It is indeed a privilege to be with you this morning. For those of you who may not be sure why I’m here, I am your supervisor. The reason why you have a supervisor is because you currently don’t have a minister and all churches that don’t have a minister need to have a supervisor. One of the roles of a supervisor is to ensure that the sacraments are provided to the congregation and that is the reason why I am here this morning.
Usually I’m at Cottam United Church where I have served now for almost fourteen years. It’s a great church and I feel very blessed to be there. Interestingly, our building is not so different from this one. It has the same early 20th century square Methodist design with the pulpit in the corner opposite the door. Our platform is quite a bit bigger but your balcony is way bigger than ours. In fact, our balcony was converted to a cry room a few decades ago. But on the whole, it feels just like Cottam.
I’m also good friends with Jack and Melodee Lovering whom many of you folks also know because they served here not that long ago. In fact, all three of us are going to be attending a workshop at the end of April so we’ll be able to catch up on things and compare pictures of our grandchildren.
I’m also here for another reason and that is to talk a little bit about some plans that we’re working on to consider some shared ministry between Wheatley and Cottam. But before I do that, I want to share with you a word of Scripture. Jeremiah 31:31-34 says this:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
In this passage God, through Jeremiah, is offering to make a new covenant with the people. He says that it will not be like the old covenant – the one God made with Israel during the Exodus – but will be completely new. It will not be a covenant based on sacrifices and temple rituals. Rather will be based on something inside. God says that he will put the law in the minds of the people and write it on their hearts. And because of that, God will be there God and they will be his people.
There is a shift here from the old ways to the new. Previously, people would come to God through the law of Moses and the sacrifices in the temple. But God is saying that is all going to change. No longer will the people go to God. With this new covenant God will go to them by putting the law in their minds and writing it on their hearts. With this new covenant, God is going to reach in and touch the depths of the people’s souls.
This new way of being will also include not just a change in heart but a change in relationship. Jeremiah tells us that with this new covenant, the people will come to know God. That’s an odd phrase for the Old Testament – to know God – but this is prophecy and prophesy is not bound by what is happening now but, rather, looks into the future. Jeremiah says that in the future, the people will know God. That means that they will have a relationship with God. God will no longer be distant. Rather, the people will be able to have a relationship with God and because they have a relationship with God, God will, “… forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
If you’ve been around church at all, this sounds amazingly like a description of Jesus – which, of course, it is. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah was able to look 600 years into the future and see what was going to happen.
It is Jesus through whom God made this new covenant with humanity. Through faith in him we can have a relationship with God. And when we put our faith in him, he enters into us and fills us with his Spirit. And in filling us with his Spirit, he puts God’s law in our minds and writes it on our hearts. Through his sacrifice on the cross, he paid the price of our sins and through his resurrection he broke the chains of sin and the gates of hell so that all who put their faith in him will spend eternity in God’s everlasting kingdom. That’s the new covenant that Jeremiah foresaw and that Jesus fulfilled.
It’s our job as the Church of Jesus Christ to share that good news so that others may also come to know Jesus and put their faith in him. That’s one of the key reasons why we exist. That is what God expects us to do.
God expects of us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world – or more specifically, God expects the people of Wheatley United Church to share the Gospel with their neighbours in Wheatley, just as God expects the people of Cottam United Church to share the Gospel with the good folk in Cottam. It’s part of our mission. It is what God expects us to do.
That leads to another interesting question. What do we expect of each other? That’s what I want to address now because some of us have been talking about creating another kind of new covenant. This covenant is one between Wheatley United Church and Cottam United Church and it is intended to help both of us do what God expects us to do which is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sure, we can do it alone but maybe we can do it better together. And that’s what I want to talk about now.
All of this began with a letter that Essex Presbytery wrote to Cottam, Wheatley and Hillman United Church asking if we would consider working together in a shared ministry arrangement. This was done primarily because neither Wheatley nor Hillman has a minister right now. Hillman hasn’t had one for years and has being operating with weekly pulpit supply which seems to be working for them. They are fairly stable and have even experienced a bit of growth over the past couple of years. It’s actually a really neat little community of faith that has a real good sense of who they are and what God is calling them to do.
Wheatley, on the other hand, has only been without a minister for about a year or so and, like Hillman, have also been operating with weekly pulpit supply. But you, of course, already know that. The majority of the worship leadership has been provided by John Cats who, as far as I can tell, has done an admirable job in helping to stabilize this church and provide some positive hope for the future. Just to let you know, I also know John and he’s even preached in my church too. Always happy to have him there. I have a lot of respect for John, his love of the Lord and his sense of call. I also know that he’s made a commitment to this congregation. In the past year, he has become a member of this church and is in the process, along with Ken Hatt, of completing the Licensed Lay Worship Leaders course.
