Message - Sermon from 43rd. General Conference Sermon for 43rd General Council Opening Worship 1 “You Feed Them!” Sermon for 43rd General Council Opening Worship Sunday, July 22, 2018 The beginning of my call to ministry happened when I travelled to Palestine with the church nearly 10 years ago. The partners we visited, the people we met showed me how crucial hope is to life. They do not have the luxury of despair. To live in that land, surrounded by walls and checkpoints, while holding onto the keys to the homes before 1948, is to hope. “Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.” In the World Council of Churches, where folks gather from all over God’s broken and beautiful world, I witness that life-giving hope. From the Pacific where people are sounding the alarm of rising waters and loss of sea life, to the Middle East where Christians are being persecuted for what they believe, to Europe where migrants are arriving seeking refuge, people of faith dare to hope for God’s coming kingdom. A faith that risks and a hope that dares a new world. “Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.” 30 years ago, the year I was born, our United Church of Canada decided to ordain and commission openly gay and lesbian ministers. We began a daring pilgrimage that continues. At a time when the scientific world and popular culture were largely homophobic, we affirmed that all baptized people are beloved children and servants of God, not regardless of sexual orientation, but celebrating the beauty of our diversity, welcoming people to offer their gifts, our gifts. “Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.” A pilgrimage of faith, a pilgrimage that risks hope, a pilgrimage that seeks justice and peace—that is what Jesus called the first disciples to join. Jesus dared to send them out with all that they needed: authority to heal, sandals, a staff, and someone to accompany them. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus sent out disciples, knowing God’s mission in the world takes time and takes community. He told them to accept hospitality wherever they found it, to be fed by their hosts, and in return, to share the good news of God’s kingdom. Evangelism was not about maintenance or survival; their pilgrimage was about taking risks for the sake of the gospel. “Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.” After being away on pilgrimage, the disciples came home to Jesus to share stories, to rest, to be apart with their teacher. They were excited by what God had done through them and they were tired. Jesus was too. After receiving hospitality along their travels, they just wanted to be led by still waters. Then the disciples saw the crowds and thought, “Oh no, not now!” Yet, Mark tells us, Jesus had compassion for the crowd of thousands; something in his gut churned, and he knew that he was needed for the world, and not only for his small group of disciples. However, his friends weren’t too keen. They could only imagine one way this could work out. They had neither Sermon for 43rd General Council Opening Worship 2 food nor money enough to provide. “Send them away,” they told Jesus. Jesus didn’t let them off the hook but gave them yet another mission: “No, you do it, you feed them.” This is a pilgrimage that takes risks in faith and dares to hope with compassion in God’s world. With two fish and five loaves, Jesus, the good shepherd, sits down on the green grass, and all ate and all were filled. As in the time of Moses, when manna came from heaven, as in the time when Jesus and the disciples sat around a table, as in the promised time where all will feast at God’s banquet, there will not just be enough. There will be an abundance. Provisions are given, thanks are offered, bread is shared, and all are fed. This is a pilgrimage that takes risks in faith and dares to hope with compassion in God’s world. As proud as I am to be part of our United Church, as honoured and privileged as I feel to share good news with you today as we gather on our pilgrimage, I worry. I worry that we congratulate ourselves for being more committed to justice, more committed to valuing all peoples and encouraging intercultural communities, than our denominational neighbours down the road. I worry that we are quick to say, “Oh yes, Jesus, we’ll feed them,” but then don’t accept the gifts the “hungry,” those on the margins, bring to the feast. I worry that we say we seek right relations with Indigenous peoples yet try to water down our responsibilities. I worry that we use people to show how diverse we are but then ignore their struggles of daily service. I worry that we keep a tight grip on “our resources” without realizing or celebrating that all we have was first shared by God. I worry that we would tell Jesus to “send them away” because we feel we are not enough. And I worry that, in the midst of changing structures and seeking to do church “differently,” we forget that we are not alone. We forget that we have gifts to offer, but we don’t have everything and we need