Epiphany Sermon Series: CHURCH III – Abundance and Trust

CHURCH III – Abundance and Trust

4th Epiphany, February 1, 2015

St. Augustine’s Anglican Church

Rev. Jonathan Crane

 

The last two weeks we have been talking about the church

This is the third of three sermons reflecting on the ‘who’ and ‘what’ of the church.

 

1) We have meditated on the Triune God

-The God who is so full of life and love that we have been created and invited to share in that love, particularly in the living image of God on earth, our Lord Jesus.

-In its most basic form, the church is simply the way that Christians have sought to share the life of God – through the simple acts of eating together, learning together, praying together, sharing life together and working together.  Somehow in these simple things the God of heaven and earth meets us.

 

2) In our second sermon we meditated on the context and life of the church as we see it today.

-5 decades of decreasing numbers in a rapidly changing world.  All denominations, not a year of increase since 1965.

-In light of this, perhaps it is due time that we move intentionally into a time of transition, like an explorer planning a journey and diligently choosing our way to forge ahead.

-Perhaps it is time for our voices in the church to be heard in a new way

-Not letting go of either the past or the future, but learning to speak both languages well.

-Each of you may be prophets in this way, helping us to be rooted, helping us to have wings.

 

And so we find ourselves here at St. Augustine’s.

Who are we, what are we to be about?

We are 40 people

Who gather

Who eat together in the context of worship and from time to time at simple suppers

We pray together…at least here…

We are 40 people who listen to the teaching of the scriptures and the church

And a good number of us have shared life together over some 60 years.

We are here

 

And we are marking off a time of transition as well are we not?

Have we not done it already?

Perhaps we have not done it so explicitly, but it has been there for a while I think

I hear many words of healthy transition bouncing about in this parish

Here are a few signs I have noticed…

>In recent visits, I have heard several people calling for renewed conversation about hub ministry in South East Edmonton with St. Luke’s and St. Davids – A transition into a new shape of church life.  We will look at this this year with our Bishop’s help.

>In past years voices have called for a renewed look at this land and what could be built on it – it is clear that the needs of this land and the needs of the neighborhood have changed.

>Also, The days of making 500 pies in the kitchen have reached their end, but teaching pie and finding ways of joining our passions with our vision is perhaps taking on new shape

>Our dreaming at the Strength to Strength weekend led us to summarize that we would like to become “a sustainable community center where, from birth to death, people encounter a living God, and practice the ways of Jesus.”  This is a summary statement after all the ‘letters from the future’ on that weekend were tallied together.  It was really beautiful work that was done there and your hearts were in it.  Vestry has been plotting along with this motive, seeking this year and next to align the church to this vision.

>These last weeks we have said a hearty and heartfelt goodbye to several long-term members of St. Augustines as those early families who founded St. Augustine’s are reaching their age and returning their gifts to the earth.

 

We are already in a significant season of transition, like unto the wider season of transition in the wider church

and it is my sense and your vestry’s sense that we need to mark this as a SEASON – an in-between moment where things are not normal and should not be

We may mark this transition in ourselves, and as a community we will mark it in our actions and attitude, perhaps, like we do each year, we will mark the time in our AGM.

Transition is tough because we do not know the future

But it will be okay

And we will be okay

God is there

 

I would like to give you an image that was given to me and shared first at our General Synod – the every-three-years meeting of all Canadian Anglicans.

But first I would like to remind you of the talk of ‘fresh expressions of church’

That is, forms of church that exist alongside traditional church and create community for people who may never set foot in a more traditional space.  Examples of this have been popping up all over.  Messy Church has been one of the more widespread examples, along with skate church or pub church or knitting church or any shape that invites people into relationship with community and with Jesus

As well, there was legislation passed at that General Synod allowing a new shape of church governance in Aboriginal form to take place.  We now have an aboriginal bishop and an aboriginal diocese that are brand new and very exciting if you follow the route of reconciliation between the church and these First peoples.

In Edmonton there are two new parishes taking shape – and both are ethnically based

We have a Sudanese congregation newly inaugurated as St. Mark’s Jang

And a Pilipino congregation taking new form and meeting right now at St. Matthias in the west end

This among our growing aboriginal-shaped activities and other shapes of worship like our own Emmaus Road Community

All these new expressions of church were unimaginable even 40 years ago.

So much has changed

And the image I share with you is this:

 

Imagine walking in a dense forest with only scattered light around you, and there in your path, a great tree has fallen.  It is stretching out before you on the forest floor, and is beginning to grow lush green moss.  You grieve it because it was so great, and its trunk so thick.

As you get closer you see that out of the base of the trunk, in amongst the moss the smallest of sprouts are growing, right on the log itself.

 

If you know much about ecology or biology, you will understand that this is called a nurse log.  In the regeneration of forests, these fallen logs decompose and release their energy and nutrients back to the forest floor.  Without them, the new cycle of plant life cannot take hold in the same way.

As they thud to the ground, they open up new space in the forest canopy where sunlight and rain can reach seeds that have been lying dormant for years and years.

All of a sudden, new shrubs and trees begin to sprout and grow in that clearing, where they simply could not before.

It is the beautiful economy of our cyclical ecosystem and the foundation of the Earth’s sustainability.

 

The image is not meant to ‘beat around the bush.’

It is about the church

And starkly,

The traditional church has fallen like a great tree, with a great thud.

The church of the 1950s has collapsed under its own weight, and moss has moved in already.

-The athiests point and laugh

-Many Christians are disillusioned and are in our pews no more

-The church itself is pock-marked from leadership scandals, power struggles, and straight-up bad communication.

Yet only some

Only those who give long attention

Have noticed how the fallen church is beginning to sprout new seedlings

 

If you consider a seedling, how it grows

You notice how small it is

How long it stays dormant under the earth until the right conditions