Monday, September 18, 2017

Eugenia United Anniversary Sunday: 1895 to Today ...




          Eugenia Anniversary Sunday

          In 1895, ground was broken and work began on the building in which we worship today … history tells us that the foundations were dug by hand with shovel and pick, logs were cut north of the village on various farms and cut into usable lumber in the Wilson mill that stood near the falls, bricks were brought by the wagon load from the Bowler’s brick yard near Markdale, and the foundation stones were comprised of bright shiny rocks donated from the farms and yards of members, friends and neighbours.
          It is interesting to note that local men laid the foundation and brick, including the fancy scroll work around the outside of the building. As the project progressed, the minister of the day Rev. Wells donated the red and blue glass for the windows.
          Reading the description of the work that brought this building into being over three years, one is struck at what a community effort it was. Everyone lent a hand, everyone rolled up their sleeves and took part – it was not a case of hiring a company and waiting for the end results. It was a case of the people of the congregation and community who had for over 25 years worshipped in various houses, the Orange Hall and even the Methodist Church on occasion, were working diligently to create a legacy for their community … a home for the church to reach out into the community and beyond.
          Pretty impressive, for a tiny village perched on in the bush, on the top edge of the Niagara Escrapment.
          But even after the official opening on November 1897 along with a fowl supper, there was still work to be done.
          The first marriage came in 1903.
          A floor was installed in the basement sometime in the 1920’s or 30’s to cover the dirt floor that had been host to numerous fundraising dinners put on by the ladies groups over the years.  
          In 1990, a series of upgrades and renovations were undertaken that saw significant improvements that we continue to enjoy today …
          Long gone are the days of having a caretaker rise in the cold early pre-dawn morning to trudge into the church and light the wood or coal stove to heat the building up before worshippers would start to arrive. Now, programmable thermostats mean that with a push of a button, the building can be warm and cozy on cold winter mornings – a few Sundays in the last few years not with standing …
          Over the last 120 years this building has witnessed many changes, many renovations and celebrations and set backs galore … it has watched the community around it rise and fall … and ebb and change … and here it still stands – a survivor.
          And in this history and heritage of this place is a reminder that with the passing of each day … each week … each month … each year there comes an unrelenting and unstoppable series of change … The church is a dynamic and spirited place where we bring our joys and celebrations and where we seek comfort and peace in times of challenge … on one level the church is timeless and by virtue of our sacraments and our faith, offers a presence that transcends time and space … but because it is truly human, the Church is also an ever changing place, where we grow and change …
          At BC conference a couple of decades ago, Anglican Theologian Herbert O’Driscoll reflected on how subtle AND how profound change in the Church really is … he mused that if you doubt that churches ebb and flow and change, try moving forward or backward in churches … he began by saying that if you took a Byzantine Christian and moved them forward to the Reformation, or took a Lutheran Reformer and moved him forward or backward even 50 years, they would be hopelessly and irretrievably lost …
          There would be bits and pieces that may seem remotely familiar … communion with bread and juice remains universal … but the hymns we sing, the words we speak, the prayers we offer, and even the folks who lead us, would be very very different …
          Think back … in the 1960’s – the golden era so many pine for – clergy were men, they wore collars and gowns, they read from the King James Bible, and prayers were full of Thee’s and Thou’s and other Elizabethean English colloquialisms … then along came the New Curriculum … along came the upheaval of the 70’s … along came The Issue and the gut wrenching machinations we went through over the place of self-professed Gay and Lesbian candidates for ministry … then came the Apology to the First Peoples … same sex marriage … a multi-cultural and multi-coloured society … the revelations of Residential Schools … law suits and more and more …
          In 50 short years, the Church has CHANGED dramatically … we are being called to move beyond that neat and comfortable image of Church we had back in the 1960’s when it seemed that EVERYONE went to Church, and everything was fine …
          I’ve heard blame leveled at Sunday Shopping, hockey and baseball on Sunday’s, the openness to Gays, Lesbians, Bisexual, Queer and Transgendered people, same sex marriage, our relationship with First Nations … we live in an uncomfortable time with changes unfolding around us at a mind-numbing rate, and we yearn – we truly YEARN for a place of peace and quiet, and the church is supposed to be THAT … yet, the church has never been only that …
          The church – this place, is where we are equipped and strengthened for the path ahead … facing a challenge? The church is the place where we can come and name that challenge, where we can find people who understand and have shared that challenge, and THEN with the power of our faith face the challenge KNOWING that we are God’s people, and with God behind us, we need not be afraid …
          Our reading from Romans drives that point home:
          Welcome those who are weak … the church is not about only the strong and the righteous, the church is here for EVERYONE … some eat anything, while others eat only vegetables – those who eat everything are not to judge those who abstain, and those who abstain are not to judge those who eat everything … the bottom line is that there is no place for judgement in the church – we are ALL here as servants of Christ, and we, though different are equally valued …
          Verse 8 underscores who we are to be and what we are to be about:  If we live we live to the Lord, if we die, we die to the Lord, so then whether we live or die we are the Lord’s … why pass judgement on our sisters or brothers, because one day ALL of us will stand before the Lord … and in that moment every knee shall bow and every tongue confess praise to the Lord.
          And at the end of the day, that’s why we are here – to confess our praise to the Lord … to worship God … to share our faith … to support and nurture each other on the pilgrimage we find ourselves walking …
          The constant in the Church when we move forwards and backwards is satiating the spiritual hunger by faith … by celebrating the very presence of God.
          Unfortunately, too often we get waylaid and misdirected by politicking and personal agendas that interfere with the will of the Spirit. But if we step back and remember that moving forwards or backwards even 50 years within this grand tapestry that is the Church, we will find ourselves lost and confused … BECAUSE what is important remains, but everything else passes away …
          In dramatic form, the Exodus reading reminds us to focus on what is important … the fleeing Israelites watched as the Pharoh’s army were swept away by the sea, and they passed safely thru … the WPOG curriculum notes that the story is about the rebirth of the people – it is a story of a second creation – dry land appearing in the midst of the waters to allow a new people to be created. Their jubilation springs from their previous despair. Annihilation has turned to hope; powerlessness to an act of faith …
          A powerless and enslaved people turned to God and everything else was washed (literally) away … the passage from Romans reminds us that we are to not pass judgement on each other, but to be open and accepting of one another just as God through Grace has been open and accepting of us … and Jesus teachings on the breadth and depth of forgiveness is about standing firmly in the Grace of God and trusting always that God is with us …
          And as we say – if God is with us, who can be against us?

