THE COMING OF THE SPIRIT
This is a big day. It’s Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. But we’re still finishing off our survey through Revelation which will be done next week. And then, of course, there is today’s announcement about my upcoming retirement. Somehow, I want to touch on all of those but let’s begin, as always by grounding ourselves in Scripture.
Today, being Pentecost, we would normally turn to Act 2 when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church with power and the disciples went out into the streets of Jerusalem and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with all those who would hear. On that day, Peter preached a sermon where he talked about the last days. In fact, he talked about the power of Jesus to change people’s hearts and to remake creation into what God always intended it to be. Last week we called that the New Jerusalem which John saw descend from heaven.
In today’s reading from Revelation we begin at Revelation 21:10 (NIV) which says:
Once again, we have an affirmation of what we read last week. Once again, John sees the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. But God has now changed his perspective. John is no longer on the ground looking up. Rather, God has taken him to a high mountain to see the descent. This gives John the bigger picture. From this high place John can see inside of the city, what it is like. John sees its splendour and he is left in awe. This is the city Jesus promised. This is the culmination of what Peter preached about on that first Pentecost Sunday when the Holy Spirit compelled him to go out in the streets to share the Gospel of Jesus.
Now let us skip a few verses and go to Revelation 21:22-27 (NIV):
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
John sees a lot of things from up on the mountain looking into the city. But there are some things that he does not see. The first thing that he does not see is a temple. The temple was the building in the old Jerusalem that was thought to be the dwelling place of God. People had to go into the temple to worship God. There is no temple in this new city because God is in the whole city. Everywhere people go in the New Jerusalem, they experience God’s presence and worship him. So, there is no need for a temple.
There is also no need for the sun or moon. Why? Because there is no need of the sun and the moon. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that God will be the light in the city. His presence will drive out all darkness. No other light is needed. The second reason is because the sun and the moon are the ways that people tell time. The sun and the moon mark off the days and the months and the years. In the New Jerusalem there will be no need for time because time, in eternity, is redundant. And because there is no night, there is no need to ever close the gates of the city. The faithful will come and go as they place without interruption or hesitation.
And now, finally, we turn to some of my favourite verses in the Bible. Revelation 22:1-5 (NIV) says this:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
In these verses John sees that the two most prominent features in the New Jerusalem are the river of the water of life and the tree of life. Both are impressive. Both give hope and healing. Because of the river of life, no one will ever be thirsty. Because of the tree of life, no one will ever be hungry. God will ensure that all of the needs of his people are met- and met with abundance. What a day that will be when this prophecy of the New Jerusalem comes to pass and we will be with the Lord forever.
VISIONS OF A NEW JERUSALEM
This is the New Jerusalem, promise by Jesus. It is an impressive place, a place of light and healing and wholeness. But what does this say to us today? Remember that Revelation is an apocalypse. An apocalypse is not a dreaded, horrible event. It is, rather, an unveiling, a pulling back of the curtain to reveal what God wants us to see.
What does God want us to see? God wants us to see what he intended for creation from the very beginning. Before sin entered the world. God intended light and water and food in abundance. God intended safety and security. God intended forgiveness, compassion and love. All of these things are seen in abundance in the New Jerusalem that John sees descending from heaven so that God can be with his people forever.
As we said last week, we cannot build the New Jerusalem in our day. It will only be completed when Jesus returns in glory. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t attempt to start building it now. We could never build it completely but even glimpse, a shadow of the completed New Jerusalem is far better than no new city at all. And so that is what we try to do as we await Jesus’ return in glory.
And that, in fact, is what we have been trying to do these last seventeen years since we started to minister together here in Cottam. And that’s what I want to talk about now: what we have built in the last seventeen year and what needs yet to be built for the kingdom.
LOTS OF CHANGES
The Gillilands arrived in Cottam in August 2004 after serving fourteen years in Espanola and Webbwood in Northern Ontario. We came with four children ages four to eighteen. In the past seventeen years, our family has changed a great deal. The kids grew up and are basically on their own. Some are married. We have three grandchildren with one on the way. It was here that Ruth had her first full time job since our first child was born. In 2015 I retired from the military after almost thirty years as an Army Reserve Chaplain. Ruth has made dozens and dozens of quilts. I have run thousands and thousands of kilometers. We all have our pastimes. We are not the same people or the same family that arrived here in August 2004.
And this congregation is not the same either. Even looking at our property, we see lots of changes. I recall the first time I walked into this sanctuary. There was a green shag type carpet in the aisles. The wall were a shade of lime green and the ceiling was all white. The platform at the front of the church, in typical Methodist style, was all broken up into little spaces. In 2006, we flattened out the space, got rid of some of the barriers and moved the organ consul down to the floor so that we could have more useable space. It was also the beginning of installing modern technology. We got rid of the overhead projector and replaced it with a projection system and PowerPoint.
