Sunday, September 19

September 19 Worship

The theme of today's worship service is wisdom, and the scripture lesson is Psalm 1. All three hymns had something to do with wisdom, including the opening hymn, We Gather Together. In the Chalice Hymnal which we have in our pews, this song opens, "We gather together to ask for God's blessing, to turn to a wisdom surpassing our own." The middle hymn, to a rather famous Roman Catholic tune, is Holy Wisdom. And the closing hymn, Be Thou My Vision, includes the verse, "Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word..." 

Here's the video of the complete service, followed by a transcription of the sermon in its entirety.

Sunday, September 12

September 12 Worship

We began this morning's service with the Ode to Newfoundland played on the organ, followed by a brief devotional referencing the reaction of the people of Gander, Newfoundland to the events of September 11, 2001. During the service itself, we had our first children's message in 18 months, along with a blessing of backpacks. The sermon was on the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Hymns included For the Beauty of the Earth, Help Us Accept Each Other, and They'll Know We Are Christians by Our LoveThe women of our choir sang Jesus Loves Me after the backpack blessing. Here is a video of the service in its entirety, followed by a complete manuscript of the sermon:

Sunday, September 5

September 5 Worship

Today we celebrate the Lord's Supper. The scripture passage is from James 2, and the message is entitled God's Yardstick. Our hymns are:

When Morning Gilds the Skies
Sister, Let Me Be Your Servant
Alleluia! Sing God's Story
In the Midst of New Dimensions (UCC)

Here is a video of the complete service. Below the video, please find the text of the sermon in its entirety.

Sunday, August 29

August 29 Worship

Today's scripture lesson came from the 7th chapter of Mark, in which—on the surface, at least—Jesus appears to be telling us not to wash our hands or do the dishes. But what was his real message? The TV series Ted Lasso was used as an illustration.

Hymns included were All People That on Earth Do Dwell, Your Words to Me Are Life & Health, and Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God. Here's a video of the worship service in its entirety:

Sunday, August 22

August 22 Worship

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the "synoptic" gospels), Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" The message in today's worship service talks about the equivalent question in John's gospel. After seemingly thousands turn aside from following Jesus after hearing his "I am the bread of life" teachings, he asks the twelve, "Do you want to leave me, too?" 

All of our hymns were gospel songs: Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, Wonderful Words of Life, I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, and Standing on the Promises

Here is today's worship service in its entirety. Below the video is a transcript of the sermon.

Question & Answer

Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
—John 6:68

There are four gospels. Three of them are seen from a similar viewpoint. So we talk about them using a word that means seen together. That word is synoptic. The synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This makes John the odd man out. It doesn’t take much Bible study to see that John is quite different from the other three gospels. For one thing, John uses language in a different way, and emphasizes different theological concepts. John makes it much more obvious that Jesus is divine, for example. And then there’s the fact that John doesn’t have the same stories that Matthew, Mark, and Luke have. And one of those stories is important to what I’m talking about today.

In the synoptic gospels, something is recorded that Christians have always considered extremely important. All three of them record an event we call the Confession of Saint Peter. It’s a story I’ll bet you’ve all read. You’ve probably looked at it in Sunday School class or Bible Study. And you’ve certainly heard sermons on it.

It’s a story about a question—about two questions, actually. First Jesus asks his disciples what others are saying about him. “Who do people say that I am?” he asks. And in all three gospels, they give the same answer: They say he’s either John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the other prophets come back to life. All three answers make it clear that people think Jesus is a prophet—though they obviously don’t all agree which one.

But of course this isn’t the important part of this story. Jesus then asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” And here, as in so many other places, Peter is the spokesman. “You are the Messiah of God,” Peter answers. This is basically the first time this is declared in the synoptics, and it’s an important moment. Most sermons on this text talk about the same thing. But it’s an important thing, and it bears repeating over and over: It’s nice to know what others believe about Jesus. But it’s what we believe about Jesus that truly means something. If, like Peter, we can’t declare that he’s the Messiah of God, then all the sermons in the world are meaningless.

John’s viewpoint is different. The first person to know that Jesus is Messiah in his gospel isn’t one of the disciples, but the woman at the well. And John doesn’t refer at all to this scene in which Jesus asks the disciples point-blank who they think he is. But that doesn’t mean that John doesn’t record a similar confrontation—a similar choice that the disciples have to make about who they think Jesus actually is.

