Renew Our Call to Love
Acts 1: 6-14
In an article in Sojourners magazine* this month that Elisabeth Jones gave me at the retreat yesterday, Justo Gonzalez, a Cuban-born theological educator, claims that humour is one way the author of Luke-Acts was engaging in â€œmoderate subversion of an early church that was becoming increasingly exclusive in its models of leadership.â€ The reading we have today is almost slapstick.
In a final, over-the-top demonstration of â€œnot getting it,â€ a group of Jesusâ€™ followers demand to know the exact time when Jesus will restore the kingdom of Israel. A crude paraphrase used in the Sojourner article was â€œGreat, youâ€™re not dead. Now are we going to kick some Roman butt and take our rightful place as kings?â€ Weâ€™d all like easy answers, concrete promises, the ability to control our lives by knowing when things will happen. Jesus tells them thatâ€™s not where they should be putting their energy. They will receive power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses all over the then known world. Not exactly what they were asking!
Then Jesus disappears in a clouds, as though in exasperation. So you are left with the stooges standing still gawking at the skyâ€¦where Jesus had disappeared. Still looking heavenward for the answer. Two men appearâ€”not necessarily superatural. They could be just guys who came along. They tell them that they are looking for Jesus in the wrong place. Just as the angels at the tomb had told the women that they are looking for Jesus in the wrong place. They are wasting time looking outside for the answer. As our reflection read by Bob and Elisabeth said, much time is wasted staring at the sky waiting for God to step out of heaven and make everything right. Much time is wasted staring at political leaders expecting they will solve the problems of the world. Much time is wasted looking at dogma and doctrines expecting right believing kind of religion to make everything right. Again from the Sojourner articleâ€ Many of us are looking for Jesus in the wrong places; our faith lives consist too much of standing and looking up. We could us a poke in the eye, a ride on a banana peel, or a pie in the face to get us to look at the world around us and those who are standing next to usâ€*
Hmm. Is this story really about the ascension, Jesus going up to heaven? I think itâ€™s more about the followers; more about the disciples who are living in a time of huge transition. One way of being was coming to an end. Jesus was going. How were they to live in the world now?
What happens is a return to community; they go back to be a community of prayer; to renew their call to love and their call to witness to the life and ministry of Jesus by their words and their actions.
I chair the vision and transformation committee of Montreal Presbytery and some of the churches I work with easily can be accused of looking outside for something to come and save themâ€¦Looking to the Presbytery, or the National Church or some radical change in the culture that will turn the clock back to a time when church was at the centre of community life, and people went as a duty and a responsibility. Itâ€™s a bit like having your heads in the cloudsâ€¦looking a bit unreal. I donâ€™t believe Cedar Park is one of those congregations; and that became very clear as over 35 people of all ages from 7 to seniors got together to explore our identity and our goals as a congregation.
We worked with a fun exercise on identity, which invited us to imagine the congregation as a person. We were asked about gender/age/personality/passions/ foibles/core values of this person. We were asked how you knew this person was a person of faith? How they lived out their core spiritual values and what hopes and dreams this person might have for the future.
Each of our five groups had a remarkable similarity in describing the person that is Cedar Park/ or Chiara/Pat/Lindsey/ or Madison as some groups named him/her. We decided that either s/he was a very liberated/strong/ empowered woman or a modern sensitive guy. We had gender confusion. Or as one person said, â€œThis is a person, it doesnâ€™t matter what the gender is.â€ We knew though that s/he had a maturity and experience but also youthful energy, and ideas/ was coming into her own; passionate about learning and growing in the faith ; passionate about being a community where people can ask questions and seek and learn and grow. S/he showed her faith in her caring for others in the body, in her openness to new ideas and new people, in her concern for social justice and generous outreach beyond herself, in her commitment to healing, and being inclusive in community. S/he was a reformed gossip, one group told us, and had weathered some storms in her life but was healing and moving on. S/he loves kids and enjoys their exuberance, and s/he wishes there were more people who knew what a great person s/he was. What makes her angry is injustice and discrimination. What delights her is spending time with her friends, especially over food. S/he loves to eat and laugh, and sing and have fun with others in the community. S/he is intellectually curious and not afraid to ask hard questions and allow for different opinions and beliefs. S/he finds music a real source of joy and meaning and likes all kinds of music. S/he is committed, and very generous with her money, but s/he is living in an aging house and has some concerns about how much it will cost to repair the roof and bring it up to scratch. Sheâ€™s very concerned about the environment and the future of the planet and feels a responsibility to do what she can about it. And I am no doubt missing some parts but you can see the sheets from yesterday in the coffee hour and find the parts Iâ€™ve missed.
We were not staring at the sky, looking for the answers. We were looking amongst us as a community of prayer and commitment, gathered together. We are being the body of Christ right here. And as we thought of where God might be leading her, we clearly felt called to renew our call to love. We acknowledged that she was doing lots of things right and we wanted to continue and strengthen and support that and build from that strength.
One of our goals was to Strengthen the People of God Under that we identified
â€¢ Redefine our mission statement: saying clearly and outloud who we are and what we stand for.
â€¢ Continue and support the educational focus for people of all ages ongoing and needing supportâ€¦(Kidzone in need of teachers for next year)
â€¢ Strengthen ministry with young families
â€¢ Explore/build/redesign/develop a timeline for exploring costs of roof/insulation/sanctuary redesign. We need a project management of this large piece of work.
â€¢ Empower people to tell the good news of Cedar park to friends
Reaching Out in Faith: Moving beyond our comfort zone
â€¢ Keep breaking out into the community, building partnerships, using our existing partnerships to invite people into our congregation
â€¢ Continue our multifaceted outreach programs
â€¢ Pursue an affirming ministry; recognize the importance of diversity and welcome to all people. We need to keep learning and growing and deepening our welcome
â€¢ Explore possibilities of reaching out to francophones and disenfranchised Roman Catholics in our area, Perhaps French faith discussion group? Other ideas?
â€¢ Meet people of other faith traditions
â€¢ Lots of other ideas came forward that need to be explored
â€¢ Raise the profile through advertising, outreach, partnership and clear statement of identity.
Living with Respect in Creation:
â€¢ Explore the greening of our church, but also learn to give community leadership in environmental issues and concerns. Look at our property to see how we might use it in ways that are environmentally healthy. Eg. Community gardens etc.
By struggling in community in prayer and listening and sharing, we heard Godâ€™s call to us to renew our call to love and to live our faith in todayâ€™s world. We are not looking up at the sky, expecting Jesus to pop out and fix it all. We are working to be a community of faith in our own time. May the power of the Spirit come upon us that we might live this dream.
*References are to Sojourners, May 2008, Living the Word.