Seventeen years ago, we worshipped in the Fellowship Hall in the summer because it was the only air conditioned space in the church. That changed when we installed new furnaces and air conditioners for the sanctuary. If I recall, that happened just after we renovated the sanctuary.
We also renovated the old hall downstairs. How many people remember the CAP site that was in one of the classrooms? It was a place where people who didn’t have computers could come and use one. That’s long gone because the need disappeared but we still have the oak cabinets that we use to store much of our music. The stage area was flattened out and turned into badly needed storage.
And then there were the church offices. Before we moved to Cottam, the offices were at the manse, accessed through the side door. But our family needed the whole house so the office moved to the church and Pam and I were squished into the Albuna Room which remained the office until the new offices were added ten years ago.
After that we replaced the crumbling front steps and redid the cement work beside the parking lot. At that time, we also relandscaped that side of the church.
And most recently, we built the Prayer Garden which has become a very important and well used piece of property in the community.
But the church is not just property. It is primarily the people. Much has changed there as well. Many of the old familiar faces that did so much seventeen years ago are no longer with us. Some of them have gone to be with the Lord. Others moved away. Others moved along. And we thank all of them for their contributions over the years.
I also recall that many of our most active people in the church today were students when I first met them. They have grown and matured and taken their place beside their parents and grandparents in the ministry of Jesus Christ here in Cottam. It’s been fun to watch them get married and have children of their own. And then there are all of the new people who were not here seventeen years ago but who now call Cottam United Church their spiritual home.
We have also grown in our sense of ministry. In the last few years, we have realized that, if we want to be effective in ministry, we can do that better by partnering with other organizations. We see that in our shared ministry with Wheatley United Church. We see it in the partnerships that we have developed on various levels with the Rotary Club, the Scouts and Guides, and even the town of Kingsville. We have seen it in the support that we get from the community businesses and volunteers when turkey supper time rolls around. And most recently, we have seen it in the partnership that we are forming with the Taveirne family around the Kyiv Home Project.
Covid-19 has caused us to change more rapidly than we had expected. Who would have guessed in January 2020 that we would be fully online and we would have as many virtual worshippers as in person ones? And things continue to roll along.
The kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem the John saw descending from heaven is glimpsed among us.
CHANGES IN THE CHURCH
Much has changed but one thing that has not changed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the same now and always. It does not need updated. It does not need to be reimagined. The way we communicate that message may vary but the message itself is eternal.
My job over the past seventeen years has been to help lead this ministry. It has been my very great joy to do that. And, God willing, I will continue to help lead for another year. But there comes a point where all of us must step aside. In my case, there is a time to retire from full time ministry.
This for me, was not an easy decision. It’s not as though I don’t like my job. I still very much like the vocation of ministry. I love what I do and I love working with all of you people who have made Cottam United Church a vital part of our community.
The decision to retire at the end of my current three year appointment was done with the caring assistance of a discernment group which we set up for this very purpose. It consisted of John Logan as chair of the Ministry and Personnel Committee, Pam Osborne and John Jones from Cottam United Church, John Cats and Greg Brown from Wheatley United Church and John Van Omme who is a retired ministry who offered his unique insights. We tossed around various option including extending my appointment for two more years but, in the end, decided that it was best for all concerned that I retire from full-time ministry at the end of May 2023.
What does that man for me? It means that I need to prepare for the next stage of my life. I will say that right now, Ruth and I hope that we can continue to ministry among you even after retiring. We have no plans to move. We have lots of friends in the area and this has become home. We are also aware that my position here will have to negotiated with whoever it is that follows me as your minister. That has to be done well and properly and in such a way that my presence here does not interfere with the new ministry being accepted as your minister.
The truth is that I’m ready for a change. Eighteen years is a long time to be in one place. Most people have no idea how stressful ministry can be. Trying to lead a volunteer organization can be quite challenging. It’s often more akin to herding cats but please know that you are much loved and appreciated cats. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to keep all of that together. But it’s also good to know that I have not done that on my own. This church has some amazing leaders who have helped shape this congregation into the ministry that is today.
What does retirement mean for me? It means less stress but it also means that Ruth and I can do more traveling when we are both still in good health. It means more time in my garden and more time at the piano. It also means that I can look for new opportunities to ministry in the community.
A NEW STAGE IN THE JOURNEY
That’s what it means for me but what does it mean for you? It means the beginning of a new stage on your journey. When we came here, I was told that Ken Bauman – who was your minister before me – had done a great job of transforming this congregation. What they wanted me to do was to take you to the next level. I think there was wisdom in those words. During my time here, I think we have managed to take things to the next level. In fact, the last time I spoke with Ken’s widow Joanne, she told me that Ken would be pleased with what Cottam United Church had become. That, I think, was one of the best compliments I have ever received.
