Our UNITING SERVICE 27th March 2022
led by our synod moderator Rev David Herbert
Welcome and Statement of Purpose
Good afternoon, and a very warm welcome to this afternoon’s service marking the union of Ponteland URC and St John’s URC Wideopen. I bring with me the greetings and prayers of the wider Northern Synod. We will be celebrating Holy Communion today, and all who love the Lord are warmly invited to share in the Lord’s Supper.
The apostle, Paul, wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:
“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple of the Lord; in whom you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Prayers of approach and the Lord’s Prayer
Readings – Psalm 133 (Carol Gabriel)
Ephesians 4: 1-16 (Shirley Forster)
Through the written word,
and the spoken word,
may we know your Living Word
Jesus Christ our Savour. Amen
I recently bought a bag of lovely peat-free potting compost, and have since enjoyed potting on some houseplants that have endured pots they had outgrown for far too long. It is good to see them bedding in and looking healthy. Potting on is the experience of every Christian in life – our experience of Church for most people changes over the years. Many people here will have been part of other congregations in other places before we became part of the congregations at Ponteland and Wideopen uniting today. Potting on.
I hope that both congregations uniting here today from Ponteland and St John’s will eventually find the change very helpful as you bed into being a new united congregation – and like the house plants back at the manse, find nurture and nutrition in the new circumstances you share together.
Someone said to me recently, Church is an organism, not an organisation. We are not clubs or networks, but the body of Christ. We are bound together in an organic unity by God’s love. With the right conditions, as Christians, we want one another to grow and thrive in the faith, and for the joy of discipleship to be experienced in conducive conditions. Like any living organism.
We have just heard Carol read Psalm 133 to us, which begins – How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! With our two congregations coming together today, life-enhancing unity is our deepest desire, it is why we mark this milestone for both fellowships uniting with the sacrament of Holy Communion.
The union we celebrate today is organic, and far more than the matter of the nuts and bolts of resolutions and finances, rather, at its very core this union is relational, it is about fellowship. As you grow a true and profound sense of unity together, you will find renewed strength and fresh capacity. This moment is an opportunity for renewal and restoration – good for all within the life of this united congregation, and therefore good, ultimately, for God’s mission.
I know how it takes time to settle into new circumstances: whether at work, a new relationship, neighbourhood or church. So much depends on people being sensitive and mindful of one another’s feelings as we make the necessary adjustments.
I hear good things about how you are all adapting to your new union together, and that is heartening to hear. Like plants potted on, it can take a little time, and we have to find our feet again, let our roots make themselves at home, and as we do so, we can find the change bringing fresh opportunities all round. Spiritually speaking: New shoots. New growth, to be celebrated by you all, together: for when one thrives, we all thrive.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, a Christian community he knew well, where he had spent a lot of time, in the extract we heard Shirley read just now, we find wisdom, and a resonance, regarding this afternoon’s Uniting Service.
Paul writes -
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.
And here’s the organic dimension: it is IN Christ the whole structure of this united congregation of Ponteland and Wideopen is joined together. Our foundations do not lie under the walls, in the joists, beams, of any building, but Paul writes: In Jesus, the whole structure of Church is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord – in whom you and I, all of us, are also built spiritually into a dwelling place for God. We are to continue to grow deep roots in Christ.
We are called to grow to maturity, just as Paul encouraged the Ephesian church to do so. Like my potted plants reaching out to the sunlight, Paul wrote to the Ephesians how the Christians in Ephesus must “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15b-16)
Around 30 years before Paul wrote these words, Jesus himself had used a strong plant image in his teaching, captured in John’s Gospel, when on the night of the Last Supper and of his subsequent arrest, which we remember shortly in Holy Communion today, Jesus spoke of being the true vine, God as the vine grower, and his disciples as the branches. Abide in me as I abide in you, Jesus teaches. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Jesus is teaching us that life under God’s reign, the Kingdom of God, God’s economy, is not transactional, but relational. Our relationship with God, with one another, with our very selves, and with the world around us. It is all held together through God’s grace, and we place our trust in God’s promises in the Bible, and in his Son, our living Saviour, Jesus Christ. A covenantal relationship between God and God’s people.
And like any other type of relationship, it must never be taken for granted. It needs to be nurtured. Needs to be affirmed and acknowledged, to be celebrated for what it is. And just as God relates with us, with love, mercy, and grace, so too in Jesus we are called to make that the blueprint for all our relationships.
This theology, this understanding of what the Church is built on, this relational, covenantal approach held together not by mortar nails and glue, but God’s grace and abundant love, this understanding, is what will enable this and every Church to continue to nurture, to proclaim, God’s Kingdom in our respective communities. It’s an organic, living thing. Not a hard metal nuts-and-bolts thing. Rooted in and nurtured by God’s constant love for us and for all creation.
In this enlarged fellowship, there will eventually no longer be strangers, but fellow members of the household of God. Our foundations lie not in bricks and mortar, instead we are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. Such a spiritual foundation has nothing to do with place, but is a spiritual reality, wherever in the world we find ourselves, or will find ourselves in days to come.
God’s word for this congregation today is that:
“You are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple of the Lord; in whom you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Let us pray:
Thank you, God, for your love shown in Jesus. Your gift of love that binds your people together.
Help us through our union today to witness to the power of your love. In Jesus name we pray. And as we prepare to come together as one congregation around the Lord’s Table, may our communion with you, with one another, with all our spiritual forbears and with our successors, strengthen us for your service of love in the world.
As we are overshadowed once again by war,
We lift up before you
The innocents and vulnerable,
The victims of violence and cruelty,
Along with all who continue to sow the seeds of hate.
In the fog of war
Where truth is the first victim,
May your light, which cannot be overwhelmed,
expose the truth.
Grant to world leaders and all in positions of power today
Not only the wisdom
But also the courage
To do what is right in your sight.
Grant all who turn to you
your strength and fortitude,
Your inner peace,
Along with a continuing faith in your sovereign power,
In the face of military might.
All this we pray in the name of the Prince of Peace,
Our living Lord and Saviour.
And a prayer offered by our Interim Moderator, Ann Sinclair, for this service today:
Creator of rainbows,
Come through the closed doors
Of our emotions, minds and imagination;
Come alongside us in our daily lives,
Come alongside us in our worship,
Come alongside us in our meetings,
Come and call us by name,
Come call us to discipleship.
Spirit of unity
Challenge our preconceptions
Enable us to grow in love and understanding.
Accompany us on our journey together
That we may grow in confidence
Into your world as a new creation,
One body in you.
We ask these prayers in the name of your Son,
Our Lord and Saviour,
Invitation to Holy Communion
Dismissal and Blessing:
And now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.
And may the blessing of God almighty,
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Be with you always.
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