State of the Church

Scripture: Acts 2:42-47

42 They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.[i]

What we have here is the picture of the early church. This passage is a good reminder of what the church should be about. For the past seven weeks, we have been taking a look at the core values of our faith. This morning we want to take a look at the core values of what the church is suppose to be. We get a good idea of what was happening in the early church. Remember that earlier in the book of Acts, we have the Holy Spirit coming on the church. The disciples (about 120 of them) gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem waiting for the power that Jesus had promised them. The Holy Spirit came and the disciples miraculously had the ability to speak in other languages that were not their own. Peter goes from the guy who always puts his foot where his mouth should be, to preaching a fantastic message and many came to a saving faith in Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is working in power in the disciple’s life throughout the book of Acts. What does the early church see as important? Let’s go back to our text. It says that they joined with other believers and devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer. In this early church there was a sense of community and that sense of community led them to helping one another and to helping others as they had need. Because of the teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer, and giving to others, many came to a knowledge of Christ.

Some of you may be familiar with the book, The Purpose-Driven Church by Rick Warren. Rick is credited with coming up with the five purposes that the church to which the church should be devoted. His book was written in 1995. While taking my FLAME courses, we had to read a book, Exploring Our Christian Faith by W. T. Purkiser. This book was written in 1960 and revised in 1978 from a “Wesley-an” perspective and here is what Purkiser says, regard to the church.

In summary, we may define the functions or purposes of the Church as five in number: (1) to provide and maintain worship in order to fulfill the requirements of the first four of the Ten Commandments; (2) to go into the highways and hedges and to the uttermost parts of the earth making disciples of all men, turning them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith that is in Christ; (3) to teach them to observe all Christ has commanded; (4) to build them into a harmonious fellowship of the saints; (5) to love and serve all men, thereby helping to relieve suffering and sorrow and to establish the rule of Christ in society.

The church has five purposes (1) worship; (2) evangelism; (3) discipleship; (4) fellowship; (5) ministry service. As we take a look at the state of our church this morning, we want to ask two questions. What is our purpose? And are we accomplishing our purpose?

Let’s break this apart and see how we are doing. First, we will take a look at worship. The main place that worship happens is during this time on Sunday morning. It is a time when we sing songs of praise, worship, and testimony to God for who he is and for what he has done. We do this through a variety of ways. There is congregational singing and we sing hymns and gospel songs, scripture songs. We also listen to other sing songs of worship through special music We are commanded in the scriptures to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We do this very well. In addition we have times of prayer, both spoken and silent. We read and teach the Word of God (the Bible) again through a variety of means and we take an offering (which allows us to give back to God in a tangible way). I have enjoyed our worship services and I hope that you are finding them meaningful as well. Let me tip the hat to those who have helped in this area; Vicky, Patty, Joanie, Rebecca, Anna help each week in leading worship. There are several who have helped collect the offering and count it and count those attending; Blaine, David Saunders; Connie; Rhonda; Mike; and Dreama. Sometimes some others fill in and we thank all of you for yours service to the kingdom.

In the area of evangelism, we had something unique happen this year. Some of our men decided that it was time to start visiting prospects and guests and those who don’t attend on a regular basis. This has been successful. Usually the night caps off with a hot dog at the Old Country Store. Thank you to Billy, Tommy, and Blaine for doing this important task.

We also had a very successful Friend Day with 97 attending. I had a great opportunity to share the gospel because of your faithfulness in bringing your friends to Preston Wesleyan. There were many people who helped make that day a success. Also thank you to Steve Doss who helped prepare hearts that day through his singing.

In the area of discipleship, we have many good things going on. First, let me say thank you to all of our Sunday School staff; Dreama (Sunday School Superintendent), and the teachers; Vicky, Gayle, Rhonda, Joanie, Tommy, and Connie. They have been faithful to do their job week after week and we thank you for helping us grow in our faith.

We also had our Summit Weekend with Chaplain Gordon Ritchie. I heard many good comments about the weekend. We already are making plans for another one this fall and I have tentative plans for one in the spring. These are great times of spiritual formation and this fall we will also have one or two of our times devoted to evangelism.

We have restructured our Sunday evening service into a time of discipleship. We have been using the term spiritual formation, because that is what discipleship is. We have a time of praise and worship and prayer. Then we discuss what we have read in God’s Word this past week and then we take a look at an area of spiritual life that we can grow in.

