Find Somewhere to Go (Because we Grow Where We are Needed)
Episode 16 – October 14, 2018
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The Sweet Maries – “Dirt Road”
Raïssa Simone – “It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken”
(written by The Tragically Hip)
Reading No. 1
Read by John Helps of Camrose United Church at a Smashing Pumpkins concert in Edmonton.
Reading No. 2
“On Love” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
[This reflection was originally offered as a sermon to St. Paul’s United Church in Orillia, Ontario on September 30, 2018. I had been invited to speak about this reading, as well as the work of the Living Presence Ministry. Its format is slightly different than my regular reflections as its original audience was people who are part of a church congregation. The call in this message is really a call to those who are part of the membership of the United Church of Canada.]
Our reading from Mark this morning, picks up immediately after the disciples have been arguing amongst themselves about “Who is the greatest” and Jesus finding a child prop to make the point that to follow him, one must reach out to and welcome even the children…even most disregarded of society. In the disciples’ context, it was a radical message of inclusivity – a counter-cultural concept of who and what to value… of who and what God values.
Jesus is probably still holding that child as, without missing a beat, the disciples immediately start trying to find exceptions to this radical inclusion. As they’re talking to Jesus, it’s clear they are missing the point. It’s still all about them. Imagine the disciples talking to Jesus:
“Dude…we found this guy, casting out demons…in your name…but we told him not to because, ya know, he wasn’t following us. The nerve, of that guy, right? Don’t worry though. We totally took care of it.”
I often imagine Jesus facepalming his way through the gospels. I actually wish there was a version of the Bible where different emojis are used to illustrate Jesus’ frustration with the disciples’ lack of understanding.
“Guuuuuuuyyyssss…” Jesus may have said, “What did I just say? Whoever welcomes even, and especially, those who occupy the lowest place in society welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me sees where and how God is at work in the world. This movement is not about your posturing for power or your need to justify your place in this movement.”
Most of the people who have become connected with Living Presence either belong to a faith tradition other than Christian or have no faith background at all. My buddy Sam and his family emigrated from India 11 years ago. He was one of the first new residents I connected with and he is one of the first people I go to if I need help with something. A remarkably handy guy, Sam has helped a number of neighbours with various emergencies in their homes. He’s come with me to town council meetings to speak with me on behalf of the residents for safer roads and public space. He is always checking to make sure we have enough in our food pantry that supports residents who are financially struggling. He asked me to check in on a family after a deadly accident because he was so worried they weren’t getting the proper care they needed from the hospital because they didn’t have somebody there to advocate for them. In short, this man is always looking around, seeing where the gaps are in his neighbourhood and figuring out how to fill them. It doesn’t matter who it is, Sam has their back. I told him once I thought he functioned very much like Jesus did, on the ground, in and with and among his community. “Sam, you’re more Christ-like than many Christians I know!”
Sam sighed – a big sigh because he’s a big guy – “This Jesus guy. I like him. He said a lot of very great things I can get behind. You Christians though… you have done a lot of damage in my country.” And he’s right, of course – not just in India, but in Canada as well. In a lot of places. We have become so caught up in worrying about whether people were following “us”, or our interpretation of what living a Christian life is supposed to be, that we failed to actually hear what Jesus was saying. Like the disciples, we completely missed the point.
Nobody is called to follow the church. Nobody is called to follow “us”. Not the United Church. Not any church. They…we…are only invited to follow Jesus, what Jesus calls us to do, and how to be, with one another.
It is a hard thing to speak with longtime members of Living Presence partner congregations and tell them, “This will not be the thing that saves your church.” This will not be the thing that saves your church if saving your church is strictly measured by how many people are sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. But it can the thing that strengthens your faith community. A Community Ministry helping your congregation to understand your neighbours better, and what they need to live healthy, meaningful, spirit-filled lives. It can be the thing that gets you out of your building and immersed within the day to day life of a community. It can be the thing that inspires an examination of what limbs are assets, and which of them have become stumbling blocks, needing to be severed. I know St. Paul,s has done a lot of work, figuring out how to best use its building and its social capital for the betterment of the community. We find somewhere to go because we grow where we are needed.
Community ministry can also be the thing that brings neighbouring congregations together.
Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?
Salt is a preservative. So many of the congregations I come in contact with function within a model of self-preservation. There is a sense of competition. Every church wants to be attracting young families. Every church wants to have a thriving youth group. Every church wants to see their annual givings rise, instead of fall. Come and follow “us”. It’s really easy to empathize with the disciples. The human condition on display throughout our reading this morning is striking.
It is important for United Church congregations to maintain our distinctive flavour as followers of Jesus – we need to maintain our saltiness – and but I really believe, after seeing the partnerships which have emerged among the Living Presence congregations, that our preservation will come when we are engaged in a spirit of partnership.
Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.
Our communities are watching us. My experience with Living Presence has demonstrated to me that regardless of what language people use, there is an almost universal yearning to for connection to something greater than ourselves. Our role is not to have people follow us, but rather to remove all the barriers for people to be able to find a hope and a love that is worth living for. And in a media-saturated world of Trump rallies, and #MeeToo, in disconnection and cries for reconciliation, we are needed. We are so needed.
In a forest of whispering speakers…
Let’s find somewhere to go, and grow where we are needed.
May it be so. Amen.
The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada