Sermon June 14, 2020
On June 10 the United Church of Canada came into being. At a gathering at the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto representatives of the Presbyterian church of Canada, the Methodist Church in Canada and the Congregational Church along with delegates from the General Council of the Union Churches gathered in worship and brought he new church into being
The vision of the new church was to form a national protestant church with the ambition of over time seeing other denominations also joining. While there was an eventual union with Evangelical United Brethren Church that vision was never realized. When the Anglican Church voted in the 1970s not to join with the United Church the idea of further union was abandoned. Some suggest that since then the Untied Church has struggled to find a new national unifying vision and purpose. I wonder.
Perhaps we have not articulated such a vision, but I believe we do have driving ideas. An exploration of justice and how to be a safe and welcoming worshipping community for all come to mind. Are we perfect? Have we lived up to those ideals? No. We fall short of those ideals. But I think we strive for them.
I read two scriptures today. They offer two visions of how we relate to God. In someway they almost contradict one another. In his letter to the Romans Paul emphasizes the importance of faith in our relationship with God. That there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and mercy. It is simply offered. Matthew on the other hand emphasizes that we are called to action. If we are to be disciples of Jesus, there are things we need to do.
Paul’s letter points to God’s presence in our lives even in times of suffering and suggests we are brought closer through suffering. It is a difficult idea. But for what it is worth, I think Paul is not talking about us as individuals. There is an acknowledgement of pain and suffering. Our faith does not protect us from the pain and the loss life sends our way. But he also keeps referring to we and us. We, as individuals, are not abandoned and are not expected to struggle through life all on our own. We are part of a community. We are not alone. We worship in community and struggle together in community. We need to acknowledge that we are part of a community. That in our commitment to God we are also committed to the health and the peace of the community we are part of.
In Matthew we read of Jesus sending out his disciples to work on his behalf. He offers instruction on how work in the world and empowers them to cast out demons.
He makes it clear not everyone is going to welcome them. He also makes it clear this n=is not a journey to accumulate wealth or to gather power and prestige. In fact, we are led to believe that one of the more significant things they will do is cast out demons.
This can be a difficult and challenging notion to our modern sensibilities. If we rea it literally we are left trying to justify that language or shrug it off.
I want to suggest, instead we interrogate what life is like for those in scripture affected by these demons. They show up a few times in scripture. The people possessed by them are left with lonely and pain filled lives. They are pushed to live outside their communities. They have lost all hope of a relationship with God and with society. They are certainly not fully living the life God promised them
The stories of Jesus casting out demons generally shows the healing of communities. Jesus restoring someone to a relationship with family and neighbours. Communities made whole.
If we see that in the story; what are the demons we must confront in our world? What are the forces at work in our communities that break them apart? What are the demons that interfere with people’s ability to fully live their lives in relationship with God and with the communities around them?
I have spoken in recent weeks about racism, white supremacy, homophobia. These are real forces alive an at work in our world. We are confronted regularly with examples, in the United States and here in Canada of black and indigenous and people of colour being killed and assaulted. There are countless other examples, less violent or extreme, but still with the cumulative effect of being labeled as less vital to society than their white siblings. What does it mean to name these things as demonic? Does that sound extreme? Perhaps over the top? Does the language seem a little too colourful?
I confess when I first considered this comparison, I thought that. But perhaps we need to be more forceful, more extreme in our language because the racism that has proven so deadly in our midst will not stop. We keep covering it up or excusing the violence or attempting to justify the killing of people.
Matthew tells us Jesus empowers his followers to go forth. To spread his message of love and purpose. He empowers them to cast out demons and to make communities whole. God’s love and mercy is perhaps assured, but Jesus is telling them to march; to act. Don’t let the dust gather on your sandals. There are communities in need of healing.
What is the motivating vision of the Untied Church in the 21st Century? We have spoken a great deal about justice. We have worked hard to open our places of worship and to declare everyone a beloved child of God. But we exist in a world that all too often favours one group of people over others. A world that too often inflicts real harm on those who do not bear our own likeness. Perhaps s we need to ask, what more can, and should we do as disciples of Jesus to hep heal our communities
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