O Canada - No doubt we all recognize our first hymn today. It is our national anthem. The words to the opening verse are slightly different from the ones we…

Who is this Jesus

June 24, 2018
We have the benefit of being able to see who Jesus is through the eyes of those who experienced his full life on earth and who bore witness to his…

Sing for joy!

June 17, 2018
Thank you all so much for inviting me to be with you for this Anniversary Sunday! I am so happy to back here at Morewood Presbyterian Church. Hard to believe…
Bible Text: Isaiah 6:1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Answering the Call to Serve – Isaiah 6:1-8 One of the questions often asked of those who answer the call to serve is: what made you decide? Each of the prophets and leaders whose lives and words are recorded in the Bible made that decision based on an experience of the presence of God when they heard the voice of God expressing a desire to communicate to the people of God a message. When they answered the call to serve, they were responding to a specific situation in a specific time. The words they were given to speak came from the heart of God. Some were called by name such as Samuel and Jeremiah. Others saw visions that prepared them to answer God when the question was asked. Isaiah was one of those who saw a vision of God sitting on a throne attended by seraphs declaring the holiness of God. Isaiah’s reaction to his vision is probably not far from what our reaction might have been if we had seen what he saw. He could not believe that he was seeing the Lord in all his glory and he had not been struck dead. Then one of the seraphs flew to him with a live coal and touched his mouth. At that moment all his fears left him as the seraph spoke to him words of comfort, hope and healing. Instead of dying for his sins, he found that he had been cleansed and given the opportunity to do something in return for God’s gracious gift to him. So when the seraph asks for a volunteer to go on behalf of God, Isaiah finds himself answering the call with the words: Here I am, send me!” Isaiah had no idea what he was volunteering for but he knew that he had been blessed by God and wanted to offer himself in service in whatever way God would choose to use him. My own journey to answering the call to serve came when I was still in high school. I was sitting in the back row of the choir loft. There was a wall behind me and no one sitting close to me that day. During one of the prayers, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I instinctively turned to look. Of course, no one was actually there. I puzzled over the event. For some reason, I decided to speak to my minister about the incident. His response was that I had felt the hand of God. What exactly that meant was not yet clear but he told me to be open to listening and watching for where God would give me another sign. Later that same year I was struggling with Physics. While I followed all the steps the teacher instructed, all my experiments turned out completely opposite to what was expected. Even the teacher was baffled and could not find a reasonable explanation. I quipped to a friend that if I didn’t pass physics, I would go into ministry. He thought that reaction to be rather extreme. Why I said it, I have no real idea except to believe it was God continuing to urge me to answer the call to serve. I did pass physics but the call to pursue ministry did not go away. From that moment on, I began to prepare for ordination. A very wise theologian called St. Augustine of Hippo once said: “If you can do anything but ministry, do it.” Augustine was not trying to discourage people from answering the call to serve God and the church as priests or pastors, but he was concerned that those who answered the call were being drawn by God to serve and that there was no part of them that could choose to do anything else. As I was preparing to be ordained as a minister of word and sacrament within the Presbyterian Church in Canada, I asked myself that question at least once a year. As long as I could truthfully answer that question with no reservations in my heart, I knew I could continue along the path that God was showing me. And I have continued to ask myself that same question every year that I was actively serving in a pastoral charge and even when I was serving in Para church ministry with the Canadian Bible Society. I knew that I could only be effective in my calling if I was truly committed to serving God first and could continue to see that I was where God wanted me to be. My first posting out of school was to the mission charge of Petawawa and Point Alexander. I was expected to stay 2 years, the superintendent hoped I would stay 3 and I ended up staying 4 years. I was told that my task was to grow the congregation at Petawawa or close it. God led me and the congregation to plan for a new building in a new location in town. I didn’t have the first clue how to go about such a task but it worked. We put in our sweat equity along with the help of skilled tradesmen and the project came to fruition. The congregation continues to be strong to this day but when the building was complete and the dedication took place, I moved on. God wanted me somewhere else. Back in the early 1980s, Daniel Schutte wrote the song “I, the Lord of sea and sky”. I first encountered that song when I was sent by friends on a spiritual weekend called Cursillo. On Saturday night I had my own vision from God. I wasn’t touched by hot coals and made clean as Isaiah was, but I awoke with the words to Psalm 51 running through my head. