August 30, 2015
Mt 18: 15-20
Community with Christ In The Middle
What does it mean to be the church?
At SSUC / HUC we are invited into a
journey of growing together in becoming
the church Jesus intends us to be…
to be the Body of Christ in the world,
called by Christ to acts of mercy and justice.
Now this is not only in light of the union we are in the process of working out but also in light of the challenges ahead in the direction General Council is leading us.
As individual congregations and followers,
we are called to rediscover
what it means to be church, -
the meaning of our discipleship
within these communities of faith.
During this season, and the season of creation, which together run right out to Advent,
we will listen to exhortations, encouragement, stories, and letters mainly from Mark but also from Matthew this morning and Paul.
All are writing to and through
the very early Christian churches.
Concerns of love, war, peace, work,
relationships, health, and God are all included.
This morning through the words
of Matthew and Paul –
originally intended for the Christian communities at Antioch (possibly the church of Matthew’s community), Philippi, and Thessalonica –
we receive wisdom to guide our lives
as the church today.
Throughout the lectionary passages,
the trail we will follow for much of this fall season,
we see portraits of church painted,
as a community which proclaims the way of Christ,
and is a living sign of God’s reign in the world.
The church is called to discern,
to question, and to hope.
The church is expected to offer and receive forgiveness, and to maintain its faith in the midst of a culture whose goals and practices may be very different from the goals of Christ.
And we, as the church, are to imitate Christ in word, deed, and attitude.
Read: Mt 18: 15-20
Where two or three are gathered,
life will not be easy.
Life together as the church, if we are honest,
is just as hard as it is in any other group.
Actually it probably is harder.
And the phrase "If we are honest"
may well be the key phrase in that statement. Honest encounters with each other, and
honest grappling with the truth can be scarce.
The church is often known, by those outside us,
as the place where everyone smiles at each other
in pious polite virtue but
often finds it hard to face conflict in healthy ways. We have a history of denial
when it comes to addressing issues
requiring brutal self examination.
In the gospel passage, we can see an attempt to sort some of that out.
Matthew 18:20 Where two or three people gather in my name, I am there in the middle of them.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time
my very earliest memories of church
were about community.
And I suppose that is the way it should be
in one sense at least.
The old saying goes that if you wanted a description of water you wouldn’t ask a fish.
Well if community is as organically formed around us as it ideally could be then we might be hard pressed to describe it.
Those very earliest memories were the place of origin of my truly fundamental understanding of life as an experience of relationships.
Through our Christian history, these words of Jesus have been most commonly used to describe the remarkable secret of public worship and fellowship: That the eternal Christ is present to us here
in the in the assembly of God’s people,
convening the assembly, and blessing
those of us who have gathered in his name.
But the meaning of “gathered in my name” is,
I believe, much broader
than that of only worship and fellowship.
It includes any gathering of Christians,
drawn together, for whatever humble reason,
in response to Gods grace
and the love of God evident in Christ Jesus.
It includes those on a medical team, preparing for, or serving in any remote location.
It includes the members of any of our
“Stewardship Committees” as they deliberate
over the financial health of the congregation.
It includes a few women and men informally creating a roster for community support in any one of a hundred different ways we have been involved over the years.
It includes a group of UCW women sitting around a kitchen table in Palmerston a few of years ago brainstorming ideas for a community outreach.
Somebody said “wouldn’t it be great to have Steven Lewis speak”.
They called him and he answered the phone.
What’s more he said yes
and a year later it was standing room only in the Palmerston High School Gymnasium.
The two or three gathered in the Lord’s name applies to the staff of our churches
who gather from time to time,
formally and informally; or the choir,
as they gather for practice on Thursday evenings.
It applies to the small but dedicated crews
that go out from these places of worship
year after year, time after time
to support Habitat for Humanity, or our ministries at Christian camps or maybe to carry worship to other sites like Bell Lane.
It embraces two or three Sunday school teachers
as they gather to discuss how to help one child.
It may be just a casual gathering of young,
harried mothers over a morning coffee,
there to support one another,
with not one specific religious word spoken.
