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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Basics of Faith 9 - Live Love

Live Love

Basics of Faith 9 – August 27, 2017
 A Sermon by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald

Texts read on August 27The Tough Love ~Paraphrase of Psalm 82 by James Taylor (printed below; Epistle: 1 Peter 2:2-10; *Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

Psalm 82 ~ Tough Love

God sits at the head of the table.
          "How long," God demands, will you keep
          making wrong choices?
How long will your policies favour injustice?
          I expect you to be fair to everyone,
          including those with no economic weight;
to defend the rights of those who have no voice,
and no one to speak for them.
          to protect the weak and the struggling from exploitation.
Of all people, they need your protection most.
          They do not have education or money,
          or friends in high places.
They have suffered devastating losses in their lives."
          God says:  "You think you have taken over
          my responsibilities.
          But you are not God.
When your time comes, you will die like everyone else."
          Come, Lord.
Come Judge the earth.
          We are yours to judge.         

by James Taylor ~ Everyday Psalms

          Since June, we have covered, in the Basics of Faith Sermon, nine topics normally covered in classes for Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows   - for confirmation. This week the topic is living our faith in the world – Live Love.
          Before I move into this week’s topic, I am very aware that there are two areas that I have not covered explicitly. One is the Holy Spirit – for we are a church that baptizes using the traditional words recognized by our partner denominations in the Canadian Council of Churches; that is "Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Also, we regularly speak of the Spirit in our discussions, in sermons and in prayer. If we follow the lectionary church calendar when preaching, we specifically address the importance of the Holy Spirit to the Church on Pentecost Sunday and often on Trinity Sunday.  More importantly, the General Council of the United Church is increasingly looking to the movement of the Spirit as it continues to be relevant in a Post-modern world calling its present work "Engaging the Spirit".
          Also not covered in the nine topics is the denominational specific topic of the polity of the church – that is, the way the church works; the difference between being a member, an adherent and a full member; as well as how the church makes decisions on all levels; and where to find the by-laws that govern the denomination of the United Church of Canada as a whole. That topic is best covered in small groups or as an evening discussion group of any size and may need a review in light of the impending changes to the structure of the United Church.  In fact, the Council of this Pastoral Charge will be looking at structure as it works, this fall, to improve the effectiveness and communication of your current governance model.
          Today, with those two notable exceptions – the Holy Spirit and Church Structure and Governance, I will wrap up the series which I began in June as I talk about living our faith in the world.
          I think it is relevant that the United Church of Canada puts the words mission and service together, inseparable parts of a whole. Perhaps that is because in the United Church of Canada, we do not use the word mission to mean to proselytize or evangelize or convert others to Christianity or to the United Church of Canada. This does not mean that we, who call the United Church of Canada our home, do not hold our Christian faith dear – but it does mean that our focus is not to get others to agree with us in our beliefs, but rather to live what we believe. Mission in the United Church means providing a way to serve the needs of others in the world; a way to respond to disaster-like crises in the world; to promote peace and justice and address everyday injustices such as poverty, mental or physical challenges, innovations in ministry, environmental crises, and so on.  Mission and Service is the United Church's way of facilitating living with compassion – of living love.   If we are doing mission and service well, if we are living what we believe, then we may be following the advice of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always; use words only when necessary.” I grew up on the words, “They will know we are Christians by our love”, and I like to think this is true of us, even if we are not always seen that way.
          I am fascinated by the fact that the very first members of the communities we refer to as the Early Church were not commonly referred to as ‘Christians’ or ‘Christ followers’, but as ‘people of the way’, because they followed a particular way of living – and that way, is of course, the way taught by Jesus, whom we call the Christ; the anointed one.
          The United Church of Canada became a denomination in the hay-day of the Social Gospel. There was so much work to be done for outreach and justice that this work was one of the compelling reasons the three founding denominations got together:  it was easier to do the work of the Social Gospel if they combined their efforts, rather than compete with one another for resources to do the same work with the same people. And the twenty articles of faith, now referred to as the twenty articles of doctrine, which are in the Basis of Union came about by consensus – that is, while the founding members of the United Church of Canada might not be able to agree on everything, at that point in time, at our coming together in 1925 after 14 years of deliberation, the founding denominations could agree on the things which were written into the Basis of Union.
          The United Church has historically been outspoken on issues of justice, often taking unpopular stands. What is sometimes overlooked is that other denominations were struggling with the same issues of justice at the same time and coming to similar conclusions, but other denominations often lagged in making public statements or in having the will to act radically. Is this strength on our part, or a weakness? That depends, I think on the person with whom you are speaking – but outspoken and justice-oriented is who we are as a denomination. I believe this outspokenness comes from a deeply spiritual place. I have noticed, over the years as the United Church continues its radical journey forward, it is also increasing its emphasis of spiritual practices. These are not easy issues we undertake, and, it should be noted that while the General Council encourages congregations to follow suit on its decisions; it does not demand it and remains open to criticism and change.
          Mission and Service are not separated in the United Church, nor are they for most people in the congregations. By that I mean, our Mission is to help, not to convert. We are, for the most part, not a people who go about debating our faith with others. We are a people who live it – and we live it by struggling regularly with issues of justice and integrity and compassion. We believe firmly in a God who loves us and who is with us in our struggles. We believe that Jesus taught us the way to live in the world and that the Gospels help us to understand that way.  We continue to read and study the Bible, but always with an eye to the world as it is; with an openness to the Word as something living and changing as we and the world in which we live change.  Our one constant is that our understanding is rooted in Love – Love of God, of Jesus, and of the people who struggle with these concepts.
          The result of years of worshipping and learning together is that the United Church as a uniting church has  come to believe that the way of Jesus is one of compassion. One of the central teachings which helps us to struggle with living the love that Jesus taught is found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10. It is these words: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."  This was the answer the young lawyer gave to Jesus in response to his own question: “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus tells him that his answer is correct. Then Jesus continues the lesson with the parable of the good Samaritan.
          To most practicing devout Jews at the time in which Jesus lived the phrase “good Samaritan” was an oxymoron. They would not have put good and Samaritan in the same sentence – it just didn’t make sense. The lesson for the young lawyer, and for us, is that everyone is our neighbor; and the one who lives with compassion; that is, the one who shows mercy, is the good neighbor and has fulfilled the greatest commandment. To be a good neighbor is a life-long challenge. To realize that often those we fear as enemy might be our good neighbor is even more challenging.
          Live love: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. This statement, these two commands are a summary of the intention of all the other commandments. These two are simple and complex at the same time. Do we begin with us – that is by learning to love ourselves properly and then “love our neighbours as ourselves” and come to God in that way to because by loving our neighbor as ourselves we are filling the commandment to love God with all of our being. Or is it the other way around: do we love God, who loves both us and our neighbor? And by loving God with all of our being, we unavoidably love our neighbor as ourselves because we love what God loves – all our neighbours:  the ones we are happy to greet and the ones who vex us.  These two commandments together offer a lifetime of learning and living.
          We are not called to separate or to judge.  We are called to be a Holy people, called to be people of the way, called to be followers of the Christ. We are called to Live Love.
May it always be so.  Amen.

