I have come to believe that one of the most important words in life, including the life of the church is AND. For me it means that instead of separating things into distinct components, thereby reducing them, ‘and’ implies expanding, including and hospitality. For instance, we might disagree on some things regarding our image of God AND we can still both love God and be in relationship with each other.
I know that God as Father is very important to many of you… while that image is less so for me… but that doesn’t have to make either of us dismiss the other. Instead of that… we can perhaps open our hearts and minds to the others’ heart and mind and by doing so, both of our hearts and minds are expanded. We can ask questions… questions to which we can’t possibility know the answer… Even if we still don’t see the other person’s viewpoint, simply by staying in the relationship, we are refusing to be defined by our differences.
Which is not to say that it is always the right thing to stay in a relationship of any sort. Some relationships, whether that is between people or institutions, including churches outlive their health and it becomes time to walk away.
The story that Elaine just read sort of sets up an either/or clash between Martha’s hospitality and Mary’s discipleship. And it has been used to denigrate traditional areas of women’s ministry, that of welcoming, tending and feeding. And yet, what you heard in the reading from John was Martha proclaiming Jesus as Messiah, surely she had been spending time with Jesus, learning from him, being discipled by him, in order for your to make that profession.
Lindsay Hardin Freeman writes, “Right here, Martha offers up one of the most magnificent, and singular, confessions of faith in the New Testament. Even though she has yet to experience the resurrection, she presents an understanding of the eternal life by saying that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. She states that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, the one coming into the world.” http://www.lindsayhardinfreeman.com/mary-and-martha-warrior-women-of-heart-and-soul/
Martha, Mary and Lazarus’ home was a place of hospitality, respite and learning for Jesus and his followers. A place where being fed and feeding others was important ministry. Martha instinctively knew this… Mary wanted to spend time with Jesus… perhaps instinctively knowing that he wouldn’t be with them much longer. Despite those words that Luke puts in Jesus’ mouth about Mary choosing the better part… in my mind, they are not either/or… they are both/and. Martha AND Mary embodied hospitality and discipleship.
Hospitality and discipleship is being demonstrated and embodied as the General Council of the United Church meets in Corner Brook this week. I watched a bit of the live-streamed opening worship… lots of good energy and enthusiasm in the room. I hope they can sustain it through the coming week… they have quite a job ahead of them… countless proposals and issues, especially the 90 proposals that came out of the Comprehensive Review Report. Our church may be radically changed over the coming few years, depending on the outcome of this General Council. I pray that the Holy Spirit will be palpably present as our Moderator Gary Paterson presides over the week long event. The current moderator is my favourite one… but the last one was too… and the next one will be as well 😉 Each moderator brings his or her own sense of who God is and their own skill set. With social media I have certainly felt more connected to the last couple of moderators, felt as if I knew them in a way that was impossible without social media.
Gary wrote this in his last blog post, “As of Monday, August 3, I will have arrived on the Rock, off to a small hotel some 40 kilometres north of Corner Brook, to spend time in silence and in prayer, preparing for General Council. I’ll be pondering the questions that we’ve been travelling with:
What’s faith got to do with it?
What’s a good church for?
What do we need to let go?
What is our core purpose… and our core values?
How are discipleship and evangelism expressed in the “new church.”
What kind of leaders do we need? And how best to recruit, educate and support them?
How best to live out Jesus’ command to love God and neighbour… …and the neighbourhood, all my relations, the earth?
And I will be praying for the wisdom and strength to be fully present in the gathering, worship,and work of General Council 42. I will be praying over the various proposals and business that we must discuss, debate, and decide upon, all within the spirit of discernment, seeking to be faithful to God’s call into the future.” http://www.garypaterson.ca/
Wise words from a profoundly spiritual man.
The United Church has been in the news for another reason this past week. Who has heard of the Rev. Gretta Vosper? She is the United Church minister who says she is an atheist. In her words, “I don’t believe in…the god called God,” Vosper said. “Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.” She also says that how you live is more important than what you believe. She is now under a formal review about the effectiveness of her ministry, there have been formal complaints about her and so the process has started. She is appealing that process.
I haven’t waded into the controversy surrounding her before now. For one thing, I didn’t know what to say, for another, I didn’t want to give her an even wider audience. For all the play she gets in the media it may seem that she has a huge following, but in fact her congregation is no bigger than ours, but when you use terms like atheist and minister in the same breath, you get media attention. For another thing, the United Church has always prided itself on its big tent… that there is room for all… that questioning and challenging is a part of our faith journey. For many people, she has now gone further than questioning, into denying God and dismissing Jesus and the Bible. In fact, she dismisses a narrow version or image of God, that of the wise old man sitting in the clouds, controlling our lives, doling out rewards and punishments according to his whim. Many of us don’t believe in that God either… or we don’t believe that that is the only image of God. I think she misses out on the AND part of discipleship.
I met her last summer when I attended a service at Fort Massey when she preached there last summer. She is intelligent, articulate, and compassionate; all characteristics that make for good leadership in the church. I also think she has placed herself beyond what the United Church can hold. I can’t imagine trying to lead a church when I don’t’ believe in anything beyond what humans create. I can’t imagine presiding at communion without a profound sense of the Holy Mystery that is present. I believe strongly in something beyond ourselves… something so vast that is defies our attempts to contain and describe it. Someone like her would be welcome to be a part of a faith community, I know that some people attend church primarily for the community aspect of it, but I don’t believe that someone who professes to be an atheist has the ability to lead a church. And while her words about ‘how we live is more important than what we believe’ resonate with me to a certain extent, my colleague the Rev. Dr. Linda Yates articulated my discomfort with that statement with words that eluded me.
“Finally, this false dichotomy of choosing action OR belief is bizarre in its setup. It is unnecessary. Both Jesus and the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman claim that belief informs action and vice versa. What you believe informs your actions and your actions inform your beliefs. I am grateful for one thing. She has made us aware that a church that is all action and no belief is pretty much dead. Likewise, a church that is all belief and no action is moribund too.” (Linda Yates, fb posting August 7, 2015)
Our Bible, both testaments are full of stories that comfort, inspire, and challenge us. Just because some of them may not literally have happened in the way they are written and just because they are written by humans trying to make sense and meaning of their relationship to the Divine and to each other is no reason to dismiss them. There is truth and meaning in them. Engage with them, be hospitable to them, be discipled by them.
Through them, with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we can increase our understanding, we can expand our hearts, we can grow in faith and in love.
Thanks be to God for the challenge of hospitable discipleship. Amen.
John 11: 17-27
August 9, 2015
St. Paul’s Spryfield
Will you join me in a moment of prayer?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer, amen.
Catherine MacDonald 2015