NOT BE AFRAID
Here we are, one week after the quickest Annual Congregational Meeting of all time. Do you realize that, by my watch anyway,we were done by 12:15 p.m. Do you also realize that last year we started our annual meeting at about 12:15 p.m.? This year it took something like 45 minutes. I’m not complaining but I will confess that I was a tad surprised. Our annual meeting usually take between one and a half a two hours. So that was just kind of weird. But like I said, I’m not complaining.
The interesting thing is that there was a great turnout and we also got a lot done. We approved the goals and objective for this year, we passed a budget and we elected a whole new Church Board. That’s all great stuff and I’m quite excited about where the Lord is taking us from here.
I want to talk for a moment about the new Church Board. I really am excited about it and I’m excited for a couple of reasons. First of all, there are a whole lot of new faces with new ideas, new dreams and new visions. As the community of Cottam changes demographically and grows in population we are going to need those new thoughts. Second, I’m excited because of who the new Church Board represents. As far as I can tell, of the twelve people we elected last Sunday, five are women and seven are men. Four are under the age of fifty, five are in their fifties and three are over the age of sixty. Seven of the new Board members were here when I arrived in 2004 and five came since then which means that they are relatively new to this congregation.
But thing that really impressed me on Sunday about you folks is that you were willing to entrust the future direction of this congregation to a whole new group of people. We only have two hold overs from the Official Board. Every one else, as far as I can tell, is brand new. To me, that indicated a willingness to step outside the box and see what happens. New ideas bring change and change always bring some angst. But we should never shrink from a bit of angst if we are called by God to move in a different direction. For as it says in 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV), “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.”
A lot of congregations would be very hesitant to do what you did last Sunday. A lot of congregations are run by people who have been there forever who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. That’s because they’re afraid to step outside the box. You’re not and that always impresses me.
There are so many verses of Scripture that remind us that we are not to be afraid fo the future. In Isaiah 41:13 (NIV) we read, “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says, Do not fear; I will help you.” Many times we read in the Bible stories of people who were told not to be afraid of what is ahead. When Mary was informed that she was going to give birth to the Messiah, she was greatly troubled. But in Luke 1:30, the angel told her not to be afraid. On that first Christmas day when the angels announced the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the shepherds were terrified but the angel said, “Fear not.” Next week we will be reading the story of the transfiguration, where Jesus was transformed in the presence of Moses and Elijah. This really freaked out Peter, James and John who saw it all happen but in Matthew 17:7 (NIV) Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.” The theme of overcoming fear with faith is one of the most pervasive and consistent themes in the Bible. It is there literally dozens of times. Do not be afraid. That assurance looms large for those who put their trust and their faith in Jesus Christ.
BUILDING THE CHURCH
Having said that, I want to turn now to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:10 (NIV) which says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.” I want to expand on that because there are some good words in this verse for us today that speak to us where we are at right now.
In this passage Paul is talking about the necessity to build upon a firm foundation. But what is he talking about? Some people might think that he’s talking about building our personal faith. And while Paul does do that in some other places in the New Testament, that’s not his focus here. In this passage, he is talking the church, specifically the church in Corinth. He’s telling the Christians in Corinth how to build their church on firm foundation. And just to be clear, he’s also not talking about the church building because they didn’t have one. The first recorded church building wasn’t until 240 AD and it was too was a converted house. In Paul’s day, the Christians simple met in people’s houses. So, Paul is not talking about the church as a building. He’s talking about it as the people, as the community of faith. That’s what he means when he refers to church. Paul wanted them to build their faith community on a firm foundation.
Corinth was a challenging church for Paul. He had planted it on his second missionary journey which is described in Acts 18. But it had always been a bit of a problem child. If anything was to go wrong, it would happen in Corinth. If any church was to go off the rails and be a bit whacky, Corinth would be the first in line to make a mess of things.
The great thing about that, however, is that because the Christians in Corinth got things wrong so many times, we have in Paul’s letters to them great advice as to how to avoid the pitfalls that they experienced. This is one of those examples.
The bigger picture of this passage is about divisions in the church and how to avoid them or, alternately, how to deal with them faithfully and effectively when they develop. One of the key things in this chapter of 1 Corinthians is the sense that everyone in the church needs to be on the same page. They need to have a common sense of purpose and a common sense of mission. This is paramount to the effectiveness of any congregation.
That does not mean that everyone has to agree on everything all the time and that there are never any conflicts or tensions. Those are inevitable parts of any relationship. Just as you and your spouse may not see eye to eye on everything, so too the people in the church may see things differently. But the point is that they need to work toward a consensus where those difference are worked out and common ground is found.
Jesus said something very true about that in Mark 3:25 (NIV) when he said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Ironically, Jesus was actaully talking about the forces of evil at the time, but the principle holds true just as much for the church. If the church is divided, it cannot stand. If everyone keeps trying to push their view of mission and their understanding of where the church should be going and no one wants to listen to everyone else, the whole thing is going to fall apart.
