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

We’re hiring!

Our inclusive, progressive community is looking for a superstar Office Administrator for the non-ministry functions of our church and busy rental facility. The Office Administrator is both the face of our community to the public and the nexus for our ministry staff and congregants.

The role is ideal for a go-to type of person (the anticipator, detail-watcher, and systematiser) used to working in an open office environment keeping everything running smoothly. If you have experience in administration, operations, office management, hospitality and/or events management, this position might suit you.

We hope our new Office Administrator can begin two weeks’ training on July 15 to ensure a smooth transition when the incumbent leaves on August 2.

Read all about the opportunity HERE.


Feel free to spread the word! Here are a couple of sample social media posts you may wish to use:

Facebook:

Do you know a superstar Office Administrator looking for a new opportunity in Vancouver? @canadianmemorialunitedchurch is hiring! Spread the word! Check out the details here: http://bit.ly/CMUC-job-openings

Twitter:

Canadian Memorial is hiring! They’re looking for a superstar Office Administrator to join the team. Do you know anyone who fits the bill? Check out the details here: http://bit.ly/CMUC-job-openings

Notice of Congregational Meeting

Everyone in our community is welcome to attend our Congregational Meeting on July 7. It will be in our church sanctuary immediately after worship service on July 7 (starting time will be approximately 11:45am). There will be a budget to approve and new Board members to appoint, and we’ll do our best to wrap it all up within an hour or so. Childcare will be available in the Nursery.

Sunday, July 7 immediately after worship service in the church sanctuary

Message from Rev. Beth – June 2019

Sunday, June 9, we celebrate Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit landed on the people of the early church likes tongues of fire. Don’t you wish sometimes that Spirit would land on your head like a flame, leaving you no doubt that this is a moment to pay attention? Wouldn’t it be fabulous if opening your mouth to speak, every person from every place, speaking every language understood every word? (Heck, I’d settle for my children understanding the phrase, “Please empty the dishwasher!”)
 
We can take a bit of comfort in the fact that even those Spirit-infused folks in the first Pentecost story turned to one another and asked, “What does this mean?” Times are changing and summer’s a coming, and what better time to pay attention to the places where you are being visited by the very presence of holy love? Where is Spirit at work in your life? What unknown future are you called to create in the name of holy love?
 
Those answers don’t always come easy, but they are made a little easier and a lot richer when we set the intention to try to figure it out in community. Scroll down to see the many ways you are invited to show up and worship, play, pray, serve and question together. Who knows where Spirit might land?

Blessings,

Beth

Lead Minister

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

June 2, 2019: Oh The Places You’ll Go by Alecia Greenfield (John 17: 20-26 New Revised Standard Version)

“I ask not only on behalf of these,

but also on behalf of those

who will believe in me through their word, 

that they may all be one.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

 The glory that you have given me

I have given them,

so that they may be one,

as we are one, 

I in them

and you in me,

that they may become completely one,

so that the world may know that you have sent me

and have loved them

even as you have loved me. 

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me,

may be with me where I am, to see my glory,

which you have given me

because you loved me

before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you,

but I know you;

and these know that you have sent me. 

I made your name known to them,

and I will make it known,

so that the love with which you have loved me

may be in them, and I in them.”

Hello. It is a pleasure to be here today. I’m Alecia, and as we get going there are a couple things that might be helpful to know. First, I worship in the Anglican tradition, and those Anglican’s we’re big into the liturgical year, the church’s calendar, just a heads up. Also, I am a recent VST graduate and like every student totally into all that classroom learning right now. Today, it may be useful for you to know (or remember) that the Greek word John uses in his Gospel for the Holy Spirit is Paraclete. It is also translated as comforter or advocate. And equally important I am a classmate and friend of Frances Kitson who has been talking about you (this community) and how fabulous you are for years and so it is a such a delight to be here and finally meet you.

And now that we know we are all friends and disciples in Christ together, I can admit how I first read our Gospel reading today. You know how you can read the words but they don’t stick. It is my practice to read a passage three times, then reflect. So I read and then walked away and I realized I had retained nothing.

Which is disturbing. Because I believe the church has chosen a passage has something to say here in this specific (liturgical) time.

Today we have a passage for dangerous times. These are the words Jesus leaves the disciples with when he is on his way to arrest and death. And we hear them in the liturgical year in an in between time. This past Thursday was the feast of Ascension when the resurrected Jesus leaves the disciples. Jesus rises to glory. The disciples, they go to Jerusalem and wait.  Because Pentecost is coming, when the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples. But Pentecost is not yet; it’s next week.

And these were dangerous times, the empire gathers on the other side of the door. Just outside. In biblical times that looked a little Roman, like the random violence of oppression. It looked like crucifixion for gathering too many people who believed that their faith was more important than life or death.

But there are other ways to look at danger. Empire might also look like a corporation. Identity of profit that expands into our imagination and defines what normal, reasonable, appropriate might look like. I drove into Kelowna a couple weeks ago to visit Frances and couldn’t see the water, couldn’t see the hills for the billboards plastered on the roadside dictating my attention to the importance of new car tires and more gas. The corporate empire fills up my sight, dangerously.

