Thursday, 22 June 2017

Forty Years of Worship, Witness & Service

As we celebrate 40 years of the Uniting Church on this day I want to pick up on a core theme that emerge in the early days of the Uniting Church and relate those themes to three statements found in our readings.

That theme was the expression of the mission of the church as worship, witness and service.

These three expressions of our life as the church and in particular as the Uniting Church were grounded in the life of Jesus Christ and it was to be through engaging in these three things that the Uniting Church was to live out it’s life as God’s people.

It is an opportune time for this congregation to be revisiting these fundamental themes of what it means to be a church as together you are standing on the cusp of change.  As I leave the Presbytery has engaged with you to reflect on who you are and what God is calling you to do and be as a congregation.

So let us consider these three themes.

The first is worship and in Psalm 122 we read these words:

I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’

This Psalm was a Psalm of ascent.  It would have been sung as pilgrims travelled from their villages and towns to Jerusalem for the festivals.  Worship for the Hebrew people was more than the gathering in the temple or synagogue but flowed out into their meal sharing and their home life. It shaped who they were.

In this particular Psalm of ascent there is a sense of joy and even happiness about engaging with God.  In some of the other Psalms of ascent other emotions are reflected: sorrow, lament, confession.  Worship encompasses the fullness of life.

As a small congregation your gathering for worship is a fundamental act of mission which should also ground you in a life lived to the glory and praise of God.  As we are gathered into worship we are gathered as people who have been worshipping God through our not only our devotional lives but also our daily witness to others and service of those around us.  And as we are sent out at the end of the service we are constantly commissioned to be God’s people in the world.

Be glad as God’s people to come together for worship, be glad in the good times and in the hard times, be glad that God is a faithful and steadfast God and worship God together.  Be open to the changes that might come and be committed to support one another in your worship.

The second theme is witness.  In Jesus prayer in John we read:

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Jesus prayer of John 17 is prayed in the context of worship.  The disciples had gone to Jerusalem for Passover.  Jesus had washed their feet and prayed with them.  He was teaching them and serving them and it was in the context of this pray that Jesus indicates that their behaviour would become a witness.

The unity of the church would help people believe.  Now the reality is that we have been on a long journey since that night of division and disunity.  I have never been a part of a congregation growing up, as a teacher or as a minister in which there was not conflict.  From childhood I was aware of the division between the denominations and did often wonder whether I was in the right or real church.  Despite this problem I believe God continues to use our broken witness as sign of hope in the world.

And whilst unity is one aspect of witness as people of faith every time we allow others to know that we are followers of Jesus we become his ambassadors in the world. We have a task through our words and actions to point others to Jesus, to help to know of God’s love through our imperfect witness.

Once again as a small congregation the imperative is not just for worship but that your daily lives and your life together might draw others to a greater commitment to Jesus.  Last Sunday we had the exciting event of baptising 2 and confirming another 4 people.  On that day it was more than 20% of the congregation.  We should not underestimate the possibilities of what God could do in and through this small community of faith and we should be each of us active in our inviting others to share with us and praying for others to come to know Jesus and the one whom he called Father as we know Jesus.

Lastly, the third theme is service: 

For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

This may seem an odd choice from the readings to highlight service but in these words the Psalmist reminds us our actions in God’s name are about others.  For the sake of our friends and relatives, for the sake of the house of the Lord and of the city.  The focus of faith is found not simply in gazing at God but in our serving others.

In the book of Hebrews the writer encourages acts of service and love and throughout Jesus ministry we are made acutely aware of Christ’s service of those who were sick, who were demon possessed, who were ostracized and estranged.

Jesus came seeking and serving the lost sheep and we are invited to share in this ministry of healing and giving hope to others as well.

As a congregation thinking about your own life I have never been strong on saying we have to do these things together and start programs or projects.  Rather my views has always been to encourage each one of you to serve the people around you and to be involved in organisations which inflame you with a passion to serve.

Worship, witness and service.

Ground in God’s love shown to us in Christ we share in his life of worship, witness and service.

So as you face the future the coming days, weeks, months and years I encourage you to ground your life in Christ on whom the church is founded and participate in the worship, witness and service of faith just as God has called you to.

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