“Young at Heart” Message
Who here can give me directions to the washroom in the church?
Can anyone who went to my house for the potluck give us specific directions to get there?
OK, now, I’m new to Calgary. Can anyone give me specific directions to get to Calgary Olympic Park from here?
Alright, lastly, who can give me specific instructions on how to get from here to Wisconsin so I can go visit family?
Now, imagine if, when I asked you for directions, your response was simply “you know the way.” I would admit to thinking “wow, what an unhelpful answer. Good thing I have GPS!”
Unfortunately for Jesus’s disciples, I don’t think they had GPS back then. So, when they tell Jesus that they don’t even know where he is going, let alone how to get there, and Jesus responds with “you know the way,” it can sound a little bit snarky if we think about it from our context.
Now of course I was being a little silly when I said they didn’t have GPS back in Jesus’s day. But, even if GPS did exist in the first century, Jesus wasn’t talking about a physical location that could be found using GPS anyway.
Jesus was talking about something much deeper than that. Jesus was talking about salvation, or redemption.
Today, we are talking about God as redeemer, or Saviour. The second Moravian essential is God redeems, or God saves. This is a tough one to talk about. Not because it’s an emotionally triggering topic, but because it’s a difficult topic to explain in a way that people will understand. But, Jesus actually explains pretty well in the John passage we heard earlier. Jesus says we already know the way - we already know how to understand redemption.
We already know, because HE is the way. He is the way to redemption, or salvation. He says, “without me, no one can go to the Father.”
Without Jesus, no one is saved. In other words, we cannot bring about salvation on our own. And, we certainly can not predict or dictate the salvation of others. God saves souls, we do not. Even pastors don’t save souls - not really. Our ordination vows say that we are committed to caring for souls - not saving them.
Too many Christians spend too much time telling the rest of the world what they can or can’t do to be saved. I drove past a billboard the other day that said something to the effect of “need salvation? We can help.”
Now, maybe whoever placed the billboard there was genuinely just looking to be a messenger of the good news - to be the GPS if you will to reaching Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Maybe they were only looking to care for souls, and not seeking to try to “save” souls on their own.
But, often well-meaning Christians believe that they have all the answers for saving people. However, Jesus says it clearly - “I am the way.” Jesus is the path to salvation. Nothing we humans can say or do will change that, as much as we occasionally like to think we get to dictate who is saved and who isn’t.
I’m not sure how many of you who were not born into the Moravian Church know who Count Zinzendorf was, but he brought about the revival of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Germany. He came from a Lutheran background, but in 1737 he was consecrated a bishop of the Moravian Church and became the major theologian and leader of the renewed Moravian Church.
I bring him up to specifically talk about his Religion of the Heart, but first it is important to note that Zinzendorf emphasized that Christ played an active role in God’s plan of salvation, as expressed in John 3:16. This passage, famously, says “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In other words, a true understanding of God as loving father comes through Jesus Christ.
Zinzendorf lived in the time of the Enlightenment, when philosophers began to question the truth of Christianity in the name of reason. Essentially, they argued that you cannot believe what you cannot understand and cannot reason. This was a very intellectual view of religion, but Zinzendorf offered an alternative.
He argued that the Christian faith is something different than a rational system of knowledge about God. It is a living relationship with Christ. He also recognized that there are differences in how people experience Christ. And this is the part I resonate with the most - he believed that every person has a unique faith journey, and Christ is leading everyone according to their individual character and needs.
Thus, for example, one person may experience a sudden awakening, while another person experiences the deepening of faith as a slow and gradual development.
I am one who has experienced this slow and gradual development of faith. And ultimately, because of these differences, Zinzendorf encouraged people to pay attention to the movement of Christ in their heart and, importantly, to share those personal experiences with others.
All of that is to say that redemption is grace. It is a gift from God. It is not something we earn and it’s definitely not something we can bestow upon others. It is given freely by a loving God who sent his son Jesus Christ to show us the way to God. Jesus is, for lack of a better metaphor, our GPS for salvation.
The One who created us is also the One who saves us out of love for us. If you recall in our introduction to this series that I said love is action. Not an emotion.