I could go on and on. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name”
Please, do not let us fall into the trap of limiting these words to the context of worship and prayer.
It is much, much more.
So what makes it genuinely “in his name?”
When is a gathering truly in the name of Christ Jesus and when not? Well…
The word Jesus does not have to be even spoken.
A prayer does not have to be uttered aloud.
A passage of the Bible needn’t be read,
to make an event fit the category of
“in Christ’s name”
It is the goal, the purpose,
and the spirit which matters.
Whenever we come together in any situation,
and do so in a way that serves and honours God, then it is in the name of Jesus.
And when we get it right,
the Lord is truly in our midst.
Where two or three people gather together in my name, I am there in the middle of them.
“I am there in the middle of them.”
Now this is not just a metaphor. It is for real.
Jesus meant what he said to his disciples.
Whenever you gather to express your love for God through Jesus, he is with us.
Be it either in worship, fellowship,
or service in the world,
you will have the living Lord Jesus with you.
This is a promise of the highest order.
this is but one of his many meeting places.
In this place.
As you gather.
As you greet one another.
As you sing.
As you listen to the Word.
As you pray.
As you gather around and eat and drink from a community table after the service.
As you prepare to go out into the world in peace.
The Lord is here.
God has never revoked that promise
in two thousand years,
and is not about to opt out today.
Where two or three people gather in my name,
I am there in the midst of them.
In church or out of it,
in prayer or in community service,
in church sponsored events or
in informal coming together
of those who share the same goal and spirit,
“I am here in the midst of them.”
Let us engage in silent prayer for a minute,
and affirm and trust and sense
the Presence of the Living Christ .......Amen
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer at Sydenham Street / Heritage United Churches in Brantford Ontario
August 23, 2015
Exodus 3:1-15; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Called into Community, Called into Life.
Opening comments on the community of Grace
at GC42, how it is calling us to a new reality.
From the time when Jesus was recognized
by the disciples as the Messiah, he began to
prepare them for his own future and their future.
It was not a life of triumph and power that he presented to them.
It was about service, but it was also about suffering and it was about death,
about decisions to walk towards those whose power was destroying the people.
It was an invitation to take up a cross, to take up a burden and a mission, and
to lay down our agendas for saving our own lives.
A different picture of being alive was offered
- one based on joining in
the self-sacrificing life of the Christ
rather than following the way
that seemed more profitable.
It is a humbling and helpful exercise
to ask ourselves whether that is the image
the world in general has
of the life of the Christian Church over the ages.
Sr. Joan Chittister in “Called to Question”
her spiritual memoir, says:
“It is the seeking that counts.
It’s so easy to forget that simple truth in a capitalistic society
that teaches us to win, to have, to amass,
and defines the best of us
as the one who has the most of these things. . . .
But in the God-life, the seeing is itself the end.
We never “get” God,
but we always “have” God.
We never “find” God.
But we forever dwell in God.
So, if I’m seeking God,
I have already come to God.”
Pray: Gracious God, we come here this morning
from lives that are busy, crowded,
We come to be quiet for a while
and to be with you. Come now.
Startle us again with your truth,
your love, your reality;
here and also in the busy lives we lead.
Speak your word, the word we need to hear.
In Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.
Florence Nightingale decided to dedicate her life to the wounded on the battlefield
at the risk of her life and reputation.
She did it in spite of family and friends who told her to think of herself.
Before his execution in a German concentration camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said to his cellmates, "This is the end,
and for me the beginning of my life."
When Jesus revealed to his disciples
that he must die, his disciples responded to Jesus' revelation, with surprise and exasperation.
You see, they still, simply could not understand how the giving of yourself for others
could make any sense.
They still did not see
how putting your life at the service of others
in a radical way makes you discover your real self.
That is the recurring theme
throughout our passages of Scripture
that are being read this morning.
There is not only the theme of call
but also the underlying notion
that to respond to the call of God
requires a commitment that understands the risks involved in being all we are meant to be.
that gives us a whole lot to think about.
