Anniversary Sunday – Let us build a house

“Let us Build a House”     61st Anniversary Sunday      4th Sunday of Easter

The sermon time this morning is different today. Although I will be speaking, this is also a time for you as a congregation to process what it means to be celebrating another year of being a congregation – it is a time to look back at where you have been – but looking back not for nostalgia sake, but to see the foundation from which you grew. For being the church is not about what we were – it is about who we are now and where we are going[…]

 

– it is about hearing the call of God and following it. We have spent some time already in who we were – we listened to scripture in the King James Version – many of us would have only heard that in church when we growing up. We sung an old old hymn, Holy, Holy Holy was written in the early 1800’s – it is over 200 years old and yet when I was growing up in the 60’s this was the hymn that we began each church service with. We prayed the prayer that was used at the inauguration of the United Church of Canada in 1925, and we recognized the Charter members in our midst – the ones who first worshiped as St. James~Rosemount United Church 61 years ago…..that was who we were – those are our foundations – out of the faith in Jesus Christ and the vision of the Charter Members came to build a church and with the commitments of others who joined them along the way – we have arrived at this place – the St. James~Rosemount of 2015.
In the Acts reading the people who are gathered around Peter are wondering too how he got to where he was and what was this brand new organization that is forming around him– it was the fledgling Christian Church – people are wondering how it came to be – what it stemmed from – where Peter got his authority, his abilities – and Peter is sharing today how everything is from Jesus – the one that was rejected, says Peter – that is to say – the one that everyone dismissed – the Jesus movement, that everyone assumed died with him on the cross – the Jesus movement is alive and well and growing and flourishing because of who Jesus was, what he taught and who he was now – because of what God has done.the church is becoming ….because of what God has done in Jesus Christ – the church becomes….this is our foundation and Jesus is the cornerstone.
And here we are 2000 years later – still grounded in the same tradition, with Jesus as our cornerstone. Our faith has brought us here – and so now the question is where to from here – what are called to do and be now – for the next few minutes we are going to think about this – and the kids and anyone else who would like to join them are going to be help us visualize with pictures and words – where we may be called into the future. We are going to focus on the words of hymn writer Marty Hagen, wonderful hymn, “Let us Build a House” #1 in More Voices United. I will read a verse out loud and the ones at the front will draw picture or write a word on a brick to build our house. Anyone who would like to help is welcome to come to the front.
So let us build our house here on the cornerstones of faith in Jesus.

