210613 – Emergent See

Yr B ~ Pentecost 3 ~ 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Walk by faith not by sight. Perceive the world differently.
That’s really what today’s scripture passage is about. Unfortunately, it twists and turns, and uses problematic language, and seems to suggest dodgy theology, but let me assure you that it’s not really like that. I’ll poke at some of it, but we don’t have enough time for us to try to undo some of the stuff it does. I think one of the reasons it’s hard to interpret at first is because we may not appreciate just how profound verse 7 is: we walk by faith, not by sight. It’s catchy. It’s probably familiar to you. But are you aware of how much of a profound paradigm shift it’s suggesting?

The ‘we’ Paul is referring to, I think, is we the body of Christ – those who follow Jesus – those who abide in God’s Love and celebrate God’s Ever-Presence.
WE walk by faith. THEY (those people who are not Christ-followers) walk by sight.
We trust in Something More – they trust in what they can see, and touch, and test, and explain. It does sound like it’s creating an ‘us and them’ thing, but it isn’t about exclusion, it’s just about explaining a difference. The difference is how one perceives the world. In biblical metaphors that often gets talked about as ‘seeing’ – or not seeing as the case may be.

Having a different paradigm for perceiving the world has huge implications for your life. If you see the world as God’s Kingdom, God’s realm, God’s really real reality – and you strive to follow the teaching of Jesus who says the way to navigate this kingdom of God that we swim in is to love – then your actions and your interactions will be shaped by that paradigm of love.
That’s what we’re celebrating today – on celebration Sunday. We’re celebrating the ways in which we, as a community of faith called Faith United – live out that love that fills us and flows through us.

The thing that kicks off our celebrations is that on a Sunday near June 10th we mark the anniversary of our denomination – the United Church of Canada – which is now 96 years old!
When we’re in-person Celebration Sunday always marks the end of the ‘formal’ Joyful Noise program and begins the shift into summer programming. We celebrate the kids – and we celebrate the leaders who share their spirit with the kids.
So I will celebrate Stacey Tremblay today – for the incredible and creative work she’s done through this pandemic season to provide wonderful resources for families. I know that others are also offering leadership with the kids, and youth, too. Thank you!

We celebrate that for 3 years now we have been an Affirming congregation. What does it mean to be Affirming? It means that we’re more than just nice, and more than just welcoming, and more than just accepting. It means we’re public, intentional, and explicit about our welcome. It means we really mean it when we say we’re inclusive. It means 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; and that we encourage all who gather here to participate freely in the life and work of this church. I celebrate that!

I could go on and on about so many of our shared ministries here at Faith, but I will risk highlighting two – one that you know about and one that you may not. These two ministries exemplify exactly what it means to live out the love of God in action and interaction.
I’m talking about Sheila Ellis and our Church Work in Durham group (CWID) that supports so many community ministries and agencies on behalf of our church. To the CWID group, I celebrate your gift of leading us into loving others.
And I’m also talking about our Visiting/Care team. You may not realize it but Donna Bignell and this team of compassionate and caring folks regularly phone and visit members of this church who have a harder time being connected because of illness, or age, or circumstance. I am so grateful to this group for the ministry they share on our behalf. I celebrate your gift of loving one another.

I also celebrate all the people who are part of our worship experience each week. Zeljka (our musician), and also the choir who record themselves singing alone and then get mixed together for a video. The soloists and instrumentalists who share their talents. The scripture readers, the tech team who make this all work so seamlessly (most weeks, touch wood), Stacey who anchors our social media presence, and all of you who tune in and have church on your couch when you could be out doing something else, especially on a gorgeous day like today. I celebrate this gift of loving God together.

Why do we do all this stuff? Why do we engage in all these ministries together?
Because we walk by faith, not by sight. We perceive the world differently. We understand that we are swimming in God’s Presence, everywhere and always, and that being immersed in love inspires us to live differently – to live in love – to live out love.

