sermon by Rev. Jessica McCrae
Last weekend, I attended the annual meeting of Horseshoe Falls Regional Council. For those of you new to the church that is a level of church governance just below the national level. The region is one of 16 regional councils of The United Church of Canada. It extends from the Niagara Peninsula, around Lake Ontario to Mississauga and southwest to Tillsonburg and down to Lake Erie.
It is a relatively new entity in the church after a large restructuring process, and we are still trying to find our way. The AGM is a gathering of ministers and lay people from this area to worship, do the business of the church, connect with colleagues and friends and normally, celebrate ordinations and new ministries. It is also a time for youth to gather, children to play, retirements to be honoured, special ordination anniversaries to be acknowledged and the grief of death and church closure to be faced. It is a busy weekend, a full weekend – even now when we must hold it virtually – and one always filled with many emotions as we reconnect with others and have discussions that are often filled with the passions, hopes and fears that each of us carry for this church we love.
This year, as last year, things were a little different. Normally we travel to the meeting and gather in person. Normally we can break bread together, explore book displays and take time one on one with friends and colleagues. Normally we can celebrate the ordination and commissioning of new ministries as we worship together. But this year, as last, things were a little different. Everything of course was virtual, we had to rely on Zoom breakout rooms for connecting and catching up with colleagues, and regretfully, the ordinations were again postponed.
As I sat reflecting on that sad and challenging fact, that there are people who have heard a call to serve the church, have done the work required but we could not celebrate them because of this pandemic, I was reminded of this passage of scripture we heard today. Jesus tries to describe what the kingdom of God is like and knowing that no words can do this justice, he tries to compare the kingdom of God to things the listener knows. In this case, scattering seeds. The seeds are scattered, and while we sleep something happens, life takes shape, seeds burst, rupture, change and in the morning new things are growing, popping up through the soil. How does such life spring from the seed? We do nothing to make it happen, not really. The kingdom of God is just like that. Somehow, in ways we don’t understand, God creates something new, within us, within our communities. The kingdom of God is like scattered seeds.
As I looked at my computer screen last Saturday, I couldn’t help but hope that is true. May the kingdom of God, I prayed, be seeds that are scattered, waiting to give birth to something new. As we gather, together but apart, may the kingdom of God be like a faithful and fearful church.
Because there is a lot of fear in our wider church right now – and this pandemic hasn’t helped. We all hate change but that is exactly what we have all been living through lately. Change to a huge degree. But the church was changing even before this. We are seeing declining numbers, demographic changes, we are wrestling with structures – physically and metaphorically- that are too big for us and too often our expressions of the gospel are too small and too reserved, for the world we are living in. We are faced with finding new ways to be church, new ways to work with our neighbours, new ways to join together with others – some like us, some very different – to give this gospel hands and feet in a world that excludes too many. And we are all a little bit fearful, as traditions change and people change and the world changes, we are all a little bit fearful. But we are faithful, too.
In the midst of all of these changes we feel an energy, a spark that is encouraging us and pushing us and prodding us forward. Giving us a tug, a pull, a push, a nudge. Reminding us that the Spirit of God works and moves in mysterious but wonderful ways. Helping us to build bridges in spite of the fact that our words are not always life giving, that encourages us to keep working even when we feel exhausted, that brings words of love, or hope, or challenge when we need to be set back on track, that brings new life from dry ground.
It is that “something else” that we call the Spirit of God. It is the energy of love, redemption and transformation that is always with us. It brings us hope and brings us life. It sets us on paths we never imagined and creates mighty trees out of tiny seeds, strong communities from willing hearts and daring vision. It helps us to be more than we imagined we could be.
As we gathered at the annual meeting last weekend there was a constant under current of change, and some fear with it. The church is dealing with some big issues right now. Our world is dealing with some big issues right now.
In order to bring change to our world we must be the change. But change is hard. And going forward into a brave new world when one isn’t totally sure of the path is hard. And it is natural to worry.
But then we remember the parable of the sower who scattered seeds and went to sleep. When she awoke she saw that new life had begun to grow. And she had no idea how it had happened.
It will be this way with the church too. I’m sure of it.
The kingdom of God is like a faithful but fearful church …
We will work hard and have our conversations and pray and hope and worry. And soon we will find that new life is coming in ways we never expected, in areas we never expected. We won’t understand how it happened, we’ll be in awe of how the Spirit of God works – sometimes in spite of us. We will look with wonder at how we got from here to there, how partnerships and relationships took shape and brought life. We will not know how. But we will understand, God is in this.
At the Festival of Homiletics I attended recently one of the speakers said something along the lines of, “Whatever the future of the Church is we don’t have to be afraid of it, and we don’t have to know what it will look like in order to be excited about it.” It is time to get excited about the future of church. Now is the time, as those seeds are finding fertile ground in which to grow, in which to thrive. Now is the time.
You know, people worry about how the church will survive the changes we are going through right now, some worry how they will survive the pandemic. But people have been worrying about how the church will survive for my entire life. So I guess I’m used to it, it is the church I know. In flux, in fear, in hope. And I’m not worried. Not at all, actually. I know the church I retire from is going to look a whole lot different from the church I was baptized in, which looked a whole lot different from the church I was ordained in. And that is not a bad thing. Because I know that God will not let the church die. And I know that the fundamentals of our faith will survive even when our buildings don’t, and our governance doesn’t. The Gospel message of resurrection life, of hope, of God with us in new and surprising ways that we know through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will live that out in new and surprising ways. God will help us make that truth as real and as meaningful 100 years from now as it was 1000 years ago. The kingdom of God is like a faithful fearful church who wakes up to find new life growing out of old foundations.
Remember, this is what God does – breathes in new life where we thought there was only death and dry bones. Makes seeds burst forth with new life while sowers sleep.
New trees will grow here in this United Church of ours, from our solid foundations; new birds will make their homes.
The kingdom of God is like a faithful but fearful church who wakes up to a new morning, to new life, and who sees, really sees, that they were never alone. That God was working in them and through them the whole time, building bridges, creating relationship, reconciling and making new.
The kingdom of God is like a faithful but fearful church, about to be surprised in the most wonderful and awesome ways.
Now is the time to get excited.
We are not alone. Thanks be to God.