Anniversary Sunday

Dreams and Visions of New Life 

In the fall, and again this February, some of us met after church to talk about St. James’-Rosemount.  We reflected on what God had given us – the resources and blessings for which we are thankful, the people who are the church in this moment in time, and the challenges facing us.

It’s no surprise what came out of those gatherings:  that we like to eat, that we value our youth, our Sunday School, that we are blessed with a fabulous music program, both with the choir and Alison’s gifts, that we are generous with our resources (money and building).

We dreamed our dreams, and shared visions about what were our growing edges – our need to talk up and advertise church more, to be bold with our faith, to knock on the doors of our neighbours and invite them to church, to connect with ones that have drifted away and invite them back (to do as the former Olivet crew is doing and working on those they know are still at home).  Sometimes with an anniversary it’s a good reason to connect with others.

In these discussions, if you look at the back of the bulletin, we (unknowingly) used a Japanese concept of Ikigai (pronounced icky guy) to identify our passions: that mixture of what we’re good at, and what we love.  But the other quadrants were a little more illusive to us…what does the world need?  What can we be paid for, or better said, what makes us feel useful, able to be recognized for our gifts?

It’s difficult to listen.  It’s difficult to hear what else the world needs when we’re run ragged.  It’s difficult to have challenging conversations.

I’ll sit down and talk your ear off about the new Star Wars movie coming out in December, and the interpretations of the trailer they released, and the implications on what that has for the series as a whole.  But last week, when my son (Nahum) and I were walking home from church on that beautiful Earth Day, when I passed someone on the street, and they passed and then just after stopped, called out to us, and said, “Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses?” I was taken aback.  I responded like any good Canadian, saying “I’m sorry…” and said no, but all of a sudden in me, I was…I don’t know.  Do I give off that vibe?  That vibe that I’m just ready to ask, “have you heard the Good News of Jesus Christ?”  Do I … look like a Christian?  What does a Christian look like?  So many questions that I’d love to go back and do that conversation over.

There are moments in all our lives that we’d love a do over.  I’m sure in the history of this church there are moments we’d want to do over.  Conversations that have closed doors rather than open them.  Moments of hurt that we still carry as part of our story.  Moments of grace that have enabled us to still be here today.

We know as we reflect on this anniversary, that we are older.  We are blessed to have the wisdom of years of experience, we are those who have kept the faith in spite of the hurts that have beat us down.  It is now our turn to carry this light for this new generation, but we’re dismayed that there’s not as many as there used to be.  We’re not the church of the 1950’s, and we’re dealing with a whole new shunning of faith.  Or better said, shunning of the way we’ve lived our faith life.  These days, while we give thanks for those who are here, we are more deeply aware of who isn’t here.

I was talking with a colleague this week, and whether or not we know it, the biggest challenge for us within the church is to imagine ourselves outside of it.  We need to be standing in the Zehrs on Sunday morning, or Tims or other places where new rituals have replaced old.  We need to hear why people aren’t here.

For those hurriedly gathering groceries for the upcoming week have found the only moment’s peace do so.  For those at home doing laundry, do so in trying to prepare themselves for another hurried and harried week of not enough time.  Those in this culture have become beaten down by not enough time, not enough sleep, not enough caffeine, not enough money, not enough hope, not enough love…in our ever stressful lives where caring for oneself has become a luxury …we have not allowed ourselves to rise.  We have convinced ourselves there’s just not enough.  But this is nothing new.  It is our human story.

It wasn’t enough that Jesus was born.  It wasn’t enough that he healed, and loved.  It wasn’t enough that he transformed the lives of those wounded by society, by those excluded by demons, mental illness, by hunger, by suffering.  It wasn’t enough that he fed thousands, or ensured that there was good wine at the wedding.  It wasn’t enough to have him preach against the injustices done in the name of religion, state, those willing to take advantage of those in need.  It wasn’t enough to watch him suffer for his beliefs.  It wasn’t enough to watch hopes die and be challenged to still carry faith in the midst of suffering and death.  It wasn’t enough for God, to let death be the final word.

We are a people of the resurrection, and it’s not enough for us to just hear these stories at Easter.  We need, in spite of our struggles with the science of it all, to own this story, to make it our song, to know that this is what makes us stand out from the world.  It’s not enough to  give away our building when we could charge for room rentals.  It’s not enough to hand over money so that students in Kenya can enjoy a “luxury” that our kids whine about.  We must embrace the fact that the resurrection, our beliefs, our traditions, our language, our history, is so out of step with culture.  And that’s why we’re still here.  We are not the norm.  We are the outsiders.

And it is because, our reference point, our leader (as Peter Rollins[1] says)

“Jesus, was an outsider…Jesus the drunkard…the bastard… the friend of sinners…Jesus the one who would always stay with those who were oppressed… Rollins tells the story of his friend’s parable as one who came to the pearly gates, and sees all his friends standing outside those gates, sees the athiests, the Buddhists, and godknowswhat hanging around outside that promised land, and thinks about that Jesus the outsider, and that person about to be ushered in says that he’s better staying with those outside than going in to receive his glory.”

Somewhere in the last two thousand years of Christianity, we’ve lost the message of what our hope is.  It is not in the glorious reign of Jesus Christ where the whole world is to be made whole again.  Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead without the scars of the hurt and brokenness of the world upon his body.  He rises, as no one has ever done, to reveal a new understanding of God – that new life, resurrection, is the core of what we do each and every day.  And we deny this resurrection, as theologian Peter Rollins said,

“Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from people who are poor, I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system.

However there are (brief) moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those on their knees, when I cry out for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I weep for those people who have no more tears left to shed.”[2]

The resurrection gives us hope enough to know that no matter what experience of scarcity (our time, money, visions, dreams) that God gives us the power to rise.

[1] (quoting from and paraphrase)

[2] ibid


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