1st Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-12, and Acts 2:42
Reflection: “What we do and why we do it!”
The first converts to this new religion of Christianity, “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And what we do in church on Sunday morning pretty much echoes these words from the book of Acts.
We come together as a community of faith to fellowship, to worship, to share in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and to pray. We study the scriptures, we sing songs of praise and inspiration, we share our thoughts and insights, and we pray together. As followers of Jesus the Christ, we believe his teachings are central to our own spiritual growth, and so we come together as disciples – students – of a great teacher.
But there is no one way to do that. In Ralph Milton’s book he describes a wide variety of expressions of what it is to be a United Church in Canada. From very traditional to very modern and innovative, our churches are working hard to listen and to hear what God might be doing or challenging us to do in this new world of 2020.
Ralph Milton talks about a large, old, cathedral type church whose lead minister spends much time and effort to finely craft weekly sermons that are erudite, beautifully crafted, and which in Ralph’s words: “not enough people will hear.” That church continues to be funded by a few old families in Ontario, in spite of shrinking attendance and empty pews.
And he talks about a church that has lost its building, but continues to meet in a school auditorium, having decided to use the funds from it’s old building to construct a senior’s complex with a smaller church as part of it.
Another church, having lost most of its congregation due to creeping urbanization, has decided to serve the more inner city population that now surrounds it. They are working a food bank, a clothing depot and a weekly community lunch. This congregation, Ralph says, knows that without growth it’s survival is doubtful, but it plans to finish up as a missional church anyway – serving those in need as they are called to do as disciples of Jesus.
A common theme runs thru these descriptions of churches large and small: all are attempting to do the will of God as they understand it. As the prophet Isaiah says: “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”
Hymn #356 VU “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God”
2nd Scripture Reading: Luke 4:16-21 and Matthew 5:13-16
As we said last week, the United Church of Canada came into existence by an act of parliament June 10, 1925. Officially, then, our community is all of Canada. The founders of this church had a firm belief that their mission was to unite “the fragmented body of Christ”.
Mission. That word means a purpose – and in the church it means a purpose guided by God or Holy Spirit. In our reading from Luke this morning we here Jesus define his mission from God. And it is a nod to his Jewish tradition: a reading originally from the book of Isaiah. We remember that Jesus was a Jew – he knew his scriptures and he respected his religious roots. And he knew his mission – the reason he was alive in this time and place.
From that place of knowing, Jesus reached out into community. He taught in the synagogue, he called disciples – people to teach and then to help him fulfil his mission. He knew he couldn’t do it alone.
Jesus was called to his mission – he understood himself to be the anointed one. He then called his disciples to share in his mission. Do you ever wonder why you are here? Why are you a member of this congregation? Especially at this time when so many feel no attraction to church at all!
The United Church of Canada is a missional church. We feel the need to act in the world, in the Way of Jesus, following his teachings. We feel that we are part of his great mission.
And so when one of our faith family is inspired to offer a community Christmas dinner, on Christmas day, to any and all of our neighbours, we know we have been “called” and we embrace this call and offer our love to the larger community around us.
To be “salt and light” as the gospel says, to shine our light into the world, to offer a flavour of love and justice and kindness and healing to a broken world – this is what Jesus has called us to be and to do. We find many ways to live out this calling. We offer our church as a meeting place for groups like AA and Trims – support groups like this enrich our community life. We offer a healing ministry – energy healing for those whose bodies or spirits are wounded. We have an active UCW group that works to support the work of this church and other worthy causes. There is a prayer group that intentionally responds to requests for prayer. We offer according to our gifts and our own particular calling. Musicians, cleaners, drivers, bakers and friendly visitors. The teachings of Jesus must be lived out. We are called to take those teachings into the world – to be a blessing to those around us. We are called to love, and not to judge, to forgive and offer a helping hand. We take this calling seriously, or we would not be here. We are the salt and the light, spreading into the community around us the Way of Love – the Way of Jesus.
And we know that Love heals all wounds, and Divine Love is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Hymn #144 MV “Like a Healing Stream”