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” (vv. 10-12). At the closing service of worship, I, the Lord of sea and sky was one of the hymns. I have loved it from that moment for it spoke to me of a great need in my life if I was to continue to answer the call of God to serve as a minister of word and sacrament. I needed God to create that clean heart and put a right spirit within me if I were to continue to be able to truly answer the call to serve as I had been called. I knew I needed the presence of God in my life and that the gift of the Holy Spirit was critical to anything I might ever hope to do in the service of God and the people to whom I may be sent. During my time in Morrisburg I met fellow clergy whose passion to serve God and truly answer the call to serve led me to some wonderful opportunities for personal growth. But I also struggled through this time and almost quit ministry but God had a plan for me. My experience in building the church in Petawawa led me to be called to church extension work in Edmonton. My task was to help the congregation to self-support and prepare them for expansion. After 6 years the goal of self-support had happened but the congregation chose not to expand. A flyer arrived at the church advertising for a District Director with the Canadian Bible Society. I felt God leading me to make the decision to apply. I was chosen and so began a wonderful 10 years of travel and adventure raising funds for the translation of the Bible into the languages of the world, working with all denominations of the Christian church in teaching and preaching and culminating a major fundraiser across Canada in which more than 100 cyclists traveled more than 8,000 kms over 64 days and raised more than $500,000 dollars. I could not believe that I was chosen to coordinate this effort. It took more than 2 years of planning and one full trip by car from coast to coast as well as cycling the event itself. What was I to do next? Where was God calling me to serve? With no clear direction I struggled to know what to do. In the end, I decided to be a handyman and offer what skills I had to assist seniors. For 6 years I happily worked for them. But God had another plan for my life. In 2012 I decided that I would throw away my clergy collar that I had had since the time of my ordination; later that year I found myself searching again for a pastoral position. Try as I might, I could find no reason to deny that God was calling me to serve this 3 point charge. People have called me crazy and insane for doing it; but I believe that this is where God wants me and so I answered the call to serve. My time here will come to an end one day and I know that when that day comes, that God will assure me that I have answered the call to serve and that he will reveal where and what I am to do next. I may become a handyman again working for seniors. And if that is what I am called to do and that is how I am to serve, then I will be delighted to do it. The only plan I have had for my life since the first time God laid his hand on me is to seek for his will and endeavour to answer the call to serve whenever it comes and wherever that may take me. May the God of peace ever give us his Holy Spirit and guide us through this life! AMEN

Paul’s Vision

May 20, 2018
Bible Text: Romans 8:18-25, 31-39 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp I have often told you about the Apostle John who penned the wonderful gospel of John that celebrates our relationship to God as adopted sons and daughters. That affirmation forms the foundation for John’s great hope and faith. For John it is a wonderful gift of God to know that being accepted by God and loved by God requires no special manner of birth in this world and depends not on how wealthy or influential our earthly family may be. He knows that no one can become a child of God except those who accept the Word that has come from God in the form of Jesus, the Christ. Paul echoes the words of John in Romans chapter 8, verses 14-17 when he declares that all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God. He knows that the Spirit we have received from God is not one of slavery, leading us to a fear of God but a Spirit of adoption and so we can call God “Abba, Father.” Further he knows that the Spirit of God affirms to our spirits that we are God’s children. And as children inherit from the parents, so we will inherit from God the life that was promised through Jesus – the eternal life lived in the kingdom of God, not as slaves or servants but as children who are loved and cherished. But Paul recognizes that if we want to be the children of God, if we want to inherit the kingdom that is promised to the children of God, then we need to be prepared to suffer as well. In spite of the fact that Jesus many times told his followers that they would suffer for their decision to believe in him and the message he brought from God the Father, many still see suffering for the gospel as not part of the plan. Certainly we understand that the coming of God in Jesus Christ, his suffering, death and resurrection have brought about a change to our ultimate end; but we can forget that we still live this life with the same challenges that faced Jesus and those first disciples. The world in which we still live is not perfect; it still holds people who seek to destroy life; there is still illness, hatred, war, oppression. The people of this world still have the right to accept or reject the promises of God. The interaction of people and events in this world can bring us to places and times where our faith in God will be challenged. Paul pulls no punches. He does not pretend for a moment that our life as disciples and followers of God in Christ will be sunshine and roses all the way. He sees great hope and great promise for us in this life because of the presence of God’s Spirit with us but he also sees challenges and wants us to aware that we cannot expect our lives to be without trial or tribulation or suffering. Jesus never said that the disciples would live idyllic lives. He