August 18, 2019: Time and other distracting things by Rev. Beth Hayward

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

I didn’t come across these rather well known words of T.S. Eliot until I was well into my twenties. I wonder sometimes how that’s possible, that there is some stunning nugget of truth that you just don’t stumble upon in your life and when you finally do you wonder why no one told you before. At the same time you wonder, why it is that the words you’ve just read for the first time, seem to be known in your very being. No one in my house read poetry and if my high school English teachers were to be believed the only twentieth century poet to ever write was Robert Frost. I do have a soft spot for Frost and his two roads diverged in a yellow wood. You have to admit, Eliot is a bit trickier to get your head around.

So when my now husband inscribed these words on the inside cover of a book he gave me on the occasion of my ordination, I didn’t have a clue what they meant. I mean I could tell they were powerful, even had an idea that they were speaking some sort of timeless truth but honestly, I had no clue what it was. Maybe I still don’t. but I will say that these words ironically began to make some sense to me when I stopped trying so hard to understand them and instead allowed them to wash over me and seep into my soul a bit.

I wrote a few volumes of poetry in my youth. But it’s a real art form and frankly I’ve always found it easier to write a sentence than a verse, easier to string words together in a coherent, logical way than a nuanced, lyrical one. Poetry leaves things unanswered, offers space for ambiguity. It insists you show up to the table, lay your story onto its verses and draw forward a thread of truth from the words of the poet through the eyes of your life. Which I suppose is part of the mixed frustration and appeal that poetry has for so many. It has a frustrating and relentless insistence that words can’t be captured that meaning and truth can’t be held like a prize in your hands, or safely stashed away for another day.

If you’ve come to church your whole life and think perhaps the bible offers enough wisdom for our purposes, that poetry really shouldn’t take the place of scripture I do agree that we could spend a lifetime immersed in the bible and there would be enough depth and mystery, enough elusive truths to keep us coming back for more. I turn to poetry today not to brush aside scripture but to perhaps bring to bear on scripture a refraction of light that might bring into relief a nuance of its truth. To think God stopped speaking when the biblical cannon was bound into a leather-clad book with red words directly quoting Jesus… is misleading. Maybe poetry will give you just a bit more permission to allow the truth of your life, your story to teach you something eternal about God.

To begin, please know this is not a T.S. Eliot lecture. I’d have asked my husband up here for that level of knowledge! I have no intention of unpacking all X pages of the Four Quartets poem in full.  But there is one theme woven throughout that has captured my attention, a theme that feels rather compelling you might say rather timely.

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

And before that Eliot alludes to the wisdom found in the book of Ecclesiastes, that familiar passage about there being a time for everything under heaven.

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto

 In my beginning is my end.

I’m curious about the idea of time and how Eliot plays with it, that there is no beginning or ending, that we keep coming back to where we began, only everything is different somehow. I often feel that time is pressing in on me. I see my children and how they’re nearly grown and wonder, like every parent before, where did the time go? I think of how I’ve been with you as a congregation for seven years and wonder, wow, what have I accomplished? And I think of Greta Thunberg the unlikely climate change crusader currently crossing the Atlantic on a solar powered yacht and she’s got me thinking about the race against time when it comes to our global response to climate change. You must feel it too sometimes, the pressure of time marching on? Do the years under your belt suggest you are nearing the end of your time on earth? Or do you have a lifetime ahead of you and wonder what you should possibly do with your life in this world that you’ve inherited? Do you wrestle with the way time doesn’t seem to give you a break, isn’t bringing the job or the fulfillment that it ought? Are the kids growing too fast, technology changing too quickly? Are there days when time feels a bit like the enemy, going too quickly or dragging on too long? Maybe as summer ends you’re wishing time would slow down, that it could just be more books and beaches, less hustle and bustle?

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

It’s like learning a whole new language. We know better what it is to have a destination in mind and to put in the hard work to get there but this language of exploring, it feels foreign. Yet this idea that all that exploring leads back to the same place but it’s different or your awareness of it is different. It’s a truth very much at the heart of the Christian gospel. Imagine, he suggests, that time is more than events accumulating upon events leading us to this current moment. Imagine it more like snapshots, moments. Is it perhaps when every moment of life offers a possibility to arrive and know a place anew in every moment of our lives, not just over the span of our years? It’s like you can be born again every instant, there are infinite second chances!

I wonder if Eliot as someone who read the scripture and endeavoured to live into its truth, I wonder if he was suggesting that the place we might arrive and know for the first time is the place of our beloved-ness? Jesus’ story, for all intents and purposes, begins not in Bethlehem but in the River Jordan as John baptizes him and a voice declares this is my beloved. Maybe that’s the truth we keep circling back to, and maybe the rest is distraction, the truths about how you are accomplished or gifted or able to pull off a plan for your life with perfect execution. I wonder if the place we know as if for the first time is the beloved-ness of us, and then you see in others their full humanity, their flicker of divinity. It seems to me the more deeply we know the place and the truth that we are beloved, the more we catch a glimpse God, the more we understand what it is God is calling forth from us. The more we understand that we are not alone, we do not need to be functional atheists, professing faith in God but taking care of things as if it’s all on our shoulders. The life long searching, the quest, the journey the reason we talk about practice in the Christian faith is so that we might learn again and again and the truth of God’s presence and the truth of your beloved-ness.

And this truth which you don’t need to wait a life time to arrive at, because it is the truth at the core of our soul an in your every cell, this truth when you glimpse it, taste it touch it and know it again as if for the first time, it has tremendous power to bring you to your knees, it calls for a surrender in a not my will God but yours – but not in some controlling God in the sky telling you how to live out your pre determined life sort of way, no this truth comes from deep within and you don’t surrender to the will of God because you’ve been defeated but because you’ve been liberated.

Martin Luther said:  we “are always anxious and concerned to accumulate riches, honors, glory, and fame, as though we were going to live here forever; and meanwhile we become bored with the things that are present and continually yearn for other things, and then still others.” Or as T.S. Eliot puts it we are distracted from distraction by distraction.

I can’t help but think of all the ways we sabotage our journey moment by moment back to the truth that we are beloved and not alone. My how we love to distract ourselves with notions of fight the good fight, get to the end point, pull off my goals.

When every single moment in life is calling us back to that truth of our beloved-ness, back to the beginning where we like Jesus can be splashed in the River Jordan and know deeper and truer that we are beloved. I am convinced that we offer our best to the world from that place. Because that’s the place from which we hear God’s voice

People ask me sometimes to give more structure, to provide a list, a set of rules, a how to be a Christian guide list. I’m told some other faith traditions make it more clear, that for Muslims you have the pillars, prayer and fasting, pilgrimage… And Jews have their commandments and more. And I can give somewhat of a list or sacraments like communion and baptism and many other practices but that’s a sermon for another day.

When Jesus was asked what is the most important law he insisted it is to love God with all your heart AND to love your neighbour as yourself.  As we grow and evolve, as generation passes generation or simply as we show up one moment to the next in our lives, we learn more about who our neighbour is, hopefully we learn more about who we are and see new glimpses of God. Not only does every generation need to come back to the centre ,everyone of us needs to return to the centre and learn again moment by moment what it is to love God, self and neighbour.

I think we sometimes want God to not be so with us because we have been handed a bill of goods that insists God is judging us, testing us, testing your strength and resolve, inviting you toward you breaking point. Are we afraid of getting close to the divine. Or maybe our reluctance comes more from Jesus showing us a little too well what a life lived in God’s time means, the gifts and costs?

You are my beloved is of course not an inoculation against disappointment, it’s not a promise that you’ll get a prime spot in heaven any more than it is a promise that your life will be easy. But that still point, that timeless beginning grounds us in a way, envelops us in a love so strong we can’t help but respond, can’t help but find our way to living a life in Christ.

If you’re wondering what to do with your one wild and precious life, as Mary Oliver will ask next week, you can only find the answer from the place that Eliot describes, that beginning place where you  keep returning, tapping into that grace, that’s what will guide your life from distraction to purpose. I’m not a poet but I think there’s something to it. Some invitation in the timelessness of time worth risking the cost of…  As Eliot says:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards, at the still point there the dance is…

We’re having a JUMBLE SALE. And you’re invited!

Our Canadian Memorial FUNdraising team is organizing a community jumble sale on Saturday, August 10. Come join us!

What’s a ‘jumble sale?’ We like to think of it as a fundraiser that’s ‘not-quite-a-garage sale.’ Small and medium treasures will be for sale, and you’ll never know what you’ll find!

Come on by and say hello! Everyone is truly welcome here.

WHERE? The Centre for Peace (1825 W 16th Avenue, Vancouver, BC)

WHEN? 10am to 2pm on Saturday, August 10

Interested in donating items for sale? Members of our community will be donating gently loved items to the sale August 7-9. If you’ve got small household items you’d like to donate to this cause, please get in touch with of our FUNdraising team members (Ann Golinsky, Susan Cowan, Kim Bartley) in advance – you can email Ann at: anngolinksy@gmail.com.

Pssst…Don’t need to buy anything but still want to donate cash? Sure! As we are a registered Canadian charity, all cash donations (not purchases) over $20 are eligible for a tax receipt. Just make sure we take down your contact details.

See you on August 10. And tell your friends!

Message from Rev. Beth – Summer 2019

In a few short days I’ll set off for my annual pilgrimage to Nova Scotia. It’s a time I look forward to as I exchange to-do lists for unstructured reconnection with family. I look forward to lobster feasts and the toe-numbing feel of the Atlantic. I even look forward to visiting the Protestant Cemetery in Wreck Cove, to visit all my relations and feast on the blueberries that refuse to let death have the final word.
 
But before I set sail, or catch air, as the case may be, I’m attending a course this week at the Vancouver School of Theology. Theologian Thomas Jay Oord offers the kind of reflections that require a bit of a holiday to really absorb. He says God is all loving. He says that God can’t stop evil. He says God is relational, luring us in each moment to choose the very best option before us. This is how he explains it in his own words:
 
A God worthy of our worship cannot be Someone who causes, supports or allows genuine evil. In fact, I believe it is impossible to worship wholeheartedly a God who loves halfheartedly. We might fear a God who helps sometimes but other times chooses not to, but we cannot admire this God unreservedly.
 
If you long for some food for spiritual thought this summer, I invite you to worship this Sunday, July 14, when Professor Oord will challenge you to consider what you can do in the face of a God who can’t. This kicks off a series of guest preachers for the summer that I invite you to hear speak, each with their own scrumptious food for thought to offer, through to my return mid-August. 

Blessings,

Beth

Lead Minister

This message was originally sent out in our July e-newsletter. If you’d like to receive future e-newsletters from us, you can sign up here.

July 7, 2019: And then…by Rev. Beth Hayward (Selected passages from New Testament letters)

It’s possible that I’m the last generation who counts amongst her treasures the hand written letters from aunts and uncles and grandmas. I have a cousin who writes a letter a week to a different member of her extended family. I’ve managed to get myself on her roster and received my first installment a couple months ago. I relished in tales of knitting projects half, books on bedside tables, bike rides through snow covered Lethbridge streets. I have a stash of letters from over the years and I treasure each one. I love everything about letters; the way you can tell who it’s from just by the penmanship, the way the stamp is placed just so on the upper right hand corner, because obviously letter writing people are precise kinds of people. I love the wonder of knowing you are holding in your hands the paper that has been touched by the hands of the writer.  And then there’s the paper and oh fountain pens!  I’m sure if I had one of those I would become a letter writer! 

Did you know that twenty-two of the New Testament’s twenty-seven books are not books at all, they’re letters. There are no other religious traditions in which letters have become part of their sacred text. I don’t expect that their authors, most notably Paul, ever intended them to become part of scripture but there they are, sacred, holy words about ordinary things. Like the writer of 2 Timothy saying: “bring my scrolls especially the parchments.” I wonder what’s on those parchments? How could he have forgotten them? Are they really that important? And the cloak, did he forget it? or had he loaned it to Carpus? Did Carpus think it was a gift? Will he be surprised that the letter writer wants it back?

And in the letter to the church in Corinth Paul says, “I don’t remember who else I baptized.” Goodness, that sounds like me when I get behind in keeping my official church record books. But seriously, if you don’t remember who else you baptized you’ve gotta think it has something to do with the fact that you’ve baptized more people than you can count. Letters can reveal an awful lot when you take the time to read between the lines.

The best letters are like the best stories, they leave us wanting more, they draw us in and touch the hunger in our bellies. Letters are really stories, or fragments of stories, little bits of the story deemed important enough to write down by the letter writer. Yes the best letters are the ones so compelling that you are left with a half dozen stories to which you are saying “and then what happened?” only to have to wait weeks for the possibility of a continuing story.

When my girls were little, and teeth had been brushed and storybooks had put away, lights turned out save the nightlight in the corner, I’d sit on the floor between the two beds, precisely in the middle to avoid debate. Sometimes I’d sing to them but more often they’d want one last story, the kind where they got to participate through giving me the details: the name of the protagonist, a mode of transportation, a kind of food, a colour. And then I’d take their bits and weave them into a story, a bit like improv except I really had thought nothing about where this story would go. Sometimes I’d pause, for dramatic effect but more often I’d pause as I searched my mind for the requested species of reptile or mode of transportation. Inevitably when I paused one girl or other would pipe up – and then what happened? And then what happened?

I’ve recently learned that the Hebrew writers of the Old Testament had a knack for the art of and then, in story telling. I’ve learned it from a book I’m reading by Rachel Held Evans called Inspired. Hebrew biblical writers would add the conjunction, and, to a line, they’d give it a little extra vocalization… double the initial consonant of the word to which the and was attached and voila: the Biblical Hebrew ‘and then.’[1] “There was light and then God saw that the light was good and then there was evening and then there was morning and then and then and then before you know it you are standing with Moses on Mount Nebo at the end of Deuteronomy light years from when God first peered over the abyss.”

Held Evans said that as Christians we believe we live in the and then, after Jesus resurrection and before his return. We live inside an unfinished story, a story that always has an, and then to offer us, to call us forward. Resurrection people are never The End people we are always and then people.

I wonder if we can really believe that? Seems to me more often these days we think we know how the story ends, we know this story because we’ve either lived it before or the conclusion is so obvious everyone knows how it ends. I wonder if we settle sometimes for being The End people rather than and then people? Are stories in our lives for which imagining an and then is just too big of a stretch? I suppose I ask it in particular in relation to the author of the very book I’m speaking of. Rachel Held Evans she died in April. She was thirty-seven, died from an allergic reaction to a drug she took to help her with an every day infection. I think of her grieving husband and her children ages four and one. I think of those of you in this place who are walking through your own personal hell moments and I do pause and wonder are there some stories that are too painful for an and then? Are there some stories for which we really must resign our selves to the truth that this is THE END?

When it comes to the story of the climate crisis, there are many days I lean towards a story with The End rather than a story that poses the curiosity of a child and then… It’s really hard work to be and then people.

But if, as Evans says, our story is unfinished, we are part of a bigger story. And this means that we share our story with the spirit that hovered over creation, with prophets living and dead, with ordinary people with ordinary struggles and joys. She insisted that: “the stories we tell with our life, aren’t meaningless absurdities, tragic in their brevity, but rather subplots of a grander narrative, every moment charged with significance, as we contribute our own riffs. Soliloquies, and plot twists, to the larger epic.”[2]  She names it as the Holy Spirit coaxing us always with and then and then and then.

If our faith is to be a living faith it needs to be an and then sort of faith. And we come here in part to immerse ourselves in the story of Jesus’ life death and resurrection, a story that insists beyond all reason, beyond the odds that the story ‘aint over yet and that the Holy Spirit isn’t done with you.

One of the stories people tell about this place is the way tears come, especially and particularly from those who have shown up in your early days here. You may have found your way here after researching the right church to fit your particular need or align with your values. But really you come with that ache in your belly for more, that longing in your heart for connection, deep real connection, the wondering in your mind about whether it really is possible to reconcile your hopes and dreams with your grief and regrets.