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of
Christ shall end divisions.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Describing a church as place where love can dwell, I think is a wonderful image. And I imagine – that this was part of the original founding of this congregation, it may not have been in the original vision statement – if vision statements were even part of the conversation 61 years ago. A group of people gathered together in the Archer’s living room to talk about building a church. I can only imagine what motivated them – a desire for a local church, a place to hear the Word of God, a place to bring their children to learn about Bible stories, place for the community gather….a church home – built of hopes and dreams and visions and that is what this place has been for the last 61 years.
A church begins in love – the love that we have for God, the love that God has for us and the love that we have for each other. But sometimes though when a group of people get together after some time has passed, and challenges come along, or ideas about how things should be shift or you begin to realize that the people you formed the group with are not who you thought they were – conflict happens. It happens in every group and it is necessary and the hopes and dreams and visions get lost or they shift or change. But God is still here and God still has many many hopes and dreams and visions for St. James. There has been conflict here – and we have lost almost all of the founding members of this congregation – yet we live into hope – God is not done with us yet. Maybe now is the time when we find a new vision, dream a new dream, and live into the hope of Jesus in 2015 and beyond.
You will notice from of the words of the hymn that the place of beginning is in safety and forgiveness. It is a place of recognizing that we are all human with frailties and vulnerabilities. We are all flawed and we all fail at one time or another– for that is what it is to be human. But this place, this house – this church is suppose to be our place of forgiveness, it is God’s place we we are welcome in spite of our flaws and failings, in spite of conflict and divisions, this church is a rock of faith and a vault of grace and forgiveness is possible and healing can happen and we can be safe and assured that God is here. We have hopes for the future and dreams and visions to live into.
All are welcome in this place
Let us build a house where prophets speak,
and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek
to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Who are our prophets today? Back in Jesus day it was easier to tell. The reading from Acts has Peter proclaiming he word – he is in prophet mode today speaking truth about God into the situation he is in. He is prophet mode as a group of people gather round him to hear what he has to say, and question and receive answers from Peter about his God given authority to speak these things. But the world has changed a lot in 2000 years and prophets are hard to distinguish.
Our culture uses the word prophet to describe someone who predicts the future and we have seen so many false prophets that we are suspicious of people proclaiming to be prophets– and yet in the church when we use the word prophet we mean to describe someone who speaks for God – our church is based on prophets and relies on prophets to reminds the people who we are and to whom we belong, and how God wishes us to be in the world and where God is calling us to go. We are God’s people and a prophet calls us to remember what that means and how we are to live in the world as God’s people.
Our prophets people like David Suzuki reminding us that the planet that we live on is fragile and sacred and needs to be cared for and protected?
Our prophets today like the Dali Lama who speak of peace in the world, and tolerance and forgiveness?
Who have been the prophets in this church over the ages, have you been able to listen to them or have you forced them out – who are our prophets today?
Are you are prophet – do you have message from God that you need to share with us. Or am I your prophets me – do I have a message from God that you need to hear –
How do you think God is speaking to us today? – because I can guarantee you that God is speaking to us just as God was speaking to the founding members over 60 years ago…sometime though we have a hard time hearing – sometimes God’s voice is drowned out by the noise of the culture telling us that churches are businesses and have bottom lines and should be making a prophet – the money kind not the person kind. Sometimes the voice of God is drowned out by fear, the fear of the unknown, the fear of “we have never done it that way before” or “we tried it once but it didn’t work”, or if we do that than so and so will be unhappy and leave and Sometimes the voice of God is eclipsed by lack of courage, lack of courage take the first step that would shift how we do things. Sometime the voice of God is not responded to because of what I think is often the surest way to silence the voice of the prophet, kindness: “if we do that than this person will be upset, and then they might leave – so lets not do that” Shifting this would upset that group of people so let’s not do that. And another prophet silencer the mighty dollar – or should I say the perceived lack of the mighty dollar – where ministry is stopped in its tracks often before ideas even begin to get fleshed out because “where will the money come from?”
What is God saying – about this place, to this church, to this congregation.
• What do you think God wants from us, as individuals, as congregation, as community, as a nation?
• How does God want us to live?
• how does God want us to care?
• how does God want us to share our selves, our resources, the Good News?
• What does God’s dream for St. James look like now in 2015
• Who are the voices who are urging us forward? God is speaking – are we listening?
• Who are we called to welcome in this place?

Let us build a house where love is found
in water, wine and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground
where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Sacrament is the outward signs of inward grace…that is to say – it is God getting into the world in a tangible way – through water in Baptism, and food with the wine and the bread of communion. God gets into the world – and we are welcomed and nourished and fed. Sacrament has the ability to level the playing field, because it reminds us that everyone is welcome to partake – it does not matter your gender, or your social status or if you are white, black, brown, pink or green – it does not matter your sexual orientation or your gender identity – baptism and communion are open to everyone.

A banquet hall a holy ground where peace and justice meet – that is a pretty big idea – that sacred space provides a place where all of our cultural divides are broken down. Are we that? Is this the place where all are welcome if someone wandered in off the street, who looked a little lost, maybe smelt a little bit, possibly came with their hand out begging for money – would we open up our arms and welcome them in. What if someone from another country wandered through those doors, speaking a language we do not understand, requesting help from us, a place of sanctuary, a need to negotiate the complex government beurocracy of refugees and immigrants? And if someone showed up who had mental illness and their behaviour was disruptive, and their demeanour was off putting, their needs where great …how open is our table, how free is our font?

