231105 – Deep, Bold, and Daring

Yr A ~ Pentecost 23 ~ 1 Corinthians 12:1‒11 (off lect)

There are numerous ways to talk about a life of faith, and different ways to characterize the core components of building such a life. They’re all variations on a theme. Curiously, they tend to be expressed in threes. Some might say that’s a Trinitarian impulse running through them – and I’d say they’re probably right. The three components that we talk about all the time at Faith United are to love God, to love others/neighbour, and to love one another – or, as we like to say, to love, love, love. That’s quoting Mark 12, Matthew 25, and John 13. Another common way to summarize the way to go about shaping a life of faith is to quote Micah 6:8 which asks “what does the Lord require of you?” – and answers, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Love, love, love is grounded in love for God, the personal, then expressed through love for others, the social, and is supported through love for one another, the church. Micah’s version also has a personal part – walking humbly with God – a social part – to love kindness, or to love mercy, basically meaning to live lovingly. And then there’s the ‘doing justice’ part, which speaks more directly of God’s Kingdom than the love, love, love version. Like I said, variations on a theme.

So when it came time for the United Church of Canada, our denomination, to summarize or characterize what building a life of faithfulness looks like, we had to come up with a schema. They could’ve used Jesus’ commandments to love, love, love, or Micah’s ‘do justice, love kindness, walk humbly’ line – but instead we came up with something of our own. I use that word ‘we’ loosely. I wasn’t part of the team that devised the statement, but I am proud to say that I was on General Council Executive when it was drafted and that our group did some final tweaking on it before it was shared with the whole church, so I have a smidgeon of claim to the ‘we’.

In typical United Church fashion, the first part is all words, words, words. Oh, how we love our words! We call it a ‘vision and call statement’ – here’s the vision part:

Called by God, as disciples of Jesus, The United Church of Canada seeks to be a bold, connected, evolving church of diverse, courageous, hope-filled communities united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship, and daring justice.

I’ll say it again slowly.

Called by God, as disciples of Jesus, The United Church of Canada seeks to be a bold, connected, evolving church of diverse, courageous, hope-filled communities united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship, and daring justice.

What kind of church do we aspire to be? A bold, connected and evolving church.
What kind of Communities of Faith will make up this church? Diverse, courageous, hope-filled communities.
And what will these communities of faith focus on? They will be united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship, and daring justice.

Called by God, as disciples of Jesus, The United Church of Canada seeks to be a bold, connected, evolving church of diverse, courageous, hope-filled communities united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship, and daring justice.

That’s the vision. It’s lovely. But it’s wordy. It’s not the kind of thing that rolls off the tongue like ‘do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God’ or ‘love, love, love’. So we boiled those wonderfully rich sentences down even more, and focused in on three key phrases that sum it all up. How many? Three, of course! The vision needs a focused plan of action, and that’s what this ‘call’ part is. Here it is – we are called to:

Deep spirituality. Bold discipleship. Daring justice.
Deep spirituality. Bold discipleship. Daring justice.

Let’s take them one by one. The word spirituality of one of those words that everyone knows what it means but it’s kind of hard to define. All the definitions tend to strip away the core element – mystery. Simply defined, spirituality tends to refer to the inner or personal part of one’s faith journey. If we look at someone and discern that they are a ‘spiritual’ person we’re probably identifying something about their demeanor and their practices. Spiritual people have a peace about them, a glow even. That glow is like a tan – it comes from spending a lot of time ‘in the light’.

A few decades ago Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or (they) will not exist at all.” Mystics spend a lot of time ‘tanning’ – doing spiritual practices, which are things that help a person glow – things like prayer, contemplation, solitude, worship, meditation. Anyone can engage in those practices, and some people may come out glowing and others may come out yawning. That’s ok. But the more one practices – or, perhaps I should say the more deeply one engages in these practices the more they’re likely to glow. It’s not just spirituality that’s desired, but deep spirituality. Not just a Sunday morning faith, and a now-and-then prayer life, but deep engagement in spiritual things.