When the tears flow, I wonder if it is a sign that the heart has been softened just enough for that thin place to open? Are the tears an indication that the Holy Spirit is in fact descending on you, flowing through you?  

These songs you’ve requested today, or maybe you missed the call out but you know what your songs are. Songs touch our souls and enliven our hearts. Maybe it takes you back through the melody or lyrics to the first time that song entered your soul and your heart had let down it’s defenses, either because grief left you stripped of all defenses, or because a life transition left you poised on the edge of what was and what was to be, tipping decidedly toward what was to be. Or maybe the words entered your soul just gently, gradually, over time like a warm blanket on an August night.

We need to tell our story, we need to ingest it and belt it out in song. We need it to feed our souls because there is a lot going down right now and there are a lot of stories being told. There are stories of bad people who need to be kept back with walls and guns, stories of hopelessness, stories of this is as good as it gets, stories of you get what you deserve, stories about how the strongest and richest and most cunning will always win.                  

And we don’t need to construct the entirety of a new story, in fact Jesus already did that for us, already wrote a new story with his life where we see and know that every time we come to a closed door or a dead end story, it is not the full picture just a thread. And we need to keep looking for the threads, for the fragments of letters no matter how ordinary they seem that point us to a different story an and then story.

Whether the songs today are your songs or not, perhaps allow them to take you to your songs, or better yet see if there is a phrase that draws you down, deep into the heart of the Holy Spirit that you might be surprised at what is to come. We’ll never walk on water if we’re not prepared to drown. Spirit will take you into places that you’ve never been before, and that’s okay!

When we follow the thread of and then we find ourselves in places we’ve never been before, opening doors to worlds outside the lines. And we see and we know that life is about a resurrection life and it will never declare like a good fairy tale – THE END no a resurrection life will always come to the end of the story and say and then… and then… and then.

We don’t need to wait until we have fountain pens, or just the right paper, we don’t need wait until we’ve formed our thoughts just so, before adding our bit to the writing of the Holy Spirit. You have something to offer to the unfolding, not over yet story of your life AND the story of this hurting world. Don’t wait for it to be perfectly formed. Come to this place and when a word or a melody takes hold in your heart, breaks open a portal from which the tears begin to flow, maybe see it as an invitation to add your line to the song, to practice living into and then, to listen for all the stories that insist this is the end and to add another perspective,

And then, step into the next chapter without a clue as to how this will all turn out, unsure if it could be okay and just know that the bigger story has your back, is holding you, sustaining you, like a pile of treasured letters in a box under your bed. And you just might remember the times that wounds have been turned to blessing and water to wine, and that may be enough to remind you to live like you believe it’s true. Amen


[1] Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again. Nelson Books, California, 2018. 216 This paragraph comes from Hel Evans book where she is drawing on the research of Gregory Mobley.

[2] ibid

June 23, 2019: Justified by Rev. Beth Hayward (Galatians 3: 23-29)

A couple years ago a well-meaning friend said to me – I wonder when your children will stop coming to church? They’re both here today, so not yet, I guess. Look around this place and well… you’ve got to admit it’s a justifiable question. Where are the teens? Is it something we said? Or maybe something we didn’t do? Is it just to be expected in the developmental process, that teens will rebel? Maybe my kids are still here because of some failure on my part? Maybe my kids are developmentally “off” because they come to church every week without persuasion, guilt, bribe or threat. I don’t know why they’re here but just promise me, you won’t ask, I don’t want to mess with a good thing.

Why are any of us here, what makes us stay, why does this Jesus following continue to thrive all these years later? I mean I suppose my kids are here for much the same reason I never stopped going to church, it’s a place first and foremost where I have always felt I belonged. But we can belong to lots of people and places. Some of you belong to the tennis club or the yoga studio, or your book club or knitting group. Surely church is different in some way.

People will talk about church being the place where they have felt held or welcomed when other places weren’t so much that way. But it can’t just be that we feel we belong here, there has to be more. And besides, let’s face it, church can be a place where people let you down. When no one ever thinks to ask you to read scripture, or you’re never thanked for coming in on a Wednesday to clean the kitchen, without even being asked, or every time you speak up in a small group it’s like no one’s listening to you, or the ramp is blocked and you can’t participate. Here’s a motto for you: Church, the place where you are fully welcomed and included except when you aren’t.

