Sunday, July 23, 2017

Proper 11

Romans 8
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[c] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There’s nothing like a good motto to really sum things up.

Take New Hampshire, as an example. Their motto, “Live free or die” seems to sum up the fierce independence of this tiny northeastern state, and the rest of the country too. It’s a borrowed motto, of course, with similar mottos in a variety of places such as Greece, Catalan and revolutionary France.

Or our beautiful province, with the motto “Loyal she began, loyal she remains.” Settled by refugees from the same conflict that gave birth to “live free or die,” we see how these mottos can be weirdly interconnected and often political in nature. And we won’t even mention “Je me souviens.”

Other mottos put aside history and politics and and try to be more aspirational, like our own “A mari usque ad mari.” It’s from the same Bible verse (Ps 72.8) we talked about after Dominion Day, and translates “from sea unto sea.” Or our friends to the south, who adopted “In God we trust,” in the 1950’s, partly to find unity beyond politics and partly to wag a finger at the Soviet Union, officially an atheist country.

And beyond simple mottos, there are key phrases and ideas that seem to sum up a place or people. So “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is one example, with our own “peace, order and good government” held up as a counterpoint. In some ways, these phrases become a sort of national DNA, part of our makeup, and the heart of who we are (or seek to be).

The Bible too, is filled with mottos and sayings that sum up individual characters and their work. So for Moses, we might say “Let my people go,” (Ex 9.1) the words God commanded him to say to Pharaoh. Or King David, described in 1 Samuel as “a man after God’s own heart.” (13.14) Or his son Solomon, applauded for saying “a good name is more desirable than great riches.” (Prov 22.1). Of course that’s rich, coming from a guy who collected a billion dollars in tributes each year.

Switching testaments, we could point to John the Baptist and his key phrase “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” It is what he preached in the desert and the concept for which he became known. Or Peter, named by Jesus as “the rock on which I will build my church” (Mt 16.18) and an idea the Bishop of Rome still clings to.

With Jesus, it becomes more difficult to identify one idea or saying that we could describe as a motto. “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8.11) would have to be a leading contender, along with “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” (Mk 1.17) Or perhaps a summary of his program is better than a motto, making it “Love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 22.37ff)

Finally, we get to St. Paul, architect more than a founder of our faith, and certainly the most important figure in Christianity after Jesus. And on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we might point to verses that Luther turned to from Paul, such as “you are saved by grace through faith” (Eph 2.8) or “the righteous will live by faith” (Rom 1.17) which Paul actually borrowed from Habbakuk.

Both strong candidates, but I’m going to nominate another, suggested by N.T. Wright and part of the key to understanding our reading this morning. You’ve heard it countless times here, since it’s one of my go-to assurances, the words that follow our confession of sin.

“Anyone in Christ is a new creation, the past is done, and new life has come.” (1 Cor 5.17)

So before we look at Romans 8 again, maybe we should unpack this idea of the ‘new creation’ and why it’s part of the key to Paul. It begins (according to Paul) at our baptism, when we baptized into the death of Christ. As we go below the water (by symbol at least) we are joined in Jesus’ death on the cross. We are buried with him and raised to new life with him (2 Cor 4). The old self is gone, and our new self is joined to Christ to be part of this new creation. Listen to Paul’s more complete description of the new creation:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

And this is other important part of being a new creation: that we are a new creation to others. We enter a fellowship (the Greek is koinonia) whereby we are utterly transformed by this new life in Christ. We no longer live for ourselves alone, we live for each other in Christ. “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” means we no longer view them as strangers or competitors, but as potential brothers and sisters in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3.28)

So we can (at long last) turn to our reading for the day. I’m going to share a few select verses to refresh your memory:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”
“The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

Before I go on, I should acknowledge that the idea of creation and ‘new creation’ call to mind the current state of God’s creation, and the modern movement that would have us safeguard the world God made. In some ways, it is just another way we can be joined to God—to protect the environment and seek to restore it to something resembling God’s intention for our planetary home.

But it’s never without controversy. After the first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970, conservative commentators noted that the date was also the 100th anniversary Vladimir Lenin’s birth. The FBI launched an investigation, and Time quoted a lobbyist who said "subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them." Imagine that. Clearly, the recent brand of crazy down south is not new.

Creation waits in eager expectation. Creation will be liberated from bondage. The whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And to these I might add one more motto, something else we will share in our service, in a few moments time: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

As N.T. Wright has said, the God who make heaven and earth intends to bring them together at the last. This is the eagerness, the groaning, the long-awaited liberation: that the world and everyone in it will be transformed by God in Christ, and that long-expected kingdom will come.