And now I will toss those words right back to you. I believe that I have taken this congregation about as far as I can and it is time for you to find someone else to take you to the next level. We don’t know who that will be or when they will come. One of the reasons why I am giving you a full year’s notice is because it is not easy to find ministers these days.
I think, however, that you will have an easier time finding a minister than some other churches because Cottam offers some very good incentives. Despite the difficulties that Covid caused us, we are still the youngest congregation around. We have an amazing new Music Director in Stephanie. We have a unique and interesting relationship with Wheatley United Church. And we have exciting new partnerships around the Kyiv Home Project. Trust me when I say that ministers who are looking to move will give Cottam United Church a second look in a way that they won’t give other churches.
And if you haven’t found a minister by the time I step down, then I still plan to be around and will help out where I can until that new minister arrives.
I’m grateful for the time that we have had together and I’m excited about your future. I’m excited to see what God has in store for you moving forward.
In the book of Revelation, John shares his vision of the New Jerusalem. He shares that God’s glory will be present and the light of Jesus will shine. He shares that it will be a place of safety and security. He shares his vision of the river of the waters of life that flows through the city to quench every thirst and the tree of life which yields its fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither but are for the healing of the nations.
That is the vision that we are called to share. We have shared it in this congregation for the past 155 years and we will continue to share it so that others can catch a glimpse of this New Jerusalem in the world today. It was John’s vision but it is our dream. It inspires us to walk in faith, to be more than we can be on our own and to trust God to use us to build the kingdom of God in our midst.
The vision is clear. The future is bright. Thanks be to God.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, this day, O God, with great thanks in our hearts. We thank you for life and love and the peace that comes from placing our faith in you. You are the one and only God and we can put our trust and our hope in you. Your promises are sure and our salvation is secured. There is no greater gift in all of creation than the great gift of life that you have given to us.
We also give you thanks for the life and work of our church. We remember the saints throughout the years who have laboured to share you Word in our community. They laid the foundation upon which we build and we are greatly indebted to them. May the generations that follow in our footsteps call us faithful when it is our names that are written on the pages of history. May your will be known and your work be done for all your people.
Holy God, we want to put your love above all other motives and priorities in life. Help us to extend your unconditional love and forgiveness to others even when we feel they may not deserve it, for in so doing we are blessed with the opportunity to exemplify your character and grace to those around us and be living examples of your unlimited and faithful love.
We pray, also, for the farmers in their need to get out to work the land, to get the seeds in the ground so that the crops can grow to feed the nations. We pray for dry weather this week so that planting can get done.
We remember the sick of our congregation and community. We pray, especially, for Carol, Mark, Ron and Hazel. Bless us all with your Healing Spirit and help us to experience your presence in every moment of every day.
Heavenly Father, there are times when the struggles of life seem to be more than we can endure, the pain more than we can bear, and the cost of survival more than we can pay. In those times of weakness, we turn to you for strength, trusting that you will never fail or forsake us. In those weary times, help us to remember the joy that you have prepared for us through faith in Jesus Christ. Give us the strength to endure all of life’s challenges for we know that our final reward is to live with you forever in our heavenly homes. We lift our prayers with faith in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 5, 2022 / Pentecost
Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b; John 14: 8-17; Acts 2: 1-21 (or Genesis 11: 1-9); Romans 8: 14-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
God’s loving Spirit is here with us now.
The Spirit breaks down all barriers and separations.
Come and worship in the unity of the Spirit.
We come as one to worship God.
Come, Holy Spirit. Breath your life-giving wind into our lives, O God. Fill us anew with a sense of the Holy. Refresh us at the cooling stream of your love. Empower us with your tongues of fire. Inspire us to live lives of Spirit-filled dedication. Release from within us the fountain of compassion that you have placed in our hearts. Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Pentecost, when your Spirit came and rested upon the Church, it came to each one equally without prejudice. You have called us to treat one another with the same inclusiveness. Forgive us, O God, when we fail to live by your standards. Walls of separation stand firm and strong. Barriers of colour, race, gender, age and language keep us from walking as one. Poke and prod us into a clearer vision of your kingdom that we may live it and share it with others. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The Holy Spirit came and rested upon the disciples, redeeming them from their loneliness and sin. Jesus sends that same Spirit to us to remind us of God’s love, compassion and forgiveness. Be set free by faith in Jesus our Saviour and Spirit Giver.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
May these gifts be used to renew and empower others as we have been refreshed by your Spirit. Amen.
Filled with the Spirit’s power, may we journey forth in gentleness and strength to love and serve one another in Jesus’ name.