The art of memoir writing, in particular spiritual memoir writing, has been gaining in popularity over the last number of years, at least in the circles that I move in. I suppose one way we could understand at least some of the Biblical writings is to think of them as spiritual memoirs.
Listen to the words from John 21: 24-25, words that inspired our theme #TrueStory: 24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Each one of us has a story of Jesus. How his life and ministry has impacted us. Even if we don’t share it with others very often. Or at least not outside of a church setting.
As my friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett wrote in his book On Holy Ground, You and Your Faith Story, “There is a simple premise underlying this brief book: you have a faith story that is important. You may never have been told that before. Nonetheless it is true. There’s a good chance that you’ve never been shown how to tell that story. You may feel intimidated or turned off by folk who “share faith” in easy, self-confident and sometimes glib ways. Perhaps you imagine that your life is not important enough or dramatic enough to be the basis for a story anyone cares about. I’m sorry to be blunt but: you’re wrong. Your silence does no one any good: not you, or your neighbour or friend, or God. It’s not true to who you are. As the ancient Christian wrote: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you – but do so with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Each one of us has a faith story. Part of my faith story is being on this stage. First to be presented to the court as an ordinand… then being ordained the next day. The culmination of a call that I had disregarded for years. A call and a process that held ALL THE FEELINGS. Joy, excitement, terror, amazement, anxiety. Somewhat like I am feeling right now.
While we are not all called into ordered ministry, we are ALL called into ministry. The ministry of Jesus that began with his baptism. Let’s listen to words from Mark’s gospel, the gospel that begins, not with a birth narrative, but with Jesus’ baptism: 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
How many of us get emotional at a baptism whether we know the people or not? We can debate and argue about whether some parents are just going through a ritual for tradition’s sake or family pressure or whatever reason that people not connected to our churches call and inquire about baptism. And in my early years of ministry, I could be, how shall I say, a bit rigid about it. But somewhere along the line, I have come to understand that it’s not about me, or us as a church, but it’s about God’s grace… and who am I and who are we, to limit God’s grace? Who are we to think that our human made rules can control God’s grace? Who are we to suppose that our understanding of baptism supersedes God’s all-encompassing grace?
My baptism story is one of being baptized for all the wrong reasons… my parents were being urged/pressured whatever word you want to call it by my father’s family… they were coming to visit… I was baptized when I was three years old, along with my two younger sisters… I have very vague recollections of it… a Thursday afternoon… nobody else present aside from family and the minister. But apparently God’s grace was present.
What is the story of your baptism? Do you remember it? Have you been told it? Where do you locate yourself in the story of Jesus’ baptism? Where do WE as a Conference locate ourselves? Are we one of those who had gathered to hear John the Baptist? That charismatic, strange character? Or are we one of the onlookers, waiting to see who would be greater than John?
There are so many stories of Jesus’ ministry to choose from… miracles, healing, teaching, and traveling. This next one from the gospel of Matthew is one of my favourites: 22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[d] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Some of us, perhaps many of us, are feeling a bit rocked by the waves of changing church culture and structure. Some of us may be hunkered down in the boat, just trying to survive. Some of may feel as if we are drowning. Some of us are terrified and crying out in fear. Where do YOU locate yourself in the story? Where do WE locate ourselves in the story? No matter WHERE you locate yourself in the story, remember that Jesus comes… always comes, saying, “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
DO NOT BE AFRAID!
Jesus walks on the waters of our storms and turmoil, reminding us to keep our focus on him and how he lived! Sharing a life of courage, creativity and compassion.
That courage took him to Jerusalem, to adulation, to confrontation, to betrayal, and to death… Where do we locate ourselves in the Holy Week Story? Are we with the crowd shouting Hosanna? Are we betraying Jesus? Are we among those who denied knowing Jesus? Are we bystanders… waiting to see which way the wind blows? Are we the one betrayed? Are we the faithful who stayed with Jesus? Stayed with him till death? Are we one of those faithful women who announced Jesus’ resurrection? Are we one of the disbelieving disciples?
Wherever you locate yourself, or we locate ourselves, know this: we are not abandoned or forsaken. We are sustained by the stories told down through the ages.We are sustained by the Holy Spirit that transformed a fearful bunch of followers into courageous disciples that told and retold stories about Jesus’ life and began to live in ways that emulated Jesus life. One more biblical text, this time from Acts 2: 1-4: 2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
ALL of them began to speak! Not just some of them, ALL of them. My friends, we ALL have a sacred story to tell.
We speak a variety of languages in Maritime Conference, mostly English, but some French, Gaelic, Mi’kmaq, Arabic, and so on. And we can be separated by those languages. But what if we are ‘all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gives us ability.” The language of the coffee shop, the garage, the farm, the bank, the daycare centre, the local pub, the grocery store, the shopping centre. What if we speak the language that those outside the comfortable walls of our buildings can understand? The language of courage, creativity and compassion?
That would be a new Pentecost!
Where do you locate yourself in that story? Where do we locate ourselves as Conference? Wherever we locate ourselves in the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, I am convinced of this: We are not meant to locate ourselves permanently in Good Friday, in death. For we are a resurrection people!
Returning to our theme passage, John 21: 24-25: 24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
We have books to write and stories to tell. So go, tell your stories. Tell your stories of a faith that sustains you. Tell your stories of lives transformed. Tell your stories of courage, creativity and compassion.
For God is not finished with us!
God. Is. Not. Finished. With. Us!
May it be so!
Rev. Catherine MacDonald © 2018
May 24, 2018
Maritime Conference Annual Meeting