Sermon preached by Rev. Jessica McCrae
Several years ago at the AGO there was an art exhibit called
“Before and After the Horizon”, it was all about the importance of
place and worldview, about remembering our identity and how the
land upon which we live, how place impacts us. While the exhibit
was an expression of the journey of the Anishinaabe people, it really
spoke about the human journey, and for me, the faith journey in
particular. It reminded me of how faith stories from so many
centuries ago can still be relevant in this every changing world of ours
today, and about the struggle to hold on to what is most important,
even when the world around us is sending us different messages.
Connection to place can be so strong. If you have ever
returned to an ancestral homeland, or walked down the lane way of a
great grandparents farm you may understand what I mean. Place
has a way of reminding us who we are, and bringing us in line with
what it is we are called to do and to be. The church does too.
This place, our church, does too. And that is just one of the
reasons this pandemic has been so hard on us. We were cut off from
our physical houses of worship for so long. And even now today, not
all of us can be together physically. Our sense of place has been
shaken, and we have had to create virtual place, which we are, but it
is like learning a whole new language, relating to virtual space. But
hopefully we are learning. I hope, whether we walk through the doors
here or when we log on to the service from the safety of our livings
rooms, we feel a sense of connection, to our faith, to others … that
we are able to be reminded of who we are as people of faith in a
world turned upside down, and I hope that however we connect, that
act of joining together strengthens us to live out our faith, reminding
us who we are, whatever the week ahead may bring.
Today’s scripture is all about identity. It is like a wake up call
for challenging days, a reminder of our Spiritual DNA if you will, of
who we are and who we are called to be as disciples. It is a concise
teaching about living a life of faith, a realignment to get us back on
track when the world has thrown us off with distractions. It cuts to the
chase, and in the simplest terms possible reminds us what a life of
discipleship looks like.
Which is just what we need, because I don’t know about you
but lately it has felt like the world is a bit of a powder keg. We are all
a bit on edge and it is easy to get distracted and forget what is most
important. We watch our neighbours to the south preparing for their
election and we hear so much anger on both sides, so much
frustration. Race relations are so strained. We like to think we have it
together here in Canada, but a look at the news tells us we don’t as
the fisheries of the Micmaw are set ablaze and opportunities are not
equal. We worry about rising covid numbers and the economy.
There is just so much “us vs them”. And it all can get a little
overwhelming. It is so easy to turn inward, to focus only on self
protection, to self isolate our hearts along with our bodies. But then
we get a passage like this today, an opportunity to get back to basics,
and be reminded who we are, and whose we are. An opportunity to
be set spiritually back on course.
We are followers of Jesus. And this discipleship comes with
incredible gifts – salvation, hope, strength, new life – but it also
comes with certain expectations, expectations that don’t change
when our setting changes, that don’t change when the world around
us changes. Like the DNA that makes us who we are as human
beings, there are certain expectations that make up our spiritual DNA,
instructions Jesus gave us, as disciples, that never change.
Love the Lord your God.
Love your neighbour.
With those two in place, the rest will fall into line.
Doesn’t sound too hard, really, does it? But who are we
kidding, it depends on the day. The good news is that a spiritual life
is a life in progress. Coming to church, being here, physically or
viturally, being a part of community, is a chance to commit to learning
and growing in discipleship. So first off, none of us follow these
commandments of Jesus perfectly, but hopefully all of us are trying,
or wanting to try.
So let’s look at the first one. Love the Lord your God with all
your heart, all your soul and all your mind. Now, some of you may be
lifelong Christians, and while you may at times struggle with your faith
you can say with certainty that you love God. And live like you do.
No matter how difficult life around you gets you have faith that you
are not alone and that God’s love surrounds you. And it is easy for
you to love God in return. Some of you may not be there yet. Some
may have doubts, some may experience things in life that pile on top
of your and make you feel distant from God. Some may look at the
world and wonder where God is in this. While you may come here
with a desire to know God, a longing for peace and hope, but that
relationship is a new one. And that is ok. Whether you are a long
time Christian or a seeker, we come here, to this community to be
together, to be encouraged, to be reminded, of God’s faithfulness to
God’s children, and we try again to grow in trust, to love God with all
our hearts, our souls and mind.
