United In Faith

It was my pleasure and privilege to lead a memorial service yesterday for Sean, Tom and Linda’s oldest son. He died a few weeks ago suddenly and unexpectedly. He was only 49 years old. Now, I didn’t know Sean but after listening to wonderful stories shared by Tom and Sean’s brothers and sisters it was obvious that I missed an opportunity to know a wonderful man, a great friend and a compassionate human being.[…]

[…] One of the wonderful messages that shared yesterday about Sean was about how true he was to himself. Sean was gay and as I listened to the stories it became abundantly clear that he was a man of integrity who lived his life authentically.

One of the things about being a gay man growing up in the 70 and 80’s was that our society was not always a welcoming place nor I might add was our church.  During this time our church spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the rights of the LGBTQ population, and whether or not we should allow Ordination for gays and lesbians, whether or not we would support and conduct same gender unions and later in the 2000’s same gender marriages – These conversation often did more harm in than good to congregations. They became conversations of dissention and conflict and more people left the church on both sides of this issue than probably at any other time in the United Churches history. Sometimes whole congregations voted to leave the United Church of Canada.

And you may be sitting there asking why on earth would she be bringing this topic up in worship – why dig up that can of worms – after all we have been there and done that and lost members and it was a time of pain and brokenness and conflict and strife – it is better to leave well enough alone – this is not something we want to hear about in a sermon – what is she doing bringing all that up again?

Indeed, I wonder if that is what the disciples are thinking as Jesus talks to them and prays with them this morning. I wonder if they are thinking – please be quite Jesus, don’t bring this up – we don’t want to talk about this….please don’t talk of the hard and difficult things, its Passover, we are supposed to be celebrating the Exodus, like all good Jewish people do- why do you have to talk about hard things life death and betrayal and denial – and yet here Jesus is in the midst of a prayer mind you – a prayer where Jesus yet again brings up the difficult stuff about his leaving this earth and leaving the disciples behind and that they are ones that will have to be doing the challenging work once he is gone. Enough Jesus, leave well enough alone!

Our passage this morning is spoken in the Upper room where we have been for the last three Sundays. John is making a point in this passage that something is going on in this time that is so important that he will devote almost 1/5 of his entire gospel to this small four hour time segment in Jesus life. 4 of John’s 21 chapters take place in the Upper Room; John tells of the tale of the arrest, trial and crucifixion in two chapters and it only takes three chapters for the resurrection experiences – so this 4 chapter upper room moment in Jesus life is incredibly significant to John. And what Jesus has to say is really important too. John used repetition as a tool to highlight the significance of these thoughts and prayers of Jesus. Some of our most beloved Jesus passages come from this section – it is here we find “in my Father’s house there are many rooms ” Here is the new commandment that we must love each other as Jesus loves us – Here also is the promise of the Holy Spirit – and today, in the passage Anne read just a few minutes ago – here we have the promise that all will be one – one in God, one in Jesus, one with each other, one in the world. All will be one……

This is a significant passage for the United Church of Canada – in 1925 at its inaugural worship service on June 8, this was the scripture that was read – and not only that – when you look at an United Church Crest you will see these words – that all may be one – well as long as you can read Latin or Ojibway – Ut Omnes Unim Sint – means that All May Be One. It’s kinda like our motto – something to ascribe to as a denomination – the only problem is that we sometimes have a hard time living up to the motto.

When I hear the phrase “that all may be one” I imagine our founding fathers and mothers had a vision in their minds about one Protestant United church that stretched from coast to coast to coast. Did you know that when they first began talking about creating this church, the Presbyterians, Methodist and Congregationalist – our three founding denominations also included the Baptists and the Anglican too in the original conversations. The Baptists withdrew from the discussions first, and the Anglicans withdrew in about 1911 – but 65 % of the Presbyterians and all the Methodist and Congregationalists voted to become the United Church of Canada – so they were not ‘all one’ even at the beginning – but that does not mean that they did not hope they could become one – and talks resumed again in the 1960’s with the Evangelical United Brethren and the Anglicans with the EUB joining in ‘69 and the Anglicans politely declining again in the early 70’s.

Sometime in the next few decades that focus shifted as the culture shifted and becoming ‘one’ became less about forming one denomination and more about becoming one in heart and mind with others even if they looked different from us and shared a different ways of worshipping or even had a God with a different name. We began to see similarities where before we had seen only differences. We began to recognize that our way was neither the only way nor necessarily the right way. With this new understanding we had to recognized that we had made mistakes in the past, that our attempts to ‘make all one’ sometimes where dismal failures and sometimes were catastrophic mistakes – the residential schools run by the United Church of Canada would be a good example of that. We as a church began to recognize our complicity in our misguided attempts to make ‘all one’. And slowly we are coming to the understanding that being one has nothing to do with sharing the same cultural values or skin colour or even faith in Jesus – being one means knowing that we are all beloved children on God – all of us are God’s children…as Jesus said a long time ago in that Upper room as he shared one last meal with his friends.

And he prays for his disciples and he prays for us to be one – one in heart and mind with God, with each other, and with the world – and this is not an easy task – this is not easy work – it is hard, hard, hard to look at my neighbour and love them as myself – to recognize that I am one with them

What does it mean to be one with someone with mental illness, when what they say and how they act is so confusing and scary and sometimes not safe?

What does it mean to be one with the poor and oppressed, when poverty is written all over them, in how they dress, and how they smell and even how they walk?

What does it mean to be one with the prisoner, when their decisions to commit horrendous acts confounds and frighten us?

What does it mean to be one with native people, and recognize that it was our ancestors who exploited them and brought disease and did not allow Status Indians to vote until 1960.

What does it mean to be one with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters when we shut them out or ask them to stay in their closets if they wish to participate?

Or is the better question – what do they see when they look in my eyes? Do they see my fear, or disgust or prejudice or lack of understanding – do they see the Christ looking back at them?

Being one with another means that we are willing look into each other’s eyes and see another as a full and complete human being, as a beloved child of God, someone who has the Christ within, so that All May Be One.

Which is why we revisit old situations and former decisions and open up cans of worms and consider how we treated each other in the past – for you know we don’t always walk the path God calls us to walk, nor do we always love our neighbour. We may have made choices and decisions based on fear or regret or pain or sometimes we don’t even know why we feel the way we do about issues that confront us and we act without thought or care for the other. Anytime we have missed seeing the Christ in another and have excluded instead of included, anytime we have come to a firm decision about an issue and stand solid on one side or another unable to hear or consider that there might be another way to think about the issue or situation, anytime a choice is made that causes harm to another – it is probably time to sit with those disciples again in the Upper Room again and hear Jesus words of inclusion, hear God’s plan of all being one. But here is the thing, Jesus is talking about a God of forgiveness, a God of love and a God of do-overs a God who will help us release those canned up worms. We get the chance to bring healing to brokenness, to offer forgiveness to pain, to care for each other again, to love God and to love our neighbour. And when we do this, and when we see the Christ in another’s eyes and open up our hearts and minds in love, the kingdom comes and God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.


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