October 7, 2007

Children’s Sermon: “We are the Body of Christ”

Do any of you know what today is?

Sunday — the day we come to worship God every week.
Thanksgiving — a special Sunday for giving thanks to God and celebrating God’s goodness to us.
Communion Sunday — also a day of giving thanks to God, for God’s coming to us in Jesus, and Jesus giving his life for us.
World Communion Sunday — people all over the world have communion today, and we remember that we’re part of a wonderful big family of followers of Jesus all over the world.

Today, I have chosen to focus our worship on a celebration of the Church, to give thanks to God for the church (for our church family here at St. Andrew’s, and the PCC, and the church all over the world). Thank you, Darya, for reading the passage from 1 Corinthians for us. It is one of my favourite passages in the Bible. And I think it’s a great passage for understanding what the church is like at its best.

Paul tells us that the church is like a body. A body has many parts, doesn’t it? Legs, arms, hands, heads, toes, hips, elbows, ears, eyes…

I had a friend a few years ago, a man named Bob. Bob had something bad happen to him many years ago. He had a stroke — that’s a medical thing that can make you very sick. And after the stroke, Bob could only use half of his body. His leg on one side, and his arm on one side were paralyzed. They didn’t work at all.

Bob lived like that with only one half of his body working properly for a long time. He learned to walk again, with a cane, and dragging his leg beside him. And he used his good arm a lot, while his other arm just hung at his side. He got pretty good at moving around and taking care of himself using just one side of his body. But you know, it was a lot more work to walk up a flight of stairs for Bob with only one half of his body working. Perhaps you can imagine what that would be like.

The apostle Paul said that the church is like a body, and that all the members of the church (all of us) are like different parts of the body. Together, as the Body of Christ, we are supposed to tell the world about God and show God’s love to everyone, just like Jesus did. We all have different gifts and talents to use in the work of the church, just like a body has different parts to do different things. If all the parts of your body work together to do something, things go smoothly. (e.g. Of bending over to tie my shoe.) If all the people of the church work together to do our work, then things go smoothly for us too.

We need people who will preach, and others who will teach. We need people who are good at praying, and people who are good at visiting. We need people who are good cooks and good at welcoming new people into our church. We need people who are good at taking care of money, and others who have creative ideas for how to help people in our community. People in the church are good at all kinds of different things, and if we all work together, we can be the Body of Christ, loving and serving the world around us, as Jesus would.

If half the church just stops doing the things that they’re good at in the church, it makes it very difficult for the rest of the church, doesn’t it? Just like it was difficult for Bob to walk and do other things when half of his body wasn’t helping out.

I think that if the church is like the Body of Christ, I’m kind of like a “mouth” because I preach sermons and tell people about God’s love. I want you all to think for a moment. What part of the Body are you? Are you a hand, reaching out to help your neighbour? Are you an ear, listening carefully to someone who needs a friend? Are you a leg, leading the way with bold new ideas and directions? Are you a big toe, providing balance, supporting other parts of the body? Or are you another part of the Body of Christ?

I think that I’m like a mouth, so I’ve drawn a mouth on my paper here, and I’m going to put it on the wall… Take out your paper, and draw the part of the body that you are most like. Then come up and add your part to the Body of Christ. Together, we are the Body of Christ, and each of us are members of it. Together, we can do the things that Jesus would do, if we all do our parts and work together.

Sermon: “The Connectional Church”

I’m sure that you all know by now, that we are doing Presbyterianism 101 this month. There is a class on Wednesday evenings, but I also wanted to focus the Sunday worship services this month on some basic Christian themes, and to highlight some Presbyterian distinctives. With this first Sunday of October being both World Communion Sunday and Thanksgiving Sunday, I decided that it would be appropriate to give thanks to God today for both the worldwide Christian Church of which we are a part, but also for the Presbyterian Church in Canada in particular.

Last week, I was at a planning event for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. It was organized by the church’s Long Range Planning Committee, and it brought together members of the Assembly Council and the Life and Mission Agency Committee to think about how we can challenge and equip our congregations, our presbyteries and our whole church to plan and make changes for the future.

One exercise that we did in table groups was to consider what are the most important values or characteristics of the PCC that we believe should be carried into the future. We thought about images of our church at its best, and presented these in creative ways to the rest of the group. What struck me as I watched the various presentations was how often they emphasized the connectional nature of the church. One group described our church as the branches of the vine — all of us connected to one another through Christ who is the source of our life and nourishment. Other groups demonstrated the importance of our connections to each other by holding hands as they reached out to invite others in, by holding hands in circles of praise and prayer, by holding hands as they looked to Christ for direction and guidance. The various images of our church at its best shared by these Presbyterians from across Canada pointed out the fact that for us, being the church means being together. It means being connected to one another and to Christ.

