May 10, 2015
Family/Mother's Day Sunday
John 15: 9-17 & Acts 10: 44-48
My friendships are a varied lot of relationships
that each grows out of a distinct time and place
and therefore a distinct context and a distinct
set of circumstances, and a distinct set of needs
harbored by each party.
Friendships can offer and demand the entire array of human attributes that Jesus promotes and the gospels are built upon.
Friendships are both essential to a healthy life and the most demanding dimensions of that life.
I had the friendship with Wayne who lived in the shadows. He is not to be confused with any of the Waynes that I hang around with here in Brantford. Wayne lived in a nether land in between the legitimate and the illegal underground.
We knew each other as teenagers working construction on a job site in Hamilton.
I have the friendship with Randy who offers me support and wisdom.
I have the friendship of Dave who connects me both with the generation that my children belong to and with my years in community as we both were immersed in theological training.
I have the friendship with Elizabeth
who shares her gift of story.
I have the friendship with Paul with whom I share both a passion for this UCC of ours and golf.
I have the friendships with Peter and with Paul which both go back to childhood.
I have the friendship of my children, of which I am quite proud.
I had until last November the friendship with Marion whom I came to know as an octogenarian in Magog years ago and still visited at least one a year in Mississauga or in Halliburton until in the end she reached 98 and a half as she put it.
And I am this morning surrounded by friends.
Read: John 15: 9-17
Promiscuous means “of mixed
and indiscriminate composition”.
We have attached it to sexual behaviour
but actually it is a broad and inclusive term.
My friends are young and old, men and women,
and I like to think they are as varied
as my life experience allows.
I like to think of myself as having no boundaries to my friendships. But of course that is really not true.
We live in a time and place in which cultures and peoples mix more than at any other time in history. In the last ten years I’ve read a number of articles reporting on studies of multiculturalism.
Thousands of people were interviewed.
What they nearly all have found
was that skin colour, not religion or income
was the biggest barrier to making immigrants feel
as if they belonged in Canada.
The darker the skin, the greater the alienation!
We shouldn’t be surprised that religion plays a minor role these days.
First of all religion is no longer seen as the credible cornerstone of society that it once was.
It no longer has the importance and the sway
over society that it once had.
Can you imagine the Parliament of Canada today debating an Act to create a church as they did with the United Church Act in 1925?
Secondly, society has its own ways
of dealing with multiculturalism
apart from any government or societal policies
that could possibly be put into effect.
Sometimes the response of society
is to create closed communities that keep one’s way of living intact by excluding those who are different. Or we may create exclusive communities that are beyond the means of people who are not “like us”. We may ghettoize into communities
as we did with our aboriginal peoples
by segregating them on reserves.
Or we may force people to change
and become more like us.
Many immigrants gave up their language and culture in order to become Canadian.
The Christian faith though gives us a third option,
that of inclusion!
It opens the doors and welcomes people in!
However, inclusion runs risks.
That is obvious from the reading from Acts.
When you allow God to work through you,
you lose control over
who belongs and who does not.
The passage follows Peter’s vision
about clean and unclean foods
that he had been commanded to eat.
He did not understand the vision until he was invited to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile.
He was speaking to the household
when the Holy Spirit came over them.
Just as on the day of Pentecost,
they began to praise God in ways that the Christian church had assumed were exclusively theirs.
The believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the Spirit of God should be given,
not just to them, but to the Gentiles as well.
They moved into action.
“Can anyone withhold the water
for baptizing these people?” Peter asks.
It becomes a time of renewal for the whole community as they welcome the newly baptized into their table fellowship.
The risks of inclusivity are real.
You might have to accept people whom you deem unworthy of the name of Christian.
You might have to worship side by side
with people of differences beyond the usual
colour, race, prosperity level or sexual orientation.
You might have to accept
that we are all made in God’s image.
You might have to struggle with the issues that face the Christian Church in the twenty-first century.
