Gracious God – bless now the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. Breath your Spirit into us and grant that we may hear and in hearing be led in the way want us to go.
I imagine that there have been a number of substitute teachers that feel a little like i’ve been feeling this past week, and going on this past month. Pulpit supply can bring on a case of the nerves.
The difference between myself here, this morning, in this beautiful space, as your pulpit supply , and a substitute teacher about to go through the doors into a possible classroom mutiny, is that i know i am supported here.. in this place. I belong here. We belong here. Sewn together in a mosaic of many stories. Christian Stories. Faith stories. Bible stories. First Nations Stories. Our Stories.
A Church, or, as we are becoming more and more acquainted with, a community of faith, is a fluid thing, shaped by a shared history, a shared vision, a shared song of faith. That is where we begin and end. We are sojourners somewhere on the roadmap to Glory, all of our journeys dotting the landscape that lies within the Alpha and The Omega.
The term Alpha and Omega comes from the scripture “I am the Alpha and the Omega, found in the Book of Revelation. Chapter 1 verse 8. References to Alpha and Omega can be found in virtually every historical manuscript written about the Book of Revelation. Believed to be the symbol of Jesus, as well as God the Father… “the First and the Last” , the beginning and the end”.
Along our journey we are called to be a church.. a community of the faithful, suspended in a lightness of being, together. Held up by a common denominator. By God. By Faith, Through Faith, In Faith. A Song of Faith. A belief in a firm foundation. We believe in God: who has created and is creating… We sing of the Spirit, who speaks our prayers of deepest longing and enfolds our concerns and confessions, transforming us and the world. We are called to share our own stories as we bear witness to Christs’ love in the world. In our time. In our place. Where we live. We are called to support and live a life of kindness, so that our stories will inspire and lift a communal praise.
As a common vision, we subscribe to the view that through faith, and our communities of faith, we can more collectively together ..seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. There are no end of stories, published and shared through social networks like twitter, facebook, Google +., as well as traditional media sources, about Religion. Some stories are inspirational. They remind us of a greater good out there in the wild blue yonder, in Creation. Pope Francis gets alot of press. And he is taking advantage of this star power to make some bold statements and affect change within the Catholic Church. some of the issues he raises have caused quite a stir within the rank and file of the catholic church. Through his bold leadership he continues to demonstrate his willingness to walk the walk , to seek and find answers. To reach out to those who suffered unspeakable trauma at the hands of those trusted to be the church. Change doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye, or the speed of a sound byte. These things take time. But without courage and strength of purpose, the work of the greater good will suffer. Greatly. Christianity is under seige on many fronts. There are a tremendous amount of gifted Poets, storytellers, Songwriters and musicians, Faith leaders, Humanitarian leaders who work diligently to keep hope alive. To tell bold stories, in the confines of some very scary places. Places where being a Christian has compromised their very lives. Humanitarian efforts overseas spurred on by Faith Organizations and United Nations NGO’s, By leaders like General Romeo Dallaire and The Child Soldiers Initiative. By Canadian Red Cross and their comrades in other Red Cross Internationals. By Canadian DART teams. By Doctors and Nurses without Borders. By journalists who would offer a way to tell their collective stories. Working in grim surroundings like Nepal (at this time), and in war zones like South Sudan,Darfur, Lebanon,Palestine,Syria. In those places we find stories of complete and utter devestation. Trauma is written all over their faces. We can read a story every night that would break your heart. From within our intentional, mindful commitment to faith, we can choose to affect change in ways that our leaders call us to do. We can’t all head oversees to storm the castle and demand basic human decency for all. If we could. I’d be the first one on the plane.
In our generous actions and in our prayers,… and in the sharing of their stories, we hope they know that we do hear their stories. Our hearts are broken too. As one human family, we can demand no less, than peaceful coexistence. Through Relief Campaigns, with UCCan, The Anglican Church,The Presbyterian Church, The Quaker Church, The Baptist Church, Roman Catholic Church, Dutch Christian Reformed and many more, we invite God’s grace to enter in, and offer a story of shared kindness. To be a channel for peace. A light in an otherwise dark existence. In these ways, we are called to be Christs church in the world. Even in, and perhaps most especially in, places where sinister bits abide. We see how a collective response can move mountains to lend support and aid. We are a generous people of God.
In our own church history, we know of stories now, that would ultimately leave an indellible mark upon us. We know of injured and broken people, victims of a Residential School system. The United Church and other Church communities are written in stories of sorrow. The Truth and Reconciliation Report will be released very soon. In Ottawa May 31st – June 3rd. You can follow along online at the website TruthandReconcilliation.ca Within the report are countless hundreds and thousands of stories. ,Speaking about the report, Justice Murray Sinclair said “Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts.” Over the three day event, Ceremonies will give rise to a vision that elevates First Nations Stories. Embraces First Nations Stories. A vision that Respects the sacred in all of us, and moves us toward stewardship of Creation. The Great Spirit.
The United Church has been part of a journey to healing for quite some time.
In 1986, Moderator,The Right Rev. Robert F Smith, elected at General Council, in Morden Manitoba made a formal apology to First Nations people. A portion of the apology went. ‘Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich, and to be treasured.’
In 1994,The Healing Fund was established by General Council, as a five-year fund-raising and educational campaign (1995-1999) to address the impacts of residential schools on Aboriginal people. It now continues as one facet of the United Church’s ongoing reconciliation work with First Nations people.
