The power working among us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”. I will be your God, and you will be my people. Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross and died for us. Us. You and I- together. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Not one thing came into being without him. God with us- as a community. The power of God’s community is deep and abiding in scripture, for at every stage of our lives, we are called into community to deepen and grow as disciples of Christ. Yet we live in a world where technology is replacing community, and gathering spots like this one are closing faster than they are opening. If we follow what the national Anglican church says to us, based on current projections, our church will not exist by 2040- we will have gone extinct.
To which is I say, rubbish!
The sermon on the Mount is for us a great example of what it means to both grow and be challenged in community. This week's readings are a good example of the harder texts of morality that often catch us up in our daily lives, and turn folks away from religion altogether. Because, who really wants to hear themselves referred to in shaming language, or be perpetually judged by those they call friends? I mean, when our lives are going well, it can feel like we are on the inside of faith- that God is shining on us. Yet, when life goes south, when our health falters, our spouse leaves us, we are made redundant at work, or we aren’t coping with life well, it can often mean that faith becomes harder to follow because often it feels like we have to be perfect in order to believe. But God doesn't call the perfect, he perfects the called.
This gradual perfection, which is understood as a daily dying to ourselves and living in Christ, is the process which frees us from the draws of our world, and brings us into community. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus was talking to people like you and I- the everyday people of the world, not the VIP’s, and inviting them into a way of life. What we do, however, at a cognitive level, is automatically sort that invitation into a black or white answer, just like our gospel this morning. If I do this, this will happen. If I say that, this will happen. Cause and effect, which we then make rules around to make sure we continue to keep comfortable. Laws help us stay on the inside, but it is also a way for us to keep God at a distance- which is impossible for us to do. God didn't come to me or you individually. God came to us, humanity- all of us, and moved into our neighbourhood, which means our discipleship exists for the purpose of everyone who isn't here.
Getting caught up in the laws, as Christ is saying this morning, smothers us from true community, because through them we turn into isolated and judgmental people. And it's easy to do… look at all the protests around modular housing… “I don’t want those people in my neighbourhood,” said one person in reference to homeless people. “Those people.” “Who’s gonna keep me safe from those people and their influences on my neighbourhood, said another, in relation to safe injection sites.” “Those people, and my neighbourhood.” What about my property values, social housing will depreciate my investment. ‘Me, me, me.’ What if we asked those questions in an attempt to build community… How can I work with you to build a safe home for everyone? How can we be friends? One is focused on laws and protection, and the other on connection. You see we live in a world of me, and the values of me keep us safe. However that's about getting lost in the letter of the law, rather than living the intention of the law which is the right relationship with God, a God which came for us. Not for me in isolation.
What the 2040 report that suggests we will be extinct as a church failed to grasp is, the church is a movement of people, not a building. This building could fall down tomorrow, and I will be the first one here putting up a tent to carry on worship. We, you and I, in this community are the church- which happens to meet in a building. We are not a building, and God is not some judgmental law giver who smites us and condemns us to eternal damnation for cutting off a driver, or walking past a homeless person. God invites us to live differently because of what we experience, which is our own daily growth into God’s perfection. God is a God of community and right relationship, something we practice here every week, and something we will discern together over our next two weeks.
After service we will gather for our pre-vestry meeting, a chance for us to pray about where God is moving us as a community with our finances. But remember this, our finances are not a bill, they are a vehicle for our ministry, a ministry which is for the other. We gather here to replenish ourselves spiritually, but also physically so that we can spend the next six days in our neighbourhood serving those we meet in the name of Christ. Our finances invite you and I together, to deepen our relationship with God every year, and our neighbour, as we contribute our time, talent and money to the ministry we share in this place for the neighbourhood in which we live. A neighbourhood which God came to be among in community, in this community, where there is no I, only we.
The community of God, founded in the shadow of the Cross of Christ, and made real in this outpost of the kingdom we call St. Anselms, is here for the express purpose of meeting the needs of those who are not here. The students, the faculty, the service workers of the university, the alumni, the retired teachers, the golfers and staff across the road, the teachers, parents, and students of Norma Rose Point School, the residents of Purdy Pavilion seniors care home, of Acadia Park, Wesbrook Village, and the UEL. We exist for them, because God came to us, in Jesus, to bring them- to bring our neighbourhood, closer to him, in faith, by the work of this parish. Work you and I are called to do everyday, to bring people into community- into this community. So as we look at our budget, we will find places where we wonder how we are doing it. Our expenses are high, and we are running a deficit. However, I also want us to look at where that money is going. It is going into our neighbourhood, through worship, outreach, christian education, fellowship and more. We host concerts and teas, fairs and fetes- we build community. We open our doors and welcome everyone. We visit and build community with the isolated and the sick. We mourn and grieve our deaths together, we celebrate our weddings and baptisms together. We exist for the benefit of those who are not here, and are meeting that need for community with everything we do.
Our gospel this week calls us to think about God’s community and our commitment to the ministry of that community to our neighbourhood through this parish. God is with us, all of us, in this neighbourhood, calling us to right relationship by making disciples of all peoples. How will you respond with your life to our ministry this week?