But here’s the problem. I know that a lot of you would like to have John here as your regular worship leader. But you can’t hire him because in order to hire a lay person for that position, you must already have an ordained minister on staff which you don’t. So, right now, it’s a non-starter.
So, here’s my question. How do we fix that? That’s what the letter from Essex Presbytery is asking us to consider. Right now, you can’t hire John Cats because you don’t already have an ordained minister on staff. The only way we fix that is to find an ordained minister. And what we’re suggesting is that that person might just be me. If I were your minister, even on a part time basis, we would then be able to hire John as your regular worship leader. Basically, what that means is that I’d be the minister of both Cottam and Wheatley but I would only have very limited responsibilities here. I’ll get into more of those details a bit later.
But that begs the question, “What does this have to do with Cottam United Church?” Why has Essex Presbytery asked Cottam to get involved with Wheatley and Hillman? Aren’t there closer churches? Yes, there are but there are three critical reason why we think a relationship between these three churches might work. First, I’m already your supervisor so we already have a relationship. By the way, I’ve also been the supervisor for Hillman for about ten years so they know me very well.
The second reason is because theologically our churches are very similar. All of us tend to be more conservative and evangelical than the average United Church and that is very helpful because it means that we’re starting from a similar theological perspective.
The third reason is because all of our churches have something positive to offer the other. One good thing is that none of our churches are in danger of closing. All are stable where they are right now which means that no church is expected to bail the others out. Rather, the goal is to see if there are things that we can share that will help all of our churches together.
I should also say that some initial conversations have already taken place. I’ve talked with the folk on your Board and with the Cottam Church Board. Both of them have agreed that this is something that warrants consideration. In fact, we are meeting on Wednesday to begin some serious discussion. We’re hoping Hillman will be represented there as well to see where they stand because we’re not sure about that yet. I want to stress that we don’t know where any of this is going but there does seem to be synergies that may be positive for all of us.
WHAT MIGHT IT LOOK LIKE?
After that introduction, I’m pretty sure that I’ve raised more questions than answers. And what you really want to know is what this might look like. I don’t know exactly what it will look like but let me give you two scenarios that might shed some light on this. And just to make things easier, I’m only going to talk about Wheatley and Cottam for now without any reference to Hillman.
In a nutshell, what we’re talking about is creating a real and tangible connection between our two churches. There are really only two ways of doing that. One is by the two churches joining together to become a two-point pastoral charge. That means that the Wheatley and Cottam would join together as a single pastoral charge with two preaching points with a single minister serving both churches. Each congregation would operate with some independence but there would also be a Unified Board representing both congregation that would oversee the whole thing. Not all but many of you are at least familiar with what I’m talking about because these things used to be common around here. I also want to say that, currently, that would not be our first choice but it is an option. The biggest problem with it is that it restricts what we can do and it locks us into a particular way of doing things which may or may not be helpful.
A more beneficial option, we believe, is option two which some people describe as a cluster or campus ministry. So let me explain that to you. Under option two both churches remain completely independent. We do not form a two-point pastoral charge. We each have our own Board, do our own thing and make our own decision. At the same time, however, we share certain resources. Initially, what both churches would share is me and to a point John. Wheatley United Church would purchase part of my time from Cottam United Church. We don’t know if that number would be say 10% or 15%. We just don’t know exactly so please don’t quote me but expect it to be in that ballpark. What that means is that I would still become the minister in both churches.
My role with you, however, would be very specific. I would be your minister for administrative and sacramental purposes only. That means that I would attend your Board meetings and complete other administrative duties. And I’d come here a few Sundays every year for communion and baptisms just I’m doing today.
The key factor, however, is because I would be your minister you would then be able to hire John Cats as a lay minister to provide the consistent worship leadership that we all think you need. All of that hinges though on you purchasing part of my time that’s why that piece is so important. That’s what’ makes everything else possible.
It also does a few other things that are important. Because John would be a salaried employee of the church it also means that he could provide pastoral care for people in this community and be covered by your insurance policy. That, believe it or not, is absolutely crucial. I trust John explicitly. He is as honest as the day is long but if anything ever happened or if someone made an accusation against him for something that happened while he was providing pastoral care on behalf of this congregation, the financial costs could be disastrous. And that’s why it’s important to have that insurance coverage. It protects both John and you.
