WHERE DO YOU BELONG?
This is the last Sunday of the year. In fact, it’s the last Sunday of the decade. Next week we are into 2020. To be honest, when we wake up on Thursday January 1, 2020, the world will be little changed from the day before. The sun will still rise and fall. People will carry on with their routines whether that be at work, school, home, church or retirement. Life will not change very much just because the clock ticks over from one year to the next.
And yet, those tickings of those clocks cause us to look at our lives and think about where we might be going. I know that 2020 will be big year for me. I turn 65 in May and many people think of that as one of the significant milestones in life. I suppose it is. It’s the age at which a lot of people retire, not that I’m planning to but it is an age when most of are thinking about it. But regardless of whether or not someone retires, there is the realization that mortality is creeping up. When I look at the journey of my life, I realize that there are probably a whole lot more years in the rearview mirror behind me than there in the headlights before me. That’s not a negative thought. Nor is it pessimistic. It’s just reality. Having said that, there’s always Ruby Archer and she’s forty years older than me. So maybe there is hope.
Regardless of where we find ourselves in life as the clock ticks over to 2020, this is a time to reflect, not just on where we have been but also where we are going. To put it in theological terms, what is God calling you to do in 2020? What are you supposed to achieve? Where are you supposed to go? Or to put it another way, where do you belong? Where do belong in 2020? Are you there? Or are you somewhere else? If you’re there than great. Get on with being the person God created you to be. If you’re not there, then maybe you need to spend some time in 2020 figuring out how to get there.
One thing that I always found fascinating about Essex County is the number of people who live here who have always lived here. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just very different from my own experience. I was born in Hamilton, grew up in Stoney Creek. As a young adult I moved around a bit but never more than a thirty minute drive from the house where I grew up. But then I turned thirty and found myself in North Bay to do my internship for ministry. After ordination, Ruth and I headed to Manitoba and Saskatchewan with six month old Andrew in tow. We spent three years out there and then moved to Espanola in Northern Ontario. After fourteen years there, we moved down here to Cottam in 2004. Our four children were born in Hamilton, Brandon MB, Sudbury and Little Current.
That might seem like a lot but, compared with Ruth, it’s nothing. Born in Nelson B.C, she has lived many places before coming here. I’ll probably miss a place or two but I think the order was Nelson, Melfort SK, Timmins ON, Port Hope, Cobourg, Amherst NS, Montreal PQ, Toronto, Saskatoon SK, Hamilton, North Bay, Hamilton, McAuley MB, Espanola ON and Cottam. If you add them up, that’s fifteen different places that she’s lived. Fourteen of them were in the first thirty years of her life. So you can see why it seems odd to us when someone has always lived in the same place their whole lives. And that’s okay as long as you are where you belong.
Today’s Bible reading from Matthew tells us that Jesus moved around quite a bit in his lifetime. He was born in Bethlehem. We all know that. We also know that the first couple of years of his were spent at Bethlehem. By the time the Magi came to visit Jesus, Matthew talks about Jesus as a child, not a baby, and that they were living in a house. We learn that in Matthew 2:11 (NIV) which says, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down to worship him.” So it appears that Mary and Joseph did not immediately return to Nazareth after Jesus was born. And that could make some sense. Bethlehem was, after all, Joseph’s home town and maybe they needed another carpenter. So he stayed on.
But then we pick up the story in Matthew 2:13-15 (NIV). The Magi have left Bethlehem to begin their journey back home:
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Joseph packs up his family and their belongings because he is warned in a dream that King Herod is looking for the Christ Child with a view of killing him. Clearly they can not stay in Bethlehem. Herod is a brutal dictator and lives in Jerusalem which is a mere 5 km from Bethlehem. Time to go. Joseph and his family no longer belong in Bethlehem. It has become too dangerous. Instead, God calls them to Egypt.
For a time, Joseph and his family belong in Egypt. But then Joseph has another dream. We hear about it in Matthew 2:19-21 (NIV): “After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.”
So how long did Jesus live in Egypt? Herod dies in 4 CE. If we assume that Jesus is two years old when they move to Egypt – so basically 2 CE – and that they return to Judea after Herod dies in 4 CE, that means that Jesus lives in Egypt for two years. He belonged in Egypt during that two year period.
But where does Joseph go when he returns to Judea? The obvious place would be to go back to the place they left – Bethlehem. He has family there and friends there. He obviously had a business there as a carpenter. It would be easiest to go back to Bethlehem. But that is not to be because Joseph learns something else on his way back to Judea.
Matthew 2:22-23 (NIV) says this: “But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.”
Rather than going to Bethlehem, which seems to have been his intent. He goes north to Nazareth. Why there? Because he has no idea what Archelaus, the new king, will do. Will he be like his father King Herod or will he be something else. It seems that he is not unlike his father and so Joseph decides to go instead to Nazareth where Rome has set up a different head of state. So it appears that Jesus no longer belongs in Egypt. But neither does he belong in Bethlehem. Instead he belongs in Nazareth.