If the passages from Acts point out the risks,
the gospel surely lives out our call
to be an inclusive and open community of faith.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,”
Jesus says to the disciples.
He reminds them of the great love he has for them. He reminds them that our love is a reflection of the love God has for us.
It is not simply religious sentimentality;
it is our calling as Christians.
The loving attitude we see in Christ
is a reflection of the nature of God
just as our loving attitude reflects the love of Christ.
It links love and obedience.
It makes our love of God and others intentional.
Friendship is such an amazing thing.
A number of years ago, in the early spring I received a phone call one morning from a friend in Kingston. She told me that Sarah had died.
Sarah was well advanced in years,
had taken a fall and declined very rapidly after that.
Sarah was the Clerk of Session of the little church in Yarker On from which I came to the UUC as a candidate. She signed my candidacy papers.
She shared the hospitality of her home,
the wisdom of her long life
and her keen wit and intellect.
When I got the call I looked over at the plant stand that was in the Manse window.
My largest and finest Christmas cactus was in full bloom; a glorious spray of white blossoms.
Sarah had given me that plant as a slip years ago.
The evening before, Sarah’s family, her friend and minister, and a dozen or so friends from the little congregation had gathered around her bed at KGH and had sung hymns in the candle light.
They all had a story of what she had meant to them in their lives, about meeting her for the first time, about how she had been there for them,
how she had encouraged them,
how her faith and joy
had constantly lifted their spirits.
They wanted and even needed to be there with her as a community as she journeyed from life to death. They sang until she was gone.
It was a time of grace in the midst of suffering.
How do we create a community
in which there is understanding and love
in a life-giving, self-giving way?
To create such a community
would surely be risky on so many levels.
It begins with responding to Jesus as friend.
In doing so we would on some level
“lay down our life for our friends”.
It is unlikely today
that it would be the ultimate sacrifice.
Yet we are called
to ‘put our lives on the line for one another’.
We are called to put others before ourselves.
We are called to love in a life-giving way.
It means being generous with other people,
not just by providing bread
but also by sharing the deeper gift of oneself.
In the Eucharist last week
we shared the bread and the cup with each other
as a sign that in our daily lives we strive to share
our bread, our blessings, and ourselves with others. It is in a sacramental sharing that communion becomes most honest and effective.
Our observance today, is of “Mother’s Day”,
of the sacred nature of family relationships,
and is no less than the act of acknowledgment
that the most fundamental building block
of our life together is in fact a gift from God.
Now that’s pretty simple.
It’s simple to say, simple to understand,
even at times simple to feel.
Yet the simplest and most profound of gifts are often taken for granted or ignored.
One of the most serious challenges
to North American society
in the next 50 years will be to try to stabilize
our sense of family relationships.
As the restrictions on woman’s roles
in the wider society have evaporated
and women have begun to take their rightful place, engaged across the entire range of human endeavour; almost everything about their relationships with their spouses has changed;
that is everything excepting love
and the sacred nature of that relationship.
The historical definition
of the nuclear family has changed.
Recently I had the occasion to show
my youngest son’s mother-in-law,
a historical memento I have of my family
that dates from about 200years ago.
It shows Mom & Dad and the 14 children.
That was not uncommon, but families have moved from a strictly economical union that generally required prolific reproduction to succeed,
to human bonding primarily based upon love, respect, and mutual care, almost everything about those family relationships has changed,
everything that is excepting love and the sacred nature of those relationships.
Laying down our lives for one another
may mean sacrificing time, thought, worry,
concern, caring, sensitivity.
It will certainly result in rejection
of the ways of the world,
of the killing and the alienation and
of the violent society in which we live.
How do we respond to Jesus?
Do we respond as friend and brother?
For we are blessed to have such a friend!
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario
May 17, 2015
Acts 17:22-31 and John 14:15-21
To The God of Assurance, not
Jesus' farewell messages to his disciples
as he prepared to leave their sight,
ring down through the centuries, to us as ones who never saw the Christ in the flesh.
