Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
Father, I adore you
Call to Worship: (Psalm 125:1-3)
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides for ever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time on and for evermore
. For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest
on the land allotted to the righteous,
so that the righteous may not stretch out
their hands to do wrong.
Open our eyes, Lord
O Lord God,
Come to us now and be with us. We bring our broken selves to worship you. We raise our voices to praise and glorify your name.
For seven days, we were scattered in this world, living as we best could, doing things in hope of lifting up your name before others. We know that we are not always able to represent your Son’s love to this world in ways that you are blessed. Yet, we pray that all our sincere efforts did point others to you.
On this day as we come to worship we ask you to bless this worship with your presence. In your grace and mercy may the Spirit lead this worship so that this worship is acceptable to you.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Scripture Reading: Luke 18:9-14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Sermon: Who are we?
How do we follow Christ today? This question is becoming more crucial because in this post-pandemic world, people searching for hope will experience Jesus first from those who follow Christ. I am sure some will go to the Bible first. But mostly people will search on google to see what the followers of Jesus do and in order for them to consider and evaluate pros and cons of attending a church. People used to seek churches out when they were going through a crisis in life. Up until a few years ago, people tried out churches by attending. Today, most people try churches’ websites, learning about us before they try in person. They not only browse uploaded sermons, but also look at all information available. Some go so far as to read reviews and comments to gauge if a church is worth their visit.
Churches’ web pages, however, are not necessarily the best way to experience Jesus. We know this as insiders. We know the most important thing about following Christ to live the life of faith, hope, and love in Christ is to have a personal relationship with our triune God. Without this “personal” relationship with God, much of who we are and what we do are tenuous and fleeting, easily lost in time of difficulties or of hardship. This personal relationship with Jesus is not easy to be found through well managed and beautifully packaged websites offering information. I am sure it is possible to convey the loving relationship we enjoy with Christ, but it is far from the real thing.
A few weeks ago, as I was talking with members of an addiction support group I came to a very eye opening realization. They were telling me about how more and more people were seeking them out. Their intake groups (whose task was to screen new people who wanted to join) were very busy. They told me that they had simple rules of admission to their weekly meetings: be honest about their addiction, do their best for recovery and be ready to be helped. Any new person wanting to join had to acknowledge their addiction and accept their situation. Of course their requirements are very familiar to us. All our evangelical work stresses the need for confession and repentance, acknowledging that we are sinners as we receive Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
Addiction groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous insist that people with addictions accept the fact that they have addiction problems. This is what we would expect not only because AA was begun by a Christian person, but because treatment can only start when people recognize that they are afflicted with these diseases. This is the same way that Christian missionaries preached about salvation in the 17th and 18th centuries. People who needed to be baptized had to confess their sins and repent. Today we may not be so out right demanding for people to accept their sinfulness. However, baptism is still understood as washing away of sins after confession of sins.
Today’s focus, however, is not on our evangelical demands for people to repent. It is more on our own personal acknowledgement of who we are. It is more about whether we are being the faithful followers of Jesus and if it is possible for others to connect to Jesus through us. Our role as being Jesus’ body here and now is the very focus for this conversation.
As we have mentioned earlier, our websites are very well packaged. They contain what we want to reveal to the world who we are as we choose to unveil ourselves to the world. Most of the time each webpage is carefully constructed and curated. We make sure everything is just right the way it should be. I remember being in a discussion where elders were very concerned about certain information being put on our webpages that may discourage many people from joining us. For example, these elders did not want any theologically or culturally controversial and sensitive subjects to be displayed on our website. Also each page ought to have no spelling mistakes and contain sentences that are clean and succinct. Putting pictures of members was another very thorny issue due to privacy concerns as well as a sort of image these pictures would present what kind of church we were to the outsiders.
In other words, perusing any church website will give a visitor a sense of well organized faith community. It has pictures of lots of smiling people of all ages. There are lots of welcoming statements. Some websites tell us how excited they are to have us visit. By looking at church websites including their program pages, it is hard to imagine if all these churches were for full of sinners, the homeless, the persecuted, and poor. Words on these pages certainly indicate everyone is welcome, but nothing on these pages are designed to reach out to the marginalized as well as those who feel they are not wanted in this world.
Often in church growth seminars, workshops and books, we read about targeting specific groups. This is because people are attracted to those who are more like them. Our websites as well as our Sunday morning worship services present specific and somewhat idealized version of what we believe a local church should be. No church in its right mind wants to present themselves to the world their weak and broken selves. Invitation, therefore, is for people who are very much like those who attend the church already. These newcomers are to join us because they dress like us, talk and think the same way as us, and enjoy the same type of music as we do. When the world sees us, we are confident, gentle, generous, hardworking and welcoming people.
Contrast this pristine views of churches we project with all kinds of news people heard about misbehaviours of church leaders in the past five decades. Many non-church goers are left with impression that church is selfish because it is always asking for money, is unsafe because many leaders have been convicted of sexual and psychological abuses, and is outdated because many churches still support abortion and toxic patriarchal systems of leadership. In the minds of many people who do not know what a local church is, with these two very different pictures in their minds churches are not the places for vulnerable and broken people. It is no wonder that people who consider themselves broken because of addiction, poverty, mental illnesses and sin will see churches as places for them not to belong.