In 1 Corinthians 3 what Paul is saying is that if you want to avoid that kind of catastrophe, the place to start is by building the church on a firm foundation. That’s because anything that is not built on a firm foundation is likely to crumble. We saw that happening here just last year when we realized that the front steps were crumbling. The reason was because the foundation on which they were built was beginning to crumble and, if they crumbled, the rest of the steps would eventually follow suit. So we got it fixed and it looks great and those new steps should be good for another hundred or so years.
Paul wrote, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.” The church, the people of God, the community of faith, if it wants to be effective, must build its ministry on a firm foundation.
This year we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of this congregation way back in 1867. There has been 150 years of ministry in this community by this church. But none of it would have happened if it was not built on a firm foundation. Our ancestors laid down the foundation upon which succeeding generations have effectively built. That’s what Paul is getting at when he says that he laid the foundation but that someone else is building on it.
We always have to remember that. We do not exist in isolation from what went on before now and what we do now has a serious impact upon the future ministry of this congregation. So what we do is important.
As a community of faith, we are in pretty good shape compared to a lot of other churches, especially United Churches. But we did not do that all by ourselves and it didn’t start when I arrived in 2004. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, that we are still building on the foundations that we laid when The Rev. Ken Bauman was here. Under his leadership, this congregation made a lot of important but difficult choices in terms of where you believed God wanted you to go. When you called Ken, you said that you wanted to become more of Bible centred church. Ken brought that to you. Under his leadership, your music ministry was totally revamped and reorganized. Lou-Anne was brought on as the music director. The theology became more evangelical and Christ centred. All of that was done when I arrived in 2004. Since then, we have done some pretty neat here in Cottam.
None of that would have happened, however, if I had not followed a man like Ken Bauman. Ken had the skills that were needed to make the changes that were required. God had equipped him to do that. They are skills that I frankly don’t have to the same degree. But he did and I believe that God had Ken here for those years just for the purpose of laying the foundations upon which we are still building. But isn’t that how God works? God brings just the right people to just the places to do his work in his timing. All we have to do is listen and follow.
Paul wrote, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.” The church is built layer upon layer upon layer with each leadership team building on the work of those who went before them. That’s where we are right now. We have one leadership team taking over from a previous one. There is a changing of the guard so to speak.
Paul gives us two very helpful bits of advice as we enter this new phase of ministry. One of them is for the new leadership and the other is for the leadership that has just stepped aside. To the new leadership he said this. He says to not forget that you are building on what was laid by those who came before you. Don’t get proud. Don’t think that you are responsible for everything that happens. All you will be doing is building on the good work of others.
From a practical standpoint, it means that you have to honour the past. New leadership can sometimes have a tendency to forget that. They think they can change everything all at once, revamping every little detail so that a year from now, you won’t recognize the place. Don’t do that. It doesn’t work. All you do is tick people off and make people mad. I’m not saying that we can’t change things. There are adjustments that probably need to be made because we can always do things better and we have to be open to that. But those changes must be done judiciously with prayer and compassion as we seek God’s will, not our own, along every step of the way. Like I said, I’m quite excited about where God may be taking us. I’m not even sure where that is but I’m willing to go and I think you are too.
Paul tells us to honour that past. But he also has something to say to the old leadership who may have a vested interest in hanging on to the past for too long. This is what he says in 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 (NIV): “Do not deceive yourselves. If anyone of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” What does that mean? In this context, I think it means that we need to be open to new voices. As we get older, some of us have think that we know everything. We’ve been there and we’ve done that and we know what works and we know what doesn’t work. So listen to us and everything will work out just fine.
Paul tells us that if that’s the way we think, then maybe we’re deceiving ourselves. In fact, he calls it foolishness. It is foolishness to think that any of us has all the answers. If we think that way, it means that we’ve closed our minds to new ideas and new possibilities. Two phrases that we should never use in the church are these. But we’ve always done it that way. And but we’ve never done it that way. And there may be very good reasons why you either did or did not do things that way but things change and people change and what worked from one group may not work for another group because each group has a unique set of God given gifts and skill and talents. Paul tells us not to be so foolish that we think we know all the answers for everything.
One of the challenges when leadership changes hands is for the old leadership team to let go of their responsibilities. I’ve seen that not happen in many churches in the past and it has often led to problems. One group steps aside for a new and often younger team to take over. The old group is thrilled because they have done it for so long and they are tired and they are genuinely glad that someone new has taken up the reins and donned the mantle of leadership. But what they’re really hoping for is that the new leaders will do things just the same way they did them. And as long as the new folks hold on tenaciously to the traditions of the past, everything works out well. Oh, they will tolerate small changes here and there but don’t do anything radical because they like things the way they set them up. But then something radical is suggested. Maybe the new leadership wants to change the worship time or add a second worship service. Or maybe they want to use a different Sunday School curriculum. Or maybe, heaven forbid, they want to change the place where the cross sits on the communion table. Then someone gets their knickers in a knot and the fur starts to fly. Don’t do that. It doesn’t work any better than the new leadership team trying to change everything all at once.
