It must be Sunday again, I thought to myself as I walked into the sanctuary to light the candles on the altar. I could hear this shrill nasal laugh coming from the staircase and physically felt myself cringe. Her name was June, and at all of 5 feet tall, she was a force you felt before she entered a room. I never once saw her do anything but smile. She had the biggest hugs in the world, and possessed a voice that could stop rush hour traffic. She loved nothing more than to sing with all the power her lungs had, and was unafraid of the fact that she didn’t know how to sing- she actually embraced it. As my Sunday school teacher, she brought the passion of a life fully alive in Christ to the themes she taught us about God. She was a force in anyone’s life, a force which called me into ministry.
It was Palm Sunday, and the church was brimming with activity. I usually ran into her on the stairs and she’d always give me a big hug and a good morning. For some reason I avoided her today, I was to busy preparing for the service. Little did I know we’d gather again in eight days for her funeral, she died how she lived- fully alive to Christ. June did allot for me, she taught me a faith rooted deeply in love, supported in scripture, and fed by the Eucharist. Most importantly however, June taught me how to live my life, loving fully- with my heart, mind, and soul. June taught me how to be, by showing me the vision of Christ a freedom to which, this woman from south africa showed me, everyone is called.
A vision is a state of being able to see, suggesting a trajectory or direction to move into. We have visions of retirement, or financial security. We have visions of a world full of peace and safety. We have visions of a world where no one is left out. We have visions of community which draw others into the work we are doing because it is clear, direct, and convincing in the way it asks something of us. Think of our workplaces or careers- they have a vision for life that interests us. Think of our partners and spouses- they have a vision for life that interests us. Think of our parish- We have a vision which interests us: the gospels of Jesus Christ.These people in our lives are forces which bring us into community, because we share an identity with, or a passion in common. They help us feel apart of something bigger than ourselves and at our deepest levels that we are ok, we are loved, and we are necessary in a world which feels increasingly lonely and isolated. I wonder who your June is for you this morning? I believe this invitational aspect of our life is exactly why parishes are perfectly suited as centers of community rather than for community, we are a place to be rather than a place to rent, because Jesus is present and calls us out of our individuality and into a wider community, a community which needs us.
As I walk around our parish, meeting and watching people, I often gaze into their faces and wonder to myself “who are you, and how can I serve you?” What is their story, where do they come from, what are they searching for, and what does community look like for them. As a parish we are 65 years young on this journey of faith. Founded by the heads of faculty at UBC, we were placed here to reach out to a growing family of residents who would eventually call the Endowment lands home, a vision that has taken 65 years to fulfill. We were birthed at a time when Church was an expectation, Christianity was the religion of state, shops were closed on Sunday, families came to church, and christian faith communities were both a place to be and a place to be seen. We have 71,000 neighbors outside our doors, in the UBC and UEL neighbourhoods, that all have dreams, aspirations, hurts, pains, questions and fears just like us. Loving fully, into a vision of community, can seem daunting in the face of a population such as this, however this is a story that Jesus lived himself. Loving fully moves us from isolation to freedom, freedom in recognizing ourselves in our neighbor- a neighbor whose image is of Christ himself, the Christ who we see in our gospel this morning.
Matthew is deeply within Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem in our Gospel reading this morning. In just a few chapters from our reading, Jesus dies, and so for Matthew giving the gathered community of faith a deeper understanding of life in Christ was key. Preceding this reading we hear of the call to engage with our identity as Children of God, to take on the ministry of image bearers of God in the world around us, to live into the love that God has implanted in us, rather than continuing to allow ourselves to be weighed down by the life draining power of the world of Caesar. Today, the call is even clearer- Love your god with everything you are, heart, mind and soul, and therefore love neighbor as you love yourself. There is no greater commandment. Live freely into the truth of Christ. Knowing our boundaries and gifts, where they are best used and where they aren’t takes time to discern and question with trusted friends, spiritual advisors, and God. However in knowing where we are in the world, we are better equipped to respond to the need before us, living out of our fulsome identity because we know our rooted and grounded abilities. This takes the hard work of life lived and experienced to know, which is grounded most intentionally I believe in a parish community. A community like Matthew’s, which is breaking in all around us.