Of course, we may protest vigorously that we are indeed a faith community that welcomes everyone, especially those who are vulnerable and weak. Yet, if one of human nature is to congregate with the same types of people, we can hardly be ones the poor, the broken, and the sinners are looking for. Think of it this way. When the homeless walk into our worship on Sunday, do they see the homeless seating on pews worshipping? When the abused come in search of friends who could understand and receive them as their own, do they find us as ones who also have walked the road they are walking on now? When the lost in our world comes in for companions who would search with them the meaning of life, are we the ones who can offer companionship since we, too, are in search of life’s meaning?
Jesus tells a parable. In it we find two very different people: one with confident faith carrying contempt for sinners while praying in the public with haughty words and the other who knows his own sin and brokenness enough to ask for forgiveness. Jesus talks of the sinner’s humility. The good news is that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who are humble will be exalted. By this, Jesus talks about how God’s people are full of humble sinners like this sinner who was beating his breast asking for mercy unlike the Pharisee. When those who are sinners come to worship and hear this good news, they are buoyed with hope. They are also able to see and be among sinners who are beating their breasts for God’s mercy. In such a gathering, one who knows her own sin feels at home and can receive the good news of God through Christ as she repents. From Jesus’ message she finds hope. Because she is able to see others receiving mercy and be lifted up, she, too, knows that mercy is for her through Jesus. Jesus becomes her Lord and Saviour.
Yes, indeed, because she sees people like her in their humbleness and humility receiving the good news, she knows she is part of God’s people who is being redeemed through Christ. She sees her reflection in all those sinners. She also sees her salvation as the body of Christ is exalted, though humble they are.
We are constituted as the body of Christ because we have been called into and recreated as Christ’s body, forgiven of our sins. Yet we also know and confess with Paul that none of us is righteous, no, not one. We are sinners in God’s presence through the amazing grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus. We are not perfect and totally together unlike the Pharisee mentioned here. We are like this sinner unable to look up to heaven in shame as we pray for God’s mercy. When we are able to present ourselves as sinners, that is when others who come to worship with us can see themselves in us regardless of their poverty, homelessness, state of being abused, downtrodden, and broken. It is when we are able to fully be transparent in our sins, others, too, can join us and pray with us asking for God’s mercy. Yes, in the way we are given grace by God through Christ, the world will be able to find their true relationship with the Saviour. This is how we follow Christ today, as sinners asking for God’s mercy.
Hear our prayer as we lift our voices in your Son’s name.
We ask you to give us courage to be peacemakers in this world. More than ever, as politicians fight over right and wrong, justice and deserving punishment, as they threaten each other with greater annihilation trying their best to dominate the world, we need your peace, O Lord. Make us your servants with strength of hearts to stand and proclaim peace on earth and good will to all humanity.
We lift up voices of the lost. Refugees, prisoners, the poor, the weak, and the sick are suffering more in the world of abundance. You have blessed this world with wealth, yet, the world is mired in inequity where the vast majority of your creation suffer while those who benefit turn their eyes and ears away from those who suffer. Grace and mercy have been absent. Sharing is done at whims. O God, hear the prayers of all those who suffer terribly. Hear their cries. Know their pain.
We cry out to you for those who belong to this congregation as well as all those who belong to you, yet, are afflicted by diseases of all kinds. Some are suffering in hospitals. Others are trying their best to survive each day at home with little or no care. Many are perplexed by your silence, O Lord. Be present with them all. May they find your presence to strengthen their fortitude to find ways to serve and glorify you in spite of all their limitations.
We bless you God our creator. It is in blessing we are able to receive your blessing and share it with the world. Be generous in your compassion as you send us into the world to be your servants. If we fail in our meagre task, do not abandon us, but reconstitute us. Through all that we do, may you bring glory to your name.
All these we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Offering and Offering Prayer
For the blessing we have received, we give thanks, O God. As we return a small portion of what you blessed us with as our offering, fill us with your wisdom to know where, when, and how we may further your reign in this part of your vineyard. Keep our eyes steady on your ministry that is unfolding in this world. Help us to participate in tasks that will bring glory to your name. In your Son our Lord we pray. Amen.
Please remember the Cinnamon Bun Tuesday at 10 am. It is a time of fellowship. If you can, please come and join us.
Cinnamon Bun Tuesday continues at 10 am
Wine, Women, and Song will begin on Thursday, November 4th at 10 am.
We will be holding special worship on Sunday, November 13th at 2 pm. On that Sunday, we will have a short morning devotion at 10 am, but will have one service at 2 pm. Please plan to come at 2 pm. Also bring friends. It will be a totally different worship experience.
Please remember to take an envelope for Love your Church campaign. Our goal to raise $20,000 extra until the end of the year.
This is my commandment