Today is a day to think about what we value. Not only is the anniversary of our church—17 years!, but it is also the day in which we remember the birth of Canada is 1867. It's always a good thing to examine our values, but today is an especially good day to do that, so I've written a fictitious letter from Paul, the apostle of the Early Church that will reflect some of the values that have been recognized in our church community by the Identity Survey. This fictitious letter is an invitation to think about where these values take us into the future.
Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth and by way of exhortation, urged the members of this new Church to join with Macedonians and other Churches in raising a collection to send to Jerusalem. Paul himself frames his request as a way to enact the gospel of love and compassion, living out the radical welcome and hope that Jesus embodied. Paul doesn't command the people; he exhorts, he requests, he uses moral persuasion after affirming the manner in which the Corinthians excel in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in generosity.
If Paul were to write to us, he might write something like this...
Paul, an apostle of the One who gives life and who, dwelling in each of us, leads us to live generously and to welcome openly; grace and peace to you of Nelson United Church.
I give thanks with you for the manner in which you have, according to the Identity Survey, affirmed the importance of prayer in creating peace and wellbeing for people facing injustice and for people facing health challenges. Prayer is the Spirit at work in our midst, for as you might remember, I said elsewhere, "When we do not know what to pray, the Spirit intercedes with us with sighs too deep for words."
I see from the survey that you are well connected with each other and with the world around you in which you live. You live out a radical welcome where all can feel free to be themselves and to share their gifts in whatever ways seem appropriate. You embody well Jesus' Way of Love in the world. And sometimes it does take a bit of daring to live in such a way. There are forces in the world that are only concerned with money, status and power, people who are locked by fear in ways of hate and prejudice. In Texas I have heard that two teenaged women in a relationship together were shot in a park in Portland, Texas, last week; one of the young women died and the other is in serious condition with a head wound. Daring to follow the Way of Jesus, embodying the Love of God by living the welcome of openness and hope is important. We are called to be a light in the world and we shine brighter and more forcefully when we join our lights together and shed light on the prejudices and fear that enslave some in the world.
I commend you for the manner in which believing is not so much about dogma but is a journey of doubting, questioning, asking, discussing, and ongoing discovery. I have been misunderstood as being rigid and fixed in the dogma that came across in my letters to the Early Church, but that is a misrepresentation. If you read closely, you'll discover that I sometimes contradict myself and offer different ideas. Sometimes, in some places, we think about things differently and that leads to a different way of believing about something. I am gratified to see that what you believe is not as important as belonging. Belonging and being together is important, for when we are together in love, as I wrote to you earlier, there is humility, patience, acceptance, grace, generosity, and forgiveness. You'll remember that I said, "Love is patient and kind; it is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its way, nor is it irritable or resentful."
That reminds me... one of the things that I did write about with respect to Jesus, in fact it was an old hymn that I found, and I reminded the Corinthian Church again is that Jesus emptied himself of power and became vulnerable even to death. That is the spiritual path to which we are all called, in our own ways, to walk. We are not called, necessarily, to die as Jesus died. But we are called to empty ourselves of our fears and prejudices, to die to all that would inhibit our being open in love to one another and to affirm the awe-filled presence of God in all of life.
There is a misconception that leadership calls us to be tough and arrogant, to let the chips fall where they may when tough decisions need to be made. But real leadership is based in values of radical love, open hospitality, the blessing of all, shared decision-making and leadership, the valuing of the least in our midst, listening rather than speaking, hoping rather and despairing, self-emptying rather seeking to be filled or fulfilled by material things.
And so, I leave you with my blessings and the hope that you will continue to excel in generosity, humility, radical welcome and, above all, love. And I leave my blessings for your country, Canada, that celebrates its birth as a nation. May Canada continue the path of being an open country of hope and optimism; may it and all of us live more fully into the future that is environmentally whole, not so worried about economic prosperity but be concerned about the wellbeing of all people and all creation.
May the blessing of Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with each and every one of you this day and every day.