This week for his ecumenical tithing Fr Martin Magill visited the Crescent Church in Belfast for the first time, hearing his first ever sermon on 3 John and being encouraged by the active involvement of young people in the congregation.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: The Crescent Church, Belfast
This weekend, I felt drawn to south Belfast for worship. I had often walked and cycled past the Crescent Church and decided to worship there.
I was greeted warmly by a number of people in the church porch and when I took my seat I had the opportunity to talk to a couple behind me who were 60 years married. They told me a bit about the church and its background and how the church came to be in its present location from 1977.
It was interesting to see a number of young people around the church, not always the case in many of the larger denominations. I noticed almost all the young people carried a Bible with them.
We were welcomed to the service by a young member of the congregation who explained the preaching series and how we would be studying 3 John at the service. After singing a hymn, a teenage member of the church then prayed – including a prayer of thanksgiving for young people finishing exams.
We then sang two more hymns – this was followed by some more announcements giving details for next Sunday. We then heard from some of the young people about their summer outreach plans including missions to Albania and the Czech Republic as well as a holiday Bible club in Portstewart.
The three teenagers then gave the congregation some prayer points. For the trip to the Czech Republic where so many were atheist, we were asked to pray that some would come to believe in God. We were also asked to pray for the children to be receptive to God’s Word and for the work of preparing a talk.
An older member of the congregation then prayed a prayer of commitment for the young people. We then sang more hymns.
It was then time for the sermon which was preached by one of the elders – William Johnston. I noticed the teenager in the row in front of me had his notebook and was taking notes.
Here are some of my own notes on 3 John.
At 14 verses it is the shortest book in Bible and is a personal letter written by John. William described how John had a capacity to be loved. He spoke about the importance of knowing we are loved by God and how we then mirror that love to others. He reminded the congregation that we were loved by God. He encouraged us to seek out the love of God in our lives.
3 John provides a profile of three people from the New Testament. William suggested it be a prompt for us as we read about the three men in the letter.
Gaius excelled in the spiritual life – his soul was prospering. Gaius was spiritually fit – God made us to prosper – Jesus came to bring life to the full. We are right to pray for our friends’ flourishing. Gaius was faithful – he was authentic – he lived out the message. Gaius made what he had available to God. Gaius valued the work of missionaries.
Diotrephes loved to be first – he was an an obstacle to the gospel – he wanted to put himself first. This satisfied the desire to be needed yet Jesus said: the first will be last and the last first. Jesus preached about servant leadership. Jesus taught about humble hard work. William then pointed us to Philippians 2 and recommended we learn by heart this chapter. Diotrephes wanted to have nothing to do with John and the messengers. He also gossiped maliciously. Why do people gossip? There is a large dose of insecurity. Gossip can really destroy a body of believers. Diotrephes refused to welcome the brothers and hindered others from showing practical love. William recommended a vaccine of “total submission to Jesus”, pointing out how in every heart, there is the possibility of a Diotrephes.
Then there was Demetrius:
Demetrius was well spoken of by everyone. William also spoke about what we can learn from John. John placed a value on seeing people face to face.
William then finished with a set of questions:
- Am I making what I am and have available to God?
- Is my life a visual sermon?
- Am I setting a good example to those around me: those a little younger, my youth group, my team at work, my kids?
- Am I hating what is evil and clinging to what is good?
He prayed to close the service.
What I take away from last night:
- It was very impressive to hear about the number of young people involved in outreach over the summer time.
- It was very good to see and hear young people not only present at the service but actively taking part.
- I was amazed to see a teenager (in conversation with him and his parents afterwards, he turned out to be 15) taking notes during the sermon – he told me he planned to read these notes during the week.
- It was my first time to hear a sermon on 3 John.
- I loved the idea of the “takeaway” questions which William presented.
- In the coffee lounge afterwards, there was a great buzz as people stayed to talk to one another.