knew that suffering would be part of their lives if they remained true to his revelations about God and the life to which they were called. So suffering is not optional for us. What is optional is how we choose to respond to that suffering. Paul knows that the final coming of God in Christ has not happened and that he was living in a time when the knowledge of what was coming was not yet revealed in its fullness. For Paul it was most critical that the believers understood this so that they would not lose faith or give up hope. How do we reconcile the suffering of this present time? We can reconcile it in part by recognizing that the suffering and death of Christ mirrors our own suffering. We may never feel the sting of a whip or the pain of nails but we are still subject to the ways in which the people of this world can inflict pain in word and action. We may not die a death like Christ but we know that this life will end one day. For now we make a choice – the choice to live this life by the will and commandment of our God, the one who has chosen to adopt us as his children or the choice to live this life according to our own will and design. If we choose the former, says Paul, then we need to know that the time of our final liberation from sin, suffering and death has not yet come. For now we have the hope that God places in us by faith to know that God’s actions – past, present and future – will bring about that full liberation not only of our spirits and bodies but that of the whole created order. We may know that we are adopted by God – and nothing can take that hope away from us – but the world still cannot fully see that adoption. And so Paul encourages us to continue to hope for and expect that day to come when all the world will come to see what will know to be true by faith. Paul then goes on in the last verses of chapter 8 to make one of the strongest statements about Christian hope. If God is on our side – who is the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of life – then who could ever be against us with any power over us? Paul knows that there is no condemnation, no judgment that can ever be held against us for the only one who could ultimately judge or condemn us is God and God has already decided to accept us as his adopted children. Paul then makes his ultimate statement of hope and faith. “Then what can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or hardship? Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger or sword? For I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths – nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39) This is the day in the Christian calendar when we celebrate the coming of the Spirit of God upon the disciples as recorded in the book of Acts; but the coming of the Spirit – be it in tongues of fire or not – is only the beginning of the next chapter in God’s plan for the people of this world. For it is not the gift of the Spirit of itself that is most critical, it is what the people who receive the Spirit of God allow to happen in their lives. We may never be a Paul or a Peter or a John or a Mary, but each of us can be faithful to the hope that God has given us through our faith in the revelation made in Jesus Christ, by allowing the Spirit of God to guide us in our lives and so realize the love of God for us that nothing can take away! AMEN

What makes a Family?

May 13, 2018
Bible Text: Acts 1:12-26 and John 17:6-19 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Each of us has an experience of family. Your family may look similar to my family or it may look quite different. Your family may have two parents or one parent. Your family may have a caregiver who is neither your father nor your mother. You may have siblings. You may have a large or a small extended family. You may be physically close to your family but distant in your relationships. You may be physically far from your family but close in your relationships. In short, family is something that is not so easy to define or describe. Depending on the experience we had in our childhood, we may have found ourselves following in the footsteps of our parents as we fell in love and married and had children of our own. Perhaps we chose to remain single and enjoy the company of others in the family whose children we could watch grow and spoil them as only aunts and uncles can do. Perhaps we found ourselves raising children on our own because of the loss of a spouse through death or divorce or maybe we chose to adopt a child. The image of family that I knew, as presented to us through our society and the media of television, books and magazines, gave a picture of the ideal family in their eyes. There were two parents, two or more children – preferably at least one child of each sex – and a family pet which usually was a dog. The reality is that I grew up as an only child and could not have pets such as dogs or cats due to severe allergies. Yet somehow I didn’t feel that my family was not a real family. Today the images of family that we find in our media and in our society are much more diverse. This helps us to understand that families do not come in one form but in many. It may be quite surprising to realize that many of the images of family that we see portrayed and lived in our modern day were very much present in generations past but they were often suppressed or hidden because people were made to feel that only the ideal family was to be celebrated and recognized as a positive model for growing healthy people. As we ponder what makes a family, we can think of Jesus’ own answer when told that his mother and brothers were waiting for him to come home. To paraphrase, Jesus said: “whoever does the will of God, these are my brothers and sisters.” Family in Jesus’ eyes meant something more than flesh and blood. To Jesus it was about