Here’s a metaphor that might help. Imagine you play on a sports team, or belong to a musical group or choir, or a dance group, or any kind of team. The ‘deep spirituality’ part is all those things you do on your own, before you get to rehearsal or practice. It’s your nutrition, your personal fitness, your strength training, your time in the woodshed practicing scales and arpeggios, your hours alone working out that move, or part, or whatever. It’s your personal practice. If you show up to your team or group without doing any work on your own your group will not flourish as well as it could. The more personal commitment and effort you made in your personal time, the better the team will be. Hold onto that metaphor – it’ll come back!

Building on deep spirituality (personal practice) we get bold discipleship. Again, discipleship is a common word that defies easy description. A disciple is a follower, a learner, someone who commits to striving to be like their teacher, someone who learns and grows and then puts their learning and growing into action – with other disciples. We’re here together because we’re all followers of Jesus. That makes us disciples. Learners of his Way. Striving to be like him. Striving to love as he loved. Striving to understand his teaching, comprehend the way he turns the world’s wisdom upside down, and then together to venture out into that world thinking differently than many people we encounter. That’s the bold part. It takes boldness to live out the Way of Jesus in today’s world. It takes courage and conviction to carve out time in our over-busy lives to do what we’re doing right now – worshipping as a community of fellow followers of Jesus. It takes boldness to have the courage of your convictions when your coworkers or neighbours or relatives are living in the world’s ways and look at you and think you’re a little bit off your rocker.

Returning to our metaphor, growing in discipleship is the weekly practice sessions your team has, or your band rehearsals, or your dance practices. You bring your personal achievements to the group, and add your wonderfulness to everyone else’s wonderfulness, and you practice growing together. You do different kinds of practicing together than you do alone, but you’re still focusing on growing, learning, understanding, and then collaboratively you put it out into the world, together. Eventually you play games, or have concerts, or recitals, and that’s when the world sees your hard work. But remember, you probably have many, many more rehearsals than concerts – many practice sessions together before the game.

The final part of our call is a call to daring justice. If discipleship is what shapes our lives, justice is what shapes our world. Justice is when each of us brings our different gifts together as one, and each of our churches join with one another as a stronger, louder voice and presence. Justice is living as the body of Christ is described in 1 Corinthians 12. Although today’s reading ends with this list of gifts, what follows is the famous passage where Paul likens the church to a body, noting that a body needs many parts just as the body of Christ needs many gifts. Justice is when the gifts of God’s people come together to seek the transformation of the world.

Justice is when United Church people and United Church congregations work together to sponsor refugees. Justice is when United Church people and congregations support the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to be able to provide food in emergency situations and to promote long-term food security around the globe. Justice is when United Church people and congregations admit our painful role in residential schools and commit to reconciliation. Justice is when United Church people and congregations march in Pride parades and speak out against the violence suffered by the Two-Spirit and LGBTQQIA+ community. Justice is when our response is collective and transformative. Justice is bringing our different gifts together to move the world closer to God’s intention for fullness of life for all – that’s God’s Kingdom being revealed.

None of that stuff happens without significant risk and daring. In our sports/arts metaphor, daring justice is the life we live as athletes, or musicians, or artists. It’s the vision of a better world that comes from cooperation and collaboration. If the whole world worked together like a choir does the world would be a much more loving place. Sure, teams and groups can get nasty and competitive, but that’s the world’s ways overpowering the inherent beauty and goodness that working and growing together brings.

Deep spirituality – my personal, inner growth in faith and love
Bold discipleship – our mutual growing and learning and serving together to be more and more Jesusy – and,
Daring justice – our collective, combined efforts to tackle things together that we can’t manage on our own, and striving to reveal God’s Kingdom everywhere and always.

This is the call of the United Church.

Deep spirituality. Bold discipleship. Daring justice.

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.

Love, love, love.

It’s all variations on a theme – and the theme is love – the love of God made known to us through the life and teaching and mysterious ongoing presence of Jesus the Christ.

Choose whatever phrases work best for you – and let them guide your glowing, your growing, and your going into the world. That, my friends, is a deep, bold, and daring faith.