What does God want of you? What are the risks? Do you want to respond to God
in spite of the risks?
Can you risk not responding to God?
They are questions that have been asked throughout every age.
Let’s take Moses for example.
Read: Exodus 3:1-15
He is living out the consequences
of taking a firm stand against injustice.
The royal prince brought up in Pharaoh's palace
is now a nomad
looking after his flock in the wilderness.
He stood up to the harsh treatment
of his own Hebrew people
at the hands of their Egyptian taskmasters.
Fleeing from that situation
he landed into another.
He helped some women at a well
when shepherds were trying to steal her water.
Now God confronts him from a burning bush.
"It's easy for him," We are tempted to say.
"How could he fail to recognize God's call?"
After all, we are talking about a burning bush!
Not your everyday experience!
But give Moses credit.
He had to willingly turn aside
to find out what was going on.
And from that burning bush God spoke to him. God reminded him of his responsibility to his people and sent him to face Pharaoh.
This is risky business.
No wonder Moses responded as he did.
"Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
Who is he, indeed?
Well, he is exactly the right person for the job.
Winston Churchill said on the eve of becoming Britain’s wartime prime minister
that he felt as if his entire life had been a preparation for that very moment.
God has been preparing Moses
for this his whole life.
What follows is a revelation
about who Moses is and also about who God is.
I AM, - is sending you.
I AM, - will be with you.
Knowing I AM, Moses is able to respond to God's call and begin the venture that will liberate the Hebrew people from their bondage.
The Gospel reading today
recounts another kind of response to God's call.
Read: Matthew 16:21-28
Jesus reveals something
truly momentous to his disciples.
It is every bit as momentous
as Moses learning about I AM.
It should be a Holy moment for all of them as Jesus tells them about God's call to him.
He is to go to Jerusalem
and to be prepared to die.
Instead of understanding it
as their call to follow and support,
they are thrown into a state of denial.
Peter, who only a short time ago, said of Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," rejects out of hand
the idea that Jesus should pay such a price.
"God forbid it, Lord!" he exclaims.
"This must never happen to you."
Jesus reprimands him.
"Get behind me Satan," he says.
"You are a stumbling block to me."
Peter is in denial.
He is thinking in human terms.
Like we all do quite naturally.
He, like the other disciples cannot easily come to terms with the risk of following Jesus.
Accepting Jesus' need
to face the prospect of death would be accepting the reality that they too might die for the faith.
It would require them to recognize
their own mortality. Jesus says to them,
"Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
It is easy to see what that might mean
in terms of the disciples,
and in fact in terms of the early Christians whose relationships with the Christ were often defined by Roman persecution.
But what does that mean
in terms of our Christian life?
You and I and Sydenham Street United Church.
Does it mean accepting others and lovingly leading them where God wants them to be?
Does it mean putting the needs of others before our own? Does it mean considering the needs of this church and this community of faith?
It means all of that.
It means being truly human.
We are called to be part of
the sufferings and sorrows,
conflicts and consternations,
failures and defeats of others.
We are called to bear one another’s burdens.
We are called to be makers of justice.
We are called to proclaim the Gospel.
We are called to live out all the promises of our baptism.
We need to know and accept the risks involved in living the Christian life.
We need to know that there are risks.
If there are no risks, we are probably not living the way God intends us to live.
Many bushes are alight in our everyday lives.
If one day we see a fire
that is more than an everyday sight
and we turn aside to examine it more closely;
then at that moment we will know ourselves
to be in communication with God.
It will be a moment of revelation,
about ourselves truly, but also about God. Hopefully we will respond, "Here I am",
and in that response
we will encounter The Holy.
We need to develop an attitude of discipleship that asserts as Paul did
that we "present our bodies as a living sacrifice, Holy and acceptable to God.
It is a call to be transformed by God's love.
It is a radical call that says
that there must be a difference
between how we live
and how the world lives.
It is the call that makes real
the enormous potential
that lies within each one of us
to make a difference that will change our reality.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario