I wrote about 3 sermons in my head this week.
A week in which every time I turned around there seemed to be another thing that made my heart ache… earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan… flooding in Texas… another 500 Syrian refugees die trying to escape their war torn country… a number of violent deaths in Halifax… teenage suicides in Attawapiskat…a heartbreaking encounter with a stranger in the community, who shared a story of need and pain… And I feel helpless…
And I go about ministry… in these lovely churches… in my comfortable study… and I ponder some of what I have heard in the Listening Circles… and I look at what was written on the rocks during Lent… and part of me feels as if our challenges are so small…
Look at some of the words that are in the word cloud.
For those of you unfamiliar with word clouds, the more often a word appears in a list you make, the larger and more prominent the words show up.
Some of those words are: Love… Hope…God…Faith…Patience… Community…Friendship…Confidence… Trust… Peace
And I realized that many of these are common to all people. People on the other side of the world and people in the next chair.
And yet, here I am, as your interim minister, because you have had some conflict and unrest. And this community is no stranger to conflict and unrest… I have read through a great deal of your history… and find periodic conflict… often centred around the minister.
From my reading, and I appreciate that what is kept as a record is much less than what happened. But from my reading it seems that much of that conflict seems to have been dealt with in ways that are less than appropriate.
So how do we get from that image of yearning to living it out in our everyday lives, both in and out of the church? How do we deal with the disconnect of what brought us to this point and to where you want to go?
What we are dealing with is a change in culture… a way of relating to each other as a community of faith… I am speaking both about the relationship between the two points and the relationships within the two points as well as the relationship you have with your minister.
Cultural change outside the church is not new to us… for those of you older than me you can probably remember party lines… wait a second, I can remember party lines… For those of you younger than me… you might not remember a time before cell phones… And for many of our children, smart phones are the norm. That is just one example of a cultural shift that has taken place.
Other shifts are both parents working outside the home… Sunday shopping… families with other commitments on Sundays… church losing its place within the community as a gathering space.
Whether or not you like those shifts is immaterial… they simply are…
There is no shortage of cultural shifts in the Bible. This morning you heard about Peter’s dream or vision. A dream of a new way of being in relationship with Gentiles. The early church, a community of Jews, struggled with the idea of who is in and who is out. Who is part of the realm of God? Can a gentile become a Christian without first becoming a Jew? In other words, the question for them was: Is a gentile, without changing externally in anyway, welcome into the community of followers of Jesus Christ?
In the reading from Acts, Peter is being challenged by other Jews about eating with gentiles, the uncircumcised. And in response he tells of a dream he had in which a sheet lowers with all kinds of animals… all the ones that are part of the Jewish dietary laws and also ones that are not. And God says, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”
You see for observant Jews, not eating particular foods was not only part of their religious practice, but also of their identity, and they considered some animals unclean. To eat of an unclean animal made you ritually unclean and unable to worship in the temple until you had undergone a ritual of purification. And even those that they considered fit for consumption had to be killed in a particular way… by a priest.
To hear God command him to kill and eat particular animals went against all that Peter had been taught. But God pronounces all the animals good… And Peter listens to God’s voice.
Peter’s defence to the authorities is that God’s voice and Spirit take precedence over the rules by which the Jews have lived. And he is a witness to the Holy Spirit descending on those whom he would have previously shunned.
A huge cultural shift…
Perhaps it was easier for Peter as he had the memory of Jesus to draw upon… remembering how Jesus challenged the social constructs of his time. Perhaps it was an extension of that. Perhaps it was the memory of Jesus’ words, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love can be hard work… building a house… a community of faith… and a world where love can dwell can be hard work… and Peter knew this… He knew that the love Jesus had called him and others and continues to call us isn’t just the warm and fuzzy love… but for love that hangs in… the love that love’s neighbour as self. And without God’s presence, Jesus’ example and the Holy Spirit energizing us, it would be impossible and live draining work…
Peter felt the tension of living between accordance with the Torah, the teachings he had learned and listening to God’s voice. The Listening Circles invite participants into listening to God’s voice… before they share what they believe is God’s dream for our faith community. Over the summer, I will collate and attempt to make sense of all that has been shared. And then share it with all of… because hopefully it reflects something of all of us together… and God’s dream for us.
For those of you who have email I sent out a list of questions that I was pondering this week.
• What kind of church?
• What kind of community?
• What kinds of behaviour?
• What kind of world
I want a church and a world in which all those things you shared in your yearning are made manifest.
Despite all the bad news we hear… there IS good news!
The Halifax Interfaith Harmony group won 3rd prize for their interfaith work and representatives went to Jordan last week to accept the prize from the King of Jordan, who had instituted the UN Interfaith Harmony Week a number of years ago.
Our prime minister signed on to the Paris Climate agreement.
2500 people have taken up the challenge to read the Truth and Reconciliation Report. http://trcreadingchallenge.com/
John Pentland, a United Church minister in Calgary identifies Ten Shifts for Christ-communities:
Move from fear to faith.
Move from Believe-Behave-Belong to Belong-Behave-Believe.
Move from invincibility to vulnerability.
Move from Religion only to Religion and Spirituality
Move from God as transcendent to immanent.
Move from explain to experience.
Move from newsletter to social media
Move from scarcity to gratitude.
Move from Spirit to Soul…
Are we ready to make those shifts?
Gil Rendle and Alice Mann, experts in church renewal and transformation, say the most important questions for a congregation to ask themselves are:
Who are we?
What assets do we have?
What is God calling us to do?
Who is our neighbour?
Simple yet complex questions…
And different answers for each faith community.
And the questions may lead us to unexpected places of uncertainty… but also unexpected places of grace and abundance.
God is always calling us into the future… Jesus is always walking beside us… and the Holy Spirit has energy that never ends.
And I trust that God is with all the communities of faith… guiding us… inspiring us… leading us into God’s shalom.
In closing, here are words from contemporary Christian song by a group called Cloud Cult entitled Good Friend.
Life is a playground, but it takes a lot work.
You better learn to love, or it’ll tear you apart,
cuz in the end, we are measured by the size of our heart,
and we can’t do this alone.
Thanks be to God for vision, dreams and love…amen.
© Catherine MacDonald 2016
Acts 11: 1-18 & John 13: 31-35
April 24, 2016 – Elmsdale Pastoral Charge