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New Beginnings, New Challenges, New Blessings
Last week, a good friend of mine said, “For me, back to school always had a “start the New Year” feeling more than January does.” I thought about this and I have to agree with him.
September is the start of a new season, one in which we celebrate the brilliance and glory of the autumn colours and prepare to face the onslaught of another winter just around the corner.
September is the time for students to start a new school year. And, for those who have been on vacation over the summer, we notice a distinct change in the pace of work and life. Sports and hobby groups begin again. New projects begin at work. And it is canning and pickling season, especially at our house.
For us at Orleans United Church, September brings the beginning of the new church school year, the restarting of committees and council, and the fresh new look of our sanctuary.
Yes, this is a time for new beginnings. A time when we enthusiastically look ahead and glimpse into the future of what could be.
But new beginnings also bring new challenges, new obstacles to conquer, new paths to follow. I am sure that John and Tania as well as Phillip and Katie already know this well. Children have a way of changing our lives and starting us down new paths that can be challenging. There is the feeding and caring, diaper changes, the late nights and early mornings, the crying and restlessness.
But then you are blessed – daily by that bundle of joy with the little smiles, the hugs and the loving gaze.
As a community of faith, Orleans United Church has also been invited to new beginnings. In 1985, when Liz and I first arrived in Orleans, we were looking for a new church home. We happened to visit a group of believers that were meeting in a high school gym. It was a young and vibrant congregation that invited us to become members.
When we arrived, there was discussion on the building a permanent home for Orleans United Church. It was an invitation to a new path and, of course, new challenges. I remember the community pulling together and literally raising the roof on our new home. And, that final walk down Orleans Boulevard to our new home was the culmination of that journey.
And since that time, we have been invited to embark on several new beginnings; searching for and engaging new clergy and staff, reaching out to the community as a beacon of support and hope, opening our doors to other denominations and faith groups, providing a safe and welcoming place for vulnerable individuals, and discerning key decisions on social issues such as same-sex marriage and right relations with First Nations.
And once again, we have taken on another new beginning. With the retirement of Glen and after thoughtful and prayerful discussion, we have invited Reverend Caroline Penhale to be our spiritual guide. As we begin this new phase in our journey, we look ahead to the possibilities. At the same time, we need to be mindful of the challenges that lie ahead. But I am confident, after observing this church family for over 30 years, that we are ready and willing to conquer any challenge that come before us. I also believe that we as a community will receive unexpected blessings as we travel together with Caroline and Molly and Suzanne.
As individuals, we too are invited to new beginnings. They can be invitations that are dramatic in nature. They can be quiet and subtle. They can be invitations that linger for a while as we either try to ignore them or we ponder whether to accept them.
43 years ago last month, my wife’s girlfriend, Sharon, asked her to the Matron of Honour at her wedding to a young Armor Corps officer, Gary. Mind you, Sharon also was the Maid of Honour at our wedding earlier in the same year. The ceremony was held at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Petawawa in August 1973. I did not know Gary well before then – in fact, no one wanted to
Growing into our Spirit-inspired identity as individual believers and as a family of faith.
This is so much more than “becoming a member of the church.” Within our community of faith, ‘becoming’ has everything to do with the dynamic process of learning and growing together, encouraging each other to be actively involved in one’s own unique faith journey, and affirming how valuable everyone’s personal spiritual development is to our true identity as a church. At OUC, we take becoming seriously.
Sermon 3: BECOMING THE FAITH COMMUNITY GOD IMAGINES US TO BE or TRUSTING THAT SOMETHING WONDERFUL IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN
August 28, 2016
I love reading and reflecting on the Bible. It’s one of the genuine blessings of the past 40 years of my life and work; and I’ve come to trust the Spirit’s power to breathe wisdom and inspiration into every passage on which we focus as a community of faith. I’ve also come to appreciate that what God may reveal through these human expressions of our faith in Christ is not always obvious, and often surprising – the wider we open our hearts and minds, the deeper and broader the possibilities become, to find God’s goodness for our everyday living. It’s one of the ways we become the people God imagines us to be.
Over all these years, one of my favourite Bible readings is Ephesians 3:14-21, and I humbly choose it to focus this concluding reflection with you. I read it from the Good News Translation, which first captured my attention in the 1980’s and made me realize that this was a prayer for every faith family, in every place and generation, like OUC, who follows Jesus as our brother, and who trusts that together we are children of a loving God. It’s a prayer for us today as we imagine growing into our tomorrow.
314 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through the Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith.
I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know this love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
20 To God who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: 21 to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.
This is my prayer for you today.
So I couldn’t decide on a title for this final sermon … I had two ideas but I just couldn’t decide. Seems like a heck of time to become indecisive, don’t you think? Anyway, I couldn’t decide; so I thought I’d preach both and you can decide which one you want to listen to.
Here’s the first: Becoming the faith community God imagines us to be.