God’s action - God’s act of creation and God’s act of sending his Son - is what provides for our salvation. This is the entire message of the Gospels when it comes down to it.
But, here is the important thing for us to remember: We Christians, we Moravians, are not the only ones who are redeemed. Redemption - grace - is not just reserved for us.
If we proclaim “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” we cannot reserve salvation for just our little pocket of the world. We must reserve it for everyone.
And this, honestly, is what can make it hard to be Christian sometimes. Because if we believe we are redeemed - if we believe the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world - we must believe it applies to everyone equally.
We cannot just put up our sign that says “reserved” and hope someone unexpected doesn’t sit there. We cannot hold a place in line for only people we deem worthy, preventing anyone else from getting into the queue. We cannot reserve salvation for only those we deem the righteous, religious, spiritual elite.
Redemption is not just for the righteous. Jesus did not come only for the chosen few. A few weeks ago, we saw Jesus expand his definition of who was included in his grace in the story of the Canaanite woman. Jesus came to save all of us.
Jesus redeems all of us. Even those we fundamentally disagree with. Even those who rub us the wrong way. Even those who have done evil things in their lives. Even those who live their lives very differently than we do.
Jesus redeems everyone.
We must believe this applies to everyone equally. And it can be very difficult to understand this when we look at our enemies. It can be difficult to feel any love toward someone who has hurt us, or who has hurt others. It can be very difficult to love someone who has committed horrible crimes toward other people.
And yes, we are told to love our enemies and to put that love into action. But, we are also redeemed even if we cannot extend our love to certain people. The good news, of course, is that even if our human minds and hearts cannot muster up that kind of unconditional love, Jesus can. Jesus saves everyone. Even if we don’t fully understand how or why, Jesus has shown us the way. It is up to us to see his example as guidance on our path.
If we truly believe in God as redeemer through Jesus Christ, then we can open ourselves up to love others with the kind of love that God has shown in redemption. It is not our concern or our worry to determine whether or not other people are saved. It is only our concern to demonstrate love in action. Jesus is the way to redemption, so we can learn to live fully into God’s purpose for us - to demonstrate love for ourselves and our neighbours, our communities, and the world. Amen.
Let us pray: Redeeming God, we are so grateful that you sent your son Jesus Christ to save us. We are especially grateful that the burden of determining who is saved is Your job, and not ours. It allows us to expand our definition of love in ways we may not have considered otherwise. May we accept your gift of salvation and grace, may we be gentle with ourselves and with others, and may we live fully into the beauty of difference in humankind. All of this we pray in Your name. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
Last week, I said I was going to try something new for a few weeks and see how you like it. I’m tentatively calling it the “Young at Heart” message. My hope is that this will be a message that will apply to both kids and adults alike, so that in the event there are kids here, they can feel included in the service. And if there aren’t, the adults get a fun message too.
Today, we’re talking about God the Father as Creator, the first of our six Moravian essentials. From the beginning, God has entrusted humankind with responsibility to care for creation. God partners with humanity to provide ongoing care for creation. Sometimes, we misunderstand our role in caring for God’s creation, or we expect perfection when perfection can take many forms.
To illustrate this, I want to share a short video clip from a recent Disney movie. Has anyone here seen Encanto? Encanto is a fascinating movie about family systems, individual gifts, and has some deeper symbols of creation. It would be a fun family movie night movie to watch and discuss! But, for now, the clip I’m going to show is a song between the main character, Mirabel, and her sister Isabella.
Mirabel and Isabella have not gotten along very well. Each member of this family received special gifts that help their Encanto thrive. But, they are also only known for the gifts they were given, and Mirabel didn’t receive a special gift. Isabella, on the other hand, received the ability to create. Specifically, she is expected to create things that are perfect, and she is expected to act perfectly in all situations.
Mirabel reads this perfection as pretentiousness, but she discovers in this scene that Isabella is actually quite unhappy having to put on this front of constant perfection. And, we discover in this scene that things that are imperfect by human standards can still be beautiful, and all things are beautifully made. Let’s watch the clip, and as we do, try to think about how this might apply to God’s creation.