Twenty-five or thirty years later, Jesus begins his ministry. He starts in Galilee, near Nazareth where he grew up. And look at where he goes as an adult. He goes north to Caesarea Philippi and back to Capernaum. Then he goes north east to the Mediterranean coast and back down the east side of the Sea of Galilee. Then he heads south through Samaria toward Jerusalem where he moves around the local area not far from where he was born in Bethlehem.
It appears that, in later life, Jesus didn’t belong anywhere. Look at all of the places where he went. But in fact the opposite is quite true. Moving around didn’t indicate that Jesus didn’t belong anywhere. It actually shows us that he belonged everywhere. His ministry was not just for one specific people in one specific time or place. It was for everyone. He lived for everyone. He died for everyone and he rose again for everyone. Anyone can experience his saving grace by putting their faith in him. Jesus belonged everywhere.
A FULL LIFE
That brings us right back to where we started. Where do you belong? Are you there or is 2020 the years to think about how to get there? All of may be in different places but of one thing we can be sure. God calls each of us somewhere. I’m not just talking about geographical location although that probably has something to do with it. Being where you belong is so much bigger than that. God gives everyone unique gifts and talents do what he put us on the earth to do. None of us is here by accident. None of us is a mistake. Each of us was put here on purpose for a purpose big or small. Fulfilling that purpose is where you belong.
Are you where you belong? Are you living the live God calls you to live or is 2020 the year when you begin to make changes?
But here’s a good question. How do you know when you are where you belong? That’s actually not a difficult question to answer. You are where you belong when you believe you are living a full life. That is what Jesus said to us. In John 10:10 (NIV) Jesus said this, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Do you think you’re living a full life? If you are, then maybe you are where you belong. If you’re not, then maybe you need to take some time to re-evaluate where you are.
It’s not always easy to do that because it means that you might have to make some changes and changes come with risks and can be scary. I remember each of our moves as a family over the past thirty years. None of them was easy. Each took us to a place very different from the last but there was also a sense with each of them that we were doing what God wanted us to do. The hardest move of all was the one to Cottam. I’ve told you before that it is not where we wanted to go. We were quite content to stay in the north. In fact, I’d sworn that I would never again live in Southern Ontario. But God has a sense of humour and God called us not only to Southern Ontario but to Kingsville which is considered to be the most southerly town on mainland Canada. We came trusting that God would make things work. I think that looking back on the past fifteen years, God did that. The journey has not always been easy but it’s been God’s journey for us and it has worked out far better than we could ever have planned.
One thing to consider, however, is that the place where we belong sometimes changes. Jesus experienced that. He went from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth, around Galilee and finally to Jerusalem. Along the way he went from being a boy to a youth to a man. He learned to be a carpenter and in the end he became the Saviour of the world. Sometimes the place where we belong changes and we have to be ready for that too. Just because you once belonged somewhere does not mean that you belong there forever. Life changes. The world changes and what God wants us to changes along with it.
WHERE DOES THE CHURCH BELONG?
All of those thing are true of us as individuals. They are also true of the church. The same questions need to be asked of our family of faith. Are we, as Cottam United Church, where we belong? Are we doing what God has called us to do or do we need to adjust, to make some changes? Are we where we belong?
I want to tell you something. I have been very pleased as your pastor to see that you, as a congregation, have been able to change and adapt to the different needs of ministry as they have presented themselves. That is not an easy thing for churches to do. In fact, the failure of many churches is predicated on their inability to do just that.
We are a very different church than we were fifteen years ago. We have to be because the world has changed around us and Cottam itself has changed. When you look at the faces of the people who worship here, they are very different than they were fifteen years ago. We’ve lost a lot of people through death, moving away or just moving on. But God also has blessed us with a lot of new people. Like Cottam itself, our demographics are younger and that has strained our resources. But that’s a good problem to have and we are working on solving it. In the last fifteen years, we have totally renovated and updated the sanctuary, put in new furnaces and air conditioning, added storage space, put on a new roof, added an addition for office space, and done a significant amount of cement repair. Our order of worship is different. We have weekly presiders. Just in the last year, we have entered into a shared ministry agreement with Wheatley United Church, created a prayer garden and are now in the process of hiring someone to fill the Family Minster position.
On top of that, we have a task group looking at how we can better use technology and social media to share the good news of Jesus. There is another task group whose job it is to see how we can get better at hospitality, welcoming and retaining people. They are looking at everything from parking to nursery, from coat racks to signs that tell people where the bathrooms are. It is their task to walk into church as if it is their very first time and think about how we could provide a better experience. It sounds simple but it’s not and it vitally important.
