June 16, 2019
Rev. Carla Wilks at Mount Seymour United Church
Those of you who were at my ordination two weeks ago would have heard Doug Goodwin, the Executive Minister of our Pacific Mountain Region begin his sermon by talking about his dislike for preaching on the Gospel of John and how he vowed not to preach on the Gospel of John. When he tried, he got lost and disoriented and felt like he was meandering around a world he did not understand. He said that when we talk deeply about God we can’t expect to be in familiar territory. And that then made it hard to preach. He spoke directly to the five of us who were being ordained and commissioned and told us that we didn’t have to preach from John if we didn’t want to, because we were bound not to do it justice. He did recommend that we read it, dwell with it, struggle with it, pray with it, and said that we may find that it may shape our life and even save our life.
So here I am, preaching for the first time since my ordination and thanks be to God’s holy humour, John was one of the readings for today. Yes, I could have chosen a different reading – but I’m always up for a challenge, and I figured that even if I’m bound to not do it justice, I should read it, dwell with it, struggle with it, pray with it and share what my experience of that with you.
The opening verse of this passage seemed to put into a biblical experience much of what Doug said about the Gospel of John for him personally – that he felt like he was lost and disoriented and like he was meandering around a world that he did not understand.
Jesus says: “I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now.”
Here’s the disciples, Jesus’ friends, the people that Jesus was closest to, who had been taught directly by Jesus, spent the most time with Jesus, experienced his teaching and his way of living first hand, and they are being told now by Jesus that they have much more to learn. They do not have all the answers yet. They don’t know everything there is to know about God and how it is to live in God’s way. I think at times Jesus’ disciples would be feeling lost and disoriented, like they were meandering around a world that they didn’t understand.
They knew a particular way of life, and then Jesus came along and shook things up for them, showing them a different way, a way that was more accepting, a way that had less rules to follow, except for the one really hard one, to love God with all their heart, soul and mind, and love their neighbour as themselves.
And now Jesus has died, and come back, and is leaving again. But not to worry – Jesus promises them that the Spirit will come and guide them into truth. The Spirit will continue to show them how to live the way that God intended.
In this conversation with Jesus, Jesus told his closest followers, the early Christian community, that they must be dependent on the Spirit in order to be guided in the truth. Once Jesus’ physical presence was no longer, the Spirit continues the ongoing revelation of God in Jesus’ place. The Spirit makes possible a deeper understanding and interpretation of Jesus’ message and revelation of God’s love, for all time.
This is reassuring news for us, or at least it is for me – because we don’t have all the answers, nor are we expected to. If Jesus’ closest friends don’t have all the answers then we certainly are not expected to! So then, it is ok for us to feel lost and disoriented, sometimes like we are meandering around a world that we don’t understand. We have this promise from Jesus that the Spirit will come and guide us into truth.
But how do we recognize the Spirit? How do we know that it is the Spirit offering the truth, not just our own wishes?
As a congregation in this community, we look for ways that we can better serve our community, how we can love our neighbours more – how we can live out Jesus’ example of loving those who were considered to be on the margins.
This past week on Tuesday and Wednesday we hosted a tea for the Mount Seymour Preschool parents. Nancy and Anne and I had some great conversations with parents of young children in the neighbourhood and while in conversation, asked many of them about what they see some of the needs in the community from their perspective, what’s missing, where do they need to be upheld or need extra support, what is out there on the margins that we cannot see. This led to some really interesting conversations and generated a whole list of possibilities of how we could focus our ministry time and energy. I have similar conversations with customers that I meet in the Thrift Shop each week. There are so many great ideas in our local community and in our global community, that how do we determine what we should do? How do we recognize the Spirit’s leading?
When there is a big decision to be made in the church or in our own lives, how do we recognize what is a Spirit-led decision?
The Spirit often speaks to us through the people around us or nudges us in a certain direction. I liked this quote by Brian McLaren “Where the Spirit is, love is. Where the Spirit teaches, people learn love. Faith communities at their best are Spirit-schools of love, engaging everyone, from little children to great-grandparents, in lifelong learning. In the school of the Spirit, everyone majors in love.”
As a community striving to be a place that knows it doesn’t have all the answers, we make space for conversation, and value those who are bringing different voices and experiences into the midst. Conversation, valuing difference, being inclusive – these things aren’t easy, but genuine community, while challenging, is also creative, productive, and enriching.
We know the promise that God accepts us as we are not because of who we are or what we have done, not because of what we might become or do, not because of who we have promised to be or what we have pledged to do, but that God accepts us because that’s who God is and what God does – in order that we might know peace and love and then in turn extend the same grace, mercy, and acceptance to those around us.
So perhaps being part of a Spirit led community is to be a community that looks outward rather than inward or even upward. We respond outwardly to respond to the needs of our neighbours by showing the love that we were taught through Jesus’ message to us, and by showing them the love that we know comes from God, who loves us unconditionally.
When we discern in community where the Spirit is leading us, if we err on the side of love, extending the peace of God that allows transformation to happen – transformation of us and of others – the Spirit of Christ is surely present.
Even when we feel like we may be lost and disoriented, meandering around a world that we don’t recognize or understand, and when we don’t have the answers we think we should have, we are promised that the Spirit will lead us into the truth. We can be confident that if we pay attention, we will recognize the Spirit working within, around and among us, leading us toward the path of greater love and deep peace. Thanks be to God.