One of the ministries in our church that has been resurrected is our Wednesday evening ministry. This actually is a microcosm of the entire church. On each Wednesday night, we have worship, evangelism, discipleship, and fellowship. This is an important time. You may ask why. Sometimes it feels like to all of us that we aren’t accomplishing anything. Some nights the students are rowdy. But let me share a story that I’ve shared with our Wednesday night staff.

Back while we were laypeople at our church in Allentown, Pam and I taught the Junior High Sunday School class. Can I tell you that it was a source of constant frustration. Most of the class came to see their friends and did not want to participate, so they sat in the corner and talked. Pam and I taught that class for two to three years. (That was the longest anybody had taught for about 5 to 6 years) Several years later we came home from New York and visited our church. A young man approached us and asked if we recognized him. I didn’t. He said, “Do you remember those three juvenile delinquents that sat in the corner every Sunday?” I asked him which one and he said Chuck. He proceeded to tell us that he had gotten away from church and even became very depressed because he got involved with the wrong gang and drugs. He came to his senses and asked himself, who do I know that loves me? His mind went back to several years before when a young couple taught his Sunday School class and tried to teach him even when he didn’t want to be taught. He told us he remembered that the people at Trinity Wesleyan loved him, especially Pam and Dale if they could put up with him for three years and not quit. It literally saved his life. He is now in church and getting right with God. You see, we never know what kinds of seeds we’re sowing on Wednesday night. Child Evangelism Fellowship tells us “The most spiritually productive harvest field anywhere is among the children. Statistics show that 84% of all who accept Christ do so between the ages of four and fourteen-when they are children.” You can see that our Wednesday night ministry is important to our growth as a church. In the past we have always said that children are the church of tomorrow, let me say that our children and students are the church of today. We also face a crisis of keeping our students in church. The church must also face an internal problem involving their own youth leaving the church. One survey shows that when both parents attend church, seventy-two percent of their children remain faithful to the church. When the father alone attends, fifty percent of the children remain attenders, but when mother takes the children to church, only fifteen percent remain faithful to the church. I stand here to declare that student ministries are important to our church. One of the things that the Ministry Leadership Team has done is to begin a search for a student ministries pastor. This position will encompass kindergarten through 12th grade. This will not do away with any of the fantastic workers we have already. Let me recognize those who help so faithfully on Wednesday evening; Connie, Vicky, Dreama, Rhonda, Ruth, Gayle, and Mary. Let me also say that they could use your help. You may say, I can work in student ministries. Could you help us provide food? One of the unique ministries we have is to feed these students each Wednesday night. The seven people I mentioned freely give to this ministry. Only occasionally do we take money from the church treasury to meet this need. Let me encourage you to get involved.

The next area is fellowship. This has been another good area for us. One of the things we are trying to do is establish a regular Celebration of Praise. When we have these events we are trying to have some type of fellowship event around it, like the Chili Cook-off or Super Celebration of Praise for the Super-bowl. A great tradition we have established is the Fall Festival. We had a great time last year cooking hotdogs and making s’mores. We had a great time at the Christmas banquet as well. Look for more opportunities for us to get together for fellowship and building a harmonious fellowship of the saints.

The last area is ministry service. Of all the areas I believe this is probably are weakest, but I also believe that we are not at our potential, so that is a good thing. I believe in you as your pastor. This is one of the reasons we bring in missionaries. They are part of our church’s ministry service or even missions. This year we had Jim Pickett from Mozambique and next week Greg and Shannon Rast are coming to share with us. One of the organizations of our church that does a great job with this is Wesleyan Women. Vicky has done a fine job leading this organization. They were very busy last year, and I hear some great ideas for the coming year. Let me encourage you in this area of missions. One of the things I see our church doing is taking a regular offering for missions. We’ll probably start taking this offering on the same Sunday we take communion. These offerings will go to both local, domestic, and international missions. Some examples are Good News Jail Ministries and Salvation Army (Martinsville), Global Partners missionaries (Jim and Karen Pickett and Greg and Shannon Rast); Hephzibah Children’s Home; Wesleyan Native American Missions; North American Missions; FLAME; The Wesleyan Hour; Self-Denial; and Heart of Ministries. I know that sounds like a lot, but I truly believe that we cannot out give God. If we are faithful giving to him, he will be faithful in giving back to us and we will not have to worry about our churches finances or our own finances.