We also have increased our mission footprint with the Essex Food Bank, Downtown Mission and, more recently, Murchadha House which is such a fabulous facility right her in Cottam. A number of us now sponsor children through World Vision in addition to those who already sponsored through Compassion Canada. In a couple of years, we hope to make a trip down to El Salvador to see what our sponsorship is doing. Many of our people were instrumental in getting 2nd Cottam Scouts established at this church. Along those same lines, we are looking at various ways that we can improve our presence as a hub within the community. Do you remember that we talked about hubs a back in November? Hubs are places where the community gathers and we believe that CUC is one of those main places in Cottam.
But not every change has been effective. They never are. We experimented with different worship times but decided to go back to what we had before. Not all changes work and when they don’t, that doesn’t indicate a failure. It just indicates that it didn’t work so learn from it and move on.
So much has been accomplished. None of it got done because we were content to stay where we were. Rather we chose to risk going on a journey to finding out where we belong. As the people of God we are still on that journey.
One of the Church Board’s main tasks is to dream about the future and discern where God is calling us to go. We’ve been hard at work doing that. We’re not quite done yet with our goals for 2020 but we’ll get it done and we will talk about that at the Annual Congregational Meeting in February. God has a purpose for us. God has things for us to accomplish. God wants us to go where we belong and, by the grace of God, we will go there and do what God calls us to do.
The new year is upon us. 2020 starts on Wednesday. We need to find out where we belong, both as individuals and as a community of faith. What does God want us to accomplish in 2020? Where are we called to go? What are we called to do? Where do we belong? Like Jesus, we are on a journey of ministry. Like Jesus, let us follow God’s path for us so that we can end up exactly where he wants us to be
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, your Spirit moves over the greying landscape. It hovers over the bare fields and shines through the stars of the clear winter’s night. The touch of your hand is on all things: the beauty of a snowflake, the frosted designs on the inside of a window pane, houses coloured in bright Christmas lights. We offer our thanks for your blessings and praise you for the wonders of Creation.
Thank you for the most precious of all gifts that you have given to us, your Spirit who lives within those who put their faith and their trust in you. Strengthen us and enable us to live our lives in a way that brings joy and glory to you. Enable us to follow the wisdom and leadership of your Spirit in every aspect of life.
We come to the end of another year and we look forward to a new page being turned on the calendar. We give you thanks for the year which is past with all of its ups an downs. And we thank you for the year which is almost upon us and we say, “Yes,” to all that it will bring our way knowing that you are in every moment.
We pray for those who are sick at home or in hospital especially Jacqui and Mary. We think of those who have spent the first Christmas without a loved one around the dinner table. Help us to be thankful for good memories and to cherish always those who cannot be with us this side of heaven.
We also would pray for our Canadian soldiers in various parts of the world. May your angels guard them as they do this most valuable and dangerous work against terrorism and for peace.
Lord of Life, we need to be single
minded and focused on what you have called us to do. Keep us wary of
distractions that would attempt to delay the accomplishment of your great
goals. As you provide us with the strength that we need, we look straight ahead
with diligence and determination to the tasks that you have set before us. In
all things, we trust in you to direct our paths, enabling us to make the best
decisions as we pray and seek you in all areas of endeavour and praise. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 29, 2019 / Christmas 1
Psalm 148; Isaiah 63:7-9; Matthew 2:13-23; Hebrews 2:10-18
CALL TO WORSHIP
Arise and shine for our light has come.
God’s glory has risen in our midst.
The darkness which covered the earth has been driven away.
Come, let us worship the light that brings true life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Love, we come to you to acknowledge your power, grace, and glory. We come with the belief that your promises are certain and your Word is secure. May your praise be on our lips during every moment of life, at night or day, whether awake or asleep. You are in all circumstances, in the successes and the failures, the defeats and the victories. Thank you for your great faithfulness and for loving us unconditionally with a love that knows no bounds or borders. Gracious God, hear our prayers. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Most Merciful Heavenly Father, despite your faithfulness, we sometimes do not put our best foot forward. Enable us, by your grace, to better comprehend and understand the power of your words. Teach us to be more responsible for the things that come from our mouths. Help us always, through our words and actions, to bring healing out of hurt, life out of death, restoration out of destruction. Forgive our sins, O God, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
As we meditate on God’s Word, we realize that his love is greater than our deepest and darkness sin. Nothing in all Creation can rob us of the salvation that is ours when we place our faith and hope in Jesus Christ. God’s hears our honest confessions and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our greatest praise is for you, O God, for you provide for our every need in all situation. Keep us watchful that we may notice your blessings when they come our way. For all things great and small, we offer our thanks asking for your wisdom and grace so that all that we have may be used for your holy purpose. Amen.
May God’s praise be always on our lips and Holy Spirit always in our hearts. As we leave, may we go with the grace of Christ to love and serve our God and Saviour.