We have to imagine Jesus looking on
the anxious faces of his friends and telling them over and over that he will be with them,
and within, every part of their lives.
He is reassuring them that they are close enough to God to believe what is to follow.
Sometimes like the disciples we too
feel like orphans – and find it hard to find
evidences of God in the life around us.
The Good News is that we are never left alone, and it is vital to encourage each other by sharing both those instances where we see the unmistakable signs of God's presence
and the times when there is only a hint or a whisper but you can sense the Holy Spirit.
Read John 14:15-21
The disciples learned to let go.
It was a lesson Jesus’ disciples had to learn. During the last supper Jesus began to talk to his disciples about leaving.
Not surprisingly, they fell into despair.
They wanted to hold on to him as we do with those we love.
“I won’t leave you alone,” Jesus promised.
I’ll ask the Father to send you an Advocate.”
He explained to them that it was a good thing for them that he was leaving.
It would give them an opportunity to become aware of God’s spirit at work in them.
It would help them to come into their own.
It would help them to become
more authentically themselves.
They would understand more fully God’s call
to ministry that was extended to them.
He even assured them that they would discover things that he could never fully explain to them. Realities they could only discover for themselves through their own experience of God.
Jesus did not mean that their relationship would come to an end.
On the contrary, he knew that their relationship, though changed, would become even more intimate.
He knew that they needed a more mature faith,
a deeper understanding of God at work through them – a deeper understanding of God's purpose for their lives.
All of that is true not only of them,
but of each of us.
We all need to come into relationship
with our loving God.
We need to come to the place
where we know our call.
We need to understand
how God is working through us.
We need an adult image of God
that is unique to us.
It is through our experience of God
that we come to a mature faith,
a faith that has grown into adulthood with us.
Paul certainly had a mature and reasoned faith. Paul and his faith in the context of life in the Roman Empire is something I’ve been reading about recently.
He knew God as the creative force
"in whom we live and move and have our being." and he found that knowledge
rather frustrating to convey,
especially when it came to the Athenians.
Paul knew that some of the Athenians were seeking a relationship with God.
The problem for them was not lack of yearning. As Paul points out, they had an altar on every street corner, but they had not explored what God was like.
They didn’t have an intimate relationship with God. When Paul tried to explain his relationship with God they just laughed.
They called him a “talking bird”.
They were amused by his beliefs.
What Paul said of the Athenians could well be said of our own community.
There is a hunger in society for spirituality.
It shows itself in many ways.
We are surrounded
by altars to unknown Gods in our modern world and they can take on many forms.
Our searching for the meaning to existence
can take on many surprising,
even frightening aspects.
Even in our so-called enlightened,
scientific age we have our share of people
who search for manifestations of God in unhealthy and fanatical ways.
People are looking for answers
to satisfy their spiritual thirst.
They are looking for meaning in their lives.
They are looking for answers to the difficult questions of our age.
They are looking for help in making ethical and moral decisions.
Some of them though, sadly, are only trying to hedge their bets, buy a little insurance,
in case you and I are right
and the skeptics are wrong.
But our most urgent concern should be
why many of the sincere seekers
are not looking for a sense of fulfillment
in the Christian Church anymore.
The first step for any seeker, of course,
is getting to know God intimately.
We need to know and experience God
in the same way Paul did.
We must know and search out that living God, that God who is present in our lives,
even though most often people are not aware.
That is the purpose of today's Gospel reading.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus says.
God's purpose comes about not through a disciplined exercise of the will,
but by the warm and personal love
of the disciple for the teacher.
That love is not a one-way street.
When we reach out to understand and know God, then God reaches out to us.
We are not alone.
God has sent another, an Advocate,
the Spirit of truth, to be with us.
We are not orphans.
Relationships are what give life not only meaning but in fact give it substance.
Each individual relationship is a strand of thread that makes up the tapestry of life,
as you have heard me say before this includes our relationship with God,
our relationship with ourselves,
our relationships with those around us,
our relationship with the wider humanity,
and our relationship with non-human creation. The harshest punishment, the most severe penalty for misbehaving in prison,
short of abuse, is and always has been,
the withdrawal from a prisoner of
any sense of relationships that they might have. We are defined by our relationships
and starved when without them.