Sacrament is an ability to look beyond all the outward trappings and see the person as God sees the person, to look at another though the eyes of God – the love of God through Jesus is revealed in time and space… that moment when the water hits the forehead, when the bread is eaten and the juice is drunk everyone of us is connected to our creator in that moment and that is what makes it sacrament. It is a pretty radical idea that goes against the teaching of our society which places value on status, and wealth and the number of toys one has in their garage – or even that you have a garage. When all are welcome, no one is better than or more special or more privileged – when all are welcome everyone has the same status, everyone has the same privilege, everyone regardless of age, stage, colour or creed – everyone.

As we look forward to whom is God calling us to welcome in this place, are we willing to be open to receive them. Are we able to make room in our pews, to open up the doors of our committee rooms, to open up our ears and be willing to make the shifts it requires to welcome others in our midst – for what new people bring are new ideas and new ways of doing things – are we willing to let go of who we think we are and allow space to become someone new because we have opened up our table, our font, our church and our hearts and allowed others to re-shape them?

Are all welcome in this place?

Let us build a house where hands will reach
Beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.
Sometimes it is hard to remember that what we do on Sunday morning is only a small part of what it means to be the church. Yes, worship is important and so is prayer and hearing Scripture and singing our hymns and listening to the word – all very important …but is supposed to be that time that we use to sustain and garner strength so that we can go out into the world and live through the week as God would have us. That is to say our worship time is our grounding place to find our strength and courage and inspiration to go from this place to serve God, to reach out to others, to share the Good News in word and in deed – to share the love of Christ with everyone that you meet. To heal and strengthen serve and teach and to live the Word – the word that Jesus taught – to love God, with all our heart and soul and strength and mind and to love ourselves and to love others – to go out and to love.
Love is a pretty powerful thing, it has the ability to change our world and the ability to change the world around us. When we look at the world through the eyes of love, things shift, things change. All of a sudden something that may have caused anguish and grief has a new perspective when seen through the eyes of love. Love is powerful enough for us to forgive, love is powerful enough for us to change our minds and therefore change the world. Paul had it right, when he was writing to the Corinthians 2000 years ago, love changes everything – he was writing to a church in conflict and talking about how they were called to live in community together, he was telling them about how each member of the congregation had an important part to play, none more important than each other – he used the metaphor of the body how the ear is not better than the leg, or the kidneys, just different and just as important – and then he spoke of gifts, gifts from God that all help to build up the church, again all important but none better than the other – and then he talks about love – and how love is what makes it all work – how love is the primary focus of everything coming together – the love of God, the love that we have for God, the love that we have for each other – everything hinges on it – patient, kind, not rude or boastful – love that never ends
This is what we should be striving for in this church, a love that never ends – a love perspective that allows us to see the outcast and the stranger as being a vital part of who we are, and that the outcast and the stranger are the one that bear the image of God’s face – and when we open ourselves up to care for them to love them as God loves us – then we are transformed, and God gets in and all are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

So here we are – verse 5 – last week we put verse 5 in the bulletin and offered you an opportunity to be heard, to share your thoughts about the vision of this congregation, where we are going, who we are reaching out to – how we are to move into our future – I would like to take a few minutes now as the next layer of bricks are being made for you to speak your truth into this time and space this morning. What is on your heart as we open ourselves to God leading us onward?
What is your song that you need to sing to God? What is your vision for this congregation, for this church?
What makes you feel loved and treasured and claimed as an important vital part of this congregation?
How does this house – this church – St. James~Rosemount proclaim from floor to rafter that you are welcome, that others are welcome
How do we proclaim that God is here and we are God’s people and this is God’s place and this is how we love God – being this church?
All are welcome in this place.

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