companions on this pilgrimage. We forget that structures are not our mission but are here to enable our mission for this time and place. We forget that we are the ones to feed and share with each other. We forget that we are called to take risks in faith and dare to hope with compassion in God’s world. And yet, my worries, my struggles, dissipate when I am invited into the upper room with Jesus and the disciples. In my favourite gospel, John, Jesus takes off his garment, wraps a towel at his waist, pours water into a basin, and washes his dear disciples’ feet. Jesus shows us how to act with humility and vulnerability, in service and love. My worries dissipate when Jesus hosts his dear disciples at table, when he blesses, breaks, and gives bread; blesses, pours, and gives wine, with humility and vulnerability, in service and love. The church, we dear disciples in the world, does not have the luxury of despair—our hope, throughout time and today, remains steadfast in Jesus Christ, our servant shepherd. Along this pilgrimage where we are called to take risks in faith and dare to hope, we are washed, fed, and renewed with the life of Jesus by the grace of God. Along this pilgrimage, as we encounter others, Jesus calls to us: “You feed them, feed them with compassion and hope.” —Rev. Miriam Spies Mark 6:6b–13, 30–44
Message - Frances Jones - Sept. 23, 2018“ Filled to the Brim”The Story of Ruth Today we'll look at the second topic on the list of suggestions for discussion at worship – the story of Ruth. I'm glad to have taken a look at this book again because it's been a long time since I read it through. It gave me a new appreciation for this exemplary young woman and her association with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Others mentioned in the story were Elimelech, Naomi's husband; Mahlon and Kilion, their two sons; Orpah, the other daughter-in-law; and the owner of the grain fields, Boaz. At the beginning of the story, we found Naomi, along with her husband and two sons, were living in their homeland of Judah in the town of Bethlehem. Then a terrible famine struck the land and the family was forced to relocate. They found a new home in a place referred to as a strange land called Moab. I needed to find out more about Moab and its inhabitants. What I discovered was that the people who lived there, the Moabites, were descendents of Lot's son, Moab. I'm sure we remember that Lot was Abraham's nephew, and when these two men decided to part ways, Abraham chose to stay close to the wide open spaces with his herds, but Lot made the decision to go in a different direction. He chose the city life and settled in or around the infamous cities of Sodom and Gemorrah. I read that Lot had a family and that, within that family, there had been some incestuous behaviour. And we remember that Sodom and Gemorrah were famous for their sinful ways. That's when God decided to destroy these two cities and their inhabitants. However, pleas were made on behalf of Lot's family to be saved, and these earnest requests were granted. Lot and his family were permitted to escape before their destruction. The command was given, however, that there should be no looking back as they left the cities. But Lot's wife, who was hesitant to leave the city life that she loved, couldn't resist turning around to look at all that she was leaving behind. As a result, we're told that she was turned into a pillar of salt. If Lot's son, Moab, brought along some of their old habits from those two infamous cities, we can understand why this land of Moab would be referred to as a strange land to Naomi and her family. It's probably safe to assume that, while attempting to make a life in Moab for her and her family among strangers, Naomi was no doubt missing her people back in Judah as well as her God, which both meant so much to her. But, while in Moab, Naomi gained two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, Moabite women who married her sons. But, not very many years passed when Naomi's husband died, and then, a few years later, her two sons died as well. That left her without a husband or sons, and her daughters-in-law became childless widows as well. In those days, no husband and no son meant that these women were without protection and without providers. This was the picture of three desperate women who could have exerienced feelings of hopelessness. They might have been vengeful and bitter, but from this story, we learned that they pulled up their boot straps, so to speak, and carried on. Upon hearing the news that the famine in Judah had passed, Naomi decided that the best thing for her to do would be to return to her homeland, even if it meant making the journey alone. However, her daughter-in-law Ruth would not hear of it. She refused to allow Naomi to make this journey all by herself and insisted on accompanying her. Ruth said, 'Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried”. Ruth persisted, letting Naomi know that nothing would be able to stop her from accompanying her on