Anyone get nervous when you read the sermon title today? You will be relieved to know I won’t say it all this morning, but I did want to say something that would really bring in a wonderful crowd of people. Who knew the crowd-bringer would be, “I’m retiring!” J Truly – thank you all for coming; I feel amazingly blessed to have worked with Sicamous United Church over the past five years, to have connected with each of you here today, and to have ministered with the United Church of Canada for 31 years – 32, if you count my year-long internship at First United Church in Vancouver. I count it, but the pension department has other ideas!
Well, never having retired before, I didn’t feel constrained to follow the lectionary readings, though I did like the psalm for today, so you heard that. But I wondered if there was a special scripture for retirement – so I though, I’ll look at how other writers ended books or letters etc. First I checked the gospel of Mark. Do you know how the original (short) version of Mark ends? It’s what we’ve come to call Easter Sunday, the women encounter an angel at the tomb, and verse 8 ends with “So they went out from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.“
Noooooooooo. That’s not what I want you to do with the gospel. Don’t be afraid and keep the good news to yourself! Fortunately, they did seem to overcome their fear and share the news at some point, because… here we are.
I did check the end of the gospel of Luke. So Luke 24:50 “Jesus lead them as far as Bethany, and lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” Nope, I don’t want to be carried off to heaven today, just back to Salmon Arm.
I do like this closing passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi though.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice… And the God of peace will be with you.
I don’t believe the encouragement to `think on the things that are true, honorable etc.’ is so that we can put our minds in a blissful other-worldly state, but so that we recognize when things are not in that state, and thus respond where and when the Spirit urges, cajoles compels us to respond faithfully and prophetically and from a deeply rooted place of prayer.
We are living in the world that is profoundly secular and skeptical of anything religion can offer – sometimes with very good reason. Our religion is even now, being grossly misused to justify horrific violence to the earth itself, and oppression of the most vulnerable people on the earth, by the most rich and powerful. This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”
That might seem like a pretty heavy burden to bear, but I want to encourage you. I want to you know that there is a deep need for the church – the body of Christ to be active in the world.
Look around today – here are your neighbours, here is your community. For those of you who don’t go to Presbytery – this is why we go – to remember that we are not alone, adrift on a secular sea. We’re a little flotilla of boats, drawn together by the Holy Spirit, yearning to live the way of life that Jesus showed was possible, though not easy.
We live in a world where one of the biggest problems facing people is a sense of isolation, a sense of being alone. On Pentecost Sunday here at Sicamous United, we shared stories of our faith roots, our earliest experiences of God, or church. Harold told about going to Sunday school, and learning the song `Jesus Loves Me,’ and being kind of amazed and delighted to think that someone loved him!
2nd Corinthians, 5:5 in the Message (a contemporary language version) says, The Spirit of God … puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less. What is `heaven in our hearts’ but unconditional love – for all of humanity.
Let’s sing about that shall we. Put a Little Love in Your Heart
So… with that Love in our hearts we can make a difference as we open to the leading of God’s restless Spirit. I am not so naïve as to think we can make great sweeping changes, or that my letters to the editor, or my songs written about the suffering of Palestinians, or prostitutes on Hastings Street, will solve the world’s problems. But here’s where I have hope. I copied down this poem I read on an office door at the Vancouver School of Theology. It says…
You say the little efforts that I make will do no good,
they will never prevail to tip the hovering scale
where justice hangs in the balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favour of my right to choose
which side shall feel
the stubborn ounces of my weight.
So dear friends, lean those stubborn ounces of weight together and see what can happen. Pray together! Be true to your relationship with the Divine. Know that you rarely get to see the harvest, but plant the seeds of love and faith anyway. And this bit of advice passed along by a friend… Live your life in such a way that when your feet touch the floor in the morning the devil says, “Oh shit, she’s awake.”
Lean into the beautiful gospel of unconditional love, of justice and peace, lean in to the power of God’s Spirit – eternally on the move. We are not alone, we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God, and God bless you all.
Hymn: Spirit of Gentleness