Thursday, May 31, 2007

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Sermon for May 28th 2006

The Church is Pentecost …
(anne weems)

The Church – you and I in our common faith - are defined by three events … Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

At Christmas God stepped outside the expected – God entered humanity’s existence in a startling new way. Rather than the powerful, majestic, warrior God who would conquer the planet, God instead entered our world quietly as a new born baby … The point of the Christmas story is not the details and whether the events actually happened as we read them in the Bible.

The point of the Christmas story is that God moved in a bold new and totally unexpected way by coming in the figure named Yeshua to offer the world – that is you and I – a new way of seeing, experiencing and living the HOLY.

Then we move to Easter where God confronted suffering and death and announced through the resurrection that death is NOT the end of the story. Again, we could get hung up on the details – or we can see God active in the face of death bringing new life – bringing the transformation that heals and returns us to wholeness.

Next in our church calendar, 40 days later we step into the story of Pentecost – the birthday of the Church, the very moment when the Church comes into being. Pentecost is when the spirit moved into history and began to undo what Babel had started. The story of Babel is when human egos took their first hit.

One commentary noted that the point of the Babel story and what we should preach on is not the confusion of language, but rather the simple fact that at Babel God’s vastness is revealed. God’s wisdom, understanding and grace go way beyond our comprehension and in the moment when the tower began to rise humanity had believed itself capable of being God. Hubris, ego and our own ambitions are slammed into reality in Babel – it’s never about us – it’s about God. It’s never our work – but God’s work.

Week after week we repeat the Lord’s Prayer – but I wonder if we ever really consider the implication of the words that escape our lips?

Thy kingdom come … thy will be done … we say the words, then we keep getting in the way. We try to build our own kingdom with our own rules and conditions. We try to limit the spirit and do things our way … We keep getting in the way …

So, at Pentecost we pause to step back and consider the three fold movement that is the Church … it begins with the unexpected … it moves to the transformational … and it then embodies the surprising …

But too often in the Church we are like the crowds who listened as the many languages of the Roman empire were being spoken in Jerusalem that morning: “They’re drunk … they’ve had too much new wine …”

It can’t be the work of the spirit. It can’t be something positive and wonderful and faithful … it was too radical and too unlike anything they had ever had before, so instead of trying to be part of it, they instead rejected it and began to criticize it. The crowds simply couldn’t embrace what
was happening before them. They dismissed it and tried to belittle it …

In that moment the Church was not only being born – it was becoming something that had NEVER been before … the heart of the Gospel is a radical message that is completely unlike anything that came before it. The language being spoken that could and would in time, invite in the whole of the known world was only the beginning of the radical nature of the Church.
The message the Church brought and brings is life altering and transformational. In the face of death and suffering the Church proclaims its certainty of the Resurrection. In the face of exclusion and condition the Church lives a message of acceptance and Grace. Where before you were born into a faith and you passed it on only to your children in the Church ALL were welcome and ALL were accepted.

The Church was and is totally radical … and so in the face of this the criticism began, and the criticism was petty and pointless … “look at them , acting like this – they must be drunk …” This is a scene of – “Nudge nudge, wink wink – say no more,” as Monty Python used to say – “we know ALL about those men,” the crowd winked, “they’re Galileans. They’re low class. They’re not one of us – they’re not like us …”

And sadly – this story – the response of the crowd – the scene itself is played out over and over and over … Too often the inability to embrace the work of the spirit marks the history of the Church.