As a congregation, if we are to be the people of God and do the work of Christ effectively we must honour the past but also make room for new ideas and new dreams. The truth is that I think we can do that because we’ve already done it at various times in the past. In the past twelve, we have made numerous changes in this congregation. Some of them have been small and some of them have been significant. But we are a very different church than we were when we came in 2004. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that those changes happened because of me. That would not be true. They happened because of your incredible ability to see outside the box so that you can be the people whom God created you and called you to be.
Paul wrote, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.” But then in the very next verse, in 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NIV), Paul gave us the most important verse in this passage when he wrote, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” How true that is. What this reminds us of is that at the very heart of our foundation is Jesus Christ. He has to be the cornerstone of our ministry. He has to be the capstone of our doorways. He has to be the strength in our walls and the protection of the roof over our heads. Our ministry must be based upon his strength, his guidance and his love for we can do nothing of any value if we do not keep him at the very centre of all that we do.
traditions and above our new ideas there is always Jesus. Following him is not
only our first priority. It is our only priority. Ultimately, it is upon him
that our foundation rests.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, your peace surrounds us. We experience your peace in footsteps on crunchy snow in the quiet forest on a winter’s day. We see your peace in leaves that flutter on trees in summer breezes. We hear your peace in the call of a loon on a lonely lake. We smell your peace in the fragrance of an orchid. We feel your peace in a friend’s hand on our shoulder in troubled times.
Your peace is around us. It is also within us. Thank you for your peace which truly does pass all understanding. Thank you for that sense of inner serenity that Jesus brings to our lives when we receive him into our hearts. How can we thank you enough?
We offer our thanks for those in our midst who are willing to seek a higher calling and a clearer vision. There are times when we, as a church and as individuals, feel unsure of the direction you would have us go. Enable us to be patient in our searching and enthusiastic with our discoveries.
We ask that you would keep us from getting sidetracked by people who would stand in the way of our getting to Jesus. Bless us with the imagination, creativity and tenacity to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of Christ’s mission. May we do so with tack and sensitivity towards others.
Once again, we pray for our American cousins as they deal with the divisions that seem to be tearing their nation apart. We ask, O God, for cooler heads and patient hearts. And we also pray for the new administration that they may successfully find their way through all of the potential minefields.
Finally, we pray for the sick at home or in hospital. We remember especially Ron Raymont, Helen Upcott, Millicent Wormald, Soham Lane, Jacqui Seguin and Alex Archer. May your Spirit come upon us with such strength that we may understand the healing that you offer and accept it with open arms.
Loving Father, we
are thankful that you have given us the key to peaceful living. Help us to
order our thoughts and direct our minds to think on your things rather than
being influenced by negative distractions that we may see and hear. Grant us
the peace that only you can give. We offer all of these prayers to you in
Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 19, 2017 / Epiphany 7
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:1-8; Matthew 5:38-48; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
CALL TO WORSHIP
God’s blessings surrounds us protecting us in times of trouble.
God’s love enfolds us and heals our deepest wounds.
Let us worship the Christ who became one of us.
Let us bow before our Maker and Friend.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Light, you bless those who call upon your name. You consider the poor in body and spirit. You protect the lowly in times of trouble. When you are with us, we are never alone. No battle is too great, no discouragement too overwhelming. Though enemies encamp around us, you protect us with your host of heavenly angels. Look upon us and our worship. Remind us of your favour and grace. Receive us and what we do, for we come to you in Jesus’ name.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord of Love, we approach your throne as sinful people needing your forgiveness and grace. Help us to have the strength of spirit that will keep us from being influenced by the forces that would draw us away from you. Forgive us when we fail to call upon your name. Your compassion and love is great, ever beyond our comprehension. We are grateful that you are always ready to hear us when we cry to you, regardless of our circumstances. Hear our confessions and grant your forgiveness.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The reconciliation that we seek is as near as our honest repentance. The cancer of sin that plagues our souls is as close as the forgiveness that God desires to be ours. When we confess our sins, God blesses us with mercy and heals our wounds. We are made well and whole in the sight of the Holy.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
What we have is yours, O God. What we offer, we bring with joy. Receive us and our gifts in the manner that they are given. Remind us that no matter how much we may offer, no one can out give you.
We have heard
the encouraging words of God. May they inspire us to touch our world, our
neighbour, and our family for the Kingdom. Jesus’ ministry is ours to share.
May we carry it humbly and boldly in every aspect of our lives.