On the other side of the Kelowna hills are stands of dead, burnt wood. Wildfire ravaged the region, the climate is changing, but through that change billboards blot out the burn site.

And into the waiting of change, the church gives us, gifts us, this reading. This is a prayer. This is what Jesus prays as he prepares to leave his disciples. This is a moment before faith and empire collide.  The chronicle of events is that Jesus prays these words, then goes out to get arrested, and Simon Peter cuts off someone’s ear with a sword. The disciples are preparing for danger – they are carrying weapons and they get- – –  this prayer.

*****

And I come back to hard to read. This is NOT one of those famous passages that we can recite off by heart. This is not what people read to rally the troupes for expeditions or to bless special occasions.

It’s not a story, it’s not a list, ten commandments to a life of righteousness, it’s not so beautiful that these words catch in our heart… And after spending all week waddling about in these words what catches my attention first is how much these words just slip through my attention. This is a hard passage to hold

I find, when I cannot easily understand or hold a passage – I turn to the community to help me read it.

“I ask not only on behalf of these,

but also on behalf of those

In the pattern of this passage I hear     

Dr Seuss.

What happens when we stop looking at the scripture with our most serious and most earnest faces and look instead for beauty? What happens when, inspired by Dr Seuss, we recognize both the danger and still look with a sense of adventure and fun? It’s partly in the rhythm, and partly in the imagination. But all of a sudden this scripture strikes a picture – we can ascend higher, we can fight the empire.

Lets look at it together. Remembering that when Jesus says disciples – in John, he means all disciples, including us.  So listen up! In the Greek it is even clearer –in this passage, when Jesus says they he is talking about us.

Jesus says:

that they may all be one.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

Jesus prays for us to be one with God. Just as he is one with God.

That’s huge claim. When was the last time you walked into a room thinking – yup, here goes me and God, together, one. It’s so alarming that it is too scary to think let alone say- —- and still Jesus prays, for us, his disciples.

Next week in Pentecost we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples. They are filled with the Holy Spirit. Anglicans officially believe at baptism that we are filled with the Holy Spirit. I am filled with the Holy Spirit.     The trinity is IN me.    and I am in God. The trinity is IN us. And we are IN God. Take that closer. Jesus prays for you, the disciple. May you be one with the Creator.

And if I take that too seriously I lose all the mysteriously, I might behave all imperiously. But what if we step into this truth, poetically, playfully.

 Imagine, this is true. God is in you, right now. The Holy Spirit a flame, a wave, a dove, that wiggles and jiggles and tickles your insides. I don’t know why, but when we keep our eyelids up, we see it all, in the Gospel.

Except, when we think poetically, we can sentimentalize, we penalize the Gospel for our inability to imagine both earnestly, and playfully. Teachers like Dr Seuss sensitize our ears and hearts, to hear truth when we are frightened. Frightened by alarming claims, or frightened by dangerous times. Dr Seuss wrote about nuclear arms race, about Nazis and about environmental emergency.  And we can hear truth when we smile at the name of Yertle the Turtle and then remember that the turtle on top relies on the turtle on the bottom. Or read on despite despair guided by the rhyme of The Lorax.

And we too read on in our scripture, because this packed passage is in fact not done. We tracked one meaning but there’s more. Jesus prays for love,

Jesus says:

so that the love with which you have loved me

may be in them, and I in them.

In this one passage Jesus uses the word love five times. A poetic clue that this is important glue. Love and being one in God are connected.

So what about that? Have you ever walked into a room and announced you are one with God and that God loves you like God loves Jesus? What about walking into a room just knowing it? Tucked into your heart and showing in your posture, you actions, you are in God, and God is in you and Jesus prays that the Father might love you the way the Father loves Jesus. I guess, it’s a little easier to listen when there is no division, from love.  When our vision fills up with, with poetic prayer.

****

And then, remember, this passage isn’t talking about the easy times.  These are the queasy times, when we have choices that are about more than our life and death. These are the times when it feels like Jesus has gone to glory, and we are surrounded by stands of dead burn sites and billboards.

And Jesus prays:

 The glory that you have given me

I have given them,

so that they may be one,

as we are one, 

In dangerous times, do you walk into the street, feeling all filled with up, complete with Paraclete? It’s no conceit. It’s Gospel.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

Gathering all these themes, a hard to hold passage, the guidance of quirky Dr Seuss, prayer in dangerous time. I add one more consideration. When our hearts fill with gloom. There seems like no room. Where our little action feels without traction. When we choose to do nothing because a little seems to small, that is the time to remember this passage. Jesus says we are one. Us and the Holy Spirit. One.

So let us get whimsical, lyrical, and a whole lot biblical. Let’s go into a dangerous time as poets.

Therefore I pray,

Creator, as we step into our dangerous times, when change is hard and scary and we want to stop and be all cautionary, help us to remember that disciples go about. This is not time to hideout.  Remind us we are never without Jesus’ prayer.

God be with us, God be in us. Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, wiggle and jiggle, and tickle our insides to shift us and shape us towards your love. Gather all our little actions, be one with you and your justice.