So, what do you think? Anyone have any thoughts they’d like to share from this clip?
What I see happening in this clip is the realization that even things we might consider “imperfect” are beautifully made. Isabella was given this “gift” of perfection, but that “gift” didn’t allow her to thrive or live fully into her own being.
Often, society puts pressures on us to be perfect. But God didn’t create us to attain human standards of perfection. God created us to live perfectly into the gifts we were given, the personality traits that make us who we are, and to care for the gifts of other people and living things. God does not expect perfection from us. As Isabella says, “what could I do if I just knew it didn’t need to be perfect, it just needed to be?”
As I said earlier, today we’re talking about God as Creator. Because of God’s gift of creation, and because we have been created in the image of God, humans become God’s stewards for the care of God’s world.
God’s care for creation and humanity continues when people:
· Love God
· Love their neighbour
· Do justice
· Love mercy
· Walk humbly with God
· Practice sabbath living
· Practice ethical stewardship of resources
· Practice God’s Shalom, or peace
God has given us the gift of creation, not only of humankind, but of all of the natural world. There are some elements of the environment that are amazing, inspiring, and beyond comprehension. When I visited the Grand Canyon, for example, words could not describe the magnitude of that natural phenomenon. It was breathtaking, and if that isn’t an example of God’s love for us and for the world, I don’t know what is.
Likewise, I have had the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and do some hiking since I’ve been here in Calgary. The photos you’re seeing on the slides today are all photos I’ve taken recently on hikes. One of my own spiritual practices is to spend time in nature when I can. I can tell when I need to schedule some time out of town for myself and get in touch with the natural world. God has provided so much for us to see and experience outside of the human-made things we have created.
It is a clear demonstration of the depth and breadth of God’s creation, and while we seek to understand, we also recognize the complexity of the world around us.
In other words, the world itself is not black and white.
One example that we can use to demonstrate this complexity and the grey areas of our world is to think about a river.
What makes and defines a river? Is just one drop of water considered a river?
Of course not.
But what about a small running stream? Generally we don’t think streams are rivers, and usually streams are not plotted on maps.
Humans have constructed what constitutes a river, and scientists probably have very specific criteria for what defines a body of water as a river, and when that happens.
But, what about rivers that flow into larger bodies of water like lakes? At what point exactly does the river become the lake?
The house I lived in back in Wisconsin was along a river. That river flowed into a larger lake. When taken as a whole, you can definitely tell that there is a change from a running river to a calmer lake. But where exactly is that point when the water molecules that were a river have now become water molecules that make up a lake?
It’s a bit of a grey area. If you followed one molecule of water as it flowed down the river, there is not an exact point that you could say okay, now that molecule is no longer a river water molecule, but it has become a lake molecule. This transition happens, but at what point exactly, it’s almost impossible to say.
God has designed our world with great complexity. We have moved through centuries, making scientific discoveries and advancements that help us make better sense of the world, but the complexity of God’s creation is still something that we can be in awe of.
These examples of the complexity and beauty of God’s design follow the example that we received in Genesis. Genesis was written by humans who did not understand the world in the same way that we do now. And, what we understand today will seem like almost nothing compared to what people 5 generations from now will understand about the world.
God has graciously partnered with humanity to provide ongoing care for this creation. Human beings are stewards for God’s creation. Many people read Genesis and understand that God first created man, and then from man’s rib, God created a second being, and man named that being woman. God didn’t name her, man did.
Much like we cannot pinpoint exactly where the river becomes the lake, it can be difficult for us to understand from this passage in Genesis exactly where man becomes human. God designs a body - a shell - but it isn’t until God breathes breath into that body that it becomes man. Was the body of man still a man prior to having life breathed into it by God?
The Genesis story is a story which leaves out many of the nuances and complexities of creation. We simplify the story so that our human minds can try to comprehend, and we assume that we can envision what exactly was happening. But, when we envision this story, we can only use what we currently know about our world.
We have to remember that this story took place in a time and place that we cannot truly picture, no matter how hard we try to see it on our mind’s eye. If we consider some of the natural examples that we see today, like the Grand Canyon, we recognize that God’s creation is complex, beautiful, and not something we can fully comprehend.
