I spent a chunk of yesterday on a video conference call regarding the new region. I am part of the Transition Commission that is working to determine structure, budgets, staffing, vision, mission and volunteer opportunities… and not necessarily in that order. We have been working informally since May and formally since July when General Council passed the remits to change the structure of the United Church. Who would have thought 93 years ago that the United Church structure would change t
so much that it required another act of Parliament to actually give us that permission to do so… to implement the changes we collectively decided to make? Change, transformation and evolution is inherent in being part of creation.
What are some of the changes over the past 50 years that you would define as negative? Wait for answers.
What are some of the things you would define as positive? Wait for answers.
The only thing constant is change. Our families evolve… our communities evolve… our faith evolves…
In the first part of the reading from Mark, one of the disciples is marvelling at the temple… remember this is the same temple from last week’s story… where Jesus watched a destitute widow put all she has into the treasury. It’s also the same temple where Jesus flips over the tables, angry at the rituals and practices that kept some people from full participation in the faith community.
According to the 1st century historian, Josephus, the Jerusalem temple of Jesus’s day was an awe-inspiring wonder. Newly reconstructed by Herod the Great, the temple’s retaining walls were composed of stones forty feet long. The temple itself occupied a platform twice as large as the Roman Forum and four times as large as the Athenian Acropolis. Herod reportedly used so much gold to cover the outside walls that anyone who gazed at them in bright sunlight risked blinding herself. More information on the temple is available here.
Sounds like an awe-inspiring edifice doesn’t it? Who could have known that, 70 short years later, this glimmering and glistening place of worship would lie in shambles. Let’s listen, as this part the story unfolds in Mark 13:
13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”
5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray.
7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.
This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
I love that last line… “This is but the beginning of birth pangs.” Anyone who had gone through labour knows that they are not birth PANGS! It’s painful… and uncontrollable… and once it starts, there is no escaping the process. We have been labouring in a particular way these past three years. There has been pain… misunderstanding… anger… There has also been joy… laughter… and satisfaction…
For some who are connected to this faith community, this past three years have been the best thing since sliced bread. For others, it’s been the worst. 😉 For some it’s been an anxious time… it’s challenging to be the church today. It’s counter-cultural.
How many of us grew up in a time and place when most of the people you knew went to church? Perhaps not the same one as you did, but still they went somewhere. And many of us grew up with a particular understanding of what it meant to be the church.
How church people behaved… and what was expected of being a ‘good church person.’
Those ways of being the church were sacred and holy and good. And because that was the way we were nurtured in the faith, it might have seemed as if that were the only way to be the church. Society and the way in which we have lived has changed so much in the last 50 years, perhaps some of you hardly recognize it.
You know when I came back to Nova Scotia in 2008, I would have never imagined that in 10 short years that there would be so much change in Halifax Presbytery: Forest Hills disbanding, United Memorial amalgamating, Fairview at half-time, St. John’s moving out of their building and into rented premises, St. John’s Beaverbank disbanding. And that’s just Halifax Presbytery, that doesn’t take into account other United Churches or other denominations.
Here are a few changes from 50 years ago:
1. People GO to church, now people ARE the church.
2. Regular attendance was every week, now it’s once or twice a month.
3. People gave out of sense of duty, now it’s out of sense that good is being done with the money.
4. There was a snail mail newsletter, now you get Thursday Thoughts.
5. Communities had pretty solid boundaries and you knew most people in your neighbourhood and people didn’t move around as much.
6. Sunday’s held prime time, now for most people church is in competition with a multitude of other activities, including work for many people.
7. People expected to join, now people want to participate without necessarily joining.
8. Telephone was the primary method of communication, now it’s email, text, and social media.
9. Time was readily available, now it’s well guarded.
10. There were social incentives in being part of a church, now there are some folks who rarely if ever mention that they are a part of a church.
That’s just 10 ways that things have changed.
It’s part of a much larger document put together by a colleague, the Rev Elaine Besthorn, entitled Then and Now.
For some of you those reasons may still be why you come and support this church, and I want you to know that that is good and holy and sacred. Just like what is coming will be good and holy and sacred. We can’t predict the future. This upheaval in church and society is birth pangs… and we can’t stop it. It’s like in the hymn we are going to sing in a few minutes, “Labour me must, true to our trust to build a promised new land.”
We have done a lot of work in my time with you… as I said before, some of it painful, but perhaps it is the pain of birthing a new thing. Through the Listening Circles process,
Riverview decided it wanted to:
• Focus on Faith
• Welcoming, Accepting and Inclusive
• Caring for and Being Open to One Another
• Connecting with Wider Community
And we are trying out a tagline: A place to grow in faith and friendship.
NINE MILE RIVER:
• Praying and seeking faith
• Loving, compassionate and encouraging
• Serving and engaging our community
And I continue to draw us back to those, because that process included most of you.
For some those birth pangs might feel like death. But as Christians, we know that death is NOT the end don’t we? As followers of the risen Christ, we KNOW that there is new life! But that new life will not look like the old. Those early followers of Jesus, those fearful, anxious, frightened people, found strength and courage in remembering Jesus’ life and teachings. And we are Jesus’ followers in this time and place.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity in following Jesus! Amen.
© Catherine MacDonald 2018
Mark 13: 1-8
November 18, 2018 – ECM