Now, going back to commonalities and differences among the gospels, the one miracle all four record is the Feeding of the Five Thousand. After this happens, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all move on to other things. But in John, almost all the rest of the chapter (and it’s a long chapter!) is devoted to Jesus talking about the meaning behind the miracle. In John 6, Jesus talks repeatedly about the bread of life. And as he talks, his words get more and more challenging.

First, he implies that the manna in the wilderness wasn’t the true God-given bread from heaven. Then he goes even further and says, “I am the bread of life.” Then he goes too far and says, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you’ll have eternal life.” The same people who gladly ate the bread of the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand are now so offended by the One who fed them, that they turn away.

And it’s at this point that Jesus asks a question. It’s both like and unlike the question that he asked in the other three gospels. There, the question was, “Who do you say that I am?” Here, the question is actually simpler. Looking around at the emptiness once occupied by the crowds, Jesus asks his closest followers, “Do you want to go away, too?”

If this were a written exam, “Who do you say that I am?” would be considered a short answer type of question—maybe even an essay question. If you were anything like me when I was in school, I always preferred true-or-false questions. They required much less independent thought. And that’s the kind of question Jesus asks here in John—not so much a true-or-false question, but a yes-or-no question, which amounts to the same thing.

It’s entirely possible that we might need to answer the Matthew-Mark-and-Luke question only once in our lives. If we’re steady and faithful and strong-willed, once we’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah of God, we can stick to our guns and simply believe that as long as we live. But that other question—the one Jesus asks in John—might well come up again and again. Because it’s not just a question about Jesus. It’s also a question about the people we associate with. It’s a question about who Jesus is… in the church.

Let’s remember why all those people were following Jesus around, hanging on his every word in the first place. They liked what he said, and when they followed him the first time, he gave them all something they wanted… something they needed. He fed them. They ate all they wanted, and then some. And so they kept following. This time, it wasn’t so much for what he taught them, but for what he was able to give them.

When Jesus explained to them what he actually believed, and who he actually was, it was difficult for them to hear. Most of us can’t really blame those people. It’s not easy for us to listen to Jesus’ words:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.

Can we honestly say that we don’t find those words challenging? How can we understand them?

Well, to start with, I want to refer to two passages of scripture. First, there’s Jeremiah 15. In the 16th verse, the prophet says to God, Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your Name, O Lord, God of hosts. Then in the 19th verse, God tells Jeremiah not to say anything worthless, but to say what’s precious.

So it can be said that the words that the prophet consumed continued to live in him, and would be present in the words that he himself spoke. Then there’s the first chapter of John—the part we call the Prologue. There we read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

If we need more biblical context for Jesus’ words, there we have it. The word of God is God; consuming (i.e. eating) God’s word produces what’s precious; and that very word became flesh.

But even if we know the context, the words are still jarring. Jesus knows this full well. And so when all the hangers-on turn their backs on him, he turns to the twelve: “Do you want to leave, too?”

And to this question, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

This exchange is one we should all remember—at least as well as we remember that other exchange—the one with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” That’s because we are constantly being challenged by who Jesus is, what he says, and what he asks of us. And if we’re not, then we’re probably not doing it right.

One of the reasons it’s difficult to be a Christian in isolation (some would say it’s impossible), is that we don’t always hear what Jesus is really saying. We’re human, and we have a tendency to hear only what we want to hear. So it usually takes another voice to tell what we weren’t expecting, or what we don’t want to hear. And when this happens, when we find out that Jesus isn’t exactly who we expected, or that his demands on our life are too inconvenient, or that following him might embarrass us or make us look bad in other people’s eyes, then it’s not a bad idea to stop and hear him asking the question, “So do you want to leave me, too?”

There also might come a time in the life of an entire congregation when a decision gets made that strikes at the heart of who we think Jesus is. Some people stay, but some disagree and so they leave. It’s then that we might once again hear Jesus ask, “Do you want to leave, too?”

It’s not my goal here to put anyone down, or to accuse people who disagree with me of leaving Jesus behind. Each of us is confronted with a decision, and each of us must decide prayerfully and lovingly how to be faithful to God in our own lives. We as a church have decided that Jesus calls us to meet the challenges of the 21st century with love and grace and the kind of acceptance that we read about when he encounters people in the gospels. Yet we still welcome those who disagree with us. The most important thing—no matter our age, what our personal opinions might be, no matter our politics, no matter our gender or orientation or ethnic background or financial standing—is that, with the apostle Peter, we might answer when he asks: Lord, who else can we turn to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe—in fact we know—that you are the Holy One of God.
—©2021 Sam Greening, Pilgrim Christian Church