As you can see, I feel that we are headed in the right direction as a church. We need to continue to focus on these five purposes in order to have a well-balanced church. If any of the spokes of this wheel are short, we become unbalanced and the ride gets rough. As we conclude this morning, it’s even more important that we keep our focus on the one who saved us. That’s who we are doing this for. We are building God’s kingdom. This vision that I gave you this morning is not mine but what Christ has for his kingdom. Our challenge this morning come from an old Irish hymn, entitled “Be Thou My Vision.” This morning is Christ your vision. If it is let this song be a song of victory for you. If not let this song be a prayer for you that you let Christ become your vision as well.

We Believe in the Resurrection


This morning we conclude our series entitled, “A Place to Stand.” Over the past seven weeks we have been looking a core values of our faith. We have been looking at those values through The Apostle’s Creed. This creed was put in place to combat false teaching in the early church. It can also help us combat false teachings now.

Two weeks ago, Pam was listening to K-LOVE radio. Each day they usually present some kind of fact related to Christianity. This day they presented information from a recent Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll. Here was their finding: That most Americans don’t believe they will experience a resurrection of their bodies when they die. The Nicene Creed adopted in 325 at the First Council of Nicea concludes with the famous words: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” The Apostle’s Creed ends similarly with a belief in “the resurrection of the body.”

Only 36% answered yes to this question: “Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?” 54% said they do not believe and 10 percent were undecided. It doesn’t get much better when it comes to regular church attenders. Only half of them answered the question, “yes.” If we take a look at those who profess a “born-again” faith, only 59% said they believed in a bodily resurrection.

If this doctrine was falling to the wayside enough that it is mentioned in the creeds, I wonder what to think in our culture today. It appears that many don’t believe in a bodily resurrection today. Even 41% of believers don’t make much of it. This puts us on very dangerous ground. Let’s take a look why. I want us to go to Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth; Corinthians 15:12-19.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Wow! Let’s take a few steps back though to the beginning of this passage; 1 Corinthians 15:1 and onward.

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I have preached to you. Otherwise you believe in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

This morning we need to declare that we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

We could frame it around the question we’ve asked over the past few weeks. We believe in God, so what? We believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so what? We could ask the question of each of the statements we have made, so this morning we ask, “We believe in the resurrection of the body, what difference does it make?”

It appears from these few short scriptures that the resurrection of the body is of utmost importance to us as believers. If we don’t believe in the resurrection of the body, Paul tells us then we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To put it quite bluntly this morning, if we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we might as well stop the service, leave, turn off the lights, lock the doors and sell the building and just go on living life. If we don’t believe in Jesus Christ, then all we do is useless. There’s no need for a church building. There’s no need for us to gather here. There’s no need to sing songs of worship and praise. There’s no need of me preaching.

Paul declares that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. As we’ve been reading through our Bibles this year, we have discovered that in order for a testimony to be valid, it has to have two witnesses. Many men and women witnessed Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Now I know many are trying to refute much of the biblical narrative lately. A few examples that come to mind are The DaVinci Code and the new article on “The Gospel of Judas” in National Geographic, which has also been broadcast recently on the National Geographic Channel.

I hear all kinds of stories that the “church” has this grand conspiracy thing going; that Constantine was responsible for making the Bible what it is today, to preserve it the way they wanted the story to be told. Really now! As we’ve seen before during this series all of the apostles except Judas (who hung himself) and John (who died of old age exiled on the isle of Patmos) and including Paul died a martyrs death. All of them were executed for their faith in Jesus Christ. Would you put your life on the line for a conspiracy? Think about this, 12 men put their life on the line to preach the gospel Paul tells us about this morning; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” The resurrection of Jesus is a critical point of the gospel, because no other religious figure is still alive. Muhammad isn’t’. Buddha isn’t. Jesus Christ is alive and that makes all the difference. The empty tomb gives us hope this morning. Paul tells us in verse 20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…for since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all died, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Paul makes a strong case for the resurrection of the physical body. But let’s take an even closer look. What kind of body will be raised? Paul deals with this in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. I like the question he raises. How are the dead raised? Paul replies, “How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed…But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body…There are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies.” Let’s skip to verse 42. “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable. It is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body…and just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” In taking a look at this, Paul says that in the case of the resurrection of the dead, God will take a perishable, dishonorable, weak (and sinful) body-“a natural body” and in the resurrection make it imperishable, glorious, powerful. This is a bit of a difficult concept, so in looking at my study notes, I found this. “’Spiritual body’ does not mean a nonmaterial body but, from the analogies, a physical one similar to the present natural body organizationally, but radically different in that it will be imperishable, glorious and powerful, fit to live eternally with God.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a day when I can exchange this mortal, perishable body, for one that is imperishable. I understand that the older I get. So if we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, we must also believe in the resurrection of the body. One more time let me ask, so what? What difference does it make?

