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Thank you to Kyle Johnsen, and to the members of Up Ahead – Winter Allen, Pete Betts, Emma Etheridge and Bryan Spencer – for sharing the gift of music with us this week
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’s prayers for this week. Our weekly e-newsletter will continue to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at St. Paul’s. If you don’t currently receive that, and would like to, please contact us and we’ll happily add you to our mailing list.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Scripture: Luke 10: 25-37
Music: Who Is My Mother; True Colors; God of Wonders
Musicians: Kyle Johnsen; Up Ahead
Most of us know the story of the Good Samaritan, an outsider, an outcast, the one who would be voted least likely to help becomes the one who rescues a fallen, fellow traveller. I especially love the ending where Jesus tells the lawyer who had been trying to trap him to go out and care for all of his neighbours – especially those who he would never have previous seen as his neighbour. It is a deceptively simple lesson but it can be one that is hard to live into.
Being 63 gives me some historical perspective. I remember the hope that came with Dr. King and the civil rights movement in the 60’s. I remember how his vision seemed to fade back into a dream when he was assassinated. He was murdered in cold blood because he dared to proclaim God’s call that we are all neighbours.
In the 70’s, in university, I came to realize the progress we made was just on the surface – in society – and in my own heart and soul. I remember making some pretty bigoted comments about some of my profs with accents. Then one day I really slipped up and said something that was truly bigoted in front of a close friend who was also black. I can still feel my embarrassment and humiliation. Later, when he and his wife moved to Boston, I was shocked by some of the prejudice that they encountered. Geoff is now a proud grandfather and successful business person. This week he told me that as a black man he still lives in fear of being beaten, or thrown in jail or killed.
In the 80’s there was a major health care crisis that in hindsight I believe truly changed our society -HIV/AIDS. I remember the prejudice and hatred directed toward the gay community.
Some of it was rooted in a narrow and prejudiced reading of scripture.
Meanwhile, at the Atlantic School of Theology we focused on coming to deeper understandings of reading scripture in the context when it was written and in our own context. But even with that academic grounding, when one of my classmates, Rex Fowlow, was diagnosed with AIDS he was ostracized by virtually all of the school. What I remember most about him was his concern for me when I visited. I also remember the grace of the two gay men, a couple of Samaritans, who didn’t know Rex, but they welcomed him into their home and cared for this stranger until he died.
In the early 90’s, I remember the hatred directed toward gays and lesbians in the courts of the church and on the floor of General Council. All of the work that had been done for almost a decade about how to read and interpret scripture seemed to fall mainly on deaf ears in a denomination focused on a history of God’s call to inclusion and social justice. I suspect many were afraid. We had lost about 1/3rd of our members. People were being ridiculed by their neighbours. And the denomination was looked down on by most other churches.
Then, after days of protests and arguing rooted in prejudice, I remember Sandy McLean confessing that he had sinned against his sisters and brothers. He spoke of heaping vile and hatred toward those in the LGBTQ community and in return they just loved him. It truly was a turning point for the GC.
I think Sandy’s experience is like that of many of us. Once he actually met a neighbour and they reached out with the love of Christ to him the scales fell from his eyes and he could see the deeper truth of that story Jesus told so long ago – that we are all neighbours, we are all beloved children of God. As I think about the AIDS pandemic, it strikes me once we came to know a family member or friend or friend of a friend who had contracted HIV/AIDS we began to understand the story of the Good Samaritan differently.
Then there is St. Paul’s. I remember our vote here around same sex marriage about a decade ago. I expected some fallout. It passed by over 85%. We lost one family. I hope they are more comfortable in their new church and I also hope and pray that somehow God may have softened their hearts on this issue. I also remember the first wedding we celebrated here and I was gladdened to see many of you as guests. I wasn’t overly anxious about our Affirming vote other than some of the mechanics. But you surprised me, you voted over 98% in favour.
Over the years, I’ve watched as you have faithfully struggled with coming to a deeper and richer understanding God’s call to see that our neighbours are LGBTQ, Muslims, Syrian refugees, the homeless and all those seeking inclusion because they stand on the margins and are amoung the least and the last and the lost.
Our Moderator, Richard Bott, writes this to us today in recognition of becoming an Affirming congregation,
For a long time the United Church of Canada has believed that a vital part of following Jesus’ Way is to recognize that every person is a beloved child of God, and is deserving of respect and inclusion. It has taken us almost as long a time to move that understanding from our thinking to our living. As individuals, and as a community of faith, you have done a lot of that hard work of becoming more inclusive – through study, self-reflection, exploration of mission and ministry, and discerning the Holy Spirit’s nudging. In coming to this day, you’ve committed yourselves to continue to the joyful work of recognizing the space that Christ has made at his table, and making sure that all who wish to sit there are welcome participants in the feast!
As a congregation and as a denomination, we have dared to risk as we’ve lived out our faith and responded to God’s call to see all as brothers and sisters. Today marks a special time. We know we need to continue to challenge ourselves to see who amoung our neighbours needs us to risk becoming stronger allies and supporters.
I am not a prophet but the one thing that I can assure you of is that as we risk and grow in the understanding of what it means to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our Creator, that God will be with us. For we are not alone. We live in God’s world. Thanks be to God.
God of Compassion, in Jesus we see what love lived out for all looks like. We hear the story of the Samaritan, the one rejected by a neighbour, who is yet the one who would love that same neighbour. In Jesus, and through Jesus, we see your love for all people: love which accepts difference without allowing it to be a barrier; love which seeks relationship, truth and healing; love which gives itself for the good of the other.
We give thanks for the next phase of our journey as an Affirming Church. With joy, we celebrate our mission, which is your mission, to listen for and support the voices of those who have often gone unheard, or shouted down by prejudice. May our words become our witness to your love; may our witness become advocacy for the marginalized; may our advocacy become allyship with those who need our support. And in all that we do, may our ministry reach beyond our walls, to the places where people still wait for a neighbour to become a friend.
God of Wisdom, for all those in authority, we pray for your humility and grace. In these times of difficult decision-making, weighing odds and inviting acceptable risk, may we remember that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. As we look forward, with hope, to a time when we might gather once again, may we hold the health and well-being of others as our primary concern.
God of Healing, we pray also for our loved ones and neighbours.
For those who are ill in body or in spirit, we pray for the comforting presence of your Holy Spirit
For those in hospital, or alone at home, we pray for courage.
For those in care homes or awaiting placement… we pray for patience.
For each of us, we pray for your strength, O God; not strength as the world knows it, but the peace of reassurance in your vision for all people and all Creation.
Give us strength enough to meet this week,
patience enough to be a source of strength for those whom we love,
honesty enough to know when we rely on the grace of others,
and joy, in unequalled measure, for the great gifts of this life.
We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father…