Thursday 13 June 2013

All my relations

Ut omnes unum sint.

That Latin phrase is on the crest of the United Church of Canada.  It's Jesus words in John 17:21.  It means "that all may be one."  Latin, I suppose, is the language of official insignia - and the historic church, for that matter - and the crest is the official "signature" of the church on legal documents like certificates and licences.

Anyway, I was thinking about it because June 10th was the 88th anniversary of the union that created the United Church of Canada.  The denomination's birthday, if you like.  We didn't have a cake - we had a cake a few weeks ago for Pentecost, the official "birthday" of the Christian church - but it was our annual church picnic, so we had a bit of a party.

Ut omnes unum sint.  It's a reminder that our church is meant to be not only "united" (it was the union of several denominations in Canada to create a wholly new church in 1925), but "uniting" people into the future.

It's also a reminder of what it means to be "one" as Jesus teaches us in John's Gospel.  We aren't one in sameness, but in our respect of each other's uniqueness.  We are not one by being bound together by authority, but by being in relationship with each and creating community.  "One" in this context isn't about "only," it's about "all."  I like to say that we should try to welcome anybody, because that's what Jesus did.

Ut omnes unum sint is about recognizing that there is a level at which we are all, regardless of any circumstance, one family.  For Christians, it's Jesus who calls us to live that related-ness through love, love as Jesus lived it and taught it to be.

So I have to say that I was pretty happy with the decision last year to add something else to the United Church crest.  The 41st General Council, the national body of the church, decided to acknowledge the presence of First Nations people in the church by adding four of the colours of the medicine wheel to the crest and this phrase in Mohawk: Akwe Nia'Tetewa: neren.

It's that phrase that most caught my attention.  It means "all my relations."  

It emphasizes that relational nature of our unity, and reminds us that "all" doesn't just mean you and I or immediate family, but all that we are related to - and that's all of creation.  We are one in relationship with each other and all the world around us.

Of course, that's when it's most important to remember that it's right relationship that we seek.  And that requires constant attention.   Jesus calls us to live in love and grace with each other, especially when it seems hardest.  And that can be in the creation of a new relationship, the ending of an old one, the restoration of a broken one or in the engagement of a treasured one. 

Tuesday 11 June 2013

New Life?

I didn't write a blog last week.  Or the week before.  I don't really have an excuse, but the journey did bring me here.  I might wander a bit now, and I might go where we'd all rather not, but stay with me, please.

Two weeks ago, I was going to write about the story in Luke's Gospel of the centurion who has such faith in Jesus' power that he asks him to heal his slave who is ill.  Jesus is amazed at the strength of his faith and honours his request.  

There's some really interesting things in this story about healing, faith and authority.  I thought I had a couple of pretty good ideas, but I also wasn't preaching that week.  Instead, I was attending a Celebration of Ministries service where two people were ordained, one commissioned to diaconal ministry and four clergy admitted from other denominations.  It was a nice service with some themes around "call."  I remembered my own ordination and the journey to it.  I also had an opportunity, on the way there and back, to think and talk about ministry and the church with another minister.  Our denomination of the church is going through a complex review process at the moment and churches everywhere are facing declining membership and participation, including fewer ministers.  And an even steeper decline in finances.  Many are even questioning the future of the church as an institution.

The thinking continued after the ride.

And then the next Sunday was Union Sunday, celebrating the 88th anniversary of the United Church of Canada (closest Sunday to the actual day, June 10).  And the Gospel story for Pentecost 3 is the next story in Luke: Jesus comes
to a town where he encounters a grieving mother following her dead son to his burial.  Jesus has compassion on her and brings him back to life.

Back in seminary, I had a professor who liked to explore how we interpret things by putting ourselves in the story and she'd ask "who are you in this story?"  So I want to tie all this wandering - and wondering - together with that question.  But first, think about this one: who would the church be in this story?

I think it's the dead man.

I want to say that the church is Jesus, showing compassion to the grieving and giving new life to the lost, because that's who we should be.  But is it?  Or is it a human structure who's time has come to an end in it's present form.

I chose those last words carefully.  

We talk about death and resurrection, we talk about ends and beginnings, we talk about times past and new life, yet, when we talk about the church we so often speak from the perspective of survival, maintenance, maybe sustaining or, at best, change. If we are truly a resurrection people, why is it so hard to have faith in seeing an end and a new beginning?  

What is true, like God, continues on though it's form may change.  And what is true becomes a part of us in other forms and ways and is no less valued for that.  The son's life, the mother's life, all those watching, their lives have been made different by this moment and will not ever be the same.

So who are you in this story?  Will you be in the crowd, watching and feeling sorry for the mother, but feeling helpless to do anything?  Or will you be the mother, mourning this loss, knowing that this part of your life is gone and wondering what will happen to you now?
Or will you be Jesus?  Yes, Jesus.  Showing compassion, living love and sharing grace - the life Jesus taught and showed us to live - is empowering and life-giving.  When Jesus lives through us, new life comes of it.

And there's the moment of synchronicity.  When we are Jesus to the world, we give new life to the church.  And, with new life, the church is life-giving to us.  It's not about systems or structures or processes.  It's about being Jesus to each other and the world.

We are the church.