Scripture: Romans 6:12-23

It’s kind of remarkable to consider how the landscape of Canada has changed over the last half century.

Sears is closing many of it’s stores this year. I’m sure many of you remember Sears and it’s centrality of your life at some point. Who could ever forget the Christmas catalog! I remember as a child making regular trips into Halifax to shop with my parents at Sears, mainly the outlet store, although we always walked through the entire store.

But it looks like Sears is going to be no more. Sure they are doing all they can to halt that arrow which is pointing downwards in regards to their profitability. But we’ve all seen this pattern before.

You want to save money, so you close your stores. But, if you close your stores, how are people going to know what to buy?

Well, you ramp up your online presence. It seems like everyone is buying stuff online these days. That’s great. But you’re late to the market with that one. There are MANY other options out there, which are far more well known and often have better prices.

It’s part of capitalism really. Sure there are examples of companies surviving such a turnaround, but those are few and far between these days. And certainly, those who have turned it around didn’t face such strong competition as Sears.

There are hundreds of competitors to Sears, both with physical stores and online stores which are already more popular.

So sadly, it seems the writing is on the wall for another great Canadian institution. I do give them credit for trying to keep it alive, and maybe they will find a way. The retail business is a highly competitive world and you need to be able to respond to a rapidly changing marketplace, or you won’t survive. But even if they don’t make it, we can be assured that something else will pop up to take its place.

The world is, no doubt, changing. As businesses, as people, even as churches, we need to have a purpose, we need to have focus.

The last two days I was in Truro for meetings with a group that formed 25 years ago. They were part of a national organization which formed around the same time in response to things which were happening in the United Church. The national group folded two years ago, but this group was determined to keep on going.

But they had some good questions to ask themselves this weekend. They wondered if they still had a purpose. They wondered why it was they still came together in decreasing numbers every year. They wondered, even if they loved coming together from across the Maritimes, they wondered if that was reason enough.

So after some discussion yesterday morning, they made a motion to disband. It didn’t come lightly, but, at the same time, it seemed like the next logical step for them. It seemed clear that since they had lost their purpose for existing, it seemed rather pointless to keep meeting. Though the organization would cease to exist, they would not rule out the desire to keep in contact, and if an occasion arose, they would at least gather informally for some fellowship and worship.

After 25 years of ministry to each other, it has come to an end. I’ve been involved off and on for the last 7 years. They are great people who are passionate about their churches, and enjoy hearing about the wider work of the church, but over those 7 years I noticed they lost some of their spark.

The world is changing around us, which is exciting of course! There are so many new innovations which surprise and astound us. We continue to evolve as a society, seeking to improve our lives.

But does this mean everything has to change? I don’t think so.

The church, for me, is somewhat exempt from this evolution. Sure we’ll make some small changes here and there from time to time. We may, or may not, change our worship style. We may, or may not, change how we do fellowship times. We may, or may not, change how we structure ourselves. There are many things we can do, or not do, which determine how we function as a church.

But here’s what must never change.

We must never change who we are as a church.

We might change the “how”, but we must never change the “who.”

What do I mean by this?

I mean that we must never lose our identity. And I don’t mean denominational identity or anything like that. What I mean is we must never lose our identity as children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.

This identity is crucial to our future. If we lose this aspect of our life as a church, then we will have lost our purpose and might as well close the doors.

The good news is, I believe we are on the start of a journey that will help us not only keep this key part of our identity, but will strengthen it.

In our Hearing God sessions we have seen a number of people experience changes in their own focus as who they are in relation to their desire to be closer to God. Maybe someday we’ll get a couple of them to share their stories for us.

And this is just the first step. We have more to do. More to experience. All for the purpose of strengthening our faith and putting a stronger focus on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, from which all other decisions we make will flow out of.

This is important for us to consider, because if we call ourselves a church then that should mean something. It should mean we stand out as people of hope. It should mean we stand out as people with a purpose, but not a purpose which the world tells us to strive for, but standing out with Godly purpose.

Which means we need to know how we respond as Godly people, as Christians, in a world which often looks in other directions.

Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, warns us that it is important we know who it is we are serving. Because this makes a huge difference as to who we are as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

He tells us, if we know God, if we have a relationship with Him, then we are living in the grace He offers us. Which then means we are free from our sin.

This is good! This is what we should want!

