Sunday, September 26, 2021

Welcome and Announcements

Thank you for worshipping with us today. In God’s grace we rejoice and praise the creator, redeemer, and reconciler of all that are living. Let us lift up our voices and sing to the one who was, is and ever shall be.

Until Sunday, December 5, our church will be collecting donations of food and toys. Food is to be non perishable like school snacks, drink boxes, pasta and sauces, box cereals. Toys must be new and in original packaging. In the case of toys, please do not wrap them. We thank you in advance for your generous willingness to share.

Our Wednesday evening suppers and worship are going in full. Come and join us. Be part of this community of fellowship and break bread together. Due to the newly implemented COVID measure, we will require vaccine certificates for dining. Worship requires all to be masked with exceptions for those who have medical reasons and be two meters apart.

Call to Worship

Minister: Throughout this difficult time of being isolated due to COVID virus, as before the pandemic, you have been with us and you have been faithful to us, O Lord!

All: Great is your faithfulness, O God!

Minister: Through all our days, you have been our guide, comforter, and sustainer, always loving, always encouraging, and always being present with us. We come before you in your grace to worship you as your people.

All: In thanksgiving for your faithfulness, we lift up our hearts to you. Receive this worship.

Hymn: Joyful, joyful we adore you

Opening Prayer (together)

We come, O Lord, humbly to bless you. As our God who loves us in Christ without fail, you have blessed us through the last 7 days. Though we have sojourned in the world of fears and threats, we have been guided by your presence. In thanksgiving we return to bless and worship you. Be pleased.

We bring our tattered selves. We did our best. Yet, loving neighbours was not easy in this pandemic world, caring for creation was far more difficult as we cared for ourselves, and lifting the lowly was non-existent because we have been isolated from each other. We come confessing that we were not able to be whom you called us to be: the people of God who share the good news of Christ with all.

Forgive us. In this forgiveness, may we find strength of reconciliation that you have given us through your Son our Lord. Reshape us in this worship and fill us with your love. Then, send us into the world as your new creation, sharing and caring for all those who need you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Luke 4:1-4

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’

Sermon: The new beginning

We know how important a beginning is. If we start on the right foot, things will go well at least for a while. We can imagine what disaster it will be if we take a wrong path from the very beginning without realizing. This is why we study maps when we travel, make plans when we start a new business, and we research and calculate our abilities to afford when we make an important purchase. Because of this importance, we are careful in starting anew. We know how important it is to get all the ducks in order if we are to give ourselves the best opportunity in our new adventure.

Starting new, however, is not just a matter of researching and planning as much as we can for success. There is much preparation to be done in terms of leaving behind our unhelpful habits and thoughts while bringing skills, knowledge and experiences that are necessary for starting a new life. Also we need to ready our hearts to combat anxieties and fears of the unknown. In other words, it takes more than a good idea or will to start. Yet, it is not always the diligent planning or strong will to start something new. Sometimes we are thrust into the new by our circumstances. This is certainly the case as we begin putting the pandemic behind us.

In this spirit, we can try to look and understand how Jesus began his life anew as he began his ministry. Up until his baptism, he was like everyone else, doing his own thing, living his life as a regular person. After the baptism, however, he went into the desert to start his new life. Having put his life behind, he was with wild beasts alone and faced his first test. We may wonder what he did to prepare himself. On this point, however, the Bible is silent. Only in Luke’s Gospel we see a small and unrecognizable glimpse of what his life before the baptism might have been like.

First one has to do with when he was taken to the Temple on the eighth day as a baby. In this case, everything was the same as all other boys of his age. He was taken to the Temple by his biological parents. Sure, the writer of the Gospel talks about how two elderly prophets broke into prophecies and praises. Jesus as a baby boy, on the other hand, was like all other babies. Nothing in particular can be said regarding Jesus at this point.

In Luke, we do hear about Jesus as a boy in the Temple having discussion with priests on subjects that are beyond his age. We are also told that he grew in wisdom finding favour with God and people. His prodigious growth was extraordinary. But we do not hear about it again.

There are no indications in the Scriptures concerning Jesus’ preparation for his ministry other than submitting himself to John’s baptism. This baptism, too, was the same one that many others took. In this sense, it is difficult to see what special preparation Jesus did in order to take the first step into his ministry. Of course, it could be argued that the temptations he faced in the desert were his preparation. Yet, it is more plausible to see these temptations as the very beginning of his ministry as he battles the forces of darkness.

The very first thing he faces is the basic need of being human. He has been in the wilderness forty days being tempted. He fasted forty days and was famished. That was when the devil came with a proposal that he ought to turn a stone into bread. It came with an “if” clause. “If you are the son of God,” he said. Was it a challenge for him to prove to himself that he was capable of meeting his physical needs? Was it to demonstrate to himself that he was indeed the son of God? Was it something else?

In the wilderness, away from humanity, what does it matter whether he was the son of God or not? If he turns stones into bread, he and the devil are the only ones to know. If he satisfied his hunger, it simply affirms that he, like everyone else, was born a human. Doing this miracle does not change the fact that he was fully divine, yet also fully human. So what is this temptation really about? Why is this proposal to meet one’s hunger considered a temptation anyway? What happens if he actually turns stones into bread and satisfies his hunger? Is it a terrible thing to imagine Jesus as one who looks after his physical needs?

Unlike the temptation scene in Matthew, Luke has a shorter response from Jesus to the devil, “One does not live by bread alone.” Matthew has an extra phrase that says, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Matthew’s gives us a clearer way to make sense. The question is, why did Luke omit this latter phrase and what was Luke wanted to convey by leaving it out?

