Trinity Sunday, 2017:05:11 92 Anniversary of the UCC Matthew 28:16-20
Story: A Little Church That Was
When I was serving the Daysland Pastoral Charge, I visited every residence in Ohaton, leaving a leaflet about the pastoral charge with an invitation to starting a Bible Study Group. One person responded who was interested in taking part in such a group and I arranged one. She and her husband took part and I learned that they attended a church near Pigeon Lake. They drove past the Ohaton Church and many churches in Camrose, Wynn and Wetaskiwin to attend this small church. The reason they did was because the congregation was a genuinely caring faith community that was safe and cared for its members, a place where everyone felt part of a loving family.
Message: Original Purpose: New Form
The Great Commission was a directive to share the Good News that Jesus offered in his preaching so the hearers were equipped to share that Good News. “Make disciples of all the nations.”
Jesus shared Good News in many ways. The story of the prodigal father/prodigal son told of a God who never stops loving us, no matter what we do. The story of the lost sheep and the lost coin declared God is persistent in trying to help us find the right path in life.
The event where his disciples gathered wheat on the Sabbath declares our well-being comes before religious rules. The stories of the woman at the well, the people with leprosy, blindness and lameness declare there are no boundaries between us and God. The story of the tax collector declares it is never too late to find the joy from living in a right way.
How are we supposed to share the Good News? Begin with the command to love one another as Jesus loved us. To start, work in teams. Establish communities of love and trust. Share the Good News without control over the results. Trust in God and share the news everywhere. In the parable of the sower, the sower threw the seed everywhere. Jesus gave everything he had for his love of others.
One way we share the Good News is the support we provide to others. For a combination of reasons, the support offered by the members of St. Andrew’s to the M & S fund is down to a little over half of what it was last year at the same time. The M & S fund supports people in need across Canada and around the world. It supports peace-making efforts in El Salvador, schools in India, ministries for the hungry, deaf, and marginalized in Canada, refugee camps in places like Jordan, outreach ministries like Brunswick Street United in Halifax and Boyle Street in Edmonton. We are working towards reconciliation with First Nations peoples, and M & S support of the Healing Fund supports events that help this process.
Our support of the M & S fund helps to make God’s love real for people around the world, supports providing a human face and human hands providing connections and care.
What makes it hard to share?
First, the Good News does not always feel like Good News. Using weeds and yeast for the kingdom makes some people uncomfortable. A forgiving God undermines the power of religious and political establishments. Do not worry about wealth undermines the consumption economy.
The news we share, the discipleship we build, is the same. Our commission today is the same as 1980 years ago.
The distortion of that commission by the church to making people hold the right beliefs, to making the Good News bad news to many, bothers and embarrasses me, but we can move forward. The forms for serving that commission included house churches, gatherings by rivers, missionaries and itinerant preachers, church buildings, cathedrals, hospitals, and universities. For the last 30 to 60 years we have been used to working out of church buildings. That model is in general decline. New forms include different applications of the internet.
To succeed in sharing the Good News and growing disciples, we need to equip our members to share their faith where they work, shop and play.
That equipping begins with establishing we as a faith community are followers of Jesus, whatever we may believe about Jesus. The lack of knowledge many or most members of the United Church have of the Bible, about what they believe, and about the current issues regarding Christian faith and community means that most United Church members lack the confidence they need to share their faith. We need to help people become familiar with the teachings of Jesus, whether we choose to believe he said everything ascribed to him in the Gospels or accept the decisions of the Jesus Seminar or somewhere in between. As a community, we need consensus on which teachings are core to our beliefs and actions. And we need to provide solid evidence in support of our priorities. When equipped with this, it is easier to be a disciple, to live as a disciple, and to inspire others to become disciples.
We also need to explore new forms of being to connect with people. Tentmakers* grow faith in remote work places, but rarely establish new communities. Online communities help connect people, but rarely develop the feeling of community. It is difficult creating solid communities with these formats.
I hope that the new ministries we develop will be like that church near Pigeon Lake, that people will find safety, love, belonging, and importance in those ministries. And I hope they will be more than that in helping people become disciples able and willing to share their faith.
I ask you to consider how we can more effectively reach out to people and develop the kind of relationships where they will make choices to become part of our faith communities. Our purpose must be still to share the Good News, but we need new forms to do that. May God help us learn so we may share the blessings that are part of a caring faith community.
*Tentmakers are people who go to work in places like mining, logging and fishing camps as workers, but use their evening and weekend time to share their faith, teach about the Bible and Christian beliefs, and lead small group prayer and worship meetings. They receive no financial support for their ministry. Paul was a tentmaker and explains how he was self-supporting while working for his ministry in one of his letters.