This feels like a significant sermon today. Not only is it my last one before holidays, but if all goes as we are hoping, it will be the last one I preach to an empty sanctuary. When I return from holidays we hope to be back to in-person worship, after almost a year and a half of leading worship in front of one or two other worship leaders. So, this feels significant.
When I reflected on the readings today, especially the Ephesians one, it also feels like a pretty significant message. A passage that outlines how we are called to be as individuals and as church. We are called to maintain unity, and doing so with humility and gentleness, with patience and in love. We are called to nurture this unity and care for it in the way that we treat one another. We are called to unity in the midst of diversity. Mahatma Gandhi said “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”
Unity is not uniformity. Unity does not depend on excluding people until we are left with people who look, talk, think and act the same. We are all different people with different gifts and different values, but we are one body of Christ. We are given different gifts, not so that we would be uniform, but that in our differences we can serve God’s reconciliation with all of creation. The mystery of God that is revealed in Christ does not eliminate the distinctions between people who are different from each other. Instead, what is made known through the church is “the wisdom of God in its rich variety” That each of us have different gifts and strengths, allows each of us to have a place here. Just as we may have discovered through the Theological Banquet series with Janet in June, the diversity of the way that we express our faith and live out our faith and appreciate worship can be a strength, and understanding our differences with love as our guide, can really expand our experience.
The Spirit given gifts that each of us have, equip us for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Differences are not divisions, and Spirit given differences in the church are not a problem – but are God’s gift so that together we can learn how to speak the truth in love. Encountering and learning to love people who differ from us within the church, is what God desires for healthy community.
I would say that the way we talk about this unity at Mt Seymour is in being community. We are not all the same – but we are all welcome. We don’t all think the same – but we are one body.
This is an important message for us right now as we prepare to return to in-person community in the next month or so. We will not all be at the same comfort level when we return. Some of us who previously were comfortable with handshakes and hugs will not be now, at least not for a while. Some of us have quite enjoyed going to church in our pajamas on our couch on our own, and some can’t wait to be with people again. Some of us continued to go to church online at 10am on Sundays, and some of us have developed new Sunday morning routines that we will be grieving the loss of when we return. Some of us might be openly expressing with pride our vaccination status, and for some of us, it is private.
We will all be at a different place, but in community, those differences are approached with love and compassion and acceptance. It will be hard for some of us to catch ourselves from falling back into old habits and ways of being, but it is important to remember that things have changed – the world has changed – our individual comfort level around people and in public situations has changed after 18 months of being sure to stay six feet away from others, even close friends and those within our own families. It will be really important for each of us to be clear about how we are feeling.
Last week I presided at a small graveside service for a family. I knew some of them, but I didn’t know others. One of the ones I met that day, held out his hand to me, and before I knew it – for the first time in a year and a half, I shook a stranger’s hand. Previously I would not have thought anything of that, but after so long without that kind of greeting, it felt a little jarring. I’m sure that over the last few weeks and months as things have gradually opened up, you have experienced some of these moments. People that we would previously automatically hug, because we had a prior known permission, will now require a check in again. And we can avoid some discomfort and hurt feelings by openly communicating with each other. There are ways that we can in a loving way, decline physical touch. As we figure out how to be in community in person again, we will make mistakes – I know I certainly have, but with patience and openness and love, we will move through this together.
This message of unity is an important message for us right now in the world we currently find ourselves in as well. How very different things would have been in Canada today if colonizers had a heart for unity rather than ‘my way is better than your way, and I know what’s best for you.’ Moving forward if we enter into relationship with each other in humility and from a place of love, we can have honest and open conversations that lead to friendship and genuine understanding.
You may have read in the newsletter and seen in the announcements that recently we raised over $2000 in a fundraiser for the local basketball team, All Nations Elite, which is a team here in North Vancouver for Indigenous youth, where they play basketball but also develop great life skills and have a positive team experience. The coach came to the church one morning to share a few songs with his drum and a bit of cultural teaching. We were speaking afterward, and we were both so grateful for the opportunity to be together and learning from each other. We talked about the impact of the discovery of remains at the residential schools, and we talked about the Calls to Action. We talked in general about making mistakes in our conversations, and the fear of saying something offensive, or the wish to say the right thing or do the right thing, and he said to me that for him personally, if he knows that my mistake is coming from a place of love, and not disrespect, then he will not be offended or upset. He would then correct my mistake, and use that as a teaching opportunity for me to learn a new way or a more culturally sensitive way of being.
We talked about how reconciliation happens when we develop relationships like we were doing, when we slow down enough and build trust and learn from each other and respect each other. These kind of relationships in our own lives and communities can lead to more understanding. They then cause us to maybe care more about the issues that affect our new friends, and maybe it leads us to write a letter, or vote for someone who cares about those issues too, or maybe it will give us the words and the voice to speak out when we hear destructive and harmful comments. We can speak hard truths, have difficult conversations and grow from them when we come from a place of humility, openness and love.
I came across this quote from Desmond Tutu this week, and I think that he sums up well this idea of unity despite our differences.
“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.”
Just as was the call to the people of Ephesus in our reading today, we are called to speak from a place of love and truth and to act from a place of love and truth. In the spirit of this love, even despite our difference, we can find true unity.
Thanks be to God for guiding us through love to the way of unity.