United Church of Canada Statements and Creeds on Communion
Note:  Article XX in the Basis of Union is the closest to Mission in the founding documents of the United Church, though the reason for uniting in the first place was the Social Gospel.  Over time, the church in the world has come to understand mission more as aiding others to wholeness than converting people to our own way of thinking.  The church has struggled, since that time, to consider how to live the Gospel among all people rather than preach at people.  As the United Church of Canada and its people grow in understanding.  It has chosen to lament the injustices of colonialism and to strive to live in a more open and equitable relationship with all peoples.  Our understanding of Christian Service has dramatically changed as will be seen in subsequent Creeds and Statements.  The progression of our understanding of how to live as the church in the world is addressed in the Preamble to the Song of Faith (2006), so it is printed first and then the sections of the various statements, beginning in 1925, which might be relevant to our topic:  Live Love.

(Song of Faith)
          This statement of faith seeks to provide a verbal picture of what The United Church of Canada understands its faith to be in its current historical, political, social, and theological context at the beginning of the 21st century. It is also a means of ongoing reflection and an invitation for the church to live out its convictions in relation to the world in which we live.
The church’s faith is grounded in truths that are timeless. These truths, however, must be embraced anew by Christians of each generation and stated “in terms of the thoughts of their own age and with the emphasis their age needs” (Statement of Faith, 1940).
This is not the first time the United Church has formally expressed its collective faith. In the Basis of Union (1925), in the Statement of Faith (1940), and in A New Creed (1968), the United Church stated its faith in words appropriate to its time. This current statement of faith is offered within that tradition, and in response to the request of the 37th General Council (2000) for a “timely and contextual statement of faith” that especially engages “the church in conversation on the nature of the church (ecclesiology), ministry and the sacraments.”
This statement of faith attempts to reflect the spirit of The United Church of Canada and to respond to various defining elements in our social, political, and historical context, including the place of the church in society, the cultural and intellectual setting in which we find ourselves, the meaning of “truth,” the impact of the market economy on our daily lives, and the growing issue of the meaning of “security.” These contextual elements are further explored in the appendices to this document.
This is not a statement for all time but for our time. In as much as the Spirit keeps faith with us, we can express our understanding of the Holy with confidence. And in as much as the Spirit is vast and wild, we recognize that our understanding of the Holy is always partial and limited. Nonetheless we have faith, and this statement collects the meaning of our song.