Let’s finish the apostle’s thought. This is a wonderful thought as we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection this morning. Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with immortality then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain.

What a wonderful promise those who are in Christ have this morning. For those who are in Christ, you have hope not just while on this earth, but you have hope for eternity. You will live forever. Because of that the apostle tells us that we need not worry, we can stand firm. We have a place to stand. We have a solid rock and His name is Jesus Christ. He is coming again to take his children home to glory and we will be changed. I love the aria from Handel’s Messiah. The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised. We will have new bodies, bodies that are not prone to sickness and disease; bodied that are not prone to sin. We will be with him. If you are in Christ, you don’t have to worry. You know your work won’t be useless. I encourage those who are believers to work hard for the kingdom. The hour is getting late and we need to be about the work of bringing people into the kingdom of heaven.

This morning, perhaps, you’re not a believer. That doesn’t have to be the way it is. You can be in Christ and have this magnificent hope as well; the hope that Christ will return for you and eternal life with him in heaven. There is another choice that that is eternal life separated from God. We call that hell and I believe and others will agree with me that it will be a terrible place separated forever from the presence of God. Imagine a place where there is no love. God is a God of love and he is a God of justice. Justice demands the price be paid. Each one of us are sinners and the wages of sin is death. We can’t work our way to heaven. The only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ; repent of your sins, confess them to God; believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and receive him into your heart. He will make a change, not only when you go to heaven with Him, but he can make a change in your life right now. Will you let him?

Maundy Thursday Service

(Worship Space – the altar or communion table can be laid with red cloth, its only adornment being a dimly lit lantern and three unlit candles. If the walls of the worship center can accommodate candles, unlit candles could also be placed along the walls.)

(Entrance – The scriptures shown below will be read antiphonally by two readers from the front of the sanctuary. As they are being read, a server will slowly proceed to the altar, carrying a Christ candle, from which the other candles will be lit. Depending upon the number of candles available, the lights in the church can also be turned up as the candles are lit.

Call to Worship

Reader 1: 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Reader 2: 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made;

Reader 1: 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good,

Reader 2: without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

Reader 1: he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”

Reader 2: 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

* Songs of Invocation: Shine, Jesus, Shine

Here I Am to Worship

* Opening Prayer

All: Blessed Father, gracious Son, and Holy Spirit, eternal Trinity, eternal light, we pray you would grace us with your presence during this hour. We pray that during our worship, your light would further penetrate our darkness, into spaces and thoughts that have heretofore remained shrouded. We pray for this for the sake of your kingdom, your glory, and our salvation. Amen.

Leader: One of the liberating joys of worship is that worship brings us together with two millennia of believers who came, week after week, as we do, expressing their gratitude for God’s salvation as well as their need of God’s extension of mercy, love, and forgive­ness. As a confession of both our con­tribution and our desire, let us join our spirits with the saints of ages past .

Song of Confession: #51 – Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Leader’s Response: Romans 8:33-35a, 38-39

33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Congregation’s Response: #86 The Love of God

Service of the Word

Old Testament: Isaiah 42:1-9

1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.

2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.

3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope.”

5 This is what God the LORD says—
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:

6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,

7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

8 “I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not give my glory to another
or my praise to idols.

9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Leader: The Lord calls us in righteousness.

People: Lord, teach us the way.

Psalm: Psalm 143

1 O LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.

2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.

3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.

5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.

6 I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Selah

7 Answer me quickly, O LORD;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

9 Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD,
for I hide myself in you.

10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.

12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

Leader: Lord, our spirit grows weak and faint

People: Revive us that we may serve you.

Gospel: John 3:17-21

17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Leader: Lord, teach us the deeds of light

People: Revive us that we may serve you.