The ordination of women … the new curriculum of the 1960s … the acceptance of Gays and Lesbians, the apology to First Nations people … over and over in the church, a decision is made after much soul searching and much prayer and the howls of opposition are launched … We thwart the work of the spirit …

On that street in Jerusalem, the languages of the Roman empire were being spoken – people of every stripe were being invited in … but what cut through it all was the comment – “They’re drunk …” The work of the spirit was in two words rejected and cast aside. And sadly, it happens all the time in the Church … criticism and fear take hold and our egos get in the way … the focus was on the negative …

I know of one case within the United Church where a potent and spirit filled ministry with the people of a depressed and struggling neighbourhood was simply killed because the good church people in the congregation and presbytery grew uncomfortable with the street people who were coming to be feed both physically and spiritually. The ministry died when the minister was arrested in a protest over a lack of affordable housing and was accused of not adhering to the terms of his call. The ministry died when the focus shifted to the petty little things that were dubbed and irritation rather than opening one self to the powerful work of the spirit that was unfolding around them … the mantra – “what will the neighbours think …” took priority over “are we being faithful?” Too many feathers were ruffled, fault was found and the minister was ousted … and the people of the street were once again conveniently ignored and stepped over … and now that Congregation wonders why they are simply struggling to survive …

In the Church when we focus on the negative – that is ALL we will see. When we’ve made up our mind that we don’t like this person, or they are not one of us, or they don’t belong – nothing else matters. We’ve set a course – we’ve made a decision – we’ve thwarted the spirit … and the negative is all we will offer to the world around us …

The Church today – in the 21st Century is in a place of great change. It is not the institution it was when we were growing up. It no longer has the ear of the leaders, it no longer speaks with authority, and it is no longer a social club held with high regard.

The church today is about being out in the world and living OUR ministry. Over coffee on Coffee Row – in the produce aisle – at the hockey rink or ball diamond – the church is where YOU take it.

The church is not the building – the church is you and I. If we bring to the moments where the Church is real and visible the Pentecost experience, the Church will grow and prosper … but if we are like the crowds – “they’re drunk … they’re Galileans … they’re not like us …” The church will rightly and justly die …

The church needs to speak the words of the people … Last week we had a brief exchange about the Linnea Good song – “Lying in my sleeping bag,” and whether it was a song or a hymn … The difference is time.

15 years ago the anthem the Choir shared last week was simply a song on a record album – today it is a hymn.

In early days of the Church the songs they shared were based on beer hall songs … Amazing Grace, Martin Luther’s hymns and even some of Charles Wesley’s hymns are set to music that was common in the beer halls of the day … One day Churches may sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a hymn … one day we may sing Green Day songs as hymns …

We MUST be open to the spirit and the very real possibility that WE’RE WRONG.
It is vital that we speak the language of the people around us, otherwise we become increasingly irrelevant …

It is vital that we let the Spirit do her work …
It is vital that we step out of the way when necessary …
It is vital that we live the values of Church in all things …
It is vital that we be the Pentecost Church – speaking the language of the people – reaching out beyond ourselves and being open to what the Spirit is wanting to do …
It’s vital that we be open to what’s happening around us, and where necessary simply step out of the way …

None of this is about me or you or any of us as individuals. It’s about being the people of God – the church … it’s about being our ministry of care and compassion and service to the world … and if our egos get in the way – my own included – it’s about letting the spirit go to work … May it be so … thanks be to God …

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sermon for May 20th 2007

Anne Weems writes:

What are you really doing here?
Do you believe in Christ Jesus?
How much?
Enough to risk?
How much of a risk?
Risk your reputation?
Risk your welath?
Risk yourself?
Do you?
Do you believe in Christ?

Or is Christianity a convenience?
Something to fill in on the census forms?
Something one just goes along with?

Something undemanding?
Something nice?
Something easy?

Something comfortable?
Do you believe?

Do you know what you believe?
Will you share it with me ?
Will you tell me?

Will you show me what you believe?

Gandhi once said of evangelism – “Don’t talk about it. The rose doesn’t have to propagate its perfume. It just gives it forth and people are drawn to it. Don’t talk about it. Live it and people will come to see the source of your power.”

St Francis of Assissi expressed a similar concept when he said - “Go and preach the Gospel … if necessary, use words.”

