May 13, 2018
On the first Sunday after Easter we handed out these keys and a little tag. We asked that on the tag, you write a word that will help you remember to be open to new life and liberating love. What part of your life needs to be unlocked so that you can experience resurrection in your life? My sister from Canmore was visiting that weekend and was here at church. On her key tag she wrote the word Balance. She gave it to me after church, because she decided that was something that I could use as well.
Since Easter we have been blessed with hearing stories of resurrection from people in our church community and beyond. Our resurrection stories began with hearing Doug’s story of resurrection from illness, through his process of recovery from his stroke, finding new life among the new reality of his life. The next week we welcomed Erica and Grant along with Rev Jim from First United Church talk about their stories of emergence from lives that they did not want to define them and lead to their endings, lives including drugs, prison, abuse, homelessness, poverty, illness… from what I heard them say, their motivation to make positive changes in their lives came for Grant, through his faith in Jesus and for Erica also through wanting to be a good role model to her grandchildren. As we recognized the one year anniversary for our mental health ministry, the Living Room, we heard from Linda who talked about how that peer support group has helped her through some dark times, finding hope and new life.
Then Paul came and talked about his work with vulnerable youth in our community through his work with the North Shore Youth Safe House. He has dedicated his life to helping at risk youth in the Lower Mainland, and he did this because someone cared for him when he was in that position as a young person. For him, that one act of kindness and care, has led to him spending his life’s work helping other youth in those situations.
And finally last week we heard James’ story of resurrection from addiction, a powerful testimony of determination, courage and strength.
The powerful witness to resurrection over the last month has been more meaningful to me than I could have anticipated when we set up this worship series and coordinated the speakers. I often thought of resurrection in terms of Jesus resurrection at Easter time, end of story. But during this Easter season, this series has kept me mindful of resurrection as happening in our lives all of the time and kept me thinking about what parts of my life need a little resurrection.
Just this week, as I was thinking about today’s theme of Living Resurrection, and planning where I was going with this sermon, I had several experiences that left me feeling like I was living resurrection every day. I will just share a few.
On Monday I got a phone call from my friend Joy and her partner Christian. Joy has been a Girl Guide leader with me for about seven or eight years. She was also someone I knew from my kids’ elementary school as her kids went there too. Last year around this time, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There was not much that they could do for her in terms of treatment because apparently with pancreatic cancer, by the time it is detected, it is very advanced. She and Christian have been together for 18 years, they have a 17 year old daughter and 16 year old son. Anyway when they called me on Monday they asked me if I would officiate their wedding ceremony for them this afternoon. Joy does not have much time left in this life, and she and Christian, with her impending death, wanted an act of recognition of their eternal bond of love… This spoke of resurrection to me – new life – a newness to their many years of commitment and love for each other. So this afternoon, we will be surrounded by their closest friends and family, and we will all be witnesses to their love and commitment and covenant. And hopefully for their remaining time together, they will have beautiful memories of today as a special day to remember the love that they have shared.
For my friends Joy and Christian, I see resurrection in their relationship transformed and in the covenant that is made.
Sometimes resurrection happens through the ending of a relationship. Over the past several months, but most significantly in the last month, as I have thought about what needed to be unlocked in my life in order to live more fully, I came to the conclusion that I needed to end my relationship with my partner of six years. So last weekend I had one of those really hard conversations that I had put off having for far too long. I am a very loyal person and try to see the positive in every situation that I am faced with, so this was a really difficult conclusion for me to come to, to end the relationship. But in that ending, I feel like I am now able to be true to myself and my values in all aspects of my life. The beginning of this transformation happened for me when I returned to Ontario last summer. I moved there in 1998 right after I graduated from the Vancouver School of Theology, and I lived there until 2008. When I lived there, I was working in ministry at Grace United Church in Hanover. Last summer I returned for the first time since I had left Ontario 9 years before. That trip changed the path of my life and when I returned home, I had made the decision to return to ministry. That started me back on the path to connecting with the authentic Carla again and led me here to Mount Seymour. I don’t know what the future holds, but it feels like I am heading in the right direction. I have confidence that this relationship ending is part of the unlocking of another part of my life, on this path of living more fully as a child of God and a follower of Jesus. Even though it is an ending, it is a new beginning as well, and that feels like living resurrection to me!
In today’s reading Jesus has returned to the disciples and at this part of the story, he leaves them again, and he leaves them with the huge task of being witnesses in all of the world. The disciples had always relied on Jesus to show them what a life in God was like: Jesus would teach, Jesus would pray, Jesus would eat with the outcasts, Jesus would feed, and Jesus would offer healing and care, for others. I imagine the disciples would feel overwhelmed at the idea of having to do it alone.
But it is when they were on their own that the Life of Jesus began to truly take root in them and grow.
Jesus said, “I will send you the one whom the Father promised. The Holy Spirit. The Spirit will guide you”.
Soon they would find that this Holy Spirit was not a replacement copy of Jesus to do the work for them. Rather, the Holy Spirit would work through THEM.
They would be the hands and feet of Jesus, with the courage and inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Soon they would find themselves being the Body of Christ.
Christ, who had died and risen, would always be with them.
And so we hear in our reading today that the disciples did not grieve when Jesus ascended and left them with this great commission to be his witnesses in the world.
They did not panic.
They didn’t even call an emergency meeting.
They knew Christ would always be with them.
They trusted the Holy Spirit would inspire them.
There is a version of the story we heard this morning also in Luke, and it goes like this: While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” The version in Acts that we read today says that they returned to Jerusalem and were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.
It seems to me that this is a call to be present, to take the time in prayer and quiet. Jesus’ followers did not run off and immediately begin healing and teaching as Jesus did – they knew that in order to be more fully present to the task ahead of them, they needed to be centred and grounded first. To recognize the resurrection in their midst, they needed to be open to it.
On Monday night after the events of my weekend and then receiving the phone call from my friend about her wedding, I decided that it would be a really good thing for me to go to the Monday night meditation with Sharon. It really was a good thing. After that, I felt more grounded, but it also helped me to be more open throughout the week, to seeing the ways that God was working through me and through others in my life.
As we conclude this Easter series of Resurrection Stories, we have been so blessed by the stories of resurrection that we have heard.
The key my sister gave me from the first day of our Resurrection stories series has this word balance on it, and while in some practical aspects I still have to work on finding balance, I feel like this month I have found a deeper balance within myself which has led me to feel more at peace. If you still have your key with you that you received five weeks ago, or even if you don’t – think about the places in your life that needed unlocking in order to experience new life. Places where you have experienced resurrection. New life out of death. Was there anything that you thought about this month that you realized you needed to let go of to experience fullness of life?
If we, like the disciples in today’s story, take the time to be open and listen and pray, with God’s Spirit working in us, we may find new life in unexpected places and be more open to see where resurrection is happening in our own lives.