And, this is by design. Our first of the six essentials is that God is our Creator. We believe as Christians that God is creator, and we believe that God’s creation is good. It is easy for us to recognize the complexities of God’s creation when we look at the natural world, but it can also be easy to forget that God created humanity with the same level of complexity.
We were each uniquely designed by God, and we consist of our own unique complexities. This belief in God as our Creator is essential to our Christian identities and it is the first essential thing because, without it, nothing else would exist. Our understanding of the world would be vastly different.
God created humanity in God’s image, but God is something we can never fully comprehend. Therefore, we cannot assume we know everything about what God was thinking when God created an individual person. Genesis shows us why it is essential that we believe in, and trust, God as our creator, and why we can be comfortable not understanding every complexity about creation.
If we are like Isabella, we can recognize that perfection is not always necessary, and in fact something sharp and new, not symmetrical or perfect, can help us see the intricate beauty of creation in ways we might not have if we expected perfection. This is true for humanity as well - for ourselves and for others. We were not made to be perfect. We were made such that we can have our own thoughts, feelings, and actions that lead us down various paths in our lives. Sometimes, we are sharp!
And because humans are capable of free thought, we are also capable of doing and saying things that might not always be our best selves. And yet, we are perfectly made in God’s image. God’s love for us and our imperfections - our sharp edges and our inconsistencies, and all the things that make us uniquely us - allows us to just be. To just be loved by God, and to love and care for God and God’s creation.
If you have heard nothing else from today’s message hear this:
You are beautifully made by God. You are loved by our Creator. Perfection is not necessary. You are wholly loved and cared for regardless of the choices you have made in your life. May you never forget this. Amen.
Let us pray:
Creator God, we cannot possibly express our gratitude for your creation because we cannot fathom the magnitude of your creation. We must trust in your creation, God, and know that it is good, even if at times we question your work in ourselves and the world.
God we ask that in these times when we question your creation, you forgive us and help guide us to better understanding. We know that because you gave us free will, we do not always make the choices that you would have us make. We also know that you love us despite our mistakes and imperfections.
God we ask that you relieve our anxiety over the things we cannot possibly know or understand, and we ask that you help us to love others in the way that you ask us to, setting aside what we think we know about your design.
Please guide us to be good stewards of your creation and of the resources you have provided for us. With gratitude, we pray all of this in your name. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
When you entered the sanctuary today, most of you should have received a playing card with something written on it. Could those of you who received cards with The Bible on them hold your cards up? Does someone want to be brave enough to tell us why the Bible may or may not be essential?
Great, how about those who have The Church on them? Can someone share why the church may or may not be essential?
Thank you! How about The Sacraments?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but imagine that this sanctuary has been converted into a time machine and we’ve gone back in time to the 1500’s. Those of you who have The Church on your cards, raise your cards up.
Sorry, the government is burning all church buildings that aren’t government sanctioned.
Those who have The Bible written on your cards, please raise your cards up. So sorry, but it is nearly impossible to access The Bible in your native language, and those Bibles that do exist are illegal to keep outside of ordained clergy. You could be killed if a Bible is found in your possession.
How about Music/Hymns? Please raise your cards up. By governmental decree, anyone heard singing hymns in their homes will be arrested. House churches are not allowed.
How about the Sacraments? Raise your cards. Only ordained clergy are allowed to participate in the sacraments. You are only allowed to watch. Grace does not extend to you.
Those who have the ordained clergy cards, please hold those up. Ordained clergy outside of the Catholic Church are prohibited. Those who claim to be ordained and have not been sanctioned by the government church will be burned at the stake.
What does that leave us with, if we are not allowed access to any of these things that we consider important to our faith?
Who has the mystery cards? Is someone willing to read what they say on the face side of the card, if you can read my writing?
God as creator, Christ as redeemer, Holy Spirit as sustainer, and we respond with Faith, Love, and Hope.
Even if we cannot access any of the other things, we can still maintain our belief in God the Father as our creator, God the Son, Jesus Christ, as our redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit as our sustainer.