We’re receiving five new members in this church today. All five were baptized at some point in their lives and now they’ll stand before you saying I really mean it, I really want to be identified as a Christian, I really want to live my life in the way of Jesus. Hopefully none of them are here because they think they’ve found a perfect, loving community that will never let them down. Shhh, don’t share that secret!

 I want to propose today that this sort of action, being baptized, reaffirming your baptism and becoming a member of a church is intrinsically different from paying your dues at a club. To be a Christian is for this identity to actually lay claim on your life. I’m open to being challenged but it seems to me that being a Christian has to be more or deeper than showing up on Sunday morning, like it lays claim on your life and you can’t shake it. It actually changes you. Not just when the water hits your forehead but all through your life, it calls you back to something deeper, something different than you can find elsewhere.

I want to tell you about Paul, one of the first Christians, someone whose life was changed forever the day he was baptized. I’ll admit, I rarely preach from Paul, his words often sound too preachy, if you will. I like stories better than letters, feels like you have more creative liberty. With Paul I often stumble into some rabbit hole or other. I get caught up in his implicit First Century bigotries or patriarchal tendencies and it’s like I start wrestling him to the ground. It’s difficult with Paul to push aside the manure to find the marvellous seed of truth in what he’s trying to say.

But Paul has a story, just like you have a story and I have a story. If ever you’re reading a letter of Paul’s and you find your pulling your hair out, turn for a moment to Acts 9 and read his story again. Before we get to Paul’s story, just take a moment to consider the part of your story that led you here, either to this particular church or to curiosity or faith in the first place. Like the words in Amazing Grace “how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed?

Paul’s life changed, he became justified by faith one day on the way to Damascus when the risen Lord appeared to him a light so bright he was left blind for three days. Until that day Paul was a ruthless persecutor of Christians. He was doing everything he could to uphold the place of his Jewish faith as he squashed these followers of Jesus. And do you know what happened, when the risen Jesus appeared? He was told “I want you.”

This is how the powerful storyteller Frederick Buechner describes it:

It was about noon when he was knocked flat by a blaze of light that made the sun look like a forty-watt bulb, and out of the light came a voice that called him by his Hebrew name twice. “Saul,” it said, and then again “Saul. Why are you out to get me?” and when he pulled himself together enough to ask who it was he had the honor of addressing, what he heard to his horror was, “I’m Jesus of Nazareth, the one you’re out to get.” We’re not told how long he lay there in the dust then, but it must have seemed at least six months. If Jesus of Nazareth had what it took to burst out of the grave like a guided missile, he thought, then he could polish off one bowlegged Christian-baiter without even noticing it, and Paul waited for the ax to fall. Only it wasn’t an ax that fell. “Those boys in Damascus,” Jesus said. “Don’t fight them. Join them. I want you on my side,” and Paul never in his life forgot the sheer lunatic joy and astonishment of that moment. He was blind as a bat for three days afterward, but he made it to Damascus anyway and was baptized on the spot. He was never the same again, and neither, in a way, was the world (Acts 9:1-6; 22:4-16; 26:9-18).[1]

So Paul dedicates his life to spreading the good news of Jesus the Christ. And he travels everywhere and in each town he stops he plants a church and then when he’s sitting in jail or when he comes up for air between all of this church planting he writes letters. Letters like you used to receive from your grandma or your great uncle. Ink to paper letters that those floundering followers all over Palestine could hold in their hands.

And this particular letter to the Galatians it is arguably his harshest ever. He’d planted that church, taught them about God’s gracious gift of love revealed through Jesus of Nazareth and left them to it. And then, after he moved on to the next town he got word that things were falling apart. You see this Jesus movement began as a sect within the Jewish faith but there Paul was in Galatia, a non-Jewish, Gentile region and he baptized them into the faith. And no sooner had he left town than some group of thugs show up and say, you can’t follow Jesus unless you follow Jewish law, in particular the law of circumcision.

