Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to
which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they
worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said
to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given
to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and
of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that
I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always,
to the end of the age.”
Listen Rev. Chris Fickling
Last week, we read the story of Pentecost – the blessing of the Holy Spirit to create unity amongst diversity – through the gift of languages, the disciples discover community. But just being able to speak doesn’t mean that we’re communicating. So much of communication is listening – and it’s actually where the story of Pentecost begins, for the Holy Spirit arrives in the sound like the rush of a violent wind. The disciples were at a point desperate enough, after Christ’s death, after his resurrection, to be present and listen.
And as I listened to another week of voices raised in support of Black Lives Matter, I heard anger, frustration, disappointment, sorrow, and fear. George Floyd wasn’t a hero. Nor did he deserve death. Neither did Breonna Taylor or the thousands more names that have gone unheard. For the voice of God speaks, crying out for justice, and in response a whole host of white, male politicians this week claimed there is not systemic racism, some of whom walked back their statements. And it’s not surprising that the “protests about police brutality were met with more police brutality” and when they were called on it, they resigned.
It needs to be said, not all police officers are bad, and not all black people are criminals, and not all white people are racist, but…we’ve all got work to do.
It seems counter-intuitive to have a large gathering of people at a march during a pandemic, but maybe that too should speak to us – that people are more afraid of dying at the hands of an unjust system than they are of a pandemic. In Kitchener/Waterloo, we had our largest march ever, with estimates between 12 and 20thousand people. And participating online, I saw so many masks, so many trying to physical distance, so many trying to show unity amidst diversity. So many yearning for community.
Jesus yearned for that same unity expressed in community. In this text, the resurrected Jesus commissions the disciples to go and make disciples, which is less about Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour, and more about teaching them of the love and mercy needed to bring unity and community. There’s another story in which Jesus teaches about unity. Remember – this story is 2000 years old. It is the story of a shepherd, with 100 sheep, who before long notices that one sheep is missing. That shepherd leaves the 99 and goes after the one. The 99 think to themselves, don’t we matter? Don’t all sheep matter? But the one – the one that is alone – the one that is afraid – the one that is in danger – needs the particular attention of the shepherd. And Jesus told this story to describe the relentless, foolish love of God that particularly seeks out the ones most hurting, the ones most in danger. This is love that is incomprehensible: however, having it modeled for us, taught to us, we have no excuse to a least try and love as we have been loved.
If President Trump would have opened up that Bible he so proudly held up this week, he would have read that story, and many more like Matthew 6 – beware the hypocrites…who love to stand…at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. (but I’m pretty sure that’s another sermon…and it’s all just too easy)
The work we’ll called to is much more difficult. We are to admit we do not know it all, and forgive ourselves, and humble ourselves, all which enable us to listen. We are to seek the one lost or in danger. We are to learn. We are to work for unity. We are to love.
This work will never end. And it is exhausting to continually discern the ones most in danger. When coronavirus hit, we discerned that this would affect our seniors most – and we figured out ways to keep them safe by learning about ppe and contact tracing and listening to scientists – all for the unity of community.
We are committing to a lifetime of learning – a lifetime of reading and listening to voices that are not our own – a lifetime of personal responsibility and self-analysis to wonder whether or not we are channelling the peace of God, or whether we are stopping that peace. Surely there must be a better way – and there was – for a time – his name was Jesus, and he too was put to death. Make me a channel of your peace reminds us that we are a vital part of bringing God’s peace into the world. That peace flows through us, because until the end of the age, the risen Christ is with us. Until the end of all things, until the world is complete, the Christ light shines in order that it may be shared. To unite us in community.
We celebrate the birthday of the United Church this week, for our church came to be on June 10, 1925, to ensure that we continually interpret and reinterpret our faith because of the voices of those around us. We have listened and lifted up the voices of women, First Nations, racialized people, gay, lesbian, trans people, all while holding the love of Jesus before us as our guide. We have updated our creeds with language appropriate for our time, we have updated our crest to acknowledge all of our relations within this church of ours.
We can’t sit back on our laurels. Just a couple years ago, the United Church at a week-long meeting of the church called General Council, members from across Canada gathered to listen to voices of those in our midst, those who have experienced deep and systemic racism within our church. Though we have come far, we still have far to go.
And Jesus speaks, I shall be with you til the end of the age.
I will be the peace that flows through you – until peace is known by all.
I will be the love that finds you, until love is known by all.
I will be the unity within your communities, until unity is known by all.
With all of our relations, may we listen to one another and learn from another,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love with all our souls.