our heart. It was about whether or not we found partners and helpers with whom we could share burdens, joys, responsibilities and encourage one another on this journey called life. For Jesus, family was defined as people who are willing to partner with each other, to help each other and to share life together. But Jesus never forgot or abandoned his mother or his brothers. Yet he knew that family went beyond physical blood relationships. And so St. John the Divine could write with all confidence that we can consider ourselves to be not only children through blood but even more, children of God – adopted by God who truly wants us to be his children. Jesus looked at those whom he called to be disciples and who followed him and he called them friends and family. None of them was physically related to him as we may be related to our parents or siblings but each of them was loved as much – if not more – than any blood relation. Whatever our family may look like, the hope of God is that we find a positive and supportive family association. So how do we create and maintain positive and supportive families. Above all, we need to see family as a community that can reflect the love spoken of by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8) When we find ourselves in a relationship, a community where we are accepted for who we are and are supported, there is family. The intention of God for us and for all our families is that we live in mutual respect and acceptance of one another. Each one of us is to be mindful of the needs of one another and seek to be supportive to one another. We need to recognize the gifts of one another, acknowledging one another and enabling each other to grow to our potential. Family is meant to be a relationship where we find and feel security. We are to secure one another physically but also mentally and spiritually. So what makes a family? It is people; people of different ages and different life experiences; people who are short and tall; people who are young and old and in-between; people who are willing to truly love one another; respect one another, encourage one another and support one another in this journey of life. Will we ever find ourselves in a perfect family? Not while we are still here but one day we will experience a perfect family. For now we can celebrate that God in Jesus shared with us a vision of family and a vision of family life. May we seek to embrace that vision and so strengthen the family we are closest to and may we ever seek to become the family of God that God calls us to be in this place. AMEN
Bible Text: Psalm 22: 6-22 and Matthew 13: 31-32 | Preacher: Speaker: Phyllis McMaster At the March Ladies Aid Meeting Kathy Spruit did devotions on Parables. So when we were researching ideas for this service we came across an order of service on the Presbyterian Website. She first told us that a parable is simple story used by Jesus to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. One third of Jesus teachings were in the form of parables. There are 50 different parables mainly found in Matthew, Luke and Mark. A parable is made up of a physical idea that is turned into a spiritual meaning. Many of the stories are about agriculture, fisherman and people who worked the land. Jesus was the greatest teacher ever. He wanted people to know who God was, what God was like, and what life was like in His kingdom. Jesus wanted to change the way people thought. He used real life stories in his parables. . Parables used common, everyday people and situations to teach things that are difficult to understand. It is sort of like this: A kindergarten teacher could say that 5-1=4. This is truth. But for young children who do not yet understand subtraction, she might say, “I had 5 apples on my desk. Yesterday Sam ate one of my apples. Now I have 4 apples left.” The apple story is a parable about subtraction. Parables are classified and the one we are going to use today “The Story of the Mustard Seed” is a Kingdom Parable. We first read about this parable in Matthew but references are also made to this parable in Mark and Luke. Kingdom parables have similar elements -- 1. Kingdom of heaven = earthly sphere of profession of faith 2. A man = Christ 3. A field = the world 4. A seed = Word of God 5. Growth = spreading of the word and church growth 6. The presence of evil = birds, weeds, air and yeast When you hear the word mustard, you probably think of the spicy yellow stuff you put on a hot dog. A mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds there is. But when it is planted in the ground, it grows up to be one of the largest plants. It can look more like a tree than a plant. As Jesus said, birds even come and rest in its branches From our scripture reading we see that the mustard seed in the parable grows to be a huge tree, representing the tiny beginnings of Christianity when just a few disciples began to preach and teach the gospel. Eventually, the kingdom grew to huge proportions, encompassing the entire world and spreading over centuries. God’s Kingdom continues to grow today. Today on this Mission Awareness Sunday we must stop to think about faith, our place in the universe and helping our neighbour. There are over a billion people in our world living in poverty. In a world of abundance, we wonder why this happens and where God is in tragedy, and what we can do about it. We can think about our corner of the universe and what we can do to help our global neighbours as an expression of our faith. How can we as people of the global north best help the peoples of the developing south? Many efforts have been made to solve problems and promote development. There was the Green Revolution, designed to banish world hunger. They tried to change financial situations through helping developing countries to develop an economic