How do we experience
the power of the Spirit at work in our lives?
Most of us would admit that it is at times of trouble that we find ourselves turning to God
and experiencing God reaching out to us.
That makes such sense;
because those are the times that we are most open to asking God to be present to us.
How do we proclaim that Spirit to the world?
By experiencing it working in our own lives.
We allow our relationship with God to grow through prayer, through reading of Scriptures, and through study of God's word.
Then we risk.
We are together here at Sydenham Street/ Bell Lane seeking a common vision for our future
and we need to be willing to risk.
We need to be relevant.
We need to reach out to children and young people, not only as our future,
but also as our present.
We need to keep our doors open.
We need our faith to be accessible.
We need to be open to new ways of doing things, to new liturgies, to new ways of imaging God. We need new ways of experiencing
God at work in our lives.
We need to get out beyond our four walls
into the community.
Are we able to allow the Spirit to work within us, to reach out to the community,
to draw new people in?
Are we able to minister
to those already in our midst?
Are we able to be relevant
at this crucial time in the Church's history?
The answer lies in our ability to allow God to be present in our midst. It lies in our ability
to nurture our relationship with God.
It lies in our willingness to change our hearts and our whole lives, and to commit ourselves to God. It lies in our ability to experience God "in whom we live and move and have our being." AMEN
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario
May 3, 2015 UCW Sunday
Guest Speaker, Cindy Aniol
Chair of Sydenham UCW
May 24, 2015
“The Spirit is where you
look for it”
We pray: Fill us, O Christ with your Spirit.
Give us the power to do things that we
are unable to do in our own strength.
Take the raw material of our lives and
refine it. Cool our tempers, soften our
speech, enlarge our understanding,
and deepen our love. Help us to trust
in you and not in ourselves alone, knowing that by your Spirit we will be able to do all things and that everyone who hears us may hear your mighty works of love in their own language. Amen
Scripture 1 Acts 2:1-21
A number of years ago, early in my ministry
a family phoned me to say that their child,
who was relatively young, had died.
I went to see the couple
and spent a good long time with them.
We sat in silence much of the time
and had tea together.
I felt so inadequate in ministering to them because I didn't feel that I had anything to say that would comfort them and support their faith.
As I left I had the feeling
that I had failed as a pastor to them.
We did meet later and planned the funeral for the child and had a service in the church.
Some weeks later I received a letter from them saying how much they appreciated my ministry to them in their time of grief.
They said that it meant so much to them.
Some time passed and I went to see them
and they thanked me again. I said, "I am really not sure what I did but thank you”.
They replied, "You were there and that was enough.”
Oh so often, that is the case, they were seeking the Spirit and God made it known to them through me.
It could just have easily been any one of you,
and for some of you it has.
Scripture 2 John 15:26-27
So often our presence with someone
is more important than words.
I have learned that, over and over again
in visiting in hospitals with people
unable to speak very much.
I have even found that visiting people in a coma there has been the sense that some of them knew that I was there even though I did not speak.
This kind of communication
goes beyond our raw ability to connect
and I believe that being able to love
with or without words
is definitely the work of the Spirit.
Scripture 3 John 16:4b-15
I don’t think I have spoken here at Sydenham Street about my service as a chaplain to the CF Cadet Camps during my early years in ministry.
It was, as they would say, a “Ministry of Presence”,
a ministry often devoid of words,
a ministry of demonstrative love and respect
that was prepared to act upon invitation,
prepared to communicate
in whatever form the young people needed.
And believe me it was often unorthodox
and in response to very deep seated
and sometimes almost “incommunicatable” issues brought from home as baggage.
If it is the nature of human love to want to communicate, think of how much more that would be the case with divine love.