So what do we do in the meantime? One scholar said we should “preach repentance and practice patience” (John P. Meier) and that seems as good advice as any. Preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was John’s starting point, and it allowed people to prepare in their hearts room for the message that would follow: the kingdom of God is among (or within) you.

We seek the “freedom and glory of the children of God,” but we also recognize that it is here in our midst. We are already transformed by life within the body of Christ, a reconciled fellowship that can be new life for others.

Anyone in Christ is a new creation, the past is done, and new life has come! Amen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Proper 10

Matthew 13
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

The great Benjamin Disraeli once said “Never complain, never explain.”

The equally great Agnes MacPhail said, “Never apologize. Never explain. Just get the thing done, and let them howl.”

And Mark Twain (or was it Samuel Clemens) said, "The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it."

Clearly there is some issue with explaining yourself, and explaining things generally. Disraeli and MacPhail, both politicians, seem to be talking about power. In the political realm, explaining yourself can be seen as weakness—something your opponents will exploit.

The Twain quote ("The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it”) is about clarity, and the extent to which lengthy explanations may be a sign that you weren't being clear in the first place. Or people couldn’t understand. Or both.

As writing tips go, it’s a good one. Unless you are being paid by the word (like Charles Dickens) you should try brevity and simplicity over the opposite. Taken another way, there is the possibility that an explanation will confuse the matter, or even distort the original meaning. And today, we have a case in point:

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

This is the second half of today’s reading, Jesus’ interpretation of his own parable, explained for whoever has ears. The problem with the passage—and the reason I didn’t share it earlier—is that the follow-up has the effect of narrowing the ways we interpret this passage, closing off other ways of seeing. I’m not saying Jesus didn’t say it—only that there are problems with the interpretation that should give us pause. Within the liberal tradition we believe that context is important and that scripture judges scripture, two ideas I want to turn to now.

The first part of the context is Jesus own hesitation to offer explanations. In this sense, he was closer to Disraeli and MacPhail, especially MacPhail. He was a “get things done guy,” more than willing to act and then let them howl. Or rather, more than willing to share a seemingly oblique parable and let the audience sort it out.

In fact, only three of his many parables are given with explanations: today’s seed parable, the parable of the weeds, and the parable in defilement. All the others, including the biggies (prodigal son, workers in the vineyard) are offered without explanation.

The second part of the context is future persecution. It will cast a long shadow, even over the work of the later Gospel writers Matthew, Luke and John. The seed that falls on the path has no root, and so when “trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” That’s a lesson for fifty years later, and not for the day Jesus sat in his boat and shared the parable.

So then there is the idea that scripture judges scripture, that what we know about Jesus and his way can be the template we use to assess other parts of the story, even words that are attributed to Jesus. How does this work?

The people described in the explanation section first fail to understand, then fail in the face of trouble, then are consumed by the worries of this life. So who does this sound like? Who else was slow to understand, or fled in the face of trouble, or consumed by worry?

His disciples come to mind. Time and time again Jesus expresses frustration with the twelve, saying “O ye of little faith” and praising those unlike Thomas, those who don’t need to see his hands and his side. And at the end—as Matthew says so clearly—”all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Even the great Peter, the rock, would deny him three times. And worry? These are the ones who worry about the seats in glory, and who will be at the right hand of Jesus. They are consumed with worry, even in the storm with Jesus in the same boat.

So having gathered twelve imperfect people to him, and entrusted the future of this movement to them, how can Jesus condemn everyone who shows the same faults when seeds are being scattered? I would argue he can’t, and won’t since the church would be empty if we excluded everyone who is slow to understand, or flees in the face of trouble, or is consumed by worry. Yes, there are “good soil people” who hear and understand every time, but they are the saints of the church, and then there are the rest of us.

So let’s try another approach, listening to the parable again (and not the explanation), and focus your attention on the sower and not the soil:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Scattered and fell, scattered and fell. Our garden is filled with perennials, so there is very little sowing of seeds. But if we did, I expect it wouldn’t be a case of scattering and falling, more poking the earth and planting. Seeds are precious, and not something to be scattered about. So what if the parable is about the act of sowing, and the care we take as we share the word?

Case in point: the twelve, for all their faults, were carefully selected to perpetuate the act of sowing, to take this message of the kingdom of God out to whatever good soil they could find. They were trained and provisioned—told what to say and what to bring. The message was a simple one and the list of items needed was short. And the recurring theme, the advice that appears again and again is “shake the dust off your feet.”