At Bible Study on Friday a good question was asked as we considered and reflected on this week’s readings. One of the participants asked simply – “what is a Christian?”
This week with the passing of Jerry Falwell, a formidable leader in the Church universal, it is a question worth asking. In light our reading from the book of Acts where we encounter a series of dramatic happenings unfolding, it is a question well worth reflecting on …

In the reading from Acts we have Paul and Silas casting out a demon from a woman who ran a dog and pony show in the town market where her masters drew a tidy income. Suddenly the woman was unable to do the sorcery she had been doing previously, and her employers were robbed of their source of income. They were furious – so they had Paul and Silas arrested, tried, flogged and cast into jail for their crimes. Then while in prison an earthquake opened the cells and instead of the prisoners fleeing they stayed and prayed …

The Jailer rushed to the scene, saw the opened jail and was ready to do himself in – better do it yourself than have your superiors show up and do it to you later … As he drew his sword, Paul cried out and told him the prisoners were all still there …

What follows is an interesting twist of the tale so too speak … The jailer takes Paul and Silas to his home and there the entire household of this man is converted to Christianity …

We don’t like speaking of conversion in the church any more. We leave that to our more evangelical sisters and brothers to do. Frequently, we don’t even acknowledge conversion as an aspect of our faith.

But we ARE and we remain evangelists by the very fact that we are people of faith. We are evangelists by HOW we chose, or not, to live out our faith. Our faith calls us to share it with others in an ongoing and active way. Our intent may not be to convert others, but we are to live our faith.
Preach the Gospel – if necessary, use words …
This is a simple teaching with profound implications …

Paul and Silas in their travels preached the Gospel … and at times they used words … They had the goal of converting the world as they found it. Today in the modern world conversion implies something that many of us are increasingly uncomfortable with. There is no need to convert or save our pagan brethren – instead we, if we have the courage, can learn from their religion just as they may learn from ours.

But even in this, we need to name and own the past – our heritage as Christians has been less than stellar … Residential schools, the Inquisition, ill treatment of women and minorities, the triumphalism of Christendom – the list of “oops” is fairly long … A close friend of mine once quipped, “I’m not longer calling myself a Christian, because Christians have done too many bad things. Instead I will now call myself a follower of Christ.”

Perhaps that’s the key – rather than asking “what’s a Christian?” it is time to define ourselves in a new way by asking – “what does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”

The first step is by being proud of our involvement, membership and commitment of faith.

How many of us are proud to say – “I attend Minnedosa United Church?”

How many of us even share that fact with others?

How many of us even tell people that we go to Church at all?

As we move closer to our building project beginning, now is the time to break free of the impressions and opinions people have of US based on the past. Now is the time, like Paul and Silas to set out on a new and exciting course …

The values of respect, kindness, compassion, care and love are those values that when we wrestle with the texts of Scripture come to the fore. They are values that we hear over and over as important to be shared, but too often in the church we have a tendency not to live those values out.

I’m tempted today to share some of the unbelievable statements that Mr Falwell uttered as an example of this. His statements that dripped with hate about Gays and Lesbians, Arabs, Jews, non-Christians of every stripe and those he dubbed atheists and liberals, are simply repulsive. Yet week after week he spewed such venom from his pulpit and from every opportunity he had in the media, and each time he justified it by his CHRISTIAN faith. His statements were "okay" because he was clothed in a Christian faith ... yet there wass no kindness, no care, no love ...

We could look to Falwell, and say – “oh that’s him, he lives far away and he’s a right wing whacko …” but then we have that old – “when one finger is pointed at someone else, there are three pointing back at me …” thing kicking in. And we realize that we may not be as extreme as Mr Falwell, but we are guilty of our own short comings ...

We may not spew statements as outrageous and hateful as Mr Falwell, but there are times when we could have done better …

There are moments of time when we could have stood up for our faith, or taken a stand, or not followed along … We’ve all been there …

So, how shall we live out the notion of being a follower of Christ?

There in lies the challenge. We need to shift from who we are and have been, to who we need to be to live out those values … Our readings speak of love … our readings speak of offering a healing presence … our readings speak of prayer … our readings speak of SHOWING our faith through conversation and action … our readings speak of patience … kindness … care …

It’s really NOT a hard thing to do. It begins with simple actions … Preach the Gospel – if necessary, use words …

Preaching the Gospel begins with how we treat each other – what we say, what we do … Preaching the Gospel begins with what we do with our beliefs and our faith … Preaching the Gospel begins with the simple actions …

The question that we need to face is whether we’re willing to cast aside the chains that have enslaved us, and to find a bold new way of living our faith. It hearkens back to the idea – “all welcome” – how will we live that concept out?