The first miracle of Pentecost is that God speaks; God bridges the gap between time and eternity. There is nothing mortals can do or must do to open that communication process; it is all God’s doing. The second miracle is the possibility that human beings, because of God’s action, are able to communicate with one another in unexpected and unprecedented ways.
Wherever you find people who apparently should not have anything in common with one another,
should not be able to understand a single word the other one says,
anytime you see bridges built,
the barriers of misunderstanding torn down,
you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is at work.
This, to my mind,
is the most dazzling aspect of the Pentecost story. Not the tongues of fire,
not the mighty rush of wind,
but the possibility of authentic human community among people who are vastly and inherently different from one another.
The first miracle of Pentecost is that God speaks. The second is that God enables us to talk and to listen to one another.
The third miracle is a third kind of communication that God makes possible. The Apostle Paul writes, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes for us
with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26)
Don’t you love the raw honesty of this statement? “We do not know how to pray as we ought.”
No matter how we long to build a bridge to God,
we cannot build it ourselves, try as we might.
This Sunday is of course Pentecost, where the word Pentecost comes from the Greek meaning fiftieth day, and is measured from Easter.
And since it was on that day
as Luke reports to us in the Acts of the Apostles, that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, the early church adopted this day to celebrate the presence of the spirit.
Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday
and we shall celebrate the spirit again,
but within the framework of God the creator and the recently arisen Christ that Easter has given us.
We celebrate the Holy Spirit occasionally,
we talk about the Holy Spirit some,
but apart from the references we make about the Trinity there is precious little taught or said about the Holy Spirit on its own or in most churches today (Pentecostals aside).
In our gospel reading this morning
John talks about the spirit as advocate.
The Greek word is actually paracletos.
We sometimes hear the word used as an English word and pronounced Paraclete,
and John is the only New Testament writer
to try and embody this aspect of God’s nature
by using the word Paraclete.
A Paraclete in the ancient near east was an advocate, a mediator, and a councilor, someone who put forth a position on behalf of another.
John 15, vs. 26 “When the Advocate comes …..
he will testify on my behalf.
You also are to testify,
for you have been with me from the beginning.”
Most of the references in the New Testament
to the Holy Spirit were originally made in Greek
with other words than the one we have here.
This passage is unique in that Holy Spirit comes to us from Paraclete only four times, this being one, and of these four this is the only one to personify them as the spirit of truth.
So what is it that is so uniquely distinctive
about this passage?
Jesus knows he must leave humanity.
He knows a vacuum will be created,
and he assures us that the Spirit –
the Paraclete will be sent in his stead.
The Spirit of Truth as we have heard in verse 13 will give convincing testimony on behalf of Jesus Christ. Note here that the Spirit does this work –
this work of testifying – through the disciples.
The power of God is working
as the spirit operates through the real lives
of believers to bear witness, in word and deed,
to the person and work of Jesus the Christ.
What more potent metaphor could we ask for than the spirit of truth testifying on God’s behalf?
There can be nothing more sorely needed today than testimony to the truth; in politics, in the media, in the courts, in economic commentary, but most importantly in the ordinary conversations of life, the everyday life blood of community.
The disciples were testifying to God’s Truth as revealed to them in their lives.
We just don’t seem to think it’s necessary anymore. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why.
Human nature hasn’t changed
and the world is just as dangerous.
The Paraclete, the spirit of truth
is only continuing the work of Jesus.
We will see next week as we talk about the Trinity – Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit or Paraclete,
or Spirit of Truth, are all aspects of the same ultimate divine nature.
“The Spirit intercedes for us
with sighs that are too deep for words.”
The great Catholic theologian Karl Rahner once prayed a prayer that has been helpful to me, and as I close, I invite you to join me as I pray:
O Lord, the prayer that you require of me
must be ultimately just a patient waiting for you,
a silent standing by;
until you, who are ever present
in the innermost center of my being,
open the gate to me from within. Amen.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario
May 31, 2015 Trinity/Conference
Sunday - Luncheon
Guest Speaker, Joan McSpadden