system. Good governance practices were pursued as the one key to social and economic progress. Experts said that better education of girls was also the solution for achieving social and economic progress. And there have been periods when progress was defined by forgiving national debt or preserving the environment. There has been considerable progress made in many developing countries. But we still spend vast amounts of time, energy and money trying to find out what works best. International development aid by all countries now amounts to one hundred and sixty billion dollars a year. That’s more than half of the entire annual budget of the Government of Canada. What then as Canadian Presbyterians can we do to do good in the developing world. What is our capacity to make a difference with our annual mission budget of about four million dollars? What do the scriptures tell Christians about our responsibility to people in developing countries? How can we deploy our small resources and make a big difference? Today we reflect on the well-known parable of the mustard seed as a possible solution. The mustard seed wasn’t a seed that farmers planted in their gardens. It just grew in the fields. But Jesus chose the mustard seed to illustrate how something small and undervalued can grow and serve…grow not for its own sake, but for the sake of the birds of the air, giving them a place to rest, to observe, to recover. The parable of the mustard seed is often interpreted to represent the power of faith, the spread of the Kingdom and the growth of the Church. From its small and humble beginnings, Christ knew that Christianity would flourish and grow in the world, standing as a tall and welcoming faith, giving people a place of shelter. Our Church’s support for international development mirrors that vision of the small becoming big, of modest investments making a difference in people’s lives, of giving people a better and safer home. I am going to touch on a few activities championed by PWS&D that provide an example of how we help other people rest and recover. In Ghana, there can be a tendency to attribute unfortunate, unexplained events such as a crop failure or the death of a child to witchcraft, with disastrous results for the women involved. Based on rumours, a woman can be called a witch, subjected to abuse and forced to flee to a camp for outcasts. And there they find the results of the mustard seeds that we have sown. Working with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, women have access to vocational training for themselves and elementary schooling for their children. In their home villages we support education about human rights, respect for women and knowledge about the health problems people once believed that witches caused. Sometimes it takes years, but eventually many women can return to their homes, their families and their communities. It’s a big thing we are accomplishing with only small contributions. The staff at PWS&D have seen firsthand what can be done with just a little. As part of the sustainable livelihoods project in Malawi, a woman named Sara was loaned five dollars. She invested it in a small retail business and netted two dollars. With this small profit she bought a set of dishes. Those dishes meant that each member of her family could now have their own plate rather than eating from a common pot. A five dollar investment significantly improved her family’s health. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world—ranking number 170 of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. Malawi is a country where we Presbyterians have many historical bonds – over half of our mission budget is spent here and where your support is directed at the poorest of the poor. Set on a scorched landscape where rivers have become dried up riverbeds, children rise each morning, often with nothing to face but a day with no programs or resources or toys. Some schools are so poor there are no chairs or desks or chalkboards… just teachers left to their own resources. And of course, there is death. In Malawi, one in every one hundred pregnant women die, and you may have to beat those odds many times over because you may be pregnant often. Nearly three in every one hundred babies die. These women and children are victims of high rates of adolescent pregnancies, unskilled birth attendants and poor emergency care. But change is happening in these difficult circumstances, through your support, along with funds from the Government of Canada. Community organizers teach about good nutrition and early warning signs in pregnancy. Groups are formed for men to learn about their responsibilities to their wives and newborns. Women are encouraged to move into hospitals weeks before their delivery dates and when that can’t happen, bicycle ambulances are provided to get them to the hospital for delivery. In the hospitals safe and private delivery rooms are being built and good quality neo-natal care given. The death rates have dropped dramatically. In some areas there have been no deaths at all, and in others the numbers are well below the national average. Together, through PWS&D, we are helping save many lives and truly carrying out the gospel’s call for social justice. PWS&D is also the agency of The Presbyterian Church that co-ordinates refugee sponsorship. Over the years, PWS&D has helped many congregations including our Presbytery of Seaway Glengarry to support the displaced of the world as they build new lives in our country. To refugees, sponsorship by churches is a life-altering event, not just for them, but also for future generations. And it is all built on the thousands of small contributions that people like you have made to support the work we do together through PWS&D. The scriptures clearly support feeding the hungry, and giving them resources that are a necessity of every day living. Christ urged us to live in the present, and that means responding to very present needs. We often think of the support for those refugees we have brought to Canada. But we need to play a vital role in providing relief for those who stay behind. The United Nations reports that the number of refugees uprooted from Syria has surpassed four million—over half of these refugees are children. We cannot begin to help most of them. But we can help some of them. One of PWS&D programs provides food vouchers to Syrians who have fled to Lebanon. One of the men we helped named Abdal says, “I am not allowed to work here. Without the vouchers, my family would have nothing to eat. You have wide hands. Thank you for not forgetting us.” There are many things we’ll never know or how to solve every problem in the developing world. But, we are blessed with enough knowledge to act in a faithful and effective way toward our global neighbours. Seeds are a miracle of life. They are the sign of what is possible. They speak to the abundance that God intends for the creation. The seeds we sow in gardens and fields are meant for blessing. The seeds we sow in our acts of compassion, healing, peace-making, and justice-seeking, small as they seem, like the mustard seed, are also meant to bless. The seeds we sow are intended to produce a harvest far beyond the tiny seed we start with. We know that through doing small things, through our generosity, people’s lives will be made better. In many cases, you and I won’t see the result. But just as the early Christians sowed their small mustard seeds knowing that a Church and a faith would grow from them, so we can make our own contributions to mission such as Presbyterian Sharing, PWSD or the Syrian Refugee fund, knowing that in our small way we are truly accomplishing big things and advancing the Kingdom. Please share the good news about what our Church is accomplishing in Christ’s name with your families, your neighbours and your colleagues Seize the Day Inspirations A friendly look, a kindly smile, one good act and life’s worthwhile. You may be only someone in the world but to someone else you may be the world. Four things you can’t recover • The stone after the throw • The word after it’s said • The occasion after it’s missed • The time after it’s gone No act of kindness is to small. The gift of kindness may start as a small ripple that over time can turn into a tidal wave affecting the lives of many. Peace is a daily, weekly, monthly process gradually changing opinions, slowing eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. John F Kennedy Let us Pray Thank you, God, for the everyday miracles that your presence brings to our lives: the ordinary acts of love, faith, and kindness that become extraordinary, the perspectives that change, and the new possibilities that emerge. Amen. Worship Source Resources for Mission Awareness Sunday taken from PSWD website and created by Rob Robertson.
Bible Text: Acts 8:26-40 and John 15:1-10 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Praying by J.I. Packer Over the last number of weeks we have been exploring the topic of praying. Every one of our explorations has encouraged us to express our needs and wants, our emotions, our cries for help, our frustrations and our thanks and praise. But through all of these expressions of our thoughts and emotions, we have been encouraged to use meditation as a means of calming ourselves and enabling us to approach our time of prayer with the sense that we are entering into a space where we will have a conversation – a dialogue – with God. We have been encouraged to feel comfortable and safe in the presence of God and never forget that God has promised to be with us on this journey of life no matter where that journey may take us and no matter what we may encounter. Last week we were reminded that while we each need to develop our own relationship with God, we need to also remember that what each of us gains through our own time of prayer can provide strength and insight and support to others in community. So as we worship together we can encourage one another in our faith and in our life. Today we are going to conclude this series with a focus on the heart. Of course we all know that when the Bible speaks about our heart, they are expressing that image of the heart that is associated with our thoughts and emotions. Often we believe that they were unaware of the fact that the heart really is an organ that pumps the blood that keeps our bodies going. But the reality is that they chose the image of the heart because they believed that just as the physical heart enabled the body to function at its best, so the metaphorical heart was the centre from which all our thoughts and emotions emanated and touched every part of our being. The unity that is so often expressed in the Hebrew Scripture to depict our creation by God finds its ultimate expression when we come to see our physical, mental and spiritual life summed up in that one central place – the heart. And so, biblical religion is essentially heart religion. To have a good and honest heart is to have a God-centered motivation in our life; this ties in with Jesus’ declaration that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul, mind and strength. While expressing it with more than just the word heart, the Hebrew person would understand that all was centered in the heart. Secondly biblical religion is about the renewal of our hearts. We talk often about the renewal of our hearts through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What we are really talking about is letting God’s Spirit teach us and direct us into the ways that will bring us to a place where we will think and act in ways that will reflect the will of the One who has created us. We seek for God to help