          The challenge today is to remember what our faith rests on – what is the foundation on which we stand?
          As beautiful as the sparkly rocks making up our foundation are, they are not the foundation on which our faith rests – this is just a building – a wonderful, beautiful, and very comfortable building – but it is just a building … the Church is the gathered community … the people … you and I … and the foundation on which we stand is NOT rock or concrete or mortar … the foundation on which we stand is faith …
          The faith grounded in the generous gift of grace … faith that guides us through the most troublesome moments and places our feet firmly on dry land even in the midst of a raging sea … faith that fills us with joy and allows us to focus solely on what is important … revelling in the presence of the Holy …
          And as beautiful as this building is – its gift to us as a survivor of 120 since its doors were officially opened – is not its physical presence, but its housing of a community of faith that has shared life’s ups and downs, life’s twists and turns, lifes ebbs and flows, and still finds the ability to fall to our knees in prayer, and to lift our voices in worship and praise to God … and sometimes we do it on Sunday mornings … but we always do it together as a community of faith – the children of God …
          Thanks be to God for the many blessings we enjoy and share … May WE make it to be so, thanks be to God …

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon for September 10th 2017 - The Cross and the Lynching tree ... new paradigms at work:




In April 1963, a group of caring, committed and community minded clergy watching as their community was rocked by civil rights demonstrations wrote the following letter:
We the undersigned clergymen are among those who, in January, issued "An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense," in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.
Since that time there had been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.
However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.
We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.
Just as we formerly pointed out that "hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions," we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.
We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement official to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.
We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.
          The true power of the Biblical narrative is that it allows one to enter into the stories and lessons and parables, and draw from it what we NEED in the moment in which we stand … if we seek comfort the words of the 23rd Psalm, or the short pithy teachings of Jesus may offer what we seek … if we yearn for wisdom in the face of struggle and difficulty the words and experience of Job or Proverbs or Paul; may offer us the counsel we need … if we simply desire knowing that God is present with us the words of the prophets and the lives of the many saints that fill these pages may offer us exactly what we are seeking … it is broad, deep and rich source of theology, poetry, inspiration, lesson and much much more …
          But when we open the texts of the scriptures, whether we are aware of it or not, we bring a perspective on the text that is part of who we are, the culture we live within, and the life experiences not only of ourselves, but of our parents and grandparents and our the social fabric of which we are a part … we bring a slat or a bias whether we are aware of it or not … we experience and interpret the Biblical texts from our unique and dare I say, limited perspective.
          Take today’s reading from Exodus as an example. When we read this story of the first Passover, I will bet we read it from the point of view of the Hebrew people who were by the Passover – delivered from the hand of Egyptians … our WPOG curriculum takes it a step further by saying:
          We too are a part of God’s people. The exodus happened        thousands of years ago, yet that event called our people into      being, and showed us once and for all what lengths God would go         in order to save.
          Have you ever considered this story from the point of view of th Egyptians who watched first as plague after plague gripped their nation, then one night a wave of death swept over their land KILLING the first born of every family – both animal and human …
          This is not a pleasant story.
          There is no way to put a nice spin on the experiences of the Egyptians – even saying ‘it’s okay God’s people were delivered from the hands of the Egyptians’ stands in the SAME category as those who are saying Harvey and Irma and the destruction is just God’s judgement on the American Nation for extending rights to THOSE people …
