A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Pentecost 1 ~ Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
Since we’re justified.
To be justified means to be declared righteous, innocent, cleared of all charges.
That’s nice. When did that happen?
It happens as you grow ever deeper in the way of Jesus.
Presumably Paul knows that he’s talking to insiders, to long term church people, to the regulars. In other words, most of us!
We arrive here every week knowing we are already doing pretty good, right?
We participate. We worship. We pray.
We do good things. We’re the A Team. We’re awesome!
Everybody turn and high five somebody.
I mean, look at this place. This is a healthy and positive congregation.
We do all sorts of community work.
We help local and distant ministries with physical, spiritual, and financial assistance.
We’re an Affirming church.
We have vibrant worship. We have warm fellowship.
We have an amazing staff! We have fantastic lay leadership.
We may not be among the biggest but we might just be among the best congregations in the whole United Church.
We really are awesome!
That needs another high five, and maybe even a wooot!
Does that feel weird?
Does it feel weird to celebrate like that? To boast like that?
Christians aren’t supposed to boast or brag, right?
We’re supposed to be all humble and self-deprecating. Right?
Not according to Paul!
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
Ok, so actually we boast about how good God is and not so much about ourselves. But how do you think God’s goodness is communicated and shared? It’s mostly through people like us! God works through us. God loves via you and me. So when we boast of God’s love we pretty much have to talk about ourselves because we’re the ones that love comes through! High five again!!!
We call this Sunday “Celebration Sunday” and we really do have a lot to celebrate.
We’ve already recognized the folks who do some of their ministry with children and youth through Joyful Noise and Family Fun Night and such. And yes, I purposely call it ministry and not volunteering!
You aren’t volunteers; you’re all ministers living out Christ’s call on your life.
Other folks do some of their ministry through committees or through our church Council. I forgot to do the covenanting piece with all those folks a couple of months ago so right now I’d like to invite anyone who serves on a committee or is a member of Council to please stand. Thank you for your ministry, and blessings be upon it! (You may be seated.)
Many of you do your ministry in countless ways behind the scenes – cutting grass, gardening, doing dishes, moving chairs, knitting prayer shawls, I could go on and on. So much ministry is done here! There’s so much to celebrate and boast about.
We’re also celebrating today the anniversary of our officially becoming an Affirming church – a church that commits to being public, intentional, and explicit about its openness. We describe ours in our mission statement on our bulletin:
We affirm that we strive to provide a spiritual home that is openly welcoming, nurturing and safe whatever a person’s ability/disability, age, ethnicity, exceptionality, gender identity, sexual orientation, or social or economic circumstance.
We may not be perfect, but we’re striving!
You may not think that’s all that big a deal but I assure you it has meant the world to some people – and the defacing of the rainbow crosswalk in Bowmanville a few weeks ago is ample proof as to why being Affirming is so important.
It may surprise you that across our denomination there are still only around 15% of congregations that are Affirming!
I’m wondering why it’s not closer to 100%? You’d think it would be. We are, after all, famous for being a cutting edge, social justice Church.
I guess all those churches are not ready yet.
This is the Sunday we’re also celebrating the anniversary of our denomination. The United Church of Canada turned 94 years old on June 10th. And from the very beginning we’ve had a lot to boast about.
We can boast about being a spiritual home and place to grow in discipleship for millions upon millions of Canadians over time.
In 1936 we first ordained a woman. Of course, it took about 7 or 8 years of pushing but it finally got done – far earlier than most other denominations!
Our church was among the first to be open to marrying persons of different races, and persons who had been divorced. That probably seems pretty ridiculous to us now – how could anyone have been against those things – but once upon a time that was radical.
In the 1980s we debated and finally approved the idea that one’s sexual orientation is not a barrier to church membership and therefore not a barrier to being ordained.
Later we were among the leaders in the equal marriage movement.
In 1986 we offered an apology to Indigenous people for our colonial past (and present!), and in 1998 we apologized for our part in the residential school program. These have been important steps toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
And here at Faith United we include a recognition of traditional territories as we begin worship each week, striving to do our part in the work of reconciliation.
So, shall we brag about all that great stuff this United Church of ours has done?
We could. We’ve done a tremendous amount of good.
But before we dislocate our arms by patting ourselves on the back we should probably think about a few things.
Yes, we ordained women in 1936, but why not in 1925?
Yes, we embraced interracial marriage and divorcees in the 60s, but why not in the 40s?
Yes, we recognized that one’s sexual orientation is not a barrier to church membership and ordination in the 80s, but why was that ever a question?