In some ways, this sounds harsh to our ears, too judgmental for people who love second chances. But for Jesus, and the disciples who set this movement in motion, it was about stewardship of resources. When your message is welcomed, stay and share. When you meet a hostile crowd, leave town, and literally ‘shake the dust’ of that town off your feet. Find better soil.

Summer is not just peak growing season, it’s also peak travel and meet new people season. Routines are disrupted, invitations extended, and new places explored, even if it’s just the other side of town. Maybe you’ll find yourself on that long bus/train/plane ride sitting beside a stranger. Maybe you’ll meet some distant relation you never knew you had.

And when we get into longer conversations, this place may come up. I find that people are generally open to hearing about church, unless they’re not. Occasionally I will meet the person who’s openly hostile, or find the whole thing ridiculous. So we change topics, or I express regret for their experience. So ‘shaking the dust’ isn’t rude as the topic moves on, it’s just being polite.

But for the people who are open, who genuinely want to know more, we have discovered the good soil for sharing our story. And maybe they will simply come away with a better impression of the church and what we do. Or maybe we will act as a counter-narrative to all the negative (and often justified) stories in the media. Or sometimes a conversation will produce a crop—a hundred, sixty, of thirty times what was sown.

A life of faith begins when someone opens the door, literally or figuratively, and shares a message of the kingdom. This can happen through words or actions, intentional or unintentional, because the Spirit will blow where it wills. And our task, as sowers and disciples, is to look for good soil, the people seeking new life. The hard work belongs to God, the work of turning hearts to prayer. We can make the invitation, but God does the work.

We pray, then, for good soil and the opportunity to share a vision of God’s kingdom, of new life in Christ, and the movement of the Spirit, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Proper 9

Matthew 11
16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

It’s time again to play “What on earth is he talking about?” The rules are simple: I will give you a series of clues, from the obscure to the obvious, and we’ll see who can guess first. Here we go.

Some people have it, and some do not.
Overall, the world needs more of it.
It’s a virtue, and is also the name of a book in the Bible.
Someone clever might call it sagacity or sapience.
They say it comes with age.
Thomas Aquinas called it the “father of all virtues.”
It’s symbol is an owl.
Athena and Minerva are goddesses of this virtue.
The OED defines it as the "capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct.”
Solomon had lots of it.

Well done for guessing wisdom, the virtue de jour. And while I didn’t know if you knew the word sagacity (the quality of being sagacious or wise), you should perhaps have got it at sapience, since it’s who you are. We are “homo sapiens,” literally wise men and woman—a species name that doesn’t always translate into practice.

(Just as an aside, researchers confirmed last year there are were occasions of contact between homo sapiens and Neanderthals, and one thing led to another and we ended up with some Neanderthal DNA. So when someone does something decidedly unwise, we can just say they got mixed up with the wrong crowd.)

So we are homo sapiens—wise men and women—who try our best to live up to the name. We try to demonstrate the "capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct” and try to increase it over time. Our friends at the Collins English Dictionary say that wisdom includes “knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight,” a comprehensive list to be sure. You could obviously spend the entire day defining and debating these aspects of wisdom, but it feels like a good list: knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.

Just act according to this list, and you get Jesus’ saying brought to life: “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Or perhaps you prefer Luke’s version (7.35): “wisdom is proved right by all her children,” meaning the things she gives birth too, like knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.

But Jesus pithy and someone puzzling aphorism is far for the first word on wisdom found in the Bible. In fact, entire books are dedicated to wisdom, including (of course) the Book of Wisdom found in the Apocrypha. The others—Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Sirach—round out the formal group of “wisdom books” but still don’t encompass all that scripture has to say on the topic. Paul has plenty to say on the topic, as does Jesus himself.

But before we return to Jesus and Paul, we should do a bit of a survey and begin at the beginning:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it too. (Gen 3.6)

Considering what comes next (shame, banishment, general badness) we can say that gaining wisdom in this case was decidedly mixed. Next up is Solomon, and the author of 1 Kings 4 is definitely a fan:

29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34 From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.

And, of course, after the famous episode with the baby and cutlery (ask me later), his most familiar work is found in Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For through wisdom[b] your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. (Proverbs 9.10-12)

No one likes a mocker. They mock, and it’s not right. But it’s that first line (“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”) that we also heard in our Psalm, and is attributed to Solomon’s son David. Even though few scholars believe David had a hand in many of the 150 Psalms, it’s nice to think that this one was inspired by his father, maybe something he heard around the palace.

Curiously, there is a well-known section in the Dead Sea Scrolls that echoes these sentiments, described by some as the “the beatitudes of the DSS,” and known more technically as 4Q525.

(Oddly, the DSS is not as readily searchable as the Bible online, so when I searched for 4Q525, the first suggestion was a morning flight from Kabul to Kandahar.)

Blessed is the one who has attained Wisdom,
and walks in the Law of the most High.
He directs his heart towards her ways,
and restrains himself by her corrections,
and always takes delight in her chastisements.
He does not forsake her when he sees distress,
nor abandon her in time of strain.
He will not forget her [on the day of] fear.

The common thread between Solomon, Psalms and the DSS fragment is wisdom through a healthy fear of God, or faithfulness to God’s ways in the midst of fear. In some ways it’s the usual reminder that God is God and we are not (Is 55.8) and being mindful of God’s commands (translated as fear) is both faithful and practical.

Leaping over Jesus for a moment, we get to St. Paul, and the seeming complexity of his relationship with the idea of wisdom. So at first it seems rather straightforward, with Paul commending the very thing we have looked at so far:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Colossians 3.16).

In other words, if we internalize the words of Christ, and back up those words with psalms and hymns of the faith, we cannot help but impart wisdom to others. Paul’s advice makes Jesus the bridge between ancient wisdom and the work of believers. So far so good. Then this:

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1)

Here, wisdom is sharply divided between ‘worldly wisdom’ and the ‘wisdom of God,’ a distinction that would be particularly apt for someone like Paul who travelled through Athens and came to know some of the worldly wise. For the wise ones of Athens and elsewhere, speaking of the wisdom of God or the ‘wisdom of the gods’ would have elicited nods of recognition and agreement, but speaking of Christ crucified, and the power of God through weakness (and even death) would bring shock and derision.

And this seems to be the overall theme of our reading. He recounts his ministry and that of John the Baptist (“We played the pipe for you/we sang a dirge”) using the image of children on the playground. He observes (or complains) that there is no pleasing some people, and that the wise ones of the world will tune their ear to neither the playful Jesus or the mournful John. Neither message sticks, not the ethical program demonstrated in friendship nor the command to repent shouted in the desert.

So what works? What can reach the so-called wise ones of the world, or at the least the rest of us who try our best? The answer—to follow Jesus’ own logic—is watch the children. Or perhaps more accurately, let the children watch. What does this mean?

Small children, the pre-school crowd, are profoundly visual. They are watching the world around them for clues, for ways of understanding, and for anything unusual they can attach their expanding brain power to. So, if you want to distract a toddler, do something unexpected, something visual, something that will cause them to stop and think. Jesus says the very same thing:

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

The ‘hidden things’ are revealed in the seeming end of Jesus’ story, weeping in the garden, forgiving us while he dies on the cross, being raised on the third day, These are the visual elements of a story revealed and fully understood by spiritual children. It’s more than an ethical program or a call to repent (as important as these things are). It’s a visual reminder of the wisdom of God—that the weak shall be strong and the crucified will open a path to life.

And here, basking in the summer warmth, we tend to overlook the four most important months of our life together. From December to April we watch the story unfold, from incarnation to resurrection, and we see the unexpected thing God does to draw our attention. Like little children pondering something new (each year) we see God in our midst, and watch God (in Jesus) submit to the inevitable and finally we lean in and see that the tomb is empty. It’s this visual journey that gives us wisdom, and allows us to see the wisdom of God. It’s a stumbling block to some, and foolishness to others, but for us, it’s the very heart of who we are.

May God continue to grant us wisdom—to allow us to see, and be transformed. Amen.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Proper 8

Matthew 10
40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

On a weekend dedicated to all things Canada, it seems fitting to make some local connections.

My new favourite historical fun-fact is the connection between the Tyrrell family and Central. Joseph Burr Tyrrell, who discovered a dinosaur named Albertosaurus, was a child of this congregation. Searching for coal in central Alberta, he stumbled on the fossilized remains of a rather nasty looking bipedal predator, and became the accidental father of palaeontology in Canada. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is named for him, along with the prehistoric name for Hudson’s Bay, the Tyrrell Sea.

And then there is E.A. Pearson, father of Lester B. Pearson, who served Central in the 1880’s. Baby Lester was born while his father was serving in Newtonbrook, but we can still claim a connection to the Nobel Peace Prize, the CPP, Medicare and our flag.

And, of course, we claim Edgerton Ryerson, who served here in the 1820’s, and went on to found the public education system in Ontario. His model of free and secular learning, locally available, became the model of education for the new nation of Canada too. The Ryerson window, located in our Milner Room, celebrates this connection. How Jacque Cartier snuck into the window is a bit of a mystery, predating the congregation by 250 years. Perhaps his role in gleaning the name Canada from the First Nations people he met merits an appearance in the window.