It challenges us to envision the world in a radical new way … it challenges us to envision the world transformed and renewed by the resurrection ...

We are people of the resurrection. The resurrection implies something new and different – the resurrection is about things no longer being the same way – the old has past away …

As a community of faith we are physically moving to the realization of something new and different. Where we gather within the next year will be radically different from where we gathered prior to February 12th 2006 … our challenge – our calling – our duty – is to change who we have been, into who we will be as we step into the new building …

And this begins with a simple lesson … “how do we greet the stranger?” Over the last seven years as I have stood here in the pulpit before you I have noted that time and time again new faces have joined us, but often we are too shy to welcome them in … there are too many outsiders in our midst … they come, and often sit alone by themselves and leave the same way … we fail to greet them … we fail to live out our welcome … we fail to bring in the stranger and make them friends … we wait for them to make the first move …

Now I’m not talking about overwhelming them with offers of board vacancies and envelopes and the like … but I am talking about how we greet the new face in our midst. Do we introduce ourselves? Do we take the time to smile and say – “hi, you’re a new face to me, are you visiting?” Do we have the courage to do things in a new way so the strangers have an opportunity to become friends?

Would you be surprised to learn that there are people here who have been among us for 30 years and still feel like outsiders?

Would you be surprised to learn that I, having been here for 7 years still feel very much like an outsider?

It begins with the small things … seven years ago I simply arrived … there was never a formal welcome beyond noting in Worship that I was here … if, as a community of faith we can’t or won’t welcome our leaders, the stranger in the back row never had a chance to move beyond being a stranger and an outsider … Today, before we enter our new building is a very good day to begin doing things differently …

The chains that enslave must be thrown aside … we must start doing things in new ways as followers of Christ, and it can start wth a simple statement – “hi, how are you ??” to the person next to us … be they a new face, or someone whom we sat beside for 30 years but never really gotten to know ...

I know we have the capability to do it ... the only question is - do we have the willingness ??

I hope we do ... we are children of God, people the resurrection - we are called to transform the world from what it is to what God wants it to be ... and it begins with you and I ...

May it be so – thanks be to God …

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Order of Service for May 13th 2007


HYMN # 373 As Comes the Breath of Spring

One: Greetings to our brothers and sisters in the faith.
All: We come to celebrate God’s presence,
One: and God’s love expressed through Jesus Christ.
All: We come remembering Christ’s life and ministry,
One: and the life we are called to live.
All: We come as a pilgrim people
searching for ways to live out our faith.
One: We have gathered to worship God.
All: We come seeking comfort,
inspiration, community and insight.
One: We open ourselves to the power of God’s presence in our midst.
All: We come to offer up the seasons and the turnings in our lives
One: We come seeking the strength to carry on our journey.
All: Let us rejoice in God’s gift to us!

One: Easter morning has taken us by surprise,
awakening us to the doubt and despair
that have been rooted in our lives.
Let us now confess to God.
If, at times, we deny you, God forgive.
When the risks of discipleship are high,
and we are nowhere to be found:
All: God forgive.
One: When we wash our hands of responsibility:
All: God forgive.
One: When we cast our lot with powerful oppressors
and seek to buy freedom with silver:
All: God forgive.
One: When fear keeps us from witnessing to your truth,
or prejudice keeps us from believing it:
All: God forgive.
One: In the bright light of Easter morning, O God,
Our sin is exposed, and your grace is revealed.
The world and all that is in it, glows with your glory O God.
All: As life bursts forth from the darkness of earth’s soil,
so Christ bursts the darkness of despair.
One: Sadness ends, hope abounds, joy springs forth.
All: Strength is found to face every tomorrow:
God’s wholeness brings healing to all.
One: Tender God, raise us in your love so that, with joy,
we may witness to your awesome deeds,
in the name of Jesus the Risen One. Amen