Yes, Faith United officially became an Affirming church last year, but why not much sooner?
The answer is simple, really. It’s because we weren’t ready.
Sure, we look back now and shake our heads at how ridiculous it was to have those previous views, but in the time, taking those stands on those issues was radical and edgy.
We weren’t ready before. It had to be revealed in its own time.
All of these are examples of times when we once denied the full humanity of certain people, and eventually Something More was revealed to us, and we responded in love.
Let’s bring the scripture reading from John into the conversation. Here’s John 16:1-2
Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, they will guide you into all the truth; for they will not speak on their own, but will speak whatever they hear, and they will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Jesus is talking to his closest disciples, the ones who’ve spent so much time with him, learning so much, and even after years of such spiritual immersion he says to them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now!”
Sometimes, we’re not ready to hear certain things. Then, over time, the Spirit reveals them to us and inspires us to move.
This begs a pointed and uncomfortable question. What are we not seeing yet?
For all the amazing good we’ve done (and we’ve done good!), what are we not realizing still needs doing?
What are we missing?
What are we currently doing that a generation or two from now they’ll look back at us and shake their heads and wonder why we didn’t see it, or act on it, whatever “it” is?
Indigenous issues is one that’s just being revealed in big ways to us. A few years ago the Truth and Reconciliation Commission shared its findings, and both governments and churches are striving to make changes to respond to those challenges.
Very recently the commission looking into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls reported and again their findings have been very upsetting and very challenging.
How to respond? What’s the faithful response?
Last summer at General Council 43 we received and approved a report from Indigenous church folk who charted the course for their future within the church. It was warmly embraced and is being enacted. We were finally ready to hear.
At the end of that same General Council meeting last July, the Spirit moved, and revealed to us that there is significant pain and discrimination happening in our United Churches regarding racism and white privilege. Racialized clergy in particular spoke passionately about the struggles they’ve endured, even in our so-called enlightened and justice-based church. It was very hard to hear, but clearly, the Spirit moved, and things were revealed.
And I know that I have just made some people very uncomfortable because those of us who are in the majority, the dominant culture, tend to hear such struggles as accusations, and we know that we’re good folks who wouldn’t dream of knowingly discriminating against anyone. We love everybody!
The problem is all those ways that we don’t realize that discrimination is happening. Subconsciously, we associate our experience as the normal one and therefore anything else is “other”.
My go-to example is that if you said to a friend, “Hey, we just got new neighbours, and they’re Sri-Lankan!” but you wouldn’t have said, “Hey, we just got new neighbours, and they’re white!” then that’s an example of subtle, subconscious racism.
Technically, it’s called white-normativism.
These are uncomfortable conversations.
Are we ready to have them?
Will we let the Spirit guide us in them?
Another issue that’s been being revealed in this time is the challenge of our environment. I learned a new term this week. Instead of just using the language of climate change, which can sound natural and passive, as in it’s just naturally happening and that’s life, the language of “climate disruption” is emerging. Climate disruption! It distinctly identifies that change is happening and we humans are contributing to the problem. If that’s the case, then we are compelled to act.
And what about the things we haven’t seen much or at all yet?
What about things like the global economy, technology issues and artificial intelligence, social media issues, the rise of political populism, the increasing wealth gap?
Are we ready to hear these things?
Are we ready to bear the consequences of acknowledging that we have something to learn, and will need to change some of our ways?
Are we ready to pay the cost of them? The social cost, the financial cost, the cost of personal growth?
The Spirit doesn’t seem to factor those costs into the equation.
The Spirit seems to blow where it will blow.
We tend to look askance at those who aren’t as progressive as us.
Do we ever stop and wonder who are we not as progressive as?
Yes, we have so much to boast about. Rightly so!
What are we still not seeing?
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, they will guide you into all the truth; for they will not speak on their own, but will speak whatever they hear, and they will declare to you the things that are to come.”
These things will be revealed in time. And when the Spirit moves enough of our spirits then perhaps we’ll be ready to see – and act!
This is a beautiful day of celebration for us. We have so much to be grateful for, and to be proud of. Boast away, my friends!
But also be aware.
The Spirit may be revealing things to you that you weren’t ready to see before.
Whatever may be revealed, the purpose is to draw us ever deeper into God’s love, and to help us live into the realization of God’s kingdom – God’s way – God’s vision of a world shaped by inclusion and love and honouring the full humanity of all persons.
And that is truly something to celebrate!