Devotional

(silent prayer)

Prayer for Anointing

Scripture: Matthew 26:6-13

6While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

(As the Gospel is being read, a woman will slowly proceed to the altar/Communion table. In the open palms of her outstretched hands, she will carry a bottle of scented anointing oil, which she will place on the altar/table)

Prayer: God’s first act after creating the heavens and the earth was to bring light. The prophets prophesied that God was going to send a light to the gentiles, and Jesus came as a light to the world. When the woman of Bethany anointed Jesus’ head, she offered a humble service to the light that was soon to be extinguished. We are called to perform the deeds of light. During worship, one such service is to offer prayers for those whose light in life is precarious. With the oil of God’s Holy Spirit, let us jointly anoint these ones.

(Take time to anoint those who so desire – including those who would like to be anointed on behalf of another.)

Leader: Let us seal our prayer with a hymn of faith.

Hymn: #20 – Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Celebration of the Table

Scripture: John 13:1-17

(As the Gospel is being read, a server will slowly proceed to the front of the sanctuary, carrying a laver and, draped over the arm, a white towel. The server will place these on the altar/Communion table.)

1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.[a]

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Leader: One of Jesus‘ last messages, taught by this powerful example, was that those of us who choose to follow him must become servants of one an­other. We are called to follow Jesus by serving those whom he came to save. But when the call comes, we realize that few of us can do this.

The daily calling of servanthood is one of the avenues God has provided to help draw us out of our darkness and into God’s light. But in order to persevere along the tunnel of our darkness, we need God’s constant nurture and forgiveness, and the hope of light.

On the night on which he was be­trayed, Jesus provided the nurture, on the cross he provided the forgive­ness, and through the Resurrection, he provided the light.

Hymn: #748 Let Us Break Bread Together

Scripture: Matthew 26:26-29

26While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Prayer (in unison)

Our loving God and Father,

We bless you that from the beginning of time, you have been calling your people out of the darkness of our human condition and into the light of your saving life.

We bless you that Jesus entered our darkness and wore it as his garment, that he exchanged the raiment of the starry heavens for the raiment of darkest death.

We bless you in this bread and this wine you are both calling us and enabling us to walk the path of your Son.

We pray that you would consecrate this bread and wine that in our partaking

We would be filled with the life of Christ that Christ‘s life would lighten our darkness, that Christ‘s blood would purify and in­vigorate us to follow his example of loving service in this our world.

Communion

Hymn: #150 Christ is the World’s Light

Scripture: Matthew 26:36-56

(As the final portion of text is being read, the candles should be extinguished one at a time, each snuff corresponding to an action in the text, e.g., the arrival of Judas, the kiss, the arrest, etc. If lights were also used during the service, they should likewise be slowly and completely dimmed so that one only remaining light is that of the Christ Candle on the altar/Communion table, which will be extinguished immediately after the reading of John 9:4-5)

36Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

42He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!””

47While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

50Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.”

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51With that, one of Jesus‘ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

55At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Scripture: John 9:4-5

4 “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins

The prophet Micah declares, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham. As you pledge on oath to our fathers in days long ago.”

I like what Micah declares. Who is a God like you who pardons sins and forgives transgression? The prophet could have chosen any number of phrases to describe God, but he uses this one. We have a God who parsons sins and forgives transgression.

This morning we look at the second to last phrase of the Apostle’s Creed; we believe in the forgiveness of sins. As I’ve told you over the past few weeks, the creeds were developed to combat heresy or false teachings. Does this imply that the church was neglecting this core doctrine?

It may be that while the early church fathers never denied this core value, if we look at the writings of these fathers it becomes clear that forgiveness of sins was not stressed adequately. They viewed the church as a museum for the saints and focused a great deal of attention on the ethical demands of Christianity. These fathers believed in the forgiveness of sins before baptism but not after. We know that saints don’t always behave as they should. Some began to suggest that the church was not a museum of saints but a hospital where the sinner could find hope and health. It is not an either or situation. The church is here for both saint and sinner. We want to declare this morning that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. To do that, we must first believe in sin. What is sin? Sin is a willful violation of God’s law.

But what if there is no law (or moral absolutes) what happens then? If God is not absolute…then neither are his laws. If there are no laws, there can be no sin and there can be no breaking of them. If there is no sin…there is no need for change. If there is no need for change…there is no need for salvation. If there is no need for a gospel…why commit yourselves to one? If you lose all the above…then there is no need for God. You see how slippery the slope is.

