November 19, 2023 Reflection and Worship Link

We are the Church
Scripture Reading: Acts 2: 41-47


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A few weeks ago for my vacation Billy and I went to Alert Bay for his family reunion. We were there over a weekend, so I looked into the churches in town to find which one we should go to. We went to the Anglican church – there was no United Church anymore. Actually some of Billy’s family were staying in the old United Church. It had been converted into an Inn. Sunday morning we went down to the Anglican Church, which was on the reserve, and we were almost the first ones there for the service. We arrived while a few people were gathered to go over the hymns before church, which was good because we were able to hear one of the hymns that I didn’t know and hear how the words were pronounced, because the hymn was in Kwakwala, the language spoken by the Namgis people.

The worship service was more similar to a United Church service than an Anglican service – and so it was very familiar. For the Gospel reading, the minister read from the First Nations Version, an Indigenous translation of the New Testament. The reading was of Peter stepping out of the boat onto the water, which was the lectionary reading for the week, and I’m pretty sure was what you heard here on that Sunday as well. I found it really interesting to hear the scripture read from that version – which is fairly new – it was only published two years ago. In the First Nations Version, the stories are told more in an Indigenous style of story telling. The characters in the story are given names that seem to have a little more meaning just as it is in their own traditions – which is actually probably more true to the original as well! In this section – Jesus is referred to as “Creator Sets Free”

I’m going to share with you part of today’s reading from the First Nations Version.

When they came into this place, Creator Sets Free (Jesus) asked the ones who were walking the road with him, “Who do the people think the True Human Being is? What are they saying?”

Some say “Gift of Goodwill (John) who performed the purification ceremony” they answered. “Others say Great Spirit is Creator (Elijah), or even Lifted by Creator (Jeremiah) or one of the other prophets.”

He then lowered his voice and spoke in a more serious tone.

“So tell me,” he asked them. “How do you see me? Who do you say that I am?”

Silent faces stared back at him. They began to look at each other and some looked down to the ground. The moment of truth had come, but no one dared to speak. Then suddenly a voice pierced through the silence.

“You are the chosen one.” One Who Hears – also called Stands on the Rock (Simon/Peter) answered, “The Son of the Living Creator”

Creator Sets Free (Jesus) smiled at him and said “One Who Hears (Simon), Creator’s blessing rests upon you, for flesh and blood did not help you see, but my Father from above opened your eyes. For this reason I have given you the name “Stands on the Rock (Peter)” and upon this great rock I will make my sacred family stand strong.”

One of the things that stood out for me of this translation is at the very beginning when Jesus asked them How do you see me? Who do you say that I am? How do you see me maybe gets at the same question that Jesus is asking, but in a slightly different way. How do you see me, asks the question in a way that I think gets more at the character of Jesus. About what he stands for or what about him is important to them? What is impressive to them about Jesus.

To put this into your own context – Think about a loved one – if they asked you that question – “who do you say that I am? You might answer it in a very concrete way – You might say their name – You’re my mother, my sister, my friend, my cousin. But if they ask the question How do you see me? You might come to a very different answer. I see you as someone who is compassionate, caring, thoughtful, intelligent, wise, funny, selfless, humble. I see you as a good leader, a great parent, an example of kindness.

When I thought about Jesus asking this question – how do you see me, it made me consider how many ways there are of seeing Jesus. If I ask the same question about Jesus – I imagine I would get many different answers just in this room. How do you see Jesus?

Just look at so many different denominations even just in North America. Each one and the individual people within the walls have an image of Jesus that is slightly different. Some focus on Jesus as saviour and Lord, some focus on Jesus as teacher or prophet or healer. We have many different names for Jesus, Saviour, Lord, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Son of God, Light of the World, King of Kings, Lamb of God, Redeemer, Messiah. And each one, gives us a glimpse into who Jesus is and how we see Jesus – none can paint the whole picture.

Each of the followers in this story might have a different reason for following Jesus. Some may have witnessed the miraculous works of Jesus, they saw his power, authority over nature and disease and death, and their hearts were stirred to believe. Some may have been drawn to him by his teachings: his parables, and profound wisdom resonated with their hearts and minds, illuminating the path to understanding. Some may have chosen to follow him because of his compassion. They saw how he cared for the marginalized, how he healed the broken hearted and loved the unlovable, and they felt inspired to follow his example. Whatever aspect of Jesus compelled them to follow him, would shape their understanding of how they saw Jesus.

At different times in our life, or even different moments of the week – we might hold tight to a different image of who Jesus is for us – or who we need Jesus to be for us right now – is it a healer, a miracle worker, the bringer of peace in the midst of chaos, a teacher to bring us some wisdom that is needed, a comforter in our grief.

In the First Nations Version of this reading, Peter is referred to as Stands on the Rock. In other versions, Peter is referred to as the Rock – but I thought it intriguing that here – as Simon he was called “One that Hears” and then as Peter he became “Stands on the Rock” So he wasn’t necessarily the Rock – but was Standing on it – was grounded in something larger than him – the Rock that is the foundation of his faith – or maybe God is the rock that Peter stands on. And then it is on that rock that the church is built. Or as this version states: upon this great rock I will make my sacred family stand strong.

I loved this image – the church referred to as “sacred family standing strong.”

So how does this sacred family stand strong and bind things that should be bound and loose things that should be loosed. Where do we see freedom and liberation emerging even in small insignificant ways. With every thoughtful gesture, in every supportive word, in every person we welcome into this space, in every denunciation of injustice, in every meal delivered, in every transaction in the thrift shop, in every latte served in the café and shared with a friend – these are the ways that we become sacred family standing strong, and live out how we see Jesus.

At the end of the reading, Jesus says something a little bit surprising – after he asks them to tell him who he is – he tells them to keep it to themselves. Don’t tell anyone! I have always found this to be a little bit odd – but as I thought about it this week, this coming right after he has told them about how to be the church – the sacred family, it occurred to me that maybe Jesus is just saying don’t talk about me and tell people who I am – show them who I am through your actions.

How do we build a church on the truth of his identity? By being true to ourselves. By living lives reflecting the nature of how we see Jesus. Our lives will speak louder, more truthfully and more effectively than our words. The lives we live, a life of love for God – a life that loves the other as much as ourselves – a life in pursuit of justice and peace.

So it is with church – on this rock, we shall build a sacred family where no one is hungry or homeless, where marginalized and racialized people are not oppressed. Where people feel welcomed and feel like they belong and are seen and valued for who they are. On this rock let us build something that shines with the belief in a living, speaking, creative and incarnating God, a God of freedom and not of oppression, a God of Justice, love and peace.