But Jesus’ great commandment did not stop at loving God.
This isn’t all inner work, o no, Jesus calls us to take that love and go
into the world. We’re to love our neighbours as ourselves, he tells us.
Now that is a challenge, because let’s be honest, that is likely easier
with some neighbours more than others. But Jesus didn’t distinguish
between neighbours … he didn’t just mean the easy ones, the ones
who rake your leaves for you or bring you over some extra pumpkin
bread they made. He also meant the ones who are different from us,
the ones who put up a political sign you don’t support, who has a
bumper sticker that makes your blood boil, the one who parks over
the end of your driveway, who puts their own needs first all the time
… the one who abuses their partner.
Love your neighbour as yourself, Jesus said. All of them.
It is hard to love our neighbours. But in this world today, with
so much division and anger and hate, if we are ever going to be
whole again, if we are ever going to be healthy again, that is exactly
what we must do.
But what does that mean, what does that really mean, to love
our neighbour, all of them? Well it doesn’t mean we have to agree
with them, first off. Agreement does not equal love. But it does mean
we need to consider them. And more than that we need to care for
them, care about them, in the context of God’s love. As tensions in
our world increase, I think loving our neighbour means praying for
those we have disagreements with, praying for those carrying anger
(which may even include yourself). It means knowing that it is
possible, even if you have no idea how, for God to reconcile people,
God’s love can move us all to live from a place of love rather than
hate, can build bridges between and heal generations of hurts that
have been caused by actions and inactions.
And even if we struggle to feel love in our hearts for specific
neighbours, loving our neighbours also means caring about creation.
Because we need to care about all our neighbours, and our global
neighbourhood, like we would care for ourselves. Because we need
things like food and compassion and shelter, loving our neighbours
means sharing what we have and making decisions, or pushing for
decisions that are for the good of all, not just ourselves. It means
making sure our resources are used and shared appropriately. It
means caring for our environment so there is a clean, healthy and
sustainable planet for the children in our community, and for their
children and their grandchildren. It is about trying to see the world as
God intends it, and our relationships as God intends them, and then
trying to live toward that. … It means reminding ourselves every day
who we are (beloved children of God) who are called to live from a
place of love and peace and hope. That is our worldview, impacted
by this place.
This place. This place that reminds us not only of how much
God loves us, and all God’s children, but which also reminds us of the
work we are called to do as disciples in this imperfect world. That is
what this is all about – that is what church is all about. Learning to
love God so much that we invite God in to our lives to transform us
and help us be more – more generous, more aware, more hopeful,
more welcoming. And learning to love others, even those who are
different from us, learning to be in community, welcoming all, realizing
that we aren’t in this alone and nor are we meant to be.
Remembering we are all worthy of love. And even more than that,
remembering that we are called to live knowing that we are all worthy
When we call ourselves Christian, not only are we reminded of
our inherent worthiness in God’s eyes, but we are challenged to live
in a way that reflects what and who we are. We are challenged to go
beyond saying “I AM Christian”, as in, “this is a label I like to apply to
myself” to saying “I live a life with Christ at the centre”. I live a life
where my decisions are influenced by Christ, the way I treat people is
influenced by Christ, the welcome I extend is influenced by Christ ….
I seek to love, to include, to make room for the other, to strive for
justice, to reconcile and make new … because that is what Christ
taught me, and I live with Christ at the centre”.
It isn’t easy, this life of faith. And these instructions from Jesus
today in this scripture, are not easy. They were never meant to be.
And in a world filled with division and fear, they get even harder. But
with the love and power of God, and the encouragement and strength
of others in our faith family, we will find our way. And bit by bit,
through each prayer and each action, we can re-write the story of our
world and replace division with reconciliation, fear with hope and hate
with love. That is why we are here. Thanks be to God.