And, we can respond to those gifts from God with Faith, Love, and Hope. These things cannot be taken away from us, even if all of the other things can be. We can still be Christian without access to the Bible, the Church, the Sacraments, Ordained Clergy, or Hymns. For any church-related thing you can think of, if you did not have access to it and you could still be Christian, it is considered non-essential.
Non-essential of course does not mean unimportant! It merely means that if access to everything we consider part of our Christianity was taken from us, we could still be Christian if we accept the gifts of God as creator, Christ as redeemer, and Spirit as sustainer, and if we respond to these gifts in Faith, Love, and Hope.
Alright, let’s get back into our time machine and head back to 2023, shall we?
Today we kick off a sermon series on the six things that Moravians consider essential for salvation. These six things are separated from things that are considered helpful for salvation and from things that are considered incidental.
The essentials were introduced as early as 1464 and were later more fully developed by Luke of Prague. Luke believed that much of the conflict and confusion in the history of Christianity was caused by the failure to distinguish what is essential from what is ministerial.
For Luke, the reality of salvation should not be confused with the realm of human institutions. The things that are essential for salvation include six things, and two different types of essentials.
The first type of essentials are actions of God that do not depend on human actions. We can call these actions of God “grace” because they are gifts of God.
These three actions include:
1. God (the Father) as Creator
2. God (the Son) as redeemer
3. God (the Holy Spirit) as blesser, sustainer, or sanctifier
The other type of essential includes the human responses to these essential gifts from God. These responses are:
These form the necessary human response to God’s grace.
Faith must be completed in love. Faith, love, and hope are intertwined and cannot be separated. For clarification, faith is not quite the same as “belief.” Faith means that we trust God and place our lives in God’s hands. This is not always easy to do, of course, as we face hundreds of decisions a day, from what time to wake up in the morning, to what to have for breakfast.
We face simple decisions and complex decisions, and it can be hard to understand what it means to place our lives fully into God’s hands when we still have decisions we need to make every day.
Love, contrary to popular belief, is not merely an emotion.
Love is action. To love God is to seek to do God’s will. To love our neighbour is to do good for our neighbour and not do harm.
This one can be difficult to understand as well. How do I love my enemies? How do I love someone who is so evil as to do active harm to others?
I’ll share a brief example. When I owned my business, I had a neighbour who caused me some grief. He complained about the noise from dogs barking at my facility, and he came to a city council meeting once to try to get my request for a permit denied. He generally was not a great neighbour and I mostly tried to avoid him as much as I could.
But, we had a bad storm one night, and the next day some of the equipment outside of his building had blown all over our property and he needed some help cleaning things up. As much as I didn’t care for him, I could not deny helping him recover his property from the storm.
Did I feel love toward him? No. How I felt about him personally did not change. But, the type of love we’re talking about is not emotional love. It is love for neighbour that shows care and compassion when it’s needed. It is love in action. It is a demonstration of love - love of God, love of self, and love of neighbour.
This can be hard to understand, but we will go into much more depth on this one when we reach the topic of Love in this series.
Finally, if we have faith in God and live according to the law of love, then we will have hope.
Hope is last in the list of essential things because hope looks to the future. We have hope that one day we will be with Christ in eternal joy. It is hope that allows us to face the future with courage.
I was in a Zoom bible study with some friends recently, and one of them was explaining John Wesley’s quadrilateral which includes the Bible as the foundation of his theology. And I explained that in the Moravian church, the Bible is not necessarily the foundation, and this is a good thing because it has allowed the Moravian church to remain unified through some very challenging differences globally.
Because our foundations lie on the six essentials, even if we cannot agree about how to interpret the Bible, or a specific scripture, we can at least begin with a foundation of agreement about the essential things.
And this is the beauty of the Moravian theology. These six things are the only essentials to our faith. That is not to say that things like Holy Scripture, the Church as the Body of Christ, Ordained Clergy, the Sacraments, practices of church discipline, or theological doctrine are not important.
But all of these things are considered ministerial. They stand in service to the essentials, but are not in themselves directly related to salvation. Ministerials have a functional role. As I demonstrated when we got into our time machine earlier, if we did not have access to these things, we could still be Christian. So if we can still be Christian without them, then they cannot be essential.
