Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-8
Over the last two weeks of our vacation we drove roughly 4500km visiting friends in Ottawa and Toronto, as well as taking in some of the sights in both cities. While we had a great trip and saw many places and friends… I have to say it’s good to be home. That was a busy and long trip. In some ways I am still recovering.
Part of a good vacation is experiencing new things. The kids had never been on a train before. So when we went downtown Toronto we took the GO Train from our hosts place in Brampton. In the same day we also took the subway to get between sight-seeing tours downtown, while we went up the CN Tower and also took in the Royal Ontario Museum in the same day. Watching the kids get excited for the train and the subway was fun for us as parents and we enjoyed their new experience with them.
While Bev and I have taken trains and subways before, doing new things is always a great adventure, and doing them with your kids makes it even more special.
There was lots of talk about new things this summer. I came home to preside at a couple of weddings, and while I was home I was privileged to preside at the funerals of Freda Vickers and Verna MacGillivary. It made for a special weekend of celebrations. Celebrating the long lives of two great women, but also celebrating new life with couples as they pledged themselves to each other for life.
While I was home, it happened to be the same week our General Council met in Cornerbrook, NL. General Council is the highest decision making body in the United Church of Canada. This meeting happens every three years and every presbytery elects 2 representatives to go, as well as others from conference. At least that’s how we do it in the Maritimes, other areas may choose representatives differently.
We have discussed some of what General Council would work on through the spring and into the summer. We talked about it, we prayed about it, so we know some of the challenges the church would face as it met for 10 days.
We know the United Church as a denomination is struggling financially and needs to save somewhere in the vicinity of 11 million dollars from the national budget. The only real way to do this is to consider changing how we function as a national church. Last month, General Council received a report which was three years in the making as to how this restructuring may take place. They received the report, made changes to it, and passed it.
Now there isn’t a lot of details I can actually share at this point, because they haven’t all been finalized. The restructuring was approved in principle with some general guidelines, but now a group will work out all the details and share them with the wider church. At some point in the next three years we, Carman United Church, will see the final, final report and have our vote as to whether we like it or not, along with the the rest of the United Church of Canada.
This was the major piece of business covered over that week.
Other things discussed was a decision to ask our investors to get out of fossil fuel sectors, which as you can imagine has caused quite the stir in our Alberta churches.
Another thing we will get to vote on is a process which would allow non-members to vote in church matters. I may have a little trouble with this one, but I will wait to see what comes when all the preparation work is completed.
We will also be voting on streams of ministry, whether or not we support the three streams we have today or do we move to a single recognition of ministry. Again, I will need to wait and see what the report says when it comes to the time of voting.
There were many other discussions and decisions made this summer. Some may affect us, others may not. We recognized partnerships with other denominations, including “full communion” with the United Church of Christ in the United States. This allows us great partnerships as well as mutual recognition of ordinations and ministries. So if I wanted to go south for a time and be a minister in Florida, this agreement should make it easier. I’ll make a personal decision on that probably around the end of January. You’ll all be welcome to join me if you wish.
The theme of General Council was picked from our scripture reading today. They chose to focus on Revelation 21:5, specifically “Behold I make all things new.”
Given what they were going to address this summer, I guess it’s a pretty good choice, they were hoping to bring something new to the church.
The problem is I worry they only really got it half right.
I watched as much as I was able to online that week. I tried to follow the discussions while working on funerals and weddings, so I didn’t catch everything that was said. But over and over again I saw people going to the microphone to speak and change tiny little details of things because they didn’t like a particular word or phrase.
It was a bit of overkill because what they were deliberating was not nitty-gritty details, it was high level discussions on where to move the church forward. The details were going to be entrusted to a group to work on over the next few years. They were just trying to approve general principles.
There were times when it felt like it was about what WE would do with this church of ours, and not what GOD would do with it. It felt like people were trying to get their own way, to push their own agenda, and to not trust in the Spirit of God to lead the way.
I hope I’m wrong. After all, watching it online and not paying full attention to what was happening may mean I missed something by not being in the room as the discussions were happening.
But I can’t shake the feeling there were people seeking their own agenda in how the church is going to function in the next couple of years. How they wanted their fingerprints on the plan, and maybe even have some control over the process moving forward. And past experience tells me I’m probably right.
In the reading from Revelation, the same one General Council pulled their theme message from, it is God who speaks and says, “See, I am making all things new.”
All the things. Everything. Nothing will remain the same.
God is not promising a new church, but a whole new heaven and a whole new earth. God’s promise is not to the United Church of Canada, God’s promise is to the whole universe. He will make all things new.
This world is incredibly broken. Nothing points this out more than the refugee crisis currently happening in Europe as millions of people flee Syria out of fear for their own safety.
Nothing was more heartbreaking than seeing the picture of little Alan Kurdi lying on the beach. Nothing.
That image, I think, brought a lot into perspective for a many people. Here we are, wondering about the future of our denomination, a collection of churches brought together by human hands, and people are dying because they have no where to go where they can be safe.
We have the promise that God will make all things new, but what should we do in the meantime?
Is fighting for control over a church worth it? Is watching politicians tear each other down as they fight for control of our incredibly safe country worth it?
No. Of course not.
We are a church. We call ourselves Christians. This means we follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.
It means we don’t turn our back on our neighbours, whether they live next door to us or half way around the world.
I love that people are passionate about the cause for the refugees. I love that people are calling for our government to open our borders and welcome as many of these people as we possibly can. I love that Christian friends of mine are leading the way.
God makes all things new.
And he offers new life to all who follow His Son, Jesus Christ. We are the first inheritors of this new kingdom. We can experience this new life now when we submit ourselves to him.
We need to turn to God first and foremost in all things, because He is the author of all creation. He is the one who gives life. He is the one who put the stars in motion. He is the one who will be there when the last one fades.
He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. He is in all things, and His Spirit is in us as followers of Jesus Christ.
In verse 7, God says “Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”
Conquer what? For those who conquer the sins of this world. For those who can turn away from the evil of this world and trust in Him. For those who do this, He is our God and we are His children.
This is the promise of our God. If we fall to sin, we are told we will burn, we will die, we will not be with Him.
We want to inherit the new earth. We want others to inherit the new earth with us. We can only do this by following the example of Jesus Christ and offering the love of our God to those who need it.
We need to offer love to our neighbours. We need to offer love to those in this world who suffer greatly, like the refugees. Like those who are unable to stand up for themselves. People like little Alan, and his 5 year old brother his and mother who died fleeing for their safety.
This world is so broken. This world is caught up in the sins of pride and greed, and innocent people are paying with their lives.
That’s not how God planned it.
We need to help bring forth a new thing. We need to bring forth a new way of thinking that changes the thoughts and policies of our governments. We need to bring forth a new way for people to see the world, not through eyes focused on profit and control, but through the eyes of those who suffer because of those who seek profit and control.
Seeing with those eyes is to see with the eyes of God.
It’s election time in Canada. This is the perfect time to raise these issues with a loud voice, so that all who run for office may see what is truly important in the world.
It’s not policies or rules. It’s compassion for our fellow human beings who share this world with us.
That’s what Jesus showed us. Jesus told us that what we do to the least, the weakest, of our society we also do to him.
God created a universe, a world with enough for everyone. A world where everyone could have what they need.
This world is not running that way.
We need a new earth. One with Jesus Christ as the one leading the way, bringing forth God’s way, as we await final day when He makes all things new.
This is our hope. This is our plea.
That God will lead us. God will show us. God will love us as we seek to love others.