Now let’s go back to our scripture passage and read it in that rich context of how we walk by faith, not by sight. I’m going to paraphrase the major parts of it, and not go verse by verse.

Paul begins by affirming that whether we are at home or away – he literally means in prison or not, but he also means, metaphorically, whether we are experiencing a time of exile or a time of homecoming – that we ground ourselves in loving God – in worship. Covid has forced us into a time of exile. We’ve been apart for a year and a half. And we are anticipating the sweet promise of returning home in the next few months. We’ve kept it all going by grounding ourselves in loving God, in worship.

Then Paul talks about judgment, and we instantly get all tense and defensive and don’t like it. I agree. I don’t like the idea of judgment either. In my theology a loving God does not stand apart and evaluate my checklist of good boy/bad boy moments and decide what to do with me. That’s theological nonsense. It can’t be of God because it’s profoundly unloving.
So what shall we do with all the judgy bits in the bible? Ignore them? Rip them out?
How about we redeem them? How about we look at them from a new perspective, a new paradigm?

I think we usually associate judgment with death. The popular theological thing out there is that when you die you go to the pearly gates and get judged. Obviously, that’s foolish for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is the first thing we talked about today.
We live in God’s kingdom, in God’s reality, now.
Our perception is that God is here and now.
God isn’t waiting for you to die – God’s with you today. In this moment – in every moment.
You don’t wait to stand before God – you’re immersed in God every nanosecond of every day.
You’re in a loving relationship with God, now. There is mutuality.
Love doesn’t judge – but love does inspire accountability.

I am accountable to you as your minister. You are accountable to one another as members and adherents of this church. Accountability hold us to the things we espouse and claim to be about. Accountability is about keeping us focused on our shared vision and mission, on our shared values, on the task of living in love when we sometimes wobble. That’s what God does with us – holds us accountable and lovingly nudges us back onto the path when we wander. I don’t like ‘judgment at the end’ at all – but I celebrate ‘accountability in the now’!

Next, Paul says that since we’re grounded in worship, and as we hold one another accountable and stay on the path, that we find ourselves so filled to overflowing with love – that we are so moved, that we are moved to move others! Yes, I’m talking about evangelism again – because that’s what people who walk by faith are compelled to do – not by some outside judgy figure threatening damnation, but by that sense of fullness and lovingkindness that propels us into loving action. We talk about this every week in our offering time. All the ways we express the love of God in the world.

Then the last thing Paul talks about what makes this new paradigm, this new perception, this ‘walking by faith instead of sight’ thing possible. Paul reminds us that we look to Christ for the pattern of abundant life. In his death and resurrection we perceive God’s rhythm – a rhythm of renewal – a rhythm of dying and rising – and we die to what was (walking by sight) to be reborn/renewed into a new, abundant, flourishing life of walking by faith.

Our new life, our new paradigm, our new perception, our new Way means we see people not as the world tends to – classifying and categorizing people – but instead we see/perceive people as God’s beloveds. Paul says that we who are ‘in Christ’ – in deep, abiding, loving relationship with the Sacred – are a new creation. How it used to be is faded and gone – how it can be, should be, hopes to be, is emerging.
And we’re part of it.
And we celebrate it.

And we hope it’s catching.
We hope that there is an awakening emerging. We pray that this really real kingdom of God is emerging from hiddenness and into perception.
Love cannot be kept down. It’s too powerful.
Love is constantly trying to emerge, constantly yearning to be revealed.
Well guess who’s called to help it come into perception?
Guess who’s tapped to usher in this new paradigm for more and more people?
Guess who’s task it is to live so lovingly, so boldly, so compassionately, so worshipfully that those who are ‘walking by sight’ start to notice?
(If you guessed those who walk by faith, you’re correct!)

I know you know that.
And I know you’re already living that.
I know because I see the way you love, love, love.
And I celebrate you.