But, under normal circumstances, these ministerial things are still very important to Christian life. They minister to the essential things.
There is one other category of things that Moravians deem incidentals. These are things like the Order of Worship, what hymnals or songs we sing or how we sing them.
It can include the way the pastor dresses, what we have in our sanctuary, whether we use pews or chairs, whether we have screens or no screens in the sanctuary, and the list goes on and on. Ironically, the things we tend to fight over the most in our individual churches are the incidental things. These things can easily become ingrained traditions at individual churches.
This is one reason why moving to a new church can be difficult for a pastor. Every church assumes that their traditions are the same as every other church, but these incidental things can be vastly different from church to church. People can become deeply attached to these things, which is why it is a good reminder to occasionally get back to the foundation of the essentials.
But, our belief in the phrase “In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; and in all things love” is part of the reason that Moravians are willing to work, worship, and fellowship with Christians in other churches despite our doctrinal differences.
If we see evidence of the essential things in those churches, it is easy to find common ground and because we believe “in all things love,” we can start with the essentials as our foundation and be curious and open in talking with others about their faith.
These essentials are also the reason we have been able to remain a global Unity through some very difficult differences in theological and political beliefs. Some of the things that the US, Canadian, and European provinces are moving toward are still illegal or highly suspect in some of the other global provinces.
But again, if we can work our way backwards until we get to common ground, it always comes back to the essentials. We may not be able to agree on how Scripture should be interpreted, but even if we can’t agree on that, we can agree on the gifts of God as Creator, Christ as redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as sustainer, and we can agree that our response to these gifts needs to be faith, love, and hope.
As we leave this space today, may our heads be filled with knowledge of the essentials, and may our hearts be filled with faith, love, and hope. Next week, we will begin a deep dive into the first essential gift from God - God the Father as Creator. We also will be celebrating the Moravian Day of Service next Sunday.
As we dive into each of the essentials over the next several weeks, let us continue to welcome God into our hearts and open ourselves to learning and letting the Spirit lead. Amen!
Let us pray: Gracious God, today we offer a prayer of thanks for the Moravians of our past who recognized the needs and struggles of their members, and understood that grace and faith and Christianity can manifest in many different ways as the needs of the world change. God, we are grateful for your loving action and the gift of God the Father as Creator, Christ the Son as redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier.
God, today we understand that not all Christians throughout history have had safe access to things like Scripture, clergy, the sacraments, or church buildings, and yet they were still able to be faithful Christians because they were still able to respond to your loving action with faith, love, and hope.
God thank you for your continued love and care. Thank you for your grace and mercy, and thank you for sending your Son to redeem us and the Holy Spirit to bless us on our faith journeys and our paths to salvation.
All of this we pray in your name. Amen.
The NRSV version of the Bible gives us a heading for the Romans chapter 12 passage we heard earlier today. The heading it gives us says “marks of the true Christian.” Paul outlines his thoughts on what being Christian in his time and place means. So I thought I would start today’s sermon by posing a question back to you all.
I’m going to give you a moment to think about the question, and I’d love to hear a few words from some of you - adults and kids alike. The question is this:
What does it mean for you to be Christian in today’s world - in this time and place? I’ll repeat the question, and then, if you have a response, raise your hand and I’ll bring the microphone to you.
Remember, anyone of any age is welcome to reply, and there are no wrong answers. OK, once again, the question is: What does it mean for you to be Christian in today’s world - in this time and place?
When you’re ready, raise your hand and I’ll bring you the mic. Remember you need to talk right into the microphone.
I can start… Being Christian means being welcoming, affirming, and loving toward everyone I meet - even those who are different from me.
(Time for responses)
Being Christian in today’s world is not just one thing. There is not just ONE thing that makes us Christian. And, I would be willing to bet that if we posed the same question to other churches and other denominations, we would get different responses.
So, why does Paul give us this list of what he considers Christian qualities? It might make us wonder what was going on in his world that he felt the need to offer this reminder to the people he ministered to.
We know the world of Paul’s time was quite different than our own time.