HYMN # 268 Bring Many Names

SCRIPTURE READING: Acts 16: 9 – 15 & Psalm 67 (pg 786 VU)

CHOIR ANTHEM: In This Very Room


HYMN We Are the Church
I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!

vs 1: The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple,
The church is not a resting-place; the church is a people!

vs 2: We’re many kinds of people with many kinds of faces,
All colors and all ages, too from all times and places.

vs 3: And when the people gather, there’s singing and there’s praying,
There’s laughing and there’s crying sometimes, all of it saying:

vs 4: I count if I am ninety, or nine or just a baby;
There’s one thing I am sure about and I don’t mean maybe:

SCRIPTURE READING: Revelation 21: 10, 22 – 22: 5 & John 5: 1 – 9

HYMN # 382 Breathe on Me, Breath of God


Right now, in the lectionary cycle, that is the readings we use for our worship services, we have been reading from the book of Revelation, where we are encountering the vision of what WILL come in the fulfillment of time. The author of Revelation, John of Patmos is giving a glimpse of the new heaven and new earth and the reign of God that will come when history draws to a close. It will be a place where things will not be like we live and encounter in this realm.

Revelation offers us a glimpse of the world the way God wants it to be – not the way we think it should or would be. We hear these readings and tend to think – “oh that’s nice … how quaint …” or we dismiss them as the mystic vision of someone who lived long ago …

In the process, we dismiss the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. We wave off the potential of what COULD be if only we believe. By taking lightly the visions of people like John of Patmos, we are simply accepting the world as it is and no longer being daring in the living out of our faith …

In our reading of Acts and in our Gospel Readings we encounter the living out of this courageous and daring faith in a way that opens the door for us to reclaim our enthusiasm and passion …
In the Gospel readings we have an interesting story – to recap – there is a man who had spent 38 years crippled, and trying to get into the healing waters of the Pools of Bethsaida. Now, we’re not sure what the pools of Bathsaida were – they may have been a place where a hot springs periodically bubbled up and stirred up the waters. But whatever the cause – the understanding was – that when the waters were agitated, you could be healed of your ailments.

I’m not personally one to dismiss such a thing easily. Since I hit puberty, I have suffered from eczema on my hands and at times on my feet. During times of stress, it can get very bad – but there was one time in my adult life when I was clear of all eczema. It came in the weeks AFTER I went for a swim in the Dead Sea in Israel during my study tour. It may have been the complete freedom from stress – it may have been the minerals and salts in the water – it may have been any number of factors – but whatever it was – for a wonderful time, my eczema simply went away.

So reading the story of a man yearning to be healed, and spending hours waiting by the pool to be able to slip into the water and receive that healing makes sense to me. The problem was that the man couldn’t get into the water. He was too slow. Others crowded in, or he simply couldn’t get there … for 38 year he waited – and waited and waited …

For an entire lifetime this man was at the Pool of Bathsaida wanting to get into the waters … no one helped him … thousands of people stepped over him … he simply sat and hoped and waited … For 38 years in a time when living to be 40 was an achievement. For an entire lifetime the man sat by the pool waiting to be healed …

Then along comes Jesus. They have a brief conversation and Jesus simply says – “take up you mat and walk …”

“Take up you mat and walk …” Simple instructions … and with that, the man is healed. He takes up his mat and walks. He is healed.

But. This is where the story gets interesting. The religious authorities are offended. Not that this man is finally healed. Not that after 38 years someone has stopped to help him. Not that for the first time in ANYONE’S memory this man is healed. They are offended because he is carrying his mat on the Sabbath.

He is breaking a rule!!!

They are so focused on the rules and regulations of faith that they simply MISS the miracle that has just occurred.

The man who for 38 years has sat by the pool as a crippled beggar, is healed, and the authorities are worried about him carrying his mat.

It’s one of those – What the??? Moments.

Yet in this story we can find ourselves … How often do we encounter the miraculous and we simply can not see it ??