Paul encourages us to consider who, or what, we allow to direct our thoughts and actions. Are we slaves to sin? Or are we slaves of righteousness?

If we are slaves to sin, then Paul tells us this leads to death and destruction. Who wants this?

If we are slaves to righteousness, then Paul tells us this leads to wholeness, to sanctification, to life. Isn’t this what we should want?

Of course it is! I think we all want to live a righteous life. If only it were so simple. There’s a lot which competes for our attention, and sin is often the easier route to follow. To be righteous takes work! It means making hard decisions sometimes. It means walking away from situations which we might think we’d enjoy, but also know it could lead down the path to sin and death.

When we lived in Halifax, we used to go on an annual retreat with our friends at our family cottage. We’d get together to worship and pray together. Some of us would have a little teaching prepared on something. We would certainly do lots of singing together as well. For those roughly 24 hours we were together, we would have an amazing time creating life long memories with lots of laughter, lots of stories, lots of sharing.

It sounds weird to have to point this out, but there wouldn’t be a single drop of alcohol anywhere on the weekend. It sounds weird to say because when you think about bringing 12-15 people together at a cottage for a weekend, the tradition is that the first place you stop is the liquor store. Sometimes this stop is considered more important than the weekend menu.

Yet for us, we didn’t even consider it. It never even crossed our minds that booze was something we needed to have a good time. We just needed each other and to acknowledge the presence of God among us. We trusted this was all we needed. And looking back over the 6 years we did this, it was abundantly clear that is all we needed.

It wasn’t even that hard of a decision to make. When we planned our weekend, we focused on God and made plans accordingly which would best meet our physical needs as well as our spiritual needs. We still talk about the memories made on those weekends. A weekend where we turned from the sins of the world and focused on what it meant to be children of God in the company of friends.

Oh, and we always had too much food. But since we were the church, that’s often the case isn’t it? There’s rarely a shortage of food.

Who do we follow? Who rules our lives? Who is our master?

Of course the answer should be God. But it’s not always the case.

Sometimes it’s easier to let something else be our master. Work, money, drug or alcohol addictions, TV, our own ego, power, politics, the internet… none of these can bring us any closer to God.

If these things rule our lives, then we are slaves to sin. If anything but God rules our lives, then we are slaves to sin.

There are ways in which we can be set free from those other masters which distract and pull us away from God, and it begins with prayer.

We need to pray to God that he will show us and set us free from our slavery to sin and give us lives of freedom in His grace and love.

And when we give up those sins and live in His grace, we will see a greater purpose for ourselves in this ever changing world.

The funny thing is, this movement we are beginning with church renewal here at Carman… it’s not some new thing, it’s not some new radical way of being a Christian or a church. What is working to renew people in their relationship with God, giving us purpose and hope… these practices we are learning are ancient practices which were embraced by the early church.

They are the things Paul is asking us to do in our reading from Romans. Namely, turn from our sin, that is to confess, and submit ourselves to Jesus Christ first and foremost, and to listen to God’s guidance through prayer.

This is how the early church began and grew. Nothing has changed over the last 2000 years. Those ancient practices are what changed lives then and still change lives now.

And we are learning them here, starting with deepening our prayer life.

Does this sound good? Does this sound like something that is worth pursuing?

God has a desire for all of us to know His love and grace in our lives. And a powerful way to experience this is to do as Paul describes ,as becoming slaves of righteousness. That is, submitting ourselves to God as the one we trust, the one we love, and the one we know has good things in store for us.

The world may be changing quickly around us, just consider how much Sydney Mines has changed in the 110 year history of this building, and in the 150 year history of Canada.

But what hasn’t changed is God. God remains the same, yesterday, today and forever. His love never changes. His grace is still for us.

He is our purpose. He is our master. He is our guide.

And He will do great things with and through us, if we follow in His way.

Let us pray,

Heavenly Father,

What a glorious gift it is to receive your grace and love in our lives. It is you who calls us to lives of righteousness, but you do not leave us on this path to change alone. You call us, you walk with us, you lead us. And we thank you.

Father, we wish to be slaves of righteousness, so help us to see those things which are not leading us to this life. Help us to remove the sin and distraction which pull us away from you.

And as we grow as your children, may we see more clearly the path you would have us follow, seeking to offer your love and grace to those who also need it in their lives.

Father, we love you. We want to be closer to you. We want to know you.

Bless us on this journey we make, and help us to stand firm in our faith.

We ask this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.