Several months ago on a Sunday evening we discussed how our culture has shied away from this thing called sin. Former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase, “defining deviancy down.” It means to take what is deviant and make it seem okay when compared to even worse extremes. What we do is compare our sins to other’s sins and it makes it appear that ours aren’t so bad. When we compare ourselves to others it doesn’t make us feel as bad. The problem is that, we can’t compare ourselves to others, we must compare ourselves to God and when we do that we cry, “Woe is me!” 2 Corinthians 10:12 says, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Paul puts the comparison in the right place. We need to compare ourselves to God and his holiness and when we do that, we become undone. The prophet Isaiah writes, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” God has given people a free choice. We often say that Adam and Eve really messed it up for us. But if we had been given the same opportunity, they same thing would have happened. Paul writes again in Romans 5, “…just as sins entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world.” If we don’t believe in sin, there can be no forgiveness.

Now I know that there can be two extremes when it comes to forgiveness. Most of this comes down to wrong views of who God is. They say, “Others are in bad shape, but not me. What have I done that needs to be forgiven?” Their reaction is that God will pat the sinner on the back one day and say, “There, there. I know you didn’t mean it. It’s not that bad. Forgiveness is not necessary.” These would minimize sin and make forgiveness unnecessary. I ask then what did Christ die on the cross for?

But before we get to that question, let’s look at the other extreme. What about those who say that I’m so sinful that God could never forgive me? These are the same people who won’t come to church because they are afraid the roof will cave in on them. These people compare themselves to others and say, “Look how good they are, I can understand how God can forgive their sins. But my sins are much greater, I don’t see how God could forgive me.” In either case, the one in which sin is minimized or the one in which sin is maximized, God still forgives. God is still in the forgiving business.

Let’s go back to the prophet Micah. Who is a God like who forgives sins and pardons transgressions? It is amazing to me that God offers forgiveness to both saint and sinner. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Some would use this as an excuse to say, “I can sin all I want and God will forgive me.” These are the same that say the believe sins in thought, word, and deed everyday. If so, let me ask the question again. What did Jesus die on the cross for? Forgiveness is only offered to those who truly repent. True repentance is 180-degree turn around. We go from serving ourselves to serving God. Confession means we have a determination to forsake our sins and leave them behind. John makes it clear in the verses before this. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin.

This is what Jesus died on the cross for. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. Paul tells us once again, “The wages of sin is death…but the free gift of God is eternal life.” As we entered the service this morning we celebrated the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In a few short days, Jesus would eat a final meal with his disciples. He would go out to pray in the garden be betrayed by one of his own and be arrested on false charges. The disciples will scatter and Jesus will be left alone during the trial and during the long walk to Calvary. He will die on the cross alone, forsaken by everyone including His father. What did Jesus die for? He died for our forgiveness.

What is forgiveness? First of all forgiveness is pardon. Most of us have heard this word. It is a legal term. Those who have been pardoned, are released from their sentence. I remember several years while working with an Wesleyan evangelist who did city-wide or county wide encounters. John was his prison evangelist who would come sing at the evening rallies. John sang “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” one night. He explained that that was one song that the prisoners could relate. Each of them knew what the word pardon meant. Pardon would mean that they would be out of prison free to live again. Jesus blood on the cross offers forgiveness and pardon. It’s just as if we had never sinned before.

Christ not only came though to grant us pardon, but he came that we may have life and life to the full. We’ve looked at the process of pardon and the legal profession has given us a great word picture. The lawyer thinks in legal terms. God, to him, is the great judge, and man is a prisoner before the bar of divine justice, having broken God’s law. Christ stands as attorney for the defense, pleading the sinner’s case, canceling his debt. We hear that in Paul’s letter to Romans in justification (or just as if I hadn’t sinned) by faith. How God can be just and yet be the justifier of the unjust. As Earle Wilson points out at this point the analogy breaks down and we must go to the worthy profession of medicine, because Christ came not only to save us from the punishment of sin, but from sin itself. The physician thinks not in terms of law but of life. Sin is a disease that destroys life. Forgiveness is the cure for sin—the infusion of new life to drive out the evil and restore health and wholeness.

So forgiveness means pardon – a new chance and purity – a new life, but is there something else?

Let’s go to Jesus’ prayer that he taught his disciples. We pray it without thinking about it sometimes. What about that line that says, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Hang on to that thought for a moment.

