The first reading is from the inaugural service and contains the motto of the United Church: "That all may be one". It expresses the desire for unite that was the dream of the architects of the United Church - the hope that the church might become unified so the world might know Jesus as Christ through our unity.
John 17:1, 2, 6, 17-23
So, wish me luck tomorrow. I've never lead a church service before. Here's hoping I do well enough to be asked to do it again!I am a geek. Seriously, a geek of epic proportions. I'm sure this brings to mind someone sitting at a computer, bending it to her will, but in this case, I am a language geek. I love language and languages. When I was little, I used to drive my Mom crazy by making up my own languages and insisting she try to learn them. She compromised by teaching me Pig Latin. I'd pour over dictionaries. I'd watch Sesame Street, primarily to learn the French! Now it's my favourite kids' show, because I can watch it for the Spanish. When I got into University, I studied linguistics. I went so far as to get a Master's Degree in it. I loved looking at the way that different languages put sentences together, the way they put words together, how languages changed over time, and how some words didn't have direct translations in other languages. Like how in English, there's no word for the look that two people pass between each other that means, "No, I'm not going to say it, you say it!" There is a word for that in some languages. That is, in my geeky opinion, the pinnacle of cool.
A few weeks ago, we read the story about the Tower of Babel. How all the people spoke the same language, and then for trying to build a tower high enough to get to Heaven, God confused them and made them speak new languages. I used to both love and hate that story. I hated it because I thought it was just plain mean of God to do that to the people. Especially considering how much pain and death has been caused simply by mistranslations, and misunderstandings between languages. And I loved it because I totally loved the idea of a universal language. A language everyone could understand. A language innate to humanity.
Now, I'm pretty sure that that story is metaphorical, and that we are to learn from the lesson rather than take the story as literal truth, but at least one linguist of pretty high standing disagrees. His name is Mark Baker, and he has been working on the fundamentals of Universal Language for years and years, trying to get some insight into the nature of God's plan, much like Isaac Newton was trying to find God in science. And that's pretty impressive.
But for me, it misses the point. There is no universal language, much as we'd like English to be, here in the western world. Sometimes I hear geeks of other stripes say that Math is a universal language, that they even send strings of prime numbers into space when they look for extraterrestrial life. And I have definitely heard that music is a universal language. Haven't you?But is it? Take teenagers' music for a second. Does that speak to you? No, me neither. But neither do some of the old hymns that many of you love. Sorry! So I don't think we can call music a universal language in that sense. But I do think it's a universal medium for the true universal language. God's love. The one thing that can truly unite us.
In all genres of music, we can listen for God's love. In the old hymns, the new hymns, country music, folk music, tribal music, even the dreaded hip hop music. Think I'm kidding? Take a listen to this song by the Black Eyed Peas that was very popular a few years ago. It went to #8 in the US and #1 in the Canada, the UK and Australia.
"Where is the love?", they ask. It's there. We just have to look for it. Feel it. Listen for it. The love is why we are the United Church. We joined together, despite the differences, despite diversity of opinions because we wanted to be together as God's people. In fact, that diversity is one of the things that makes us so great, I think. We can have unity without consensus. We have have rousing arguments over important issues, and come out of it stronger.
Now, I'm going to play for you a song that speaks to me. Then we'll hear another scripture and I'll talk a bit more.
This passage was used at the Arnprior Assembly in 2005 as the basis for the discussion about the ministry of the United Church in its 3rd generation. The passage shows us a group of disciples on the move, going out to where the people are - not searching for ways "to get the young people to come to church". The disciples were sent out to share hospitality with people, to bless them and health them and to proclaim the nearness of the Realm of God. Jesus seems to have had little concern for the success of the message, and little patience with disciples who want to sit tight and wait for people to come to them.
What Speaks to You - sermonIt was Trinity Sunday a couple of weeks ago, and I was thinking about how different parts of the trinity speak to some of us differently. Some people are drawn to God the Father or Mother. The God who says, "No dear... you're doing it wrong. Try again." Some are drawn to Jesus, the man who was fully human and yet still fully God. Some of the fundamentalist churches really draw these people in. I know people who can't have a conversation without mentioning Jesus a few times. And some of us are drawn to the Holy Spirit. I think sometimes that those people who say that they're spiritual, but not religious, are the most extreme of those drawn to the Spirit. They're the ones that find church too "churchy".
I like the Holy Spirit. I find it to be the part of God I can relate to on a day to day basis. God the Father is too much "up there", and Jesus the Christ is too much "back then" sometimes. Though don't get me wrong, it's just sometimes. But, God the Spirit is what speaks to me now. God the Spirit guides me every day. God the Spirit is who I ask for strength and patience - the latter being my greatest weakness, I think! God the Spirit is the niggling little voice in the back of my head saying, "Do the right thing! You know what it is".
The United Church is a church proud to listen to the Spirit. We're not afraid of change if the Spirit is guiding us. Look at our past! We admitted we'd been wrong about the way things used to be, and fixed it as best as we could. We apologised to the First Nations for the irreparable damage we did to them, their culture and their languages. We said, "Yes! Women are as valuable as men." and recognised their place as elders and at the pulpit. We said, "Yes! God loves gay people" and recognised their right to the same rights and privileges as straight people. We listen to the Voice of Truth.
And so, we're heading into another generation of the church. And we're going to have to listen again to the Spirit as it guides us. We cannot stay the same. To stay the same is to stagnate. And that is NOT the United Church. That is not REDACTED United Church.
So where are we going? What speaks to you? Are we going to change radically and become a family church? Are we going to become a church that works for seniors? For the poor? I don't know. I just know the Spirit will guide us if we listen.
I think we have to look at the community and say, "How can we serve you?" That's what Jesus told us to do in that reading. To go out and be a disciple of Jesus. We cannot sit here behind our comfortable walls and wait for them to come to us. We can be ready if they do, but we can't count on it. Our job is to be hospitable, to bless, to heal, to seek justice. That's what Jesus tells us. And I don't think the Spirit would disagree. I hope we listen, because I love this church. And you love this church. And if we listen, we can make it even better. And how awesome would that be?!