          The Passover is a hugely problematic story … but with our cultural and spiritual biases, we can gloss over the death and destruction and somehow celebrate the Liberation of the people, AND then claim for ourselves a role in that story that sees us as the poor victim to be delivered …
          When I encounter these stories I think of an elder from a west coast nation who many many moons ago, in a classroom at Vancouver School of Theology listened as a European descended scholar described the Old Testament as “our story of faith”. The first nations elder stood up and said “respectfully, this is NOT our story – it is not YOUR story – it is NOT my story … it is the story of a people long ago who had a relationship with the Creator that brought them through much suffering and struggle … but it is NOT my story …”
          Being a good biblical studies student, when I first heard that story I scoffed – what did he mean, of course this is our story – the church is built on this story, everything we are, everything we do , everything we are about is drawn from this (…) of course it is our story …
          But then, I had the opportunity to spend more and more time hearing the experiences of people in communities like Bella Coola, Bella Bella Bella, Lax’wal’am, Haida Gwaii, Haisla, and Owikeeno … and as I heard their story and how their story was affected by our story, I came to see the truth in that elder’s statement …
          AND today as we hear the vile racist proclamations of those who wrap their hatred and bigotry in Biblical justifications, we begin to see that the problem is not the story, but how we chose to interpret it.
          Exclusion of gays, lesbians, bi, trans and others who are different by using Biblical texts is a twisting and misinterpreting of the text.
          Justifying racist bigotry in the name of Jesus and burning crosses and wearing white hoods as an act of faith – which is what groups like the KKK do – is a perversion of the text and the faith …
          BUT – it all comes down to perspective.
          About a year ago I was drawn to the writings of non-white, non-european and non-traditional theologians … I started reading what has been called ‘marginal theology’ by reading first interpretations of the Nazi led Holocaust from a Jewish perspective. Writers who were trying to make sense of the senseless violence – writers who were trying desperately to find God in the midst of unimaginable human cruelty and suffering … this led me to theology offered from the true margins of the globe – the impoverished and persecuted corners of the world where hope is hard to come by … and most recently I began reading the distinctive theology of black American writers and church leaders who for the last three generations have struggled for civil rights, justice and equality – and still encounter a deep visceral racism even AFTER the presidency of Barak Obama.
          This last group is a fascinating and timely reinterpretation of our understanding and experience of Biblical texts and narrative, and they perhaps more than any others, have laid bare the operative bias that undergird almost everything we do and are about in the modern, largely white protestant church.
          When we approach stories like the Passover, or jesus calling his disciples, or even Jesus being crucified, we carry a cultural bias. We see and experience these stories in a radically different way than those who lived the Jim Crow laws, or experience systemic racism every day …
          When a Black theologian reads the story of Jesus crucifixion, many liken the story to the lynchings that hundreds of black men, women AND children experienced across the US for almost a century … a recent book “the Cross and the lynching tree” examines that narrative experience and highlights how powerful the cross AS a lynching tree is, and what effect that has on the community of faith who have LIVED that crucifixion experience … Jesus dying on the cross is not some distant story remembered in art and story – it is a REAL experience with the name of a neighbour, an uncle, a father, a brother, a son … the dying is not some abstract concept, but a very real and tangible experience …
          And that experience, collectively as a people, leads them not to a passive, complacent place where they can sing hymns and offer prayers peaceably and patiently … but it draws them to a place where the word “enough” is real and present … it draws them to a place where, in response to the faithful letter we began with they answer thru Martin Luther King Jr:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may won ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
          We are called by our faith, and by our texts to share our faith … but we are called to see and name our biases and our perspectives and to have the courage to step BEYOND them to stand on the path God would have us trod … that may be the most uncomfortable and challenging step of all … we are called to revision our faith, to boldly live our beliefs and to love our neighbour unconditionally ...
          May WE make it to be so, thanks be to God …