Let me pause and say this is Pauline rabbit hole. He is not being anti semitic.

This is about Christian identity. This is not about Jewish identity. To use this as a scripture to dismiss the validity of those in the Jewish tradition is to misuse this text.

So Paul writes and says, much more harshly than I’ll say here: you have it all completely wrong! Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Galatians 3:24-26)

What in the world does it mean to be justified by faith? Paul says we are justified by faith, not the law. But what in the world does it mean to be justified by faith? Justified is one of those church words that we could really reclaim. Justified. Our most common use is in defence of some action or stance. What does it mean to be justified by faith. It’s not really language we use much. I’m justified by faith. Think of that word, justified, we are so much more likely to use it as justified in my opinion. I was justified in telling your secret. I can justify my point of view with the facts

Or like this week the Federal government might have said we were justified in giving the permission for a pipeline to be built, for the sake of the economy. Likewise they might say we were justified in declaring a climate emergency because of science. Or Donald trump may say I’d be justified in bombing Iran as retaliation, or I’m justified in acting illegally for the greater good. We can justify almost anything.

Our continued attempts to categorize and label one another in the church, and to diminish one another on the basis of those categories and labels, are signs of our spiritual immaturity. Paul reminds us that since Christ has come, we are no longer enslaved to those old divisions. All are justified solely by what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Through baptism into Christ, we belong to him and to one another. All share fully and equally in the inheritance of God’s promises and in the mission to which God has called us.

I suppose the best thing about religion, about being part of a community like this is honestly, the humanity of it all. I rather love the idea that people were making a mess of what it meant to follow Jesus pretty much within hours of the resurrection. We are in very good human company. We are in a long tradition of people who make a royal mess of it all! Might this perspective help us deal with contentious issues, which often have to do with interpretation of the law? Paul reminds us that the law is provisional and can never justify or save us. In fact, it can only imprison us. It is Christ who frees us from the curse of the law and makes us children and heirs of God. But justified in this bible sort of way is about God’s grace it’s about how the division we use to sort people out and keep them in their place don’t fit anymore.

This is not some glazed over utopia; no it’s more elemental than that. It’s not that we are to dismiss law or follow it. It’s a call to faith, a call to live every moment as if you have a faith that you are part of Christ’s body, you are Christ’s body. And so it’s not a call to stop noticing difference, to stop calling our injustice, it’s a call to stop forcing the world to fit into your categories or follow rules before Christ. It’s rather like letting go of all security and leaning into the trust that being Christ’s body is all you can trust. Not something you cling onto but something you live into. It’s a whole lot more difficult than learning the rules, following them and sitting in your smugness knowing with all certainty that you are justified, justified in your rigidity, in your persecution of those more conservative than you or more liberal.

A life justified by faith is a life where you every action is guided by love, by deep curiosity, by a willingness to be thrown off course for the sake of love, a deep awareness that if you are beloved so is your neighbour, even the neighbour you’d never be caught dead working alongside.

Rachel Held Evans died not many weeks ago at the age of 37, she’d fallen into a life’s path of challenging the rules of the churches of her fundamentalist upbringing. She never hated the conservative church that shaped her and raised her. She never spoke of them disparagingly. She just kept coming back to the story of her justification by faith and it drew her toward a faith that was active and alive and deeply rooted in love. She once said:  “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.”[2]

I don’t know when my kids will stop coming to church, nor when you might stop coming, I don’t know why these five people will stand up before you today and say yes I affirm the faith of my baptism, I accept that I am justified by faith. I accept that I am a beloved child of God and I dare to allow that truth to lay claim to my life. When you make that sort of commitment, it can turn your life upside down, it can mean that you keep finding all of your rigidness challenged and you keep seeing the light of Christ in your neighbour and it can really mess with your life. True faith doesn’t need justification because it is in itself justified, it is a saving power, not to make your life easy or all better but it justifies your life by laying claim to your soul and drawing you into Christ’s body.


[1] http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2018/9/9/paul?rq=Galatians

[2] https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/42042272-searching-for-sunday-loving-leaving-and-finding-the-church