CALL TO WORSHIP:
ONE: The Spirit of God is upon us.
ALL: We are called to be God's people. ONE: The Spirit of God is upon us.
ALL: We are called to be the body of Christ.
ONE: Come let us worship God, who binds us together in love and service.
WELCOME: The Spirit of God is upon us. This is a holy place and we are a holy people. The joy of God is our strength. All of us, with all our gifts, we are the body of Christ.
OPENING PRAYER: 0 wondrous God, on this holy day, we have gathered together once again after our summer break. We are here to celebrate Your presence among us, to praise You and to thank You for all You have given us. May this time of worship strengthen and refresh us, and fill us with such joy that we cannot help but share it with everyone around us. Though we are very different people, with many different talents and gifts, make us one in Your Spirit, that we may be Your disciples in the world. Amen
PRAYER OF CONFESSION & THE LORD'S PRAYER: 0 God, You call us to be Your presence, Your body in this world, but too often we get caught up in other things and lose sight of the greater mission You set before us. We go our separate ways, forgetting we need each other to be whole. You have given us Your law to be our guide, but we often turn our backs on what we see as rules and restrictions, fearful that we won't live up to Your expectations. Help us to see with new eyes, and hear with the ears of our heart, the liberating spirit of the law that strengthens and revives and enables us to be and do all You call us to be and do. Lord, help us to be faithful witnesses to Your law of love and unity. This we pray in Your name. Amen.
MEDITATION: Living For The Lord
A Jewish man moved into a Catholic neighbourhood. Every Friday the Catholics went crazy because, while they were morosely eating fish, the Jew was outside barbecuing steaks. So the Catholics worked on the Jew to convert him. Finally, by threats and pleading, the Catholics succeeded. They took the Jew to a priest who sprinkled holy water on him, and said, "Born a Jew, raised a Jew, now a Catholic."
The Catholics were ecstatic. No more delicious, maddening smells every Friday evening, they thought. But the next Friday evening the scent of barbecue wafted through the neighbourhood once again. The Catholics all rushed to the new convert's house to remind him of his new diet. They saw him standing over the grilled steak sprinkling it with water. As he did so he said, "Born a cow, raised a cow, now a fish."
Change is difficult for most of us. Diversity is all around us, but not all of us are big fans. Or perhaps we're too set in our ways to accept all the changes happening around us. Our entertainment choices are numerous, we have a wide selection of goods at the grocery store. There are a wide variety of ethnic restaurants to choose from and good luck making a choice when buying a new car.
Wherever we go we meet people from different countries, with different cultures, speaking different languages. Many people are enthusiastic about the increase in diversity. The combination of races, cultures and opinions gives us an opportunity to learn and grow and better understand one another.
Other people are not so enthusiastic. Diversity has led to fear and insecurity. There is political division, racial and gender division, cultural and economic division. All these things have always been around, but today, they are much more prevalent.
So what does God have to say about it all? In Galatians 3:28 it states, "Now, in Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek. There is no difference between slaves and free men. There is no difference between male and female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus." The church is called to be a Christ-centered community of diversity. The power of God can overcome the divisions that set people against each other. People must live together touched by God's grace. However, more than we like, the divisions of the world are brought into the church. Women are discriminated against, racial segregation still persists, and there is bullying throughout are communities. There are difference in the way people practice their various religions which causes distrust by so many. Differences of this kind have strained relationships among people for generations.
Ever since the days of the Roman church there have been diversity problems which we know from Paul's letters. Some argued over whether or not to celebrate special holy days and they took these issues very seriously. And this brought about division in the church. So why do differences have to divide people? Whether in the workplace, in social gatherings, or in church, why does diversity bring about such devastating divisions?
On the whole, we tend to be wary of people who aren't like us. If they don't look like us, act like us or think like us, we tend to back away. The make us feel uncomfortable and even afraid. And it's that fear that can cause us to lash out. Think about the Mosque shooting in Quebec City. The people who differ from us aren't necessarily against us.