How often do we encounter something majestic, and we pick fault?

How many incredible achievements are dismissed because we find something tiny to pick at??

The authorities at the pool are just like us … Comedian Robin Williams in a recent stand up routine cites Mother Theresa as an example of a person who lives a faith of love, and in the process has changed the world – he then notes that there are many WITHIN the church who say – “Mother Theresa isn’t a real Christian …”

Williams then says – there are probably people in India who say “Gandhi wasn’t so great …”

Think of any great man or woman and you will find people trying to tear them down …

Stan McKay, the former Moderator of the United Church likened this process to an old man from his village fishing crawfish out of the river. The old man caught the crawfish and tossed them in an ice cream bucket. He had his bucket almost full when a couple of young boys came along and said – “hey, old man you’re crawfish are going to escape …” The old man standing in the water shook his head and said – “not those crawfish. They’re Nishnabee crawfish … when one of them starts to climb over the edge, the others all pull him back down …”

Stan went on to say that his phenomena, while not limited to native communities, is one that dogs communities that are seeking to better themselves. Instead of encouraging and backing our leadership – instead of standing up for, and helping those who have stepped forward to lead – we tend to pull down those who we think are getting too “high and mighty.”

We use gossip, rumours, and utter untrue nonsense to call others down … Instead of supporting one another, too often we engage in salacious gossip that serves only to tear another person down.

This is the same phenomena being exhibited by the authorities who are harping about the restored and transformed man carrying his matt. They can not, or will not see the miracle – the greatness of this moment. They instead focus on some mundane detail and make that their entire focus … The man was HEALED, and they – the authorities – are focused on the breaking of a law and are saying to the man – “we don’t care that you are healed after 38 year of us stepping over you – you’re breaking a law !!”

So how shall we live our faith??

Shall we be open to the potential and possibility of the miraculous transformations that God promises??

Or shall we be like the crawfish and the authorities at the pool, and pull one another back down rather than embracing the fullness God offers???

The reading from the book of Acts perhaps offers us an inspiring answer to those questions. Paul is visiting a community of faith that is essentially women. The fact that the other Christian communities were meeting in Synagogues, and Phillipi’s met by the river, would suggest that there were not enough men form a Jewish congregation, which required 10 men. There may have been 10 people in the church at Phillipi, but perhaps NOT 10 men. So, Paul met with the followers in Phillipi by the river – and the leader of this group was a woman named Lydia.

Lydia then invited Paul and his entourage to stay in her home for a time.

So in these six verses, on this Mother’s Day we are reminded and challenged to see the world in a radically different way …

Women in leadership … Women constituting the core of the faith community … and women offering unconditional hospitality … This jars with the 1900 years of Church history that lie between that moment and us.

I grew up in a time when the Church Board was ONLY men.

I grew up in a time when you seldom saw women Clergy.

I grew up in a time when the women of our church were marginalized …

Not so today … The fullness of God WILL break free of petty small minded constraints. The Spirit will and does regularly break the chains and the barriers, and ensures that God’s ways will prevail.

We’re living the very proof of that throughout the church today.

In the book of Revelation we have the vision of what WILL be. Around us today we have the first stirrings of that Kingdom … if only we dare to open our eyes, our spirits and our beings to it …

To return for a moment to Stan McKay’s story – our challenge is to realize that we are like those crawfish more often than we care to admit. We pull each other down – often without even realizing it. The challenge we must face and live – is the challenge to help one another so that the first person over edge of the ice cream bucket will be able to help the rest of us break free from our constraints …

The paralyzed man at the pool offered a glimpse of that reality – but too many focused on his mat instead of the miracle … our challenge is to open our eyes to what God wants of us …

May it be so … thanks be to God …


HYMN # 783 To Bless the Earth


HYMN # 710 Shall We Gather at the River


SUNG RESPONSE: HYMN # 962 May the Blessing of God…

The worship has ended….
…the work of God’s people has just begun.
Go in peace.