Paul’s image of the church as the Body of Christ is a powerful one. We recognize that we have a variety of gifts to use together to do Christ’s work in the world. We realize not only that we need to make a co-ordinated effort, but also that when one member suffers or when one member rejoices, the rest of the body shares its pain or its joy.

But you may be wondering why this would be specifically meaningful to Presbyterians. Biblical images like the Body of Christ and the vine and the branches obviously apply to Christians of all denominations, so why do Presbyterians have a special affinity for these connectional images of the church? I think it’s because of the way in which our church is structured and ordered. It’s what makes us “Presbyterian.” From the Greek word “presbyter,” meaning “elder,” our church’s name means that we are “ruled by elders.”

While our congregations have ministers, (clergy who take a leadership role in the community), the role of the minister is not primarily as an authority over the congregation and its members. Ministers are called “teaching elders” in the Presbyterian Church, and teaching is our primary responsibility.

Each congregation has a Session made up of “ruling elders” who are elected by the congregation and ordained to serve as leaders and decision-makers within the congregation. With the minister as the moderator, the Session meets regularly to oversee the ministry of the congregation. The Session is responsible for admitting new members, approving baptisms, and setting the hours and forms of worship, while the minister is responsible for the content of worship. The Session is responsible to oversee everything that happens within the congregation. All the committees report to the Session. All the groups are accoutnable to the Session too.

In medium-sized and larger congregations, the reality is that even if the minister knows everyone in the congregation, it is difficult for the minister to develop close relationships with everyone in the church and to provide pastoral care to everyone. This may seem like a problem at first, but our Presbyterian structure provides a wonderful, connectional way to resolve it. Although ministers aim to to know the people in their congregations and to provide pastoral care, especially in crisis situations like illness or bereavement, the elders share in this pastoral responsibility.

Each elder has a list of members for whom they are responsible. They aim to visit these people, encourage them, support them, pray for them, and to alert the minister if there are any specific concerns. When the elders develop relationships with their people and provide pastoral care for them, our churches become networks of relationships and connections that help us to grow in faith, in fellowship, and in service to the community. When we maintain our connections to each other, we maintain our connection to Christ who is the vine and the head of the Body.

But the connectional nature of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is more than just the connections we enjoy in our local congregations. Ministers and representative elders from each congregation get together to form Presbyteries that oversee the churches in their geographical area. Our Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan includes the ministers and an equal number of elders from Saskatoon, PA, N.Battleford, Biggar, Melfort and Tisdale, and a few smaller preaching points as well. Ministers and Sessions are accountable to the Presbytery, and the Presbytery works to give leadership and support to its congregations.

Synods are an annual gathering of Presbyteries over a larger geographical area, whose primary purpose is fellowship and education for the members. Our Saskatchewan Synod also oversees our Synod Camp (Camp Christopher) and employs a Regional Staff Person (Jen Bell) for youth and camp work for the province. Presbyerian congregations do not do ministry in isolation. Our system ensures that we are connected to one another in networks of support and accountability.

But we are a national denomination, not a provincial one. Our connections go further afield than our Synods. General Assembly is the annual meeting of ministers and elders from across our country. Approximately one sixth of our ministers and an equal number of elder commissioners go to Assembly each June to make decisions on behalf of the entire church. Commissioners to the General Assembly and Young Adult Representatives who take part in this meeting usually report that the Annual Assembly gives them a greater sense of connection to Presbyterians across the country.

In between Assemblies, the Assembly Council and other national committees carry out the decisions made by the Assembly, and our Church Offices staff at 50 Wynford Drive in Toronto give support and provide resouces for congregations across the country. The church’s website keeps us on top of news and new resources that are available, as does the Presbyterian Record, our monthly magazine. The PCPak is a mailing of resouces and notices that goes out to congregations four times each year. And PCConnect is an email newsletter that reports developments and ideas that can help us in our work on a regular basis.

We all hear about and support Presbyterians Sharing — the National budget that runs Church Offices, supports our theological colleges, and helps missions and new congregations across Canada. We work together to make a difference in our world through Presbyterian World Service and Development. We respond generously when there are crises in the world liek Tsunamis, floods, and hurricanes, and we partner with local agencies to support development work in various parts of the world.

Our national church provides us with resources for education, spiritual growth, evangelism, and service. In other words, the connectional nature of the PCC equips us to be the church, to be the Body of Christ doing Christ’ work in the world.

For some of you long-time Presbyterians, none of this will be news to you. But on this Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to give thanks to God for our connectional church. Perhaps in celebrating our connections, we will also be inspired to strengthen those connections — to work together in an even more co-ordinated effort as we seek to be the Body of Christ in the world.

May Christ always be our head, and may we maintain our connections with each other and with him, that God’s will may be done through us. Amen.