This morning begins a journey for us which will see us ask questions of each other, dream, aspire, plan, and seek a direction to work towards as a community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The greek translation of holy spirit is paraclete, which can be translated as a noun to mean “the one who answers the call.” In the act of answering the call, which is by listening to the holy spirit, we intentionally choose to sit deeply with our neighbors and listen for the stirring of the spirit among us. Answering the call is our response to the questions we hear in our world, the concerns of our neighbours, the challenges of a society absorbed with fame, and the audacity to dream in the face of an inability to prove the business case of our endeavors. This deeper listening, which requires our mind body and spirit, grounds us into the image of Christ for our lives together. It keeps Christ at our center point and gives us the stability necessary to move out of our comfort zones and into something unknown- a territory the Gospels call us into every week. Over the next few months we will continue to meet for town halls to hear from and learn with each other. We will pray, we will listen, we will dream, and we will wonder about what God is calling us to do.
Be at peace my friends, this work is already taking place within us and this is a healthy and natural step for a parish to take. Christ’s call to us to love fully is taking root in everything we do, because of our willingness to see ourselves in the stranger. We are a community of pilgrims, meeting together to grow together in Christ. We meet in our life groups, we meet in our coffee hours. We meet in our worship, and in our hospitals, we are learning to meet when life is good and when life isn’t so good. I believe we are growing because we are becoming a center of community and an incubator of disciples which is grounded in our identities as bearers of Christs image, and our place as a stranger here because of that. We remember what it was like to be here for the first time, unsure of what to do, being bombarded with requests to join groups and ministries or take out envelopes. We remember the feeling of surprise when we arrived back here the week after, and the week after that, and the week after that, so many times that the weeks have blended into years- but we have not forgotten how it felt to be on the outside wondering if there was a home for us here. We haven’t forgotten because we found ourselves here. We found ourselves through connection which is grounded in love and offered fully in relationship with Christ.
Loving fully is about leaning completely into our lives- mind, body and spirit, which are active forces of God in our world. Loving fully is a movement in the heart to sit with ourselves and our neighbors and listen deeply for the voice of the spirit already among us calling us afresh into life and ministry. Loving fully is about feeling and accepting the freedom which comes with following Christ, a freedom which will take us into new places, new directions, and new ideas, which are rooted in the legacy we have inherited from our founders. Daring to love fully, intentionally creates space to grow and expand, to change and to listen, to dare and to challenge. This is hard work, and it can be a challenge to love so freely. Saint Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians however that love is patient and kind, it does not insist on its own way, or rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love, my friends, transforms us because of what love is grounded in- that is God. We can love, because God loved us first- without reservation. Pauls reminder about love is my constant prayer for us as we embark on this work, that this process bears, believes, hopes, and endures in all things.
You see, both of these commandments this morning depend on each other. Loving God with everything we have, is loving our neighbor as ourselves. Loving neighbor is as loving God with everything we have.
There are some ways from which you are able to engage with this work of loving fully here and now:
- pray for this parish, its leaders, its members. Pray for each other. Call each other. Spend time together. Be Community outside Sunday. Invite each other for dinner. Be together.
- Listen with me for the voice of the spirit as we discern our vision for ministry together in the years to come. Listen with your whole heart. Pray for me, a sinner, as we listen.
- Get involved. Come to a town hall, speak up, listen to differing opinions, be willing to let God call you into new places, dare greatly, get creative.
- Form your life on the Eucharist, on its life changing call to you and the gifts god has given you to use in transforming this world. God has given you incredible gifts.
God has called this community into life for 65 years. I believe we have 65 and more years ahead of us. God is calling you and me to go out into our neighborhoods and engage in the work of building the kingdom of God through loving fully into the freedom God offers through Christ, work that starts here with questions about how we will do that. In loving, with the patience and presence of Paul, in a world thirsty for centers of community which are fully alive, we are asked to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit as she renews again God’s mission and our purpose in that for this parish. God is here and the Holy Spirit is speaking to us this morning through our whole hearted and inter-related commandments.
God is asking you to use your life for the transformation of this world, which begins here in this place. Dare to dream, get excited, lean into your fear, God is here! God is calling you this morning to lean into a life which is totally free to love because of your connections here at St. Anselm’s. How will you respond?