Jesus told an outrageous parable about a man who owed ten million dollars (or ten thousand talents). This was an impossible amount to repay. He begged the man for mercy and was forgiven the debt – he was pardoned. Without missing a beat he went to a man who owed him some money and beat him within an inch of his life for twenty dollars. Anyone see anything wrong with that?

In order to have forgiveness, we must be willing to forgive. If we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven. This goes way beyond the legal definition of forgiveness.

Peter wanted to make forgiveness strictly a legal matter. How many times do I need to forgive? Peter said, “Should I forgive seven times.” Peter thought he was being generous, because the law only required three. He was doubling plus one. Can you imagine Peter’s face when Jesus replied, “You must not forgive seven times, but seventy times seven.” Now, most of us immediately try to do the math, but in doing so we miss the spirit of what Jesus was saying. We still try to keep it in legal terms. Yes, seventy times seven is four-hundred ninety. That is a lot of forgiveness and that is precisely the point.

This is the strategy of the gospel. We go into the world as people who have been forgiven a ton of debt that we could never repay. And we go armed with the spirit of forgiveness to heal the hurts, right the wrongs, and change the fractured relationships.

As we close this morning, I want us to be reminded of the great price God paid in loving us, that he would pardon us and free us from the curse of sin. Because of the Father’s great love for us we need to have a great love for the people (both saint and sinner) that he loves.

We Believe in the Church

This morning as we recited the Apostle’s Creed we had two statements regarding the church. The first was, “We believe in the holy catholic church.” The second was, “We believe in the communion of saints.” We want to take a closer look at these two statements.

Let me ask you, “Do you believe in the church?” Let me share with you a study that was done recently by the Barna group. In a recent survey 76 million Americans said they did not attend church, however, half of that number claimed they were Christian. Is it possible to be and Christian and not attend church. Let’s look a bit further into the survey. Although unchurched, 77 percent say they are either absolutely or moderately committed to the Christian faith and millions of them engage in spiritual activity during a typical week. Nearly two-thirds pray to God, one-fifth read from the Bible, and five percent participate in a small group for Bible study, prayer or Christian fellowship.

It would appear that Americans believe that it is possible to be a Christian and not go to church. Let’s look at a few more of their comments. Among the adults disassociated with a conventional church, 66 percent agree that their religious faith is very important in their life today, 50 percent agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches, 51 percent believe that Jesus Christ sinned while he lived on earth, 61 percent say their single, most important purpose in life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul, 55 percent argue that they are totally committed to having a deeper relationship with God and will do whatever it takes to get and maintain that relationship, and 66 percent say they are completely committed to making the world, and other people’s lives, better.

So just as we said last week that some of us are determined to be a Christian without the work of the Holy Spirit, it appears many in America today intend to be Christian outside the church.

I wonder why? But on the other hand, it doesn’t take too much thinking to see why people are dissatisfied with the church. What are a few examples?

  • Some feel that that have placed all their life in the church; their time, talent and treasure, and after serving the church all of that the church is changing right before their very eyes. It’s not at all the church they had worked and sacrificed for. Things are done differently than they used to be done. Sometimes to them it feels like nobody cares, especially the pastor…they keep right on ahead. They feel disenfranchised.
  • Some feel downright rejected by the church. Suppose a young man walked into our church this morning with tattoos and various body piercings. What would your first thought be? It might be look at him, he sure doesn’t belong here. Our first tendency is to judge. There is a commercial recently that shows a woman with a young child who starts crying during the service. The commercial cuts to a picture a man pushing a large red button and immediately the pew ejects the woman and her child. Another part of the commercial shows a man with a disability being ejected. There are those who come into our church who aren’t at all like us. Sometimes we’re quick to judge. Believe me, when we judge our thoughts become very loud and those who are uncomfortable with church already, don’t like everyone staring at them and making judgments. They feel rejected by the church.
  • Some have been hurt by the church. While we lived in New York the clergy sexual abuse scandal broke out in the Roman Catholic Church. Several clergy were removed, including a priest from our local area and a bishop in the diocese of Albany. Many who are hurt in this way place more faith in our court system and lawyers than in pastors and the church.
  • Some don’t believe in the church because of the way it behaves. They make call it hypocritical. Two weeks ago, I quoted John Lennon saying, “Jesus is alright, but it his disciples twisting it ruins it for me.” They church doesn’t always behave they way it’s suppose to behave. Sometimes this is because of the pastor, sometimes because of the laypeople and sometimes, it’s a combination of both.