But in our own time, we live in a world of never-ending distractions in the form of screens - televisions, computers, phones, tablets, and the list goes on and on. And of course now even young people have access to these neverending distractions. Many of us are also exposed to social media regularly, where we are witness to and perhaps even participate in social media disputes over things that are relatively unimportant.
This just happened to me yesterday - I made a simple comment on a post about neutering a dog who was showing some behavioral concerns, and someone else disagreed, and before I knew it we were debating about neutering dogs and how old they should be when we decide to do that. And neither of us was going to change the other’s mind. So what was the point?
We are bombarded with versions of “ourselves” and our communities that are not necessarily who we actually are. The world perceives us one way, and we might even perceive ourselves a certain way that is not the reality of our identities. It can become a front - a deception that we place on ourselves or our community to appease the outside world.
We are essentially on a stage for the world to see. Paul’s world, of course, was much smaller. But within that world, people were also much more involved on a closer level in one another’s lives - sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of nosy neighbour syndrome.
But, in today’s world, what often happens as we are connected to people around the world at our fingertips, is that we assume the best in ourselves, and we assume the worst in other people. It turns our brains into places where “we” make the world a better place, but “they” are destroying this place and corrupting all that used to be good about this world.
Rarely will we admit to thinking things like:
Instead of admitting these things out loud, we commit ourselves to a public image that presents only our best selves, and we assume that everyone assesses our actions as only our best intentions. After all, we are just trying to follow Paul’s words when he says “loathe what is evil, and cling to what is good,” right?
Of course, we might be misunderstanding what Paul’s intentions were a little bit. But the list he provides also can feel rather difficult to adhere to in today’s world. And, it can cause some feelings of guilt or shame to crop up as we hear this list and wonder how well we have adhered to it in our own lives.
But, the point is not to adhere perfectly to this list. Paul is speaking to people who are struggling, just like we do, to live out Christian faith in practice. The challenges we face in our own Christian faith today are no different than the challenges Christians faced in Paul’s day.
Well, that’s not entirely true of course, because we live in vastly different worlds. But the human mind has not changed all that much, and we are still challenged by our human emotions and our limited human understandings.
So, what does it mean to be Christian today? What is essential to our life as Christians, even as we are challenged to live up to what Paul considers the marks of true Christians? Paul gives us a pretty good run-down, but what it boils down to from what I can tell is love. Love of God, love of neighbour, and love of self. His list is a reminder of how to treat one another.
The very first thing he says is “let love be genuine.” He then says “love one another with mutual affection.” A bit further along, he says “rejoice in hope.” Love one another with mutual affection, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. If we remember only those four things, we have a pretty good start to being Christian.
Next week we are going to start a sermon series on what Moravians consider the essentials to our Christian faith. And I’ll go into more detail next week as I introduce the series, but the Moravian motto, as many of you know, is “In essentials, unity; In non-essentials, liberty; In all things, love.” This motto is one of the reasons I was drawn to the Moravian Church.
I don’t want to ruin the message for next week, and I don’t want to bore you next week by going into detail too much today, but we’re going to talk in depth about the six things the Moravian church considers essential, why those six things and not other things, and how they fit into our lives as Christians.
But, in the meantime, I want to talk about one element of our Christian Faith that is incredibly important and meaningful, and which we are going to participate in together today. That act is the celebration of Holy Communion. In the Moravian church, we consider only two things to be sacramental - Communion, and Baptism.
Thus, Communion is a deeply important aspect of our Christian faith. And, I know you all have been celebrating communion regularly through COVID, but today is the first day we are going to go back to the celebration of Holy Communion in the traditional Moravian way.
And, because I understand it has been a few years since we’ve done this, and there are people here who have not experienced the traditional Moravian way of doing communion, I want to talk a bit about the importance of this practice.
First of all, as you can see, I am wearing this flowy white robe today. Some of you may be wondering what the purpose of this robe is. In the Moravian church, it is called a Surplice. There is a long history of the use of the surplice for sacraments, but in a nutshell, it symbolizes the gift of purity and the blessings of Christ that are offered through the ministry of those who act in Christ’s name.
