Isaiah 41:6-10 and Acts 4:29-31
Despite the title of my message today, I see that Mel Gibson has not appeared in his William Wallace warrior regalia. So, let’s look at this past week in the life of the United Church’s General Council meeting in Corner Brook Nfld. There, the commissioners have been asked to be brave on a number of different issues. How did they do?
`Be Brave’ was the suggested focus for GC worship today. My little dictionary defines `brave’ as having or showing courage, resolution and daring. Hmmm… so what’s courage?
Courage, according to the same dictionary is the ability to face danger or pain without fear. I like the word Courage, as it is rooted in the French word `Coeur’ which means `heart.’
And I don’t necessarily think courage comes without fear, but to quote theologian Karl Barth, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”
I’ve tried to follow some of the basic work of General Council this week, and here is just a few examples of the need to have a brave heart:
Divestment: With ongoing concerns over human rights abuses and environmental damages, a motion passed to “communicate to The United Church of Canada Pension Board that the will of the church is to divest of its shares in Goldcorp mining and make public that divestment.” As of June 30, 2015, we had shares worth $1,325,000 held directly by the United Church pension board.
Commissioners of the 42nd General Council are also urging the United Church to sell its $8.7 million holdings in fossil fuels, because of the overwhelming evidence of the industries contribution to climate change, and instead invest in renewable energy co-operatives. Such a decision not only stands to affect our church pension plan, but can cause tension between difference regions of the church.
The president of Alberta North West Conference, Paul Walfall asked the General Council to remember that the decision “carries many consequences for us in Alberta.” He also asked that people “not demonize those in the oil and gas industry who are witnessing to the church with their time, talents, and treasures.”
In terms of the national church’s relationship to Israel and Palestine, the commission struggled with the question of whether to let go of the church’s long-term position advocating and working for a two-state solution to the current Israeli occupation of Palestine. In the end, the commission backed away from a change in policy by simply reaffirming “the right of self-determination for Palestinians and Israelis so that any choice regarding statehood must be made by the people living in Palestine-Israel.” It reaffirmed the right of Israelis and Palestinians to live peacefully within internationally recognized borders, and it voted to strengthen the strategies and actions taken at the last General Council in 2012 to address the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories by the state of Israel.
For me, it is a disappointing outcome, as it seems to imply that Palestinians and Israelis have equal choice and voice right now, which is simply not the case. The state of Israel is not respecting internationally recognized borders, and as long as that continues with the building of illegal Jewish settlements, the `security wall’ on Palestinian land, and the destruction of Palestinian homes, farms and villages, there can be no just peace in the Holy Land. It is hard to be compassionate and courageous sometimes.
The Comprehensive Review Task Group (CRTG), handed off its report to the General Council. The report outlines a major restructuring of The United Church of Canada, and has generated a wide range of emotional responses. Most of the Review recommendations were accepted, including moving to a three court system – combining Presbyteries and Conferences into one body. But other suggestions, including a national gathering with two people from each congregation (communities of faith) was dropped as being unaffordable and environmentally unfriendly.
Dr. Marie Wilson who was part of the national Truth and Reconciliation commission addressed the commissioners, as did Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations who said, “Our journey together as a people is just beginning.” He said there remains a large gap in the quality of life between First Nations and other Canadians. Although the federal government has made two apologies, “We continue to face educational systems which ignore our languages, our histories, our knowledge systems, and our values,” Bellegarde said. Canada is sixth on the United Nations Quality of Life Index, he oted, but when the Quality of Life Index is applied to First Nations, they are rated 63rd.
Clearly we need to be braver about addressing these inequalities in our own country.
The UCC agreed to a `mutual recognition of ministry’ with Presbyterian Church in Philippines and South Korea. Former Moderator Lois Wilson told the General Council that when she was Moderator (1980-82) and went to Korea, Sang Chul Lee (Moderator 1988-90) explained that there were two types of Presbyterian churches in Korea: those that believe in Jesus and expect to go to heaven, and those that believe in Jesus and expect to go to jail. “The Presbyterian Church in Korea has taught us much about discipleship in a secular state,” said Wilson.
I wonder – where do we expect our faith to take us?
Can you name a time – a situation in which you had to dig into your `brave’, be courageous, or when you have witnessed that in someone else?
Here the congregation shared wonderful stories of times when they had to be brave/courageous and what helped them through it.
How do we accept/forgive ourselves when we are not as courageous as we hoped to be? What can `en-courage us?
You may be tired of me saying this, but it’s that shift in my brain that happens when I say Nelson Mandela’s words: May my choices be based on my hopes, not my fears. But it really helps me get out of the rut of talking myself out of doing something, and instead imagining and acting on the possibilities.
Believe in the miracle of the second change: “The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” Anna Quindlen.
Believe in taking a stand: You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.” Joan Didion
Believe in the power of encouragement. I feel braver when people trust me and believe in me. And I try to live in such a way as to encourage others that they are wonderful, powerful, loveable and full of possibility.
And yes, prayer helps – our hymns this morning were all prayers. I need to pray for discernment and strength to carry out what I sense God calling me toward
Accountability helps – knowing that I am answerable to someone I respect.
May we encourage each other to live the gospel message in our changing world today. Amen.