People have many reasons for not believing the church. Some are of the church’s on making and some we have had no control over. In spite of all of that, the church is still something to believe in. Let’s go to Matthew’s gospel, in a passage that we look at while determining the divinity of Jesus; Matthew 16:15-20.

15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter quickly replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It is this that Jesus now declares is the rock on which he will build his church. The church is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Christ is the head of the church. Paul tells us, “22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” We need to remember this, that Christ is the head of the church; not the pastor, or the board, or the laypeople for that matter. The head of the Church is Christ. The church is not here for us. The church is not here for me. The church is not here for you, but the church is here because of Jesus Christ. The church is the kingdom of heaven here on earth. We do not work to establish our own kingdom on planet earth, but Christ’s kingdom.

Perhaps this is why some have difficulty with the church. Many times they will see competing factions even among a small group of believers and they cannot understand why people who are suppose to love each other can’t get along. On a larger scale, many see the fact that there are so many denominations as being proof that the church can’t get along. In some ways they are right. The Creed declares that we believe in the holy catholic church.

There are two adjectives in this statement. One is holy. The church is separate. The church is called out. We are called to be his holy church. Let’s look at what Paul says, 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” We together as believers are to be a place where God dwells, because God dwells within the believer through the Holy Spirit. We have been learning as we are reading in the Old Testament that God is a holy God and he demands his people to be holy as well.

The second adjective is catholic. Immediately when we say the word catholic most people associate it with the Roman Catholic Church. But the word catholic (with a small c) means universal. Some will teach that because there are many denominations the body of Christ has been become fractured, but I say just as there are many families in the human race, there are many denominations in the church. Part of the reason for this series is to see not what makes us different from other denominations as some like to do, but to see what unites us as the body of Christ. These core values that we have be reciting each week are believed by Christians all around the world in many different denominations. They are the core of our faith. This is a church worth believing in.

The second statement that is made in the Apostle’s Creed is that we believe in the communion of the saints. Now you have probably all heard this lame joke before, but the saints that the Creed is referring to does not mean the New Orleans Saints. Many times when we think of the word saint we think of an elderly person who has walked with the Lord for many years. We think saints have to earn it. Sometimes we think a person is a saint if they have to put up with someone year after year. Like I’ve said, Pam must be a saint since she puts up with me. But that is not what a saint is. I looked the word up in a Bible dictionary and came up with this. Saint — one separated from the world and consecrated to God; one holy by profession and by covenant; a believer in Christ. Listen to what Paul writes in Romans 1:7, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

By that definition all who are “in Christ” are saints. What does communion mean? Let’s take a look. Communion is fellowship with God, between Christ and his people, by the Spirit, of believers with one another. The Lord’s Supper is so called because in it there is fellowship between Christ and his disciples, and of the disciples with one another.

So, the communion of the saints is those who are in Christ in fellowship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit and with other believers. Notice that the whole Trinity is involved. So are all the other believers. As we take a look at this we are reminded that we cannot be lone ranger Christians. Remember one of the first questions I ask you? Can you be a Christian outside of the Church? It appears that many believe you can. But if we take a careful look at the scriptures we will find that we can’t. Hebrews 10 tells us, “19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Part of the communion of the saints involves spurring one another onto love and good deeds and not give up meeting together. When you are here on Sunday morning it encourages each one of us. There is a common saying that no man is an island. This becomes true in the life of a believer. We cannot be a lone ranger Christian. We need each other. A church worth believing in needs communion of the saints.

Recently I came across an article on the United Methodist Church. They are concerned with the “graying” of their congregations and how to reverse the trend.

The Rev. Tyrone Gordon, pastor of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, said, “We are producing a generation of religious consumers who are always looking at what the Lord can do for them, instead of committed disciples who ask what is it that we can do for the Lord,” Gordon continues by saying the most empowering tool the church can use is living by the gospel of Christ.

“In order to make disciples … we must capture the minds, hearts, trust and respect of people,” he said. “The task of evangelism and discipleship is to make the liberating power of the gospel of Christ become real in word and deed.”

In that light, Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, Director of the Board of Discipleship for the Methodist Church, called on church attendants to return to the basics of the Christian faith – prayer, Bible study, fasting, participation in worship and the sacraments, doing good and doing no harm – the essential work of spiritual formation. Our task of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is not a small task. It is a worldwide task, and it needs urgent attention.”