this journey. What devotion and determination! This statement from Ruth also revealed to us that she saw something very valuable in her mother-in-law's character. Naomi possessed qualities that Ruth admired, but she had nothing to offer Ruth. There was no joy left in her life, no wealth, and no security. The only thing that Naomi had left was her strong faith in God. Not wanting to be a burden, or to hinder the future of this thoughtful daughter-in-law, Naomi advised her to stay with her own people and possibly find security with another husband. But Ruth wouldn't listen to her advice. She was willing to walk away from the life she had known; to leave her past behind. For her, there would be no turning back to see what she was leaving. Her plan was to accompany her mother-in-law to this new land and to live her new life there. It seems that these two persistent women did not wallow in self-pity. They refused to sit around and mope, or to ruminate over their unfortunate circumstances. Instead they headed out together on the road to Bethlehem in Judah, determined to make the best of a bad situation. We read that Ruth immediately went to work on behalf of Naomi and herself. Early in the morning she could be found gleaning in a large grain field with the hot sun blazing down on her back, as she picked up the leftovers that the harvesters had left behind. Then we were introduced to a mature and kind gentleman by the name of Boaz who owned this particular grain field. We heard in our reading how kindly he spoke to his workers and how they responded likewise. He asked some of his workers who this young woman was who was gleaning in his fields, and upon hearing about Ruth and Naomi's situation, he became a sort of protector. He even suggested to his workers that they not interfere with her as she followed behind them, picking up whatever she could. Just let her be, he said. There was an occasion where Boaz, undoubtedly a powerful man in the community, could have taken advantage of this young woman, Ruth. Instead, he decided to give her what she needed most. Because of Naomi and Ruth's destitute situation, he provided plenty of barley for them both. Time passed, and finally Boaz married Ruth (actually the term used in the New International Version was 'acquired'). However, he promised to keep the memory of her dead husband alive because he was buying the property that used to belong to him. Boaz and Ruth were blessed with a son they named Obed. Reading the genealogy, we discover that their son, Obed, became the father of Jesse and Jesse became the father of King David, travelling down through many generations until we come to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Ruth had been blessed far beyond her own imaginings. Her cup had been empty, and with God at work in her life, her cup was filled to the brim. Ruth was quite a role-model indeed. This young Moabite woman, a foreigner in a strange land, arrived in the land of Judah, accompanying her forlorn mother-in-law, Naomi. She came empty-handed; with nothing to offer to Naomi, to her God, or to Boaz - nothing, that is, except herself; her heart determination. I believe that Ruth admired Naomi's quality of character, in spite of hardship. Her love and faithfulness to God set a good example for her daughter-in-law and Ruth was attracted to this woman's stamina; an uncommon quality that she hadn't experienced before – a quality of hope worth emulating.
Unlike Orpah, the other daughter-in-law, Ruth was more than sympathetic toward her mother-in-law. She didn't merely use loving words and well-meaning feelings. She used purposeful love and devoted deeds. Aren't there times when we simply say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry about your circumstances', and then walk away, doing nothing to help the situation. Of course, we cannot change those circumstances; however, do we make ourselves available as support? This amazing story of determination, faithfulness and devotion ended in eventual triumph for this stranger who came to a strange land. Ruth worked hard to earn a living for herself and her mother-in-law. She was kind and compassionate and received the same in return. Ruth was a committed young woman of noble character in spite of being dealt a bad hand in life. She poured out whole-heartedly and eagerly her ability to work, her tenacity and her devotion. There is no need to live in the past; no need to look back on what we have left behind, according to Ruth. That was then; this is now. Her story inspires us, lifts our spirits and renews our hope because we cannot know how God will use certain circumstances or specific people to carry out his plans. This awesome God whom Ruth came to know and serve turned her life around. From sadness, loneliness and loss, she experienced joy, love and prosperity! She was a childless widow from another land and ended up being the great-grandmother of King David. And, following the geneological map, led right on down to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.
