signify in the world.

Added to this, we face another difficulty in our technological age. The current trend is to test the sacredness of God’s appearance with methods of scientific enquiry. We are told to test all our experiences, especially the sacred spiritual experiences, using scientifically verifiable methods and means. In this scientific world, the one-off experiences that cannot be replicated or verified are dismissed as untrue or not accepted as true. The result of this scientific inquiry often diminishes the importance of this spiritual experience making it subject to the current day materialism--meaning only those things that meet our scientific tests are verified as true. In this atmosphere, it is impossible for us to witness God’s presence in the world sharing our experiences of God’s appearances and promises.

However, we are to remember that we live in the world, but not of the world. We live in this technologically advanced scientific world, but we are not ones shackled to it so that we are able to see that scientific knowledge is necessary, but not the replacement of God. Our experience of God frees us to know that advances in scientific knowledge add to our understanding of the world in ways we can come to be better stewards of all of life God created on earth. That is, we resist against superstitions and refuse to worship the very building we have built. Instead, we give God thanks for allowing us to witness and uphold God’s presence in the world by placing the building that represents God’s presence in the world and by being the church--Christ and his people--at this sacred place.

To celebrate our anniversary is to remember that God was here to welcome us, is here continually welcoming unconditionally all who come to worship God here, and will be here as long as there are God’s people who will find strength in life as God appears to them with blessings and promises. Our task is to let the world know that our God is greater in love than we can project, always present receiving us unconditionally, and steadfastly stand with us even when we fail to share the love shown in Christ. The very building that stands as Drummond Hill Church embodies and manifests all these and more proclaiming God’s presence in this part of God’s world.

How will God change us? How will we change our building and property to reveal and share with the world God whom we worship and love? Will that God be immortal, unchanging, and demanding God? Or will the God we reveal and share is the one who is humble, unseen, always changing, steadfast, encouraging, and unconditionally loving God?

Closing Prayer:

We bless you, O God our Father,
You have called us out of this world in 1802, kept us at your side as the ones who were given to your Son our Lord. Now we come to you remembering how your promise has been manifested through us here as we witness your Son so that in the Holy Spirit we may live the life that glorifies and enjoys you. In your grace by the baptism, our life has begun in your kingdom. Be pleased that we are gathered together and are worshipping you.

We thank you for your guiding hand that leads our political, medical, and spiritual leaders in this time of troubles. Most of our leaders from the Queen, Prime Minister, Premier to our mayor, neither know you well nor have strong faith in you, yet as God who created all people, you have used them as your servants in ways to guide and protect this world. O Lord, we pray that you alone be praised. In your mercy continue to show us your ways through all whom you have appointed over your people.

As the world faces this time of unforeseen troubles, the power of death appears insurmountable. In faith we commit our future in your hand for You, through your Son, has gained victory over death and called us into everlasting life with you. Give us courage in ways that we will not fear death. Fill us with your love so that all our fears are cast out. Make us embody the life of love you gave us. Help us to demonstrate your love through our patience in this world of need, always looking after the needs of others before us. As people in Niagara Falls struggle, give us your eyes to see all the suffering that take place here and fill us with courage to respond to them with your everlasting unconditional love.

We ask you to be with all those who are suffering with illnesses. As they walk in the shadow of the valley of death, be with them, walk with them, protect them, and comfort them. In the present conditions of our world, we are separated from those who are suffering terribly. We entrust them to you, O Lord our God. May they know that you are with them and that through you we also are with them always.

In our world poverty, war, and human cruelties are being ramped up. Evil afflicts so many people around the world. Often we feel powerless as we watch so many people suffer at the hands of other people. Be with them. Give us love and hope that will overcome all these evil acts being perpetrated by people, helping us to bring your love and hope to all.

We pray for your church and her members in this part of your vineyard. Give strength to elders and other leaders, healing to all those who are suffering diseases, and peace to those who are in conflicts. Once again we lift up the names in silence of all those who are struggling as they tread the road between life and death. Fill your servants with hope, especially those who are caring for others as doctors, nurses, care-givers, personal support workers, and essential workers.

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

Closing Hymn: I Know Who Holds Tomorrow


May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that in which we were established to witness that grace to the world since 1802,
May the love of God that nourished us in the past and continue to fill us today for tomorrow,
And May the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that encourages and fills us with hope in the darkest times of our lives
Be with us and all those who have served Christ in this place now and always. Amen.