Over the past 5 years we have been identifying ourselves to each other and to the wider neighbourhood as a faith community shaped by these spiritual values: BELIEVING. BELONGING. BECOMING. We say that we believe by trusting God, having confidence in God’s faithfulness, and relying on God’s goodness as we grow in faith. We profess that we belong by living in meaningful relationships with other followers of Jesus as partners of a dynamic faith community. And we claim that by God’s design, we continually become by growing into our Spirit-inspired identity as individual believers, yes, but and as a family of faith as well. Today we’re focussing on BECOMING.
In a conv
Living in meaningful relationships with other followers of Jesus as partners of a dynamic faith community.
It really feels good to “belong” to a caring community, where people are excited to be together, are genuinely interested in each other, and are always looking out for one another. Add to that a shared belief in the transforming and unifying love of Christ, and that’s what connects us as a faith family. At OUC, we take belonging seriously.
BITS OF PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR THOSE STRIVING TO BELONG
One of the things the United Church of Canada never figured out about me, was that in the first 20 years of ministry in the Moravian Church, I was one of the “go to” resource people to that denomination’s youth ministry program, leading youth retreats and summer camps for young people across North America. To be honest, I didn’t make a big deal about it when we moved to Ottawa; it’s a ministry that’s as exhausting as it can be rewarding, and subconsciously, in my 40’s I probably figured it was about time I grew up anyway.
So, sometime in the early 90’s, in the never ending search for yet another Jr. Hi summer camp theme, I stumbled across this passage in Romans 12, a few instructions on how followers of Jesus should live their faith in everyday life. And I thought, hmmm, I could make this reading last a whole week of daily Bible teachings with the camp kids. And that’s when I reframed them as 15 Bits of Practical Advice for Christians Just Trying to Carry On. The idea was to focus on a few of them every day and encourage the teens to try to model that day’s focus for each other. I took 4 different translations of Romans 12 and wove them together into a list that I put it in a frame and also printed as mini-versions, which I rolled into little scrolls, put a rubber band around them and told the teens to keep them close by for the week (something similar to what you’re receiving right now). They actually read along with me from those little scrolls … but they were a lot younger and had better eyesight then most of us at our age.
For today I renamed them these verses from Romans: 15 Bits of Practical Advice for Believers Striving to Belong.
9 Let your love be genuine; don’t fake it.
Run for dear life from evil and hold on for dear life to good.
10 Be good friends who love each other deeply.
Work hard at honouring others and practice putting their needs first.
11 Be enthusiastic and spirited, ready to serve God by caring for others … but don’t burn out.
12 Be cheerfully expectant and patient in uncertainty.
Don’t quit in hard times; persevere in prayer.
13 Be helpful to those in need among you and inventive in hospitality, especially to strangers.
14 Ask God to help you bless those who mistreat you – not curse them.
15 Laugh with your friends when they’re happy; share their tears when they are down.
16 Work together and cooperate.
Don’t be stuck up and act like you are smarter or better than others.
Make friends with the everyday people around you.
17 Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you.
Discover the beauty in everyone.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, try to get along with everybody.
(Woven together from four different translations of
Romans 12:9-18: The New Revised Standard Version,
The Contemporary English Version, Eugene Peterson’s
The Message, and Glen Stoudt’s Storyteller’s Version)
In the verses leading up to this list, the author of Romans uses the human body as a metaphor for belonging. “For as in one body we have many parts, and not all have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, individually belonging to one another.” Belonging is a basic reality of life; and being connected in Christ makes a difference in faithful living. God is with us,
Trusting God, having confidence in God’s faithfulness, and relying on God’s goodness as we grow in faith.
For Christians, Jesus encourages us to “believe” in the transforming love he shares with God. “What we believe” about Jesus is less influential than “how we believe” Jesus inspires us to live God’s love every day. At OUC, we take believing seriously.
BELIEVING IN FAITHFUL RELATIONSHIPS
I’ve chosen this reading from the 1st Letter of John to help highlight the central place of believing in the lives of followers of Jesus, back in the 1st Century and with you and me here today. As you will hear, believing and loving have a deep and abiding connection, which has the power to transform everyday living. Notice how God’s loving animates our own, and inspires our faithfulness to God and to each other. Like loving, believing makes a difference in how we approach every situation and circumstance we encounter.
From chapter 4 in 1st John:
410 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
This thought is continued later in the letter:
51 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,
4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Over the past five years here at Orleans United, we have embraced a simple message as a way of describing our faith community and encouraging each other in our faith journey: Believe. Belong. Become. Over the next three Sundays we’ll take a closer look at what’s at the heart of these words, beginning today with Believe. So I invite you to turn with me to page 918 in Voices United and stand as we read together our best known United Church belief statement, A New Creed:
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
This way of talking about BELIEVING has warmed my heart for many years, long before we moved to Ottawa and I became a United Church minister. I first encountered A New Creed in 1974 while serving a Moravian congregation in Edmonton, and was humbled by its simple, inclusive, and relational way of claiming faith in God. It’s been my main way to express Christian belief with others ever since. And I’m deeply grateful to the United Church of Canada for that gift.
Living God’s Spirit of Welcome
How Jesus’ Welcoming a Child Prompts Us to See the Most Vulnerable and Invisible in Our Midst
When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It
“When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It” – Wisdom from Yogi Berra about Decision Making along Life’s Journey