This sermon was preached on Sunday, November 22, 2020 as part of the Homecoming Worship Service at Kerr Presbyterian Church. The service included many pictures and stories about God’s faithfulness to Kerr throughout the year. This transcript was the basis for that service and studies Ephesians 1.
Prayer of Illumination:
Lord, Thy word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Illuminate your Scriptures that in seeing them, we may see you and in seeing may we live this day in joy and praise. Amen. (Based on Psalm 119)
As I read Scripture today, think about: What does God do? And what is our response?
Read Ephesians 1:3-14
What do you think of when you hear the word “Presbyterian?” What makes Presbyterians different from other denominations of believers?
Some would say that what makes us different is our polity—the way we organize ourselves; some would say our mission—our service to others around the world; and some would say our education—we often speak of ourselves as Reformed and being reformed. In other words, we are a denomination which comes out of the reformation and out of the Reformed Tradition, but we are also committed to continuously being changed through the work of the Holy Spirit who is always teaching us and reforming us. (Learn more about this motto here). All of these things about the Presbyterian Church are important so we will talk a little about each of them today.
But while these ideas are a part of what it means to be a Presbyterian, I would argue that our Scripture today is the clearest articulation of what it means to be a Presbyterian than any other I could give you.
John Calvin who was the theological founder of the Presbyterian Church said that his favorite book of the Bible was Ephesians. He loved Ephesians the way Martin Luther—the founder of the Lutheran Church—loved Romans. And of course, we all are called to love and study the whole of the Bible, but our church, the Presbyterian Church is shaped in particular by the words we read today.
Let’s take a closer look at them.
In this passage what we see is an incredible teaching about what God has done and about how we are called to respond. In other words, it’s a teaching about who we–as the church, as people of God–are called to be because of what God has done.
So we could go verse by verse and if you still have your Bible open, I would suggest you can follow along and do that yourself but with Kimberly’s expert help, I made a handy-dandy table to look at this passage because it is really dense (see below).
Here is the thing. God is at work. God has always been at work. God created all things and sustains all things. And in Jesus Christ God worked in a particular way. God chose to do this. We don’t know why. We talked about that last week: no one can know the mind of God. But Scripture tells us that in God’s loving kindness, this is what God did.
Because God did things just because God is God, we call the work of God grace. God did things for humanity, not because we deserved them or earned them—we don’t deserve them and we can’t earn them—but God did them anyway; simply because God chose to. So these are the actions of God toward humanity—we call them the graces of God to say—God didn’t have to, but wow! Look at what God did.
(Read “God’s Work” list below).
And then, in almost every verse, the response of humanity is named. How should we respond?
(Read “Our Response” list below).
|God’s Work (GRACE)||Our Response (GRATITUDE)|
|blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing
chose us in Christ
|to be holy and blameless before him in love|
|he destined us for adoption||to the praise of his glorious grace|
|redemption through his blood
the forgiveness of our trespasses
|made known to us the mystery of his will
gather up all things in him
|obtained an inheritance||might live for the praise of his glory|
|heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation
marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit
|to the praise of his glory|
|I do not cease to give thanks for you|
|I remember you in my prayers|
Grace and Gratitude. This is what defines us as Presbyterians. [Note: to learn more about this, see the PC(USA) website “What We Believe” Section]. We believe first and foremost that God acts. And we believe that because God acts, we should respond.
Now, when some people think of what makes Presbyterians different, some think first of our polity. And this makes sense because the way we organize ourselves is different than in a lot of other church denominations. In many churches, the pastor makes all the decisions. This isn’t necessarily bad. A lot of people think it is better to allow the pastor to make all the decisions. They may even say: that’s why we hired them! They are suppose to pray, ask God, and then lead.
But in the Presbyterian church, we believe in the priesthood of all believers—that all of us, from the youngest to the oldest—are priests. We are all called to pray. We are all called to listen to God. We are all called to respond in gratitude. And we are all called to participate in leadership. Therefore, we have a polity where in every member gets to lead. We take turns serving on the session. And the idea is we all vote who is going to lead for a period of time (3-6 years), people serve and then they take at least a Sabbath—a minimum of a year off—to let someone else lead.
This matters so that no one gets asked to do too much and so that everyone gets a turn. Everyone has gifts from God and needs to use them. So the pastor’s role then is not to make decisions, but is to teach and guide. So, when you come to me and say: can we do this? I almost always say: I don’t know. But I can ask the session. This is a big part of being a Presbyterian so a lot of people would say this is what makes us different. And it is, but it is because of what we believe. We believe God is at work in all of us—calling all of us—and all of us are called to respond.
Other people say that what makes Presbyterians different is our mission. The Presbyterian Mission Agency is known all over the world for the incredible work we do. Presbyterians are not just individual churches but we all are connected to one another. Here in Pittsburgh, the pastors and one elder from every church gather together 4 times a year to make decisions about how we will serve in the world. Some of these decisions are about how to spend money. Some are about who can be teachers—pastors–some are about how we talk about what we believe. The important thing is—we are not individual churches, but we all serve together.
And because we are all connected, we can make a big impact when we work together. Presbyterians are able to jump into action when hurricanes or tornadoes or other disasters hit. And you know that we participate here in the Lazarus Fund. We are a small church and ordinarily might not be able to help people when they come to us with needs like paying their heat bill. But we are given money from the larger church so that we can serve people in our community. We work together to see the mission of God go forth.
Well, why do we do this? Again, it stems from what we believe. We understand that we are all adopted into the family of God. We are one family. Across the globe we have brothers and sisters. And so if one person is hurting, we are all hurting. And so we serve together understanding that we are one.
A third thing people often think of when we think of Presbyterians is our love of education. Presbyterians love to learn. It’s a hallmark of who we are. If you want to be a Presbyterian pastor you have to learn both languages of the Bible—Hebrew and Greek. No other denomination requires that. When emphasize education and teaching. Kerr for instance, first started as a Bible study over 130 years ago. People gathered down by the train tracks in a small station that was here in Milltown and studied the Bible together. And from that church was formed. All around the world part of our mission is to establish schools.
And again, the reason why we do this extends from what we believe. We believe that God has given us a spirit of wisdom and revelation and therefore we are called to use our minds in gratefulness of what God has given us. If God gives us the present of a good mind and we don’t use it, it’s like saying: God—I don’t want your present.
That would be a terrible thing to be given a present for Christmas and for us to say: no. You gave me socks and I wanted a t-shirt. I don’t like your present. That would obviously not be responding in gratitude. But we believe that every good and perfect gift comes from God and therefore we should receive God’s gift with thanksgiving and then use that gift.
Presbyterians love to study all kinds of things: history and science and math and Bible. We have the gift of good minds so we use them in gratitude.
So, this is what people generally think of when they think of Presbyterians: They think of polity, mission, and education. But all of these are really about what we believe. We believe that God acts and that we are called to respond in gratefulness.
And so every year, we pause on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to give God our thanks and praise. And to think about how we have lived our lives in gratitude for what God has done this year.
And this year in particular, I am so amazed at how we have lived our life together!
To learn more about God’s work at Kerr in 2020, see our annual review materials.