Welcome (1 John 5:1-6)

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Let there be love

Call to Worship (Psalm 98)

O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

#314 God is love, come heaven adoring

Prayer (from Common Lectionary)

Creator of the universe,
you made the world in beauty,
and restore all things in glory
through the victory of Jesus Christ.
We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured
by poverty, sickness, selfishness, war and greed,
the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace,
to the glory of your name.

Loving God,
long ago, faithful women
proclaimed the good news
of Jesus' resurrection,
and the world was changed forever.
Teach us to keep faith with them,
that our witness may be as bold,
our love as deep,
and our faith as true. Amen.

Scripture: John 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Sermon (Loving One Another)

Such a familiar, simple and well known passage,  yet this is the passage that is so difficult to live by. For over two thousand years Christians have been taught this and we boast nearly 30% of the world population being Christian, but our world is nowhere near loving one another as this passage instructs us. We certainly like it when we are loved. We glory in the love that we receive from others. Yet, it is so difficult for us to love so freely and unconditionally because we are concerned mostly about ourselves first and foremost.

In some ways, being Christian is to live the way of love as Jesus told his disciples in this passage. I know how difficult it is to abide in Jesus’ love. Without realizing I choose to do things that benefits me, makes me comfortable and protects my interests. Looking after others with concerns, cares and compassion is not instinctive. Rather, it takes thought, effort and courage. We know it should not be this way, yet over and over, we choose what is good for us rather than for others. We also justify actions by thinking that doing so will demonstrate how our love benefits our family and friends.

As we try so hard to love as Jesus told us to, we are more than bound by our experiences where loving others brought harm and hurt. A person shared a story about giving away his last five dollars for the month to a stranger who came to him and told him how she lost her wallet as she was travelling from Toronto to Halifax. She had to change the bus in Montreal, but she said she lost her wallet with the ticket and a few dollars. She did not have anything and if he would help her, surely she would send him whatever the money he would give her. He felt sorry, gave her his last five dollars thinking he would have no money for a week. A couple of hours later as he was going to church he found her telling the same story to other people on the street. He felt betrayed and hurt. He felt terrible for falling into such a sob story. He bowed not to help those swindlers. For the rest of the week, he remembered her as whenever he was unable to buy himself water to drink at work. From that time, he did not bother listening to anyone who came to ask for help.

Of course, there are many ways of thinking about what Jesus meant by love. There are books upon books written about how to love as Jesus asked his disciples to love. Indeed, much of charitable organizations and fundraising activities are based on this command to love others. Interestingly, “love one another” has become a business by which many people profit. It seems that it is very difficult to find “love” as Jesus was insisting in today’s passage. Yes, love has become a business model and is exploited by everyone, especially by very entrepreneurial Christians.

In this context, I have been struggling to figure out this love Jesus taught us. I have been serving God and neighbours for 37 years as a minister of Word and Sacrament. It has been an incredibly joyful, yet challenging 37 years. I am still trying to figure out what it means to love as Christ commanded us. In these 37 years I observed a decline of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Currently, I see every congregation in Niagara Presbytery struggling with enormously heavy burdens. Especially after the COVID Lockdowns, we are seeing churches buckling under as less and less people attend and are involved in being faithful communities.

In this gloom and doom, what seemed like the final days of many congregations, God began leading us in ways that no one expected. It was as if we were being tested. First we began declining rather rapidly. Our numbers were getting so few on Sundays that we had to really pray and hold onto God in ways we had never done before. Then came a few strangers. On Sundays there were just a few who joined us for worship. But soon people from Afghanistan, Turkey and Ukraine began knocking on our doors. They wanted help. Back then, we did not know how to help.

The trickle of people coming to our door and asking for help became a deluge. Along with other organizations we began opening our doors. We found out that people from Turkey, both Kurds and Turks, along with people from Afghanistan needed to be welcomed. Most of them did not speak English. Almost all of them were not Christians. At best, as we welcomed them all in the name of our Lord, we could offer them nothing more than English classes. We also offered our church hall and other rooms for them to be welcomed in many ways.

Soon Afghans, Turks and Kurds were joined with many South Americans. Most South Americans were more comfortable in Roman Catholic churches than ours. Yet, we learned to welcome them. We were glad to meet them and enjoy their presence with us. This was a very different way of loving than we have ever imagined. We never imagined that we would be welcoming and caring for people who did not share our culture, politics and languages as well as faith. In retrospect, this was God’s doing. God prepared our hearts to love those whom we were never expected to love or care to love if we had a choice. Love we did by teaching English, listening to their needs and opening our church to them.

