September 3, 2017 Christian Labour
Story: The Giant Hyssop
One of the flowers we have in our garden is Giant Hyssop. It starts blooming in May and blooms until September, producing thin spikes of flowers loved by bees and butterflies as it produces lots of nectar. It self-seeds poorly so the flower and nectar production is mostly for the good of others, a very Christian thing to do.
Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (A short comment on the last part of this reading: anyone who has become ashamed of something they did will interpret the burning coals as the burn feeling ashamed gives to us. Kindness offered to enemies can change how they see their relationship with us.)
Message: Christian Labour
Our first hymn three weeks ago was “Put your hand in the hand” and its chorus included “Build the land that God has planned where love shines through.” Our reading from Romans speaks to the kind of labour required to build that land, and it has many special qualities with love, persistence, and relationship with God as the core qualities. Labour Day comes with a history of oppression against workers by governments, royalty, and the wealthy, oppression which was successfully resisted by the willingness of workers to cooperate with one another, and a resistance which is still needed today. The Christian Church exists today because its members from its first days resisted oppression and persecution by the state, religious and economic leaders. It was a community that experienced violence and a variety of hardships. In the face of threats and violence, violence that would include his crucifixion, Paul encouraged his readers to a higher level of being with a spirit of hope and determination as they cooperated with and cared for each other..
The perfect church described in Acts was probably already history by the time Paul became an evangelist, but it offered a set of standards for us to use as a target. Paul’s letters gave us a view of the political struggles that divided the early church as well as snapshots of the successes and failures of early churches in following the Way set by Jesus, and their stories assure us that we do not need to be perfect, just loving.
Our history of the church shows it as willing to take on new ministries of caring at the same times as it feuded over power and control, an intersection between Jesus and human culture.
We still struggle with our egos, grasping for control, and burning to make a difference in building a better world. Here with Deer Park and St. Andrew’s we see and hear eagerness to care, to love one another, to work together for good in this world, and contests of will about how we will do that. The world changes, but the way we are does not. Here are what I see as the most important calls in Paul’s letter: genuine love, resistance to evil, holding to what is good, honouring one another, ardent spirits, serving God, rejoicing in hope, patience, perseverance, hospitality, and living in harmony.
My request to you is to tell each other one story about how your experience of church includes one or more of those qualities. This is your story, this is your song. There is much love present in this space, and I want you to tell others of your experience of that love.
If this were a workshop, I would ask for some people to share stories they heard. It is not, and I ask you to take those stories with you and to let them shine in what you do and say outside of church.
Our mission is to share the love and hope we receive with the world around us, to take on the Christian labour of building the land that God has planned, where love shines through. Many will make that visible today by joining in the Pride Parade. Christ calls us to affirm the worth of others as well, including people struggling with mental illness, poverty, and isolation. We have opportunities to make anyone feel loved and appreciated, to be sharers of love and hope. Thanks be to God.