God took despair and turned it into hope. God took Ruth's empty cup and filled it to the brim. Amen! Frances Jones – September 23, 2018
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - Sept. 9, 2018We are told in the New Testament that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can move mountains. The idea of Faith is not new, but like many things, must be revisited and renewed. We are all supposed to have more or less faith, whether we know exactly what it is or not. As church-going Christians we are steeped in the theology of faith. Yet faith is difficult to define and difficult to practice. This refection is my attempt to define and clarify the meaning and impact of faith.To quote an internet source,One of the thorniest problems any Christian can face is the apparent contradiction between Paul and James. Is it justification by faith, as Paul claims, or by works as James seems to say?... In Romans 5: 1-2, Paul writes, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. The acceptance and belief in the saving message and life of Christ is the foundation on which we stand.James seems to say just the opposite, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” According to James, Faith without works is dead. For James, and as we ourselves can see, some people talk the talk, but do not walk the walk. As a result of this apparent difference there is considerable discussion and parsing of words to determine whether Paul or James has the best understanding of faith. It does not take long to realize that this is not a question of either or, but rather two sides of the same coin. It made sense to ask, “What did Jesus say about faith?” And there is a wealth of citations. People being healed from near and far, and the frequently heard words, “Your faith hath made thee whole.” The reading from Luke 12 says it best: 22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?How many of us can actually do this, comfortably and consistently, on a regular basis? It seems that our entire adult lives are preoccupied with exactly these concerns. Do we have enough food, money, proper clothing? if not for ourselves then at least for our children. We focus on what we do not have, to the exclusion of all for which we are thankful. Of course, what we desire changes and evolves over our lifetime. When we are young we want to be liked, have friends, have jobs and happy relationships, among other things. As we age we want steady and profitable jobs, work satisfaction, relationship stability, love and affection, and good health. At an even older stage, we realize how little we actually need, apart from good health and loving family. If we are lucky our faith may not be tested beyond what we can bear. But what do we really want? What do we hope for? What will give our lives more of what makes life rich and complete? What need does faith fulfill? I think that the need for faith is the result of losses; Losses of our own or especially, the trials and tribulations of our children. When life is good and all is well it is easy to be complacent and think that we don’t need any help. We are taught to be autonomous and independent. To need something, Emotionally or Materially, is almost seen as a failure. And then it happens. Whatever it is that shakes us to our core and removes our feeling of safety and security, our sureness in the progress of our life trajectory is broken and we begin to suffer. We pray in earnest. Faith or lack of faith becomes the main issue of our lives. When will God answer our fervent pleas and restore us to our comfort zones?Helen Keller has this to say about security: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Faith then becomes our life jacket in adventure or in despair.We are familiar with Hebrews 11:1 which gives us the classic definition of Faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Isn’t this the crux of the problem? That the foundation of our Christian belief system is the Unknown and the Unseen. We are the ones who are often Uncertain, Unbelieving, Unconvinced. We want evidence. We want answers. We want the evidence of our faith. And answers are often slow in coming. We feel that we are left stewing in our own juices. We worry, we over-analyze. We argue with God. We may even whine and complain. It is a real skill to wait patiently, bide the time gracefully, and keep the faith. It is said that there are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting what we what, the other is getting what we want. Life is a constant dance between these two outcomes.This is the appeal and answer of Jesus, that he is able to transcend this vale of tears; he gives us hope and the assurance that God does love us, care about us, listen to us, and answer our prayers. Of course there is a catch. And the “catch” is found in verse 31 of Luke 12. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Once again we are to put God first. Seek spiritual security. Instead of worry we are to focus on God. Focus on God and not on the problem. This requires a tremendous amount of faith, as humans with endless practical concerns. And what do we do in the meantime with all of our doubts and terrors in the night? We must decide, Life or Death, Fear or Faith. Do I listen to my fear, or do I listen to my faith? If I talk the talk, then I must walk the walk. I conclude with a story about Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian woman who was imprisoned for harboring Jews during the WW2 Resistance in her country. Her talk and her walk are inspiring. Corrie was given a Bible, a sweater, and a bottle of liquid vitamins by their sister Nollie the last time they saw her before deportation. The Bible was never taken away. It was as though the guards did not see it.(in prison) Corrie doled out the vitamins, a drop at the time, to her sister. As more women became ill from malnutrition, hard labor, and depravation, Corrie reluctantly began giving them drops of the vitamins from the small bottle. And just like in the Book of Kings where, after the widow of Zarephath gave Elijah the last of her food, her jar of meal stayed full and her cruse of oil never failed, the vitamins lasted and lasted, far beyond what that little bottle could hold. Miracle after miracle, large and small, kept coming their way. Instead of thinking that God has abandoned us, instead of doubting the strength of our own faith, instead of trying to go it alone, instead of submitting to despair, the message is that we need to be in relationship and partnership with God. The foundation on which to stand is asserted by Paul - the gift of the saving grace of Christ’s love. The truth of James is that Godly action follows naturally from our belief. The question that faith demands is, Do I stand with God? Is God enough? Or, What belief do I have that helps me when nothing else will? This is our faith, as John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”Choose life. Choose Faith. Move mountains. In Jesus’ name, Amen
Create your own unique website with customizable templates.