That passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is often read at weddings, to the extent that one year, I was tempted to take if off my suggested list of readings for weddings.
And a few months ago, I saw something on Facebook; advice to a teenage girl on how to know whether her boyfriend was good for her.
Simply replace ‘love’ with the boyfriend’s name in that passage from Corinthians. So, for example, for me, even though I am well past being a teenager, it would be Woody is patient, Woody is kind and so on. For those of you who are wondering who Woody is, he is my husband, whose name is actually Dennis, he answers to either. 😉 Now, setting aside the cheesiness of it, the idea does have some merit.
Because that letter wasn’t written to individuals, it was written to the young church in Corinth, written to and for a particular community of faith. So what if we took that passage and applied it to our Pastoral Charge? Riverview and Nine Mile River are patient. Riverview and Nine Mile River are kind. Riverview and Nine Mile River are not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Riverview and Nine Mile River do not insist on their own way; Riverview and Nine Mile River are not irritable or resentful. Riverview and Nine Mile River do not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth.
For some reason, I don’t find it nearly as cheesy when used in the context of ministry. Perhaps because that was its original intent. Paul writing to the Corinthian community about how to be in relationship with each other. That love, the kind of love the Jesus displayed and shared, was the most important attribute for communities of faith to have. More important than wisdom, prophecy, understanding, sacrifice and faith.
Without love, your words, my words, are simply noise.
So how do we embody that love? We look to Jesus. In the gospel reading Jesus has been preaching in his hometown and at the end of it, the parishioners want to drive him over a cliff! What was it that he said that enraged the community so much? He spoke of some of the Elijah and Elisha and how the people had not listened to them. That there was still hunger and sickness… and that they had been ignoring one of their primary responsibilities. To feed the hungry. To heal the sick. To care for the ones who did not have the means to care for themselves. This is not the loving Jesus that we sing or speak of so often. This is not the gentle Jesus, meek and mild. This is Jesus who, out of love for God and neighbour, challenges us to do the same. And calls us to account when we don’t.
Last week, Gary said something during announcements about our church being a business and that we need financial means to operate. The second part of that is true; we do need financial resources to operate. But we are not a business, because businesses exist to make money and that is not our goal. We are in the Jesus business. And what is the Jesus business? For me, it is wrapped up in loving God and loving neighbour. How each individual faith community embodies that is a bit different, depending on the context in which they are situated.
What is our primary focus? Our mission as followers of Jesus or our finances? Don’t misunderstand me, in a previous life I was a financial planner, and have been active in stewardship as chair of the Conference Stewardship Committee and a member of the national stewardship committee, and this past year I was invited to contribute to next year’s stewardship program. So, I know stewardship… and I know that finances are important… But when finances become the focus of all our time and energy, what time and energy do we have left for Jesus?
I look at our Mission Statement:
“As followers of Jesus Christ, the Elmsdale Pastoral Charge is a loving, growing family of faith, worshipping God, reaching out to all people, and working for peace and justice in our local communities and in the wider world.”
The first words are, “As followers of Jesus Christ!” That is our primary purpose, to be followers of Jesus Christ. And the next verb ‘loving.’ For without love, our words and actions will be like a ‘clanging gong’ and empty noise. And then ‘growing.’ How are growing? In love? In faith? In numbers? And then ‘working.’ I see many, many people, industriously working around this place? Some of them just yesterday. 🙂
‘Following, loving, growing, working. Can our Mission Statement be wrapped up in those 4 words?
Or a few more?
Loving one another
Growing in faith
As you can see, I am a big fan of short mission or vision statements, ones that are easily remembered. And those are ALL active verbs. But is there one missing? Listening? Do we stop our activity long enough to listen to God and to each other? Genuine listening? Not just waiting for our turn to speak?
Nowhere, in any mission or vision statement I have read or heard, is anything about throwing Jesus over a cliff. But do we throw him metaphorically over a cliff when we hear messages that we don’t want to hear? In this faith community, whose voice gets lost, and whose gets heard? Are we talking past each other? I don’t pretend to know all that much about you… yet… But as move deeper into the work of Interim Ministry, we are going to hold a number of Listening Circles.
These will opportunities to gather in groups of 10-12, either in someone’s home or here at the church. I will be facilitating a series of questions, questions that will be the same for each group. They will be questions like:
• How is Riverview/Nine Mile River feeling right now?
• What indications are there that Riverview/Nine Mile River is a healthy church
• What indications are there that Riverview/Nine Mile River is not a healthy church?
• Questions about what an ideal church would look like.
When all the circles have been held, I will be collating all the answers and reporting back early in the fall. We are in a time of transition. Are we in that time and place that sometimes feels like treading water? Or perhaps it is a resting place, a time to recover from some of the turmoil of the past. Perhaps it is a time for you to take stock and re-examine who you are and what God is calling you to. Perhaps it is a time when you focus on building up the body of Christ.
And the Body of Christ is you… the hands, the feet, the ears, the mouth, the heart. As Paul also wrote to the Corinthian church, you are all members of the Body of Christ. None of you more important than the other, working together to extend Jesus’ ministry beyond these walls and beyond this community. Riverview United has a particular role within Elmsdale and Nine Mile River has a particular role within its community. And you have your roles. And I have my role.As all of us know, ministry is not a solo undertaking…Even as I am the minister here in Riverview and Nine Mile River, without your support and encouragement, I will be able to do little. And without my support and encouragement, you would probably not undertake some things… But together… together with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit… we can do much more than you imagined… And yet none of us will see that vision come to its fullest fruition. Which doesn’t mean that you don’t work and worship towards it.
Geez magazine, whose tagline is contemplative, cultural resistance’ has this to say:
“How do we bear with a lifelong effort that often brings more frustration than ratification? How do we muster up the will to remain devoted to God’s calling when there is no quantifiable progress to celebrate? Much like in the whole of the Christian life, we need disciplines which form us into the people capable of obedience. We need practices than can teach patience, instill in us a fierce spirit of perseverance and slow us down.” (Fall 2014)
Practices like gathering together for worship, to tap into that sacred energy and spirit, to reconnect with that spirit and one another, and then strengthened, excited and empowered, go out to share that with the world. Practices like prayer, however you understand prayer. Practices such as reading the Bible… for in it we find stories of persistence and renewal.
As we live together over the next 2 ½ years, we will discover once again that we have something unique to offer to each other, this community and the world. Acceptance in a world that says how much money you make is the most important thing… Compassion in a world that is too often cold and heartless… Hope in a world that can seem so bleak… Comfort to the sick… Food for the hungry… Companionship to the lonely…. And love… binds us together… That is the business we are in.
Thank be go to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus. Amen.
© Catherine MacDonald 2016
January 31, 2016 – EPC: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 & Luke 2: 4: 1- 21-30.
The readings can be found here.