As we just sang the hymn to the immortal and invisible God, there are mysteries in faith we often need to explore. At least in Matthew’s Gospel, we can tell Jesus has his mind firmly planted on God’s word. Here, without the said phrase, we are left to ponder life that is more than bread and often not fully focused on God’s word. This makes sense if we think about the fact that Luke is writing this Gospel to help Theophilus who was not a believer or one who knew God of Israel. By helping his friend see Jesus starting his ministry with this answer, those who are outside of faith can imagine a possibility of eventually following Jesus.

Scholars often opine that Gospel Matthew was written for the Jews or those Jews who believed in Christ as the Messiah. Gospel Luke, on the other hand, states at the very beginning that it was written for a Greek. In this context, if the author of this Gospel was to reference “the word” of God which is a very specific and theological term used by religious Jews, outsiders to Jewish faith would not have understood fully what Jesus was saying. On the other hand, by allowing the answer to encompass life as everyone experienced during Jesus’ time, Gospel Luke opened a possibility for the Gentiles to welcome the good news.

Jesus’ answer, reframed this way, helps the Gentiles to see what Jesus is saying to the devil. Jesus in Gospel Luke is reaching out to the Jews and the Gentiles alike. In this context, what does it mean to hear Jesus say, “One does not live by bread alone’” to the devil? Certainly we can infer that life is more than daily struggles to satisfy hunger. Having daily sustenance to keep our bodies going is essential, but to be human is to be more than being concerned for food. Any Roman citizens or Greeks would have understood this as a matter of course.

Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato insisted that human thoughts separated us from animals. Their philosophies were all about transcending animal needs and elevating the needs of human minds. Many ancient people were very mindful of the importance of living an ethical and moral life that distinguished human beings from animals as well as others whom they considered barbarians. Jesus’ answer without reference to Jewish understanding of God’s word, would have found resonance in many gentiles. It would have been accepted as the universal truth in that human life required more than food to flourish. Remember that before Jesus, Greeks and Romans were already familiar with Socrates choosing death for the sake of principle. They knew life was more than satisfying hunger.

We are beginning again anew after a long lockdown as a community. We are excited about being a community of Christ in this world. How are we to begin anew? Is it a simple matter of putting up a sign saying that we are continuing with everything we had done before? That we are trying some new things alongside the old? That we are morphing into doing new things no one has ever seen before? How do we begin anew in Christ?

Last two Sundays’ discussions were about what “new” means in the context of Jesus’ ministry. We talked about how in Jesus the true new meant the completion of the old promises in Christ. We explored how the law given in the days of old was not abolished, but was fulfilled in Christ. We came to a point where we were able to say that we were being unveiled as ever new or continual glimpses until in God we are fully revealed to the world. As we embark on the road to lead everyone to the fullness of who one is created to be, we begin again with the first step Jesus took. That is, as the body of Christ, we bring the good news that begins with the declaration that all those who do not know God’s word can be given this wonderful news in ways they may find God.

Our beginning embodies Jesus’ beginning. Our ministry, too, begins with the very universal truth which all can accept: the new life begins when they begin with the truth that is already within themselves. Many people who are not believers already know that life is more than surviving hunger. Life’s purpose is reached when we resist the temptation of surviving at all cost, simply meeting basic human needs, accumulating things to satisfy insatiable physical desires, or doing everything to escape death. Life is, when the love of God which lays down one’s life for another to give life alongside sharing food so that no one would die of hunger as Christ did in his ministry by feeding, healing, and teaching, yet eventually dying for the world on the cross.

Pastoral Prayer

In the world that demands for power, wealth, and prosperity for personal enjoyment, we come, O God, walking on the path of love. We are weak on all counts because our worldly needs are more important to us than following your Son our Lord. Yet, we come to be part of your people to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow you. Be merciful to us.

We bring our needs and lay them down at your Son’s feet. Hear our prayers.

Our bodies are carrying pain, often, too severe as we grow older. Being afflicted with cancers, some of us wither and shrivel each day even when we take medications. Many of us fear that death knocks on our doors, eager to take us away from this world. Give us your presence so that we may find strength to share the love you have given us in these harsh circumstances. Make us strong in this weakness to fill our loved ones with hope.

Many of us are filled with fear, anger, and sadness. Life was difficult before the pandemic caused by COVID 19. Life has been unbearable since. Sometimes we despair. In hopelessness, some of us turned to dark remedies, some of us contemplated suicide, and some of us harmed others. With your presence, O God, help us to see that fear, anger, and sadness are tools by which love can be shared and life can be rebuilt. Fill us with your wisdom in ways that we can receive these hurtful emotions to discover your everlasting peace within ourselves. Open our eyes to the ways of learning these cries from our hearts to reveal the true images you have embedded in us.

Give us, O God, strength of your Holy Spirit to confront death. As the powerful of this world continue to destroy hopes of the poor, the lost, the fleeing, the weak, and the hungry, temper us with your good news. Make us your servants who, like Jesus, will walk among the broken, the weak, the sick, the cast-out, the neglected, the poor, and the lost. May the Holy Spirit fill us to be your good news to the world.

Guard and protect us as we start this new future in you. Help us to walk with you always. Grant wisdom to all our elders and members. Guide them to be guided by your Holy Spirit every step of the way. All these we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Offering (Lead me, Lord)

Offering Prayer

O Lord, all that we have received, all that we are, are from you. We bring portions of what we have as our offering to you. Receive these gifts. Bless us to be your servants in this difficult time. Strengthen us to be bold in sharing your love. Send us to those who need you the most. Make us your servants so that we will do your bidding in this world. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Closing Hymn: Guide me, O thou great Jehovah