1925 – Basis of Union 
Article XX. Of Christian Service and the Final Triumph. We believe that it is our duty, as disciples and servants of Christ, to further the extension of His Kingdom, to do good unto all men, to maintain the public and private worship of God, to hallow the Lord’s Day, to preserve the inviolability of marriage and the sanctity of the family, to uphold the just authority of the State, and so to live in all honesty, purity, and charity, that our lives shall testify of Christ. We joyfully receive the word of Christ, bidding His people go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, declaring unto them that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, and that He will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. We confidently believe that by His power and grace all His enemies shall finally be overcome, and the kingdoms of this world be made the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ.
1940 – Statement of Faith
XI. Christian Life and Duty We believe that the Christian life is the life lived in fellowship with Christ and His Church. It begins with repentance and faith. In repentance men turn from sin to serve the holy and forgiving God with new and glad obedience. In faith they entrust themselves to Christ and rest upon Him alone for salvation. We believe that by the teaching and example of Jesus the Holy Spirit shows men the way and the end of the Christian life, what it means to love God with all the heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love their neighbour as themselves. We believe that Christian men are called to abide within the fellowship of the Church, to maintain its peace and unity, and to give diligent heed to prayer, to the reading of Scripture, to common worship and the sacraments. We believe that they are likewise called to live as those who are of the Kingdom of God, and to seek His righteousness both in individual and social life, serving their fellow-men in love for Christ’s sake, and striving and waiting in prayer for an ordered common life where the will of God for the well-being and peace of men shall be done over all the earth. We believe that in denying themselves and in following Christ men are enabled by the Spirit of God more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness; that they are, under the hand of a faithful Father, in labour, love, and duty, in suffering, sorrow and defeat, renewed in the inner man after the image of the crucified and victorious Christ; and that they receive in this life a foretaste of the final redemption, assurance of the divine favour, peace and joy, and the confidence that He is able to keep them to the end. So we acknowledge the Christian life as the life lived within the family of God, with the graces and privileges, the duties and discipline, through which the Christian man grows up in all things into Christ.
1968 (Rev. 1980, 1995) - A New Creed
We are called to be the Church:
    to celebrate God’s presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope.

2006 – A Song of Faith
We sing of the Creator,
          who made humans to live and move
          and have their being in God.
In and with God,
          we can direct our lives toward right relationship
          with each other and with God.
We can discover our place as one strand in the web of life.
We can grow in wisdom and compassion.
We can recognize all people as kin.
We can accept our mortality and finitude, not as a curse,
          but as a challenge to make our lives and choices matter.
. . . . . . .

God reconciles,
          and calls us to repent the part we have played
          in damaging our world, ourselves, and each other.
God transforms,
          and calls us to protect the vulnerable,
          to pray for deliverance from evil,
          to work with God for the healing of the world,
          that all might have abundant life.
We sing of grace.
. . . . . . .

The fullness of life includes
          moments of unexpected inspiration and courage lived out,
          experiences of beauty, truth, and goodness,
          blessings of seeds and harvest,
                    friendship and family, intellect and sexuality,
          the reconciliation of persons through justice
                    and communities living in righteousness,
                    and the articulation of meaning.
And so we sing of God the Spirit,
          who from the beginning has swept over the face of creation,
          animating all energy and matter
          and moving in the human heart.
. . . . . . .

Jesus announced the coming of God’s reign—
          a commonwealth not of domination
          but of peace, justice, and reconciliation.
He healed the sick and fed the hungry.
He forgave sins and freed those held captive
          by all manner of demonic powers.
He crossed barriers of race, class, culture, and gender.
He preached and practised unconditional love—
          love of God, love of neighbour,
          love of friend, love of enemy—
and he commanded his followers to love one another
          as he had loved them.
. . . . . . .
We sing of God’s good news lived out,
a church with purpose:
          faith nurtured and hearts comforted,
          gifts shared for the good of all,
          resistance to the forces that exploit and marginalize,
          fierce love in the face of violence,
          human dignity defended,
          members of a community held and inspired by God,
                    corrected and comforted,
          instrument of the loving Spirit of Christ,
          creation’s mending.
We sing of God’s mission.
. . . . . . .
In grateful response to God’s abundant love,
          we bear in mind our integral connection
          to the earth and one another;
we participate in God’s work of healing and mending creation.
. . . . . . .
Divine creation does not cease
          until all things have found wholeness, union, and integration
          with the common ground of all being.
As children of the Timeless One,
          our time-bound lives will find completion
          in the all-embracing Creator.
In the meantime, we embrace the present,
          embodying hope, loving our enemies,
          caring for the earth,
choosing life.

Grateful for God’s loving action,
          we cannot keep from singing.
Creating and seeking relationship,
          in awe and trust,
we witness to Holy Mystery who is Wholly Love. 


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Basics of Faith 9 - Live Love

Live Love Basics of Faith 9 – August 27, 2017  A Sermon by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald Texts read on August 27 :  The Tough Love ~ Pa...