Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Sermon for Sunday, November 18

A Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Grace and St. George’s, 18 November, 2007

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. Luke 21:10-11

I haven’t yet seen the film An Inconvenient Truth . For those of you who haven’t heard about it, I’m talking about the 2006 film on global warming and climate change by Al Gore, the former Vice-President of the United States. I’ve certainly heard a lot about it. I can’t think of any other movie in recent years that’s gotten my friends and acquaintances so riled up. Friends have sent me emails urging me to go see it because it is a live changing experience. Friends have sent me emails saying that the message of the film’s message is totally distorted. Some say that Al Gore is a modern messiah, who richly deserved the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Others say that Gore is a cynical entrepreneur who makes millions off his speaking engagements while living the fossil-fuel dependent lifestyle that he condemns in his speeches. I don’t know which of these views is right. I just know that I haven’t seen the film yet because most days I’m afraid too.

As I write this, the UN panel of climate control experts is predicting that the world is warming faster than anyone has thought. Their report predicts that a rise in the global temperature of between 1.5 to 2.5 degrees could mean an increased chance of extinction for between 20 to 30 per cent of the world’s species, and increased poverty and misery for millions of people. Is the world changing? Is the world ending? Sometimes I’d rather not think about what sort of world our children and our grandchildren will inherit. Even when I try to tune out the news, the signs are still there. This fall we’ve seen some trees lose their leaves, some keep their leaves but change colour, and some have stayed green. This harvest we’ve seen days where, as one farmer told me the other day, the combine would hit patches in the field where it would just fall silent. Well-drilling companies are booked up for months. Water is on everyone’s mind. The days feel uncertain.

As we read today’s gospel, we see Jesus facing an uncertain future in a totally unflinching manner. One of the disciples has made an innocent comment about how wonderful the temple in Jerusalem is. Wow, Jesus! Look at this wonderful temple, how beautifully it’s made, and all the gifts in it that people have given to God. You can just imagine them, these country hicks and fishermen from Galilee, looking up at the walls and pillars. But Jesus isn’t impressed. “Don’t you be fooled”, he says. “Nothing lasts forever”. In language that is drawn from the prophets of Israel, Jesus predicts a grim future, when not one brick of the Temple would be left standing one on the other. Incidentally, he was right. Some forty years later, the Roman legions would destroy Jerusalem. The Temple, which looked to the disciples as if it would stand for ever, was finished.

Why does Jesus give this warning to the disciples? Was it just to scare them, or bum them out? No, I don’t think so, any more than Al Gore wants his movie to bum them out (even if people like me are too chicken). Jesus was trying to change the disciples. The disciples looked up at this magnificent church and thought that its bricks and mortar and gold were a testimony to the glory of God. They thought that this building was a sign of God. No, says Jesus. The time will come when the church will be gone, but you will be signs of God. Don’t fear the scary times to come, says Jesus, because as he says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify.” (Luke 21:13). In the times to come, says Jesus, what will matter is not the testimony of buildings, but the testimony of people – real, ordinary people who believe in God, who know God, and who aren’t afraid to talk about God.

Fast forward to today. This weekend, Renee, Kristyn, Hilda, Michele and Heather went to an event called The Magnetic Church. They heard a speaker, Andy Weeks, who at times could sound rather scary. Andy reminded us that in 1965, there were 122,000 people on the parish rolls in the Diocese of Huron. Today there are just 47,000. That decline matches other dioceses in the Anglican Church of Canada, including Toronto, and I know that he’s right because I got these figures for Andy from Huron Church House. We’ve built these wonderful churches, full of beautiful things given to God by faithful families, but the buildings are starting to crumble and increasingly, people walk by them and pay them no heed.

Andy told us that we’ve reached a point in our history where churches of brick and stone, even churches as lovely and as well-loved as ours, no longer testify to the glory of God. Like Jesus, Andy told us that only people testify to God, and we are those people, if we want to be. The only role of a church, he said, is to be a vehicle “to support and further God’s purposes in the world”. What are God’s purposes? To show humans that God loves us, that God wants us to love one another, and that God wants us to show his love to people who see only “the weariness and scariness of their daily lives”.

How are we going to carry this message to the people who need it? Andy reminded us that as Anglicans we were also Protestants – not Protest-ants but also Pro-testants, Pro-testifiers, Pro-claimers. See how we’re back to our Lord’s words of this morning’s gospel, “This will give you an opportunity to testify”. How are we going to testify? This week the Missing Link once again goes out in the mail to our community, and the last page offers a rich reflection from Lynn Trute on how we as a parish endeavour to show God’s love through service. During the announcements today we will have some time for our Magnetic Church delegates to reflect on their ideas of what they learned and how they feel we can go ahead as “Pro-testants, Pro-testifiers”. In the weeks and months to come, I hope that our two congregations can think more and more about how our parish of Grace and St. George’s can be a “magnetic church”.

Let me finish with this thought about certainty and uncertainty. There are times when things look bleak. When I came here I thought I might be the minister who has to close Grace Church. The other day a family was checking us out and said “we like this – it looks like a young church”. God can surprise us. Likewise, I know some folks at St. George’s worry about our future, but again, God can surprise us. There is much strength and goodness in both congregations, and there always will be, if we remain people of hope. Not hope in what we alone can do, because temples end. Times and eras end. Perhaps we do live in the end times of our planet, or perhaps our great-grandchildren will remember this time as the dawn of a new era. Whatever happens, God is faithful. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, but he is always loving, and he is always good, and he will never abandon his children. This is the message that the world needs, this is the message that we are called to testify, and the world will always need the church if we hold true to this message. Amen.

©Michael Peterson+ 2007

No comments:

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


Blog Archive