us to see the things that can cause our hearts to be pulled from God and so seek to bring peace and wholeness to our inner heart – our inner soul and being. Such inner peace and wholeness will then be radiated out into our whole body just as the physical heart pumps a supply of life-giving blood to every part of our physical being. But for that renewal of our hearts to occur requires us to seek for three qualities. First our heart needs to be consistently repentant – not just regretful or remorseful but understanding that repentance means turning back from dark paths of self-service to face, love, thank and serve God. We are to repeatedly renew our commitment to holiness and constantly re-examine ourselves in God’s presence. Second we are to consciously return to God day by day traveling home to our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend. Third, the desire of the renewed heart for God moves us to become runners, not that every one of us will physically run a race, but runners in the sense that we will press on in life toward the goal of a full life with God as expressed to us through the life of God in our Lord Jesus Christ and continually brought to our minds through the presence of the Holy Spirit. But even when we seek for these qualities of a renewed heart with God, we recognize that coming to that unity of heart is not an easy thing. Christian living will always involve an element of conflict and struggle with temptations both from the outside and the inside. We want to be perfect in serving God but practically we know that we will fall short. When we read in Scripture that we are to pray with our whole heart, we need to understand that this is to be our intention even if the reality is that we will ever need for our heart to become whole. There will be moments when we feel at perfect peace and feel that we have reached a wholeness of heart and there will be time when we feel our heart torn and struggling and there will be all the times in between. But it is for us to never give up hope, to never surrender our faith in God and to ever seek for that wholeness of heart that will draw us closer to that full communion with God. And so our goal in life as Christians is to receive from God the gift of an undivided heart. There are four tests that we can use to help tell us how far our own hearts are united Godward. The first is, how far are our heads right? Are we seeking to embrace God’s truth as revealed in the Bible, assessing our life by it, and sensing God’s presence and gift throughout life? The second is, how far are our hands right? Are our hands engaged in activities that are pleasing to God or just pleasing to ourselves? Third, how far are our habits right? Are our routines, our cherished ways of thinking, our hobbies and interests aligned with the heart of God? Fourth, how far are our hopes right? What do we save for, plan for, scheme for, and pray for? Clearly we need to watch what it is that we take into our hearts – for what we take in will always seek to take over. We are what we are at heart – no more, no less. The heart is the inside story of everyone’s life; and we do not understand ourselves, or anyone else, until we are in touch with what goes on in us and in them at heart level. And so the Bible constantly encourages us to guard our hearts for from it flows our life. Finally we are enjoined to pray in the Spirit with our whole heart – not praying tongues or from some ecstatic experience but conversing responsively with God through an awareness of our life with God as imparted to us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. First we are to remain aware of the new covenant revealed by God through Jesus and know that we live our lives as the people of that new covenant. Second we are to remain aware that the Spirit will lead us on a progressive, intensifying realization of who God is, leading us to dwell even more on the wisdom, power and love of God. Third we are to remain aware of the beauty of life and the presence of God throughout creation. And so for us as Christians, we are to open ourselves continually to the Spirit of God and the ministry of that Spirit leading us to contemplate and rejoice in the relationship we have with God in Jesus Christ as the frame and foundation for the rest of our lifelong praying. We are to pray clearheadedly and wholeheartedly. Jeremiah knew this truth about God: “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you.” (Jer. 29:13-14) AMEN
Bible Text: Acts 4:5-19 and John 10:7-18 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Praying by J.I. Packer I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; Let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt his name together! Psalm 34:1-3 So far in this series our focus has been almost entirely on individual prayer, the kind of praying that we do when we are alone. This private communication between each of us and the Father has been the centre of our attention. We have looked at petition – which is the heart of personal prayer; we have explored meditation; we have looked at the importance of praising God and learned about expressing the pain of our lives through uttering our complaints or pleas to God for help; and we have highlighted the importance of hanging on to God in persistent prayer that expresses faith and hope as we come to realize that God will not abandon us no matter what happens in our lives. Truly each of us must take responsibility for our life and our life with God and in God. Each of us needs to acknowledge that we live our lives under God’s eye and that we will answer to him for whatever we do. We have to be the persons who exercise faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour and Lord and we need to ask God to show us how we can each one of us be a disciple and please God in everything we