It takes the attention and focus off the individual pastor and is intended to allow the focus of the sacrament to be on Christ. Some pastors wear it for the entire service, and others just put it on during the sacrament. I find it easiest to just wear it for the entire service, but it can be done either way. Some Moravian pastors have even moved away from wearing it at all.
Secondly, we use a Communion liturgy which gives you and me direction on how to proceed with the sacrament. In the Moravian church, the pastor goes out and serves the elements to you all, and you stay in your seats. We also wait until everyone is served, and we partake together. So, I will pass out the bread first, we will partake together, and then I will pass out the juice next, and we will once again partake together.
The Moravian church defines sacraments as a visible sign of invisible grace. It is a reminder that we ALL receive God’s grace. All are welcome to the table in the Moravian church. At least in the Northern Province, you likely will not hear a pastor say that some are excluded from taking Communion.
There is a sacredness to communion that sometimes gets forgotten in the hustle and bustle of busy lives, in our eagerness to get out of church, or in the logistics of receiving the elements. But when we receive communion, we should slow down, breathe, and appreciate the sacrifice Christ made for us.
My very first opportunity to serve communion was at my previous church. I will never forget it, because I was nervous. It was my very first week serving as their appointed pastor, and it was Ash Wednesday. I had been working as their pastor for two days, and I had to serve communion.
You can imagine what was running through my head beforehand - what if I trip? What if I spill? What if I spill ON someone? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I forget what to say completely? Oh, the things that could go wrong! Good thing communion is a sign of grace, right?! It’s also lucky the Moravian church isn’t as picky about it going perfectly as some other churches are!
But you know what? It went perfectly. And, I didn’t think I would feel much other than relief that it was over and that I didn’t mess up. But the moment I began serving the bread and made eye contact with every member of that church, I experienced something I did not expect. It was a beautiful moment, incredibly powerful and meaningful, and one I will never forget.
I experienced God’s grace that day. I don’t know if anyone else experienced it the way I did, but I thought it was beautiful. My anxiety was gone, and all that was left was joy at serving people on behalf of Christ, who died for all of us.
The other beautiful thing about Moravian communion is that, as I said, the pastor goes out and serves you, rather than you coming to receive the elements. It is, for me, symbolic of God meeting us where we are. But, I have noticed something else as well. The people I serve are able to relax and appreciate the sacrament this way.
It takes the pressure off of you all, and you don’t have to worry about what happens if you trip, or hold your hands the wrong way, or swallow wrong because it’s hard to walk and chew at the same time in front of people.
It is a more intimate ceremony, and, I think, it’s symbolic of the way Jesus served others. Jesus went out to the people. Jesus didn’t sit back and wait for them to come to him, though of course some people came to him anyway. But in going to you, the experience becomes personal. And hopefully, you experience grace in that moment you make eye contact and accept the elements.
That is, after all, the purpose for receiving communion. So, I hope that as you receive communion today, you recognize the symbolism behind the act of being served. I hope you experience grace and connection to the divine. And I hope in that grace that you remember what it means to you to be Christian in this time and place.
Christ is the reason we gather together each week. Our collective experience of grace, along with faith, love, and hope brings us together and fills us with joy in our love of the divine. In communion, we experience the good news of Jesus Christ, and we experience it together, as one unified body. Amen.
Let us pray: Jesus, we pray with gratitude, hope, and joy today. As we prepare to come to Your table, we feel the joy of welcome. Some of us come to Your table with our brokenness, our anxieties, our worries, our traumas, or our heartaches, and you come to the table with healing grace and with your love for us. Some of us come to Your table in joy, self-confidence, and hope, and you welcome us with open arms.
No matter what we bring to Your table today, you offer Your grace and mercy. You do not require anything of us other than that we come to the table, and for this we are grateful. Many of us have felt unworthy at one point or another in our lives, and yet You have always welcomed us, invited us to sit down, and carried our burdens.
And You do that without complaint, day after day, week after week, month after month, lifetime after lifetime. For this, we thank you. May we open ourselves to your grace as we prepare ourselves to receive Holy Communion today. All of this we pray in your name. Amen.