Then, God did something that completely transformed us. This time, God began sending us Christians. Yes, those who were sincere Christians. In these past two years, Christians began joining us here. This was the blessing we never expected. Many of you came not as strangers, but as sisters and brothers in Christ already mature and serving the Lord. We are grateful to God for all of you. Though we did not know each other in person, yet we were sisters and brothers in Christ even before we met for the first time. You may not know what blessing this is to each and every one of us.

In a way, it is not just that you came, but also that we have been patiently waiting for your arrival all along. This may sound strange, however, in a way, in Christ we have been waiting for your arrival. We did not know how Christ was going to transform us initially, but we trusted in God to renew and reform us. After all, our Church motto in Latin is Semper Reformanda or always being reformed/reshaped. In faith we waited and the Holy Spirit guided you to come to transform us in a way of God.

We, as a church, are being reborn in a very crucial time. In Canada, most of our local churches are decreasing. Churches that were centres of communities are no more. Instead, most of our churches are hanging on with fewer and fewer elderly people. So in prayer we have been waiting patiently for God to show us the way and God has led us in the most unexpected way by bringing you to transform us. Drummond Hill today is not the Drummond Hill of the past. Our wait in Christ has come to fruition with you being here.

When I first arrived at Drummond Hill we were mostly Canadians of European descent. Today, on a given Sunday, we enjoy the company of people from many different nations. We are indeed transformed in ways that no one expected. We give God thanks.

I explain all this to you because we have now arrived at a pivotal moment in our history as a church in Niagara Falls. In prayer, along with the session (group of elders), I have been discerning a way that the Holy Spirit will lead us into the future. It has become very clear to me that the old ways of being Drummond Hill need to give way to the brand new way that the Spirit is leading us. We need to move boldly into the future, trusting God fully. In this discernment, what stands out very clearly to me is the way Moses handed over things to Joshua as well as how John the Baptist witnessed Jesus saying, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

For Drummond Hill to be transformed in the Spirit fully, then, a new way needs to be followed. Together with the session and the Presbytery of Niagara, we are proposing something radical, bold and exciting. The session of Drummond Hill is suggesting that we turn Drummond Hill into a new kind of church where faith, hope and love are shared fully with a new leadership. This will be possible as I retire, yet, be part of the transformation process. Yes, I will retire, but I will be part of this transformation process with you. My retirement will allow many ways for Drummond Hill to become new. Next week, we will discuss this more fully and how I will continue with Drummond Hill.

In the meantime, I am very excited to have found a new way to love you fully as Jesus was instructing his disciples in today’s passage. We will find a way together as we move forward. We will let the Holy Spirit guide us. We will require everyone’s participation as we are transformed by the Spirit. In a way this transition will become a beacon of hope for the Presbytery of Niagara which has been struggling with incredible challenges. My official retirement date is July 1. It is my plan to be with you continually and will probably lead most worship services and plan activities with you throughout summer and fall months.
It is time for all of us to get together and in prayer be guided by the Holy Spirit. I invite you all to join me on this new path that God is leading us. As we work with the Presbytery, you will notice that there will not be drastic changes in the early months. I will continue to be with you and be part of the process of transformation as I have been emphasizing. All the details will begin to come starting next Sunday.

Prayer (from The PCC Worship Resource)

God of Wisdom and Mercy, 
we turn to you in these quiet moments,
and offer you our thanks for the love you have shown us,
seeking your blessing on our hopes for our lives.
This morning we give you thanks for all those people
who have shown us your face and taught us to follow you
by the faithful example of their lives.
We thank you for our life together in your church, as your forgiven people.
May the light of Christ shine through our lives
so that we become light for the world,
shining examples of your love at work.

Christ of Compassion and Action,
In you, we receive our call to live with purpose.
From you, we learn how to love those around us.
With you, we find strength to face each new day.
So today we offer our prayers for those facing challenges these days
and seek your guidance to respond to their cries.

We pray for those brought to mind by news headlines this week:
for situations of violence and deprivation, danger and devastation……
Here, you may want to lift up situations of local, national or global significance. 
We pray for families going through difficult times, 
for all who are sick or in sorrow, 
for any who are lonely or despairing:
We pray for those agonizing over important decisions and responsibilities, 
for those in leadership roles,
and for those who care for the most vulnerable in our community:
We pray for ourselves and for each other, 
for the situations that challenge us, 
and the new possibilities that encourage us:
Spirit of Christ, move with us into the week ahead.
Remind us each day to live according to God’s will and purpose,
for we want to offer your loving presence 
in the lives we touch in Jesus’ name,
for he taught all his friends these words to pray together:



#376 Lord, the light of your love is shining