say and do. This is God in Christ making us realize and develop our own individuality in his presence enabling us to take our faith seriously. This emphasis on deepened personhood and intensified individuality is integral to understanding and living our life of faith and hope and love and prayer. But it is not the whole story. We need to not forget that our growth as individuals is not for us alone but is developed in order that we may become strength and hope for others in the fellowship we call the church. But as we explore the concept of joining in, we need to have a clear understanding of what is really meant by church. We all say that the church is not a building or a denomination but that is the way we most often identify church. But the descriptions of church in the New Testament make no real mention of buildings. The focus is on connections: associational and organic. The fact that we come together in this place of worship shows our connection to one another by association. But the images given to us by Jesus and by Paul and others about church speak of an organic connection – a sharing of life and energy. We have only to think of the image of the vine and the branches from John’s Gospel or the powerful image of the body as told by St. Paul. As each branch of the vine can only truly live as it is connected to the vine and thus share the same nurture, so the body only functions to its fullest capacity when all its members are respected and cared for. To use a modern illustration think of a bicycle wheel. The hub is the centre from which all the spokes emanate but if too many spokes are broken or faulty, the wheel loses its effectiveness and can no longer perform the function for which it was intended. So it is with the body of Christ – the church. We need to recognize that we share a common life with one another with God in Christ and that – as a consequence – we are to be giving ourselves to love, serve and strengthen our fellow participants in Christ’s body. Learning to be accepting of one another with all our weaknesses and idiosyncrasies is critical to being shaped into a single body with one head – Jesus Christ. We are all connected to the Lord and connected to one another by the grace of God in a body whose visible shape is what is to be known as “church”. Packer believes and affirms that we need each other! God has called us together to be this body on earth, to find that sense of belonging and to share it with each other. It is through loving connectedness within the church that we can draw others. The image Packer uses is that of a group who are holding hands but who drop hands to welcome a new addition. True enough each of us comes to the body of Christ as individuals engaged in our own path with God; but when we gather in worship, we seek to affirm one another in the faith and seek to express our shared thoughts and desires to reveal a unity in fellowship and focus on our relationship to and with our God. So we are encouraged to come together for worship, for prayer, for study and fellowship; and we are to remember that this is not something commanded in order to maintain a building or to secure funds to maintain clergy but that it is the will of God who so well knows how difficult it can be to maintain faith when we are isolated from one another. When we come together, we no longer hear just our own words or thoughts but we hear the words and thoughts of others. But we need to not only hear but also acknowledge and respond to one another, praying for one another and encouraging one another so that no one has to walk alone. But God not only wills that we should come together in worship, fellowship and prayer but he also uses that time of our togetherness – if we are open to see it. We are to become conscious of and remain conscious of the lives of others within the body and seek to teach, advise, listen, pray and act as we are able. We often wonder when Christ will return. Perhaps he is waiting for us to show ourselves as his body so that when the head returns, there is a body ready to receive him. I realize that this sounds like we can become perfect but that perfection is not outside of or apart from Christ; it is rather a seeking for a wholeness in the body that only Christ can bring and yet is to be achieved in part by our willingness to be perfected by Christ. So we are enjoined to join with others in building our relationship with God and in expressing our faith within a body that we know as the fellowship of which we are a part. Packer quotes an anonymous poem that goes like this: To live above with the saints we love, Oh, that will be glory! But to live below with the saints we know? Now that’s a different story! We have all found ourselves struggling with coming to terms with a difficult fellow believer. It can cause all kinds of divisions and hurt and can even tear fellowships apart. Developing, building and encouraging healthy Christian fellowship and healthy bodies of believers has never been easy and probably never will but if we truly believe that God has called each of us and adopted each of us and loves each one of us and hears each of our prayers, we will choose to come together and stay together. We will choose to give and receive love with a mutual openness to one another. We will choose to commit ourselves to the congregation, to identify with its goals and members, to open our lives and our homes to one another, and to help one another wherever that help is needed. For as much as we may be close to God individually it is critical that we choose togetherness and choose wholehearted, closely bound involvement in our congregation’s life of prayer, praise and service. Through this we will discover not only the will of God for our own lives but also find the will of God for our life in community. Let us never forget to join in! AMEN