The other thing that’s important here is that I think our two churches both have strengths that we could use to enhance our overall ministry together. I know you would like to have more younger people in your congregation. Cottam already has them and we may be able to show how we managed to do that in an era where most United Churches are filled with older people. So Cottam could provide some mentoring for you on that front. But this is not one sided. I see things that you do very well that you could teach Cottam. What you seem to be really good at is community outreach. I am amazed, for example, at what you have done with prayer shawls and that’s just one example. I think you could teach Cottam something about outreach into our community.
Another interesting piece of this discussion is that Cottam United Church is also in the planning phase of hiring a children and youth pastor. We realize that Cottam is change dramatically. Many houses are changing hands and we have a growing number of young families moving it. We, as a church, need to be able to serve these families and we think we need to hire someone to help us with that. We’re just not quite sure that we have the resources to hire someone full-time. But maybe between our two churches we could do that which would mean that this children and youth pastor could help both of us. There are all kinds of possibilities out there and we are only just beginning to have those discussions.
So for me, it seems like a win-win situation. But before we do anything we need to know what we can expect from each other. As I said, we are going to begin those discussions on Wednesday and I am looking forward to seeing where they go and, to tell you the truth, I’m pretty excited about this and so are a lot of other people. I think we have an incredible opportunity to show faith communities how they can co-operate and work together in new covenants in order to better do what God expects us to do.
So please lift us up on prayer on
Wednesday, that God will bless us, inspire us and guide us by the power of his
Holy Spirit so we may fulfill the purposes for which he created us.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
O God of Heaven and Earth, shine your light into our darkness that we may experience the radiance of your glory. Shine into our hearts that we may be fill to overflowing with your love. Shine into our lives with hope, strength and wisdom. Shine into your world, O Jesus, and give us a vision of your Kingdom where you reign over all Creation and within the depth of every soul. Shine, God of Light, into our deepest darkness.
We thank you for the ministry of this congregation. The foundation upon which we build was established by our ancestors in the faith. May generations in the future look back on us and see that we were faithful. Continue to use us, O God, to be a conduit of your Spirit and your Good News of salvation.
We offer our thanks, especially that we have the privilege of baptizing into the Church of Jesus this morning. Bless Ginny and Jim as they seek to raise her in the Christian faith. And be with the congregation as they support them.
As we approach Easter in just two more weeks, keep us aware that this is a time of preparation. Grant us repentant hearts. Help us to look at our lives with honesty to see where we have fallen short of your purpose. May this be, for us, a time of re-conversion when we can, once again, turn our lives over to you and be transformed by the renewing of your Precious and Holy Spirit.
We pray for the sick of our congregation and community. May they feel your power and the healing touch of your Spirit.
Heavenly Father, enable us to
choose not to worry about circumstances that surround us. Rather, help us to
trust in you with all that concerns life, and trust that you will provide a way
for each of us to receive what we truly need. Help us to always seek you and
your way of doing things first above all else, and remain steadfast and
confident that you are absolutely faithful in all that you have promised. Grant
us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ, and make him known; and
through him, at all times and in all places, may we give thanks to you in all
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
March 18, 2018 / Lent 5
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Psalm 119:9-16; John 12:20-33; Hebrews 5:5-10
CALL TO WORSHIP
Seek God with your whole heart;
we call upon our Creator.
Come before God with praise and thanksgiving;
we call upon our Saviour.
Experience the overwhelming joy of the presence of God;
the one who gives us life and love.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God, we come into your presence with great longing and expectation. We come feeling weary from the pressures and stresses of life. We come as we are seeking acceptance and peace. Your Spirit offers rest and comfort for the those who struggle to follow your way. How wonderful and awesome is your compassion. We are in need of it now. Come to us with a new experience of your amazing, all healing love. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, our sins are many and our errors are beyond number. It is such a great comfort to know that we can come to you without guilt or fear of rejection. You are always ready to accept us just as we are. We are your children and your love is unconditional. By your Spirit, you affirm the love that you have for us, even when we feel unloved or unlovable. We confess our sins grateful for the knowledge that your love never fails. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The commands of God are abundantly clear. We are called to live holy and sanctifies lives in Jesus Christ. But when we fail to live by God’s standards, Jesus washes us with the blood of forgiveness. In him, by the grace of the Resurrection, we are cleansed and made whole.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We come with our offerings. We come with our gifts. We come to praise the One who gave them to us and to promise to use all that we have in the service of Christ Jesus our Saviour. Amen.
May the voice of God call to you until we meet again. May the faith of Christ sustain you through all of your joys and sorrows. May the Spirit move within you to give you peace.