In 1996,The Very Reverend David Giuliano, who went on to become Moderator of the United Church of Canada from 2006 to 2009, led an extraordinarily meaningful evening worship city-wide service at Wesley United in downtown ThunderBay. At that time, he was the minister at the United church in Marathon,Ontario. The theme, or reason for being together on that night, was to honour the legacy of First Nations People, and all of the gifts that they bring with them. I was at that service. In fact, i even played my flute as part of a chant involving many. O Great Spirit. Voices United. pg.239. I felt God’s presence very much alive in myself, and in the hearts and minds of those sojourners who also found sanctuary that night. O Great Spirit indeed. The embers burned brightly. God’s transforming love, ignited. Stories to tell.
We are all harbingers of stories. Our journeys are remarkable each one. God has called us all by name, and has imprinted his love upon our heart. Within each of us, there are stories of faith.
Alfred Lord Tennyson,Poet,Scholar contemplated the mystery of God and his own story of faith, in the epic poem, and eulogy he wrote while grieving the loss of a dear friend. ‘In Memorium’ is an hommage to the mysterious wonders of faith and other contemplations.
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
As we move towards Pentecost, we might want to consider the work of The Holy Spirit. The part of our story where faith lies. Somewhere in the colours of embers and fire we feel the presence of God. Just as Moses saw the burning bush as a symbol of God’s presence, we too are reminded of the coming of the Spirit on that Pentecost after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. From Romans chapter 6, we understand that God’s transformative love has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit. the scripture says
“Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.5Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.6We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.7For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.8And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him.”
Pentecost leads us into the mysterious and divine reflections of our Faith story. Those intuitive spaces where we have felt the power and presence of Christ. In these contemplations, we are called to transform ourselves. to transform our communities in ways where Christ will enter in. To be his work in the world.
Pentecost is the birth of the Church. It is God amongst us in power, making us not simply a group of believers, but Christ in the world…unafraid, empowered, bearing witness. As we follow the path that Jesus lays before us, we invite and invoke, The Holy Spirit. breathed in..and breathed out.. the Spirit gives life..Is life. We are called to lift our hearts and minds, inviting Christ to lead us ‘one more step along the way. As the Comprehensive Review continues to percolate in United Church congregations right across our country, The United Church itself is transforming. Seeking to fundamentally change the governance structure,and how communities of faith,and congregations, will ultimately come together. A document called The Comprehensive Review is moving towards a vote at the 42nd General Council August 8-15th,in Corner Brook Newfoundland. A portion of the Document shares this “We believe God is calling The United Church of Canada to be part of a new creation. The Comprehensive Review, which the task group has been leading since the fall of 2012, is about the church listening and responding to God’s call. After two-and-a-half years of conversations, consultations, research, analysis, and prayer, we offer the following recommendations, which we believe would best enable the church to participate energetically and faithfully in what God is doing. These recommendations would focus our resources on supporting, enlivening, and accompanying communities of faith to live out God’s mission at this moment in our society. They would enable us to continue to come together to witness to the gospel and vision of Jesus Christ. They would create a more flexible and responsive structure that could change and adapt as God continues to create. These recommendations would also change the church dramatically. But we believe God is calling the church to change boldly and the church is ready to hear that call. In that spirit, we offer the following recommendations for the church’s prayerful consideration.” A depletion of resources has called the leadership within the UCCan to offer bold ideas that can be implemented to keep our church alive and relevant. To transform itself.
I submit that the United Church of Canada is very relevant. At no time in our history are we under such an extremely heavy burden and weight for social justice issues, human rights atrocities, poverty, refugee crises, environmental stewardship. So much. With our partners in faith and humanitarian organizations all around the world, we must continue to be a voice for the maligned and marginalized. We must continue to provide a framework for Christians seeking justice,loving kindness, walking humbly, knowing God. There is no wrong path when we seek to push forward. The path will present itself, with each new step, with each new day, with each new story. Bearing witness. The transformative power of The Holy Spirit will be there. A beacon of hope.
As the United church moves forward along an uncharted path, let us consider the famous poem by Robert Frost.
The Road Not Taken
BY ROBERT FROST
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The beauty of those words encourage a path that is laid out before us, to just ..be..present ..in the discovering. In simply moving forward, we are intuitively choosing our path. There are trepidatious moments along a path…Moments of mystery and enthrallment. Moments of terror, and deep sorrow. Moments of hope and joy. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”
If we embrace those hopeful moments as part of our faith story, we are inviting the Holy spirit in. To transform our lives. To breathe in, and breathe out.
Just like a good pair of suspenders on a favourite pair of blue jeans, our faith will hold us up. Will bear us up in bold witness to and in the Holy Spirit. Our suspenders will keep us from sinking too deep into a world we do not recognize. Our song of faith teaches us that in and with God,we can direct our lives toward right relationships with each other and with God. We can discover our place as one strand in the web of life.We can grow in wisdom and compassion. We can recognize all people as kin. As one human family. We can accept our mortality and finitude, not as a curse,but as a challenge to make our lives and choices matter. All cretures great and small.Together, we can hold each other up, suspended in a deep and abiding love for The Holy Spirit. Alpha and Omega. Within and through the Holy Spirit, our faith story will come alive.
We here today are a Pentecost People. The Spirit has been and is being poured out upon us.The gift of God is just below the surface in our minds and hearts, and to the right and to the left of us – above us and below us,to the front and to the rear.
Prayers in Closing Benediction.
May God’s blessing be upon each one of us.
Through God’s grace, we pray that we can move together as #one human world… in a common understanding that we are all in this together. All creatures great and small. We all matter in God’s eyes and infinite wisdom. We all have stories to tell. Our names and stories are carried with the Holy Spirit, a living collection of sojourners on a walk with faith, through faith.. in faith. Amen.
‘Go now in Peace.’ And all the people said…Amen.