I’m trying to make connections between other famous Weston people and Central, but more research is required. Dr. Vera Peters, leading cancer researcher and recipient of the Order of Canada was born Methodist, but seems to have belonged to the church in Thistletown. We’ll claim her anyway. She pioneered a treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease, previously considered untreatable, and made significant advances in breast cancer research.

All of our resident historians, Mary Lou, Eric, Douglas, will tell you that history is more interesting when you can make local connections and bring the lives of individuals to life. And they will tell you that we are writing congregational history all the time, through our activities and decisions we make. So, for example, the meals served downstairs, or over at Weston Presbyterian, are part of the unfolding story of the churches in Weston. Future historians will ask, “why did they do it?”—and I expect part of the answer will be found in Matthew 10:

“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

The topic is mission, and the context is a conversation about reception, how the work of the nascent church will be received. But underlying this question of reception is the command to “proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Then cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.” The cup of water is metaphor for the work of the church, and an early expression that will get a more complete treatment in Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

The first part of our passage this morning (“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”) is just another way of saying ‘when you did these things for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did them also for me.’

The task of the church, then, is to interpret and reinterpret the mission mandate of the church for each new generation. Some tasks remain relatively unchanged—visiting the sick comes to mind—but some require reimagining as circumstances change.

So if we took the scope of the history we celebrate this weekend—Canada 150—we can chart the ways we have tried to live our mission. There are, of course, advances and failures in this story, something I’ll look at a little later on. But from the beginning the church sought a role in the story of Canada.

In the earliest period—we’ll call it the nation-building period—the work of the church and the business of the nation were hard to distinguish. Growth and expansion, the settlement of the west as an example, was mirrored by the birth of new congregations and missions. Welcoming the stranger meant becoming the anchor institution in each new community, a process that repeated countless times as the Dominion expanded.

The next period—let’s call it character-building—began around the time of the Great War, when this “nation forged in fire” began to define itself. The church emerged in this period as a voice for change, with religionists pushing for rights for women, prohibition, and work for the relief of poverty—particularly in urban centres. This project, often called ‘the social gospel,’ propelled ministers and members to enter the political realm, like Nellie McClung, J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas. As this period drew to a close, the mission of the church and the work of the nation (relief for seniors, medicine for everyone) seemed to come together once more.

The last 50 years—let’s call it identity-building—saw the church and the country struggle to maintain old certainties. The Quiet Revolution in Quebec led to the decline of the church in that province and to the vexing question of the place of Quebec in Canada. All the mainline churches outside Quebec also began declining in the late 1960’s, even though we wouldn’t fully see it until years later. On some topics we were ahead of the public—LGBT rights, the apology to First Nations—and on others (such as Sunday shopping) we were largely ignored.

What will happen in the next period? For the churches? For Canada? We are entering a yet-to-be-defined age that seems to be willing to address old wrongs, or at least give people a hearing. Protests this week on Parliament Hill, where First Nations voiced their discomfort with this celebration of Canada, are part of this emerging trend. We can celebrate Canada and Canadian values, but need to examine ourselves when our actions—past and present—violate our own sense of what it means to be Canadian.

At its heart, Canada is an idea. It is an idea that seeks to contain a variety of voices, that ‘welcomes the stranger’ in the best possible sense, that strives to maintain a “safety net” befitting a compassionate people, and that tries to admit mistakes. And through it all, we try not to think too highly of ourselves, leaving claims of “greatest nation on earth” to others.

Like the ‘middle power’ that we are, we can measure ourselves and know that we do better than some on the Matthew 25 mandate—caring for the most vulnerable—yet fall behind others. Some countries have less inequality, some have better approaches to societal problems, and some—like Germany—have done more to address the mistakes of the past.

For the churches, I think the next period requires at least two things going forward. The first is making the next generation of noteworthy Canadians, people who begin in a local congregation and take a life-giving message out into the world. We need to inspire ourselves and others to be their best and see the best in the people we meet. And we need to work together on faithful activities that will strengthen the realm of God.

The second is certainty in the message we share. This is not being triumphant or superior, but confident in who we are and what we believe. It means learning our tradition, and learning how to articulate the message Jesus taught us to share. It means practicing all the elements of a Christian life: confession, reconciliation, proclamation and prayerful action. And it means finding the vulnerable and giving them a cup cold water.

We Christians are in the world but not of the world. We are dual citizens, belonging to the Kingdom of Canada and the Kingdom of Heaven. And as such, we have rights and obligations from both. We enjoy the benefits of belonging to both, but understand that God is the author of all that is good.

May we continue to be blessed, as we are a blessing. Amen.