given on Sunday, January 1, 2017. The service includes communion and the reaffirmation of faith as presented in the United Methodist Hymnal.
Opening scripture: Psalm 8:1-2 (NLT)
1 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
2 You have taught children and infants
to tell of your strength,[b]
silencing your enemies
and all who oppose you.
Scripture connection: Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT)
31 “But when the Son of Man[a] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[b] will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[c] you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[d] 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
2017 is here! Granted this is an annual event, welcoming a new year, but today we greet the year on Sunday and we are here to worship together in that space after Christmas Day when one year winds down and a new year begins. This morning, we gather to begin another new year together.
Tradition says this is a time to make new resolutions on how to improve one’s life. Maybe the change is in one’s personal life choices, or maybe the change is how we choose to live our lives outside of our homes whether on the job or in our interactions within the community. Today, stop and reflect on what your life is and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian?
Our tradition is to participate in communion on the first Sunday of the month. It is an ideal time to reconfirm our conviction that the wonder of Christmas brings us into a relationship with God; a relationship that lasts throughout our human lifetimes that continues on into eternity.
As 2017 opens, let us stop for a moment and reflect over the lessons of Advent. The wise men identified a star that drew them to Bethlehem in search of the Messiah. An internal force drew them to join together and find the baby Jesus.
When they reached Bethlehem and saw the baby, they knew the identity of God and chose not to return to King Herod. Instead, they resolved to go home with the knowledge that the baby was the Messiah, that he was named Immanuel, God with us.
Angels gave the name Immanuel both to Mary and to Joseph in separate locations. The name unlocks the identity that this baby was God choosing to be with us in order to demonstrate how to live as Christians. God chose to live the human experience so to establish a covenant with us. The wonder of the manger signifies the reality of God living in the most difficult circumstances just as any human might live. There was no special treatment, no royal residence, nor any slaves to attend to God. God lived the most difficult, unforgiving lifestyle showing us how to live in relationship with others. God lived for everybody so that we can be forgiven of our sins and granted eternal life.
God fulfilled a promise to us. Do we fulfill our promise to God? Communion reminds us of God’s sacrifice for our salvation. The words we hear and repeat connect us to the generations of faithful Christians who have carried the story throughout the millennia and continue to tell the story. We use the bread and the cup as tangible or real reminders of God’s promise to us.
[Sharing the bread and the cup UMH p. 15]
Continuing the reflection:
Certainly taking communion is a visible sign of being a Christian, but 2016 has been filled with visible signs of people saying one thing but doing something else. Being Christian is a demanding job, but when one maintains the lifestyle, the demand turns into a joy. The highs and the lows of daily life do not separate one from God but rather tightens that bond.
A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to a hymn, Let Us Build a House, that reminds us of how important it is to live a Christ-like life if we are to maintain a tight relationship with God. Listen to this hymn and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian? Are we, as one of God’s church families, living the Christian principles?
[Play the hymn Let Us Build a House also known as All Are Welcome.]
Are we really Christian? Are we welcoming all into God’s house? Are we doing what God asks us to do? Are we helping others to discover the joy of living with the promise of God to be forgiven and to receive eternal life? Or are we failing?
Accepting God’s promise of salvation is done through our sacrament of baptism. This first day of a new year is a good time to reaffirm our commitment to be in relationship with God. Today, we close with an opportunity to remember our baptism, to reaffirm our relationship with God.
Listen carefully to the words of the rituals and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian? Do I demonstrate the very same values that Jesus did? Do I forgive others when they hurt me? Do I do whatever I can for others as much as I can? Do I let other things or other people to separate me from God?
Let us keep the wonder of Christmas throughout the year. Let us do all that we can to share the love and grace of God with others in any way that we can. Let us make sure that we maintain a healthy relationship with God. In doing that, we will do all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can.
[Reaffirmation of Faith UMH p.45]
Closing prayer built on the study The Wonder of Christmas:
You are with us now and forever.
As we close one year and open another,
We are filled with the wonder of Christmas.
Today we remember the wonder of the star
Guiding the wise men from afar.
May we look to the sky and know your presence.
Today we share in the bread and the cup
And know the wonder of the name Immanuel.
Be present with us through the struggles ahead.
Today we look upon the manager
And know how much you endured for us
Assuring us you understand our challenges, too.
Today we renew our commitment as Christians
And thank you for the promise you made
To forgive us and grant us eternal life.
Guide us to keep the wonder of Christmas alive
In our hearts and minds and actions,
To be truly Christian in our world today. –Amen
Closing scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (NLT)
9 What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.