If someone disagrees with our opinion, we are often upset or hurt. The religious leaders in Jesus' time weren't too pleased with Him when He challenged them. They questioned His motives and lashed back by saying the healings and miracles He performed were done by demonic power.
People who have different interests or opinions can often become competitive. People can easily become so intent on defending their beliefs that they can't see the bigger picture. Differences aren't going to just disappear. So how can we live with them in a way that honours Christ and is good for the church?
Have you ever met a miser? If you have, you know that this kind of a person is not very well liked. A miser tends to be very selfish and almost hermit-like. They are loners and they're often hoarders. And there are other people in the world who aren't misers, but they too are selfish. People are selfish when they neglect to help others, or when they injure another person, physically or emotionally, to get what they want.
Now, consider this question carefully. Did you ever do something all by yourself. For example, you have your morning breakfast, then you go outside and chop some wood. You're alone, but you really didn't chop the wood by yourself. Who made the ax? Who transported it to the store? Who sold it to you? If you think of it this way, there aren't too many things you've done by yourself! We have to work with one another and each one of us is dependent upon others.
Think about all the people who helped you get ready to come here this morning. Let's start with your shoes. How many people worked on those? Farmers, tanners, factory workers, transport people, carpenters, lumbermen, shoe salespeople. That's quite a list just to get you a pair of shoes. Then, besides your shoes, there are socks, pants, skirts, dresses, sweaters, each with a long list of people who worked on them.
In Romans 14:7 & 8, Paul wrote, "For we don't live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it's to honour the Lord. And if we die, it's to honour the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." We need to come to terms with the fact that not one of us can stand alone. We need each other to do what God calls us to do. Only as we live together, differences included, are we ready to serve God. We're not perfect and we all need to be forgiven as well as to forgive.
God calls us together with our differences. He has given us each other. We each fill in what is missing in the other. Together, even with our differences, we need to be ready to serve God. In the words of scripture, "Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God."
Paul tried desperately to try to get the people to understand that embracing difference would be the gateway to spiritual life and strength and growth. Paul was going around the ancient world setting up churches and establishing congregations wherever he went. But the Roman church had differences and Paul wanted to instill in the congregation a sense of vision for the future.
Paul tells the Christians of the church that the way they speak to each other, the way they interact with one another and the way they cope with differences, is really a reflection to the world of how Christ responds to difference and how Christ wants to interact with the world. Paul is saying that we are reflecting God to the world in our words and actions. What people see of us, they see of God, and we need to live up to that responsibility.
Paul spoke of our common unity in the church and urged us to demonstrate 5 virtues — humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace. We are one body, with one spirit, with one hope, having one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God. We are not on this earth for the purpose of being served. We are here to serve God. May we always be the church God has called us to be, because at the end of the day, despite our differences, the church is at its best when we are able, in unity, to glorify and serve God.
"For we don't live for ourselves or die for ourselves." As a church community we need to be nudged along. We need encouragement. We need kindness and understanding. We need each other. We mustn't be selfish and think only of ourselves. We should be like a fountain, bubbling all the time, refreshing the thirsty, cooling those who are hot and tired. There are so many tired and weary people in the world. Let's leave here today and go into our community and beyond, determined to do our share.
Let's bow our heads in prayer. Dear Lord, just as it was when Jesus made His home on earth, the world can be a cruel and hateful place. We ask that you would guide our actions as believers. Give us an eagerness to be humble and gentle. Help us have hearts of patience and endurance. Thank you for the hope we have in You. May Your hope unify our thoughts and decisions and bring peace through the Spirit. Amen.
BENEDICTION: Read Responsively
ONE: The Spirit of God is upon you.
ALL: We go forth proclaiming God's love and liberation.
ONE: The Spirit of Christ is upon you.
ALL: We go forth to live lives of justice and freedom.
ONE: The power of the Spirit is upon you.
ALL: We go forth as one body, one spirit, one witness to the promises of our God.