Sermon for May 6th 2007

Our faith is more than a warm pink fuzzy. Our faith is not about the easy way. Our faith is NOT about simple answers. Our faith is about hard work, transforming the reality in which we live, and living our principles that sound easy on paper (and in the The Book) but that are harder to put into practice.

In our Gospel reading, we encounter Jesus offering to his disciples the fundamental teaching of his life and ministry – “love one another as I have loved you …” he tells them.
We hear the words. We repeat the words. We echo the words. But I wonder how many times we really contemplate whether or not we’re living those words?
Do we take time to reflect on what “Love one another as I have loved you …” really means when we put them into practice?

The commentaries for this week’s readings repeatedly say – “Loving one another is easy in the abstract, it gets more challenging in reality …” Then they wonder about how Jesus put into practice that love he spoke so frequently of …
How did Jesus love becomes the question we must confront.
It is clear from what we know of his ministry that he met people where they were. He accepted people as they were providing that they owned and took responsibility for their short comings – even the famous story of the woman caught in adultery ends with Jesus telling her to go and sin no more … Ultimately, Jesus sacrificed much for his faith – even his life.
Now, I’m not about to advocate a mass laying down of our lives for our faith and to show our love for others … but the issue of sacrifice is one that is worth pausing to consider.
It is easy to say – “love one another …” in the abstract. It becomes harder to love one another when the words are put into practice.
I read a comment by a minister who said that the church he served had proudly put the words “All are welcome” on their sign, but the congregation was distressed when all kinds of people started to show up in the building … He mused that we will “love one another” until they start to show up …
This is the very struggle of the faith community in our reading from the book of Acts. Paul and others were busy preaching and evangelizing amongst the Gentiles – or the non-Jews. The Gentiles were joining the movement in increasing numbers and the Church was moving away from its Jewish roots. Yet, when they sat down to eat – to share communion, they were to observe Jewish food laws.
In our reading this morning, Peter, one of those who had walked with Jesus, one of the learned elders, one of those who knew the teachings, marks a dramatic shift in his understanding and his theology.
One can picture Peter struggling with the divide that is forming in the new born church. On one hand are the voices calling for purity and the observance of the Jewish laws. While on the other hand are the voices saying – “change is good …”
So Peter, like his Rabbi before him, retreats to a quiet place to prayer and reflect and seek answers … His answer comes in a vision of a sheet filled with the animals that are ritually unclean and a voice that says – “take and eat … what is created by God is NOT unclean …”
Peter then goes and sits down and eats with the non-Jews … he is no longer worried about being an observant Jew, but is more worried about living the radical inclusivity that comes in this moment (Communion).
All are welcome … not just some, not just those we like, not just those who we are comfortable with … all … ALL are welcome.
Those are radical words.
Love one another as I have loved you … is a radical thought.

A story to end with …

There is a story of a professor of Child Psychology who lived next door to a family with several children. Having no children of his own the professor enjoyed a warm and friendly relationship with his neighbours and their children. The only challenge was that the professor often offered advice and comments about parenting to his neighbours. He noted that at times the parents would be overly strict and would say to his neighbours that sometimes all a child needs is unconditional and accepting love.
Unconditional love that is totally accepting …
One day though, the professor had a new sidewalk laid in front of his house. The workers came and did a very nice job getting everything ready, then left the concrete to be cured.
They no sooner left than the neighbouring children descended on the sidewalk and began poking it with sticks … then they started signing their names … then they poked a toe in it … then a whole foot .., then they walked across it leaving deep footprints in the fresh concrete …
The professor looked out and saw the mess the neighbourhood kids had left and in a fury opened the front door and began yelling at the top of his lungs … the neighbours heard the noise and came flying out the door. “Wait a minute,” they called to their neighbour – “you talk about unconditional love and not being too harsh with the children, and yet here you are yelling …”
He replied – “I DO love children in the abstract, just NOT in the concrete …”

The challenge of Jesus’ teaching is to love one another in the abstract AND in the concrete … even if it is freshly poured in front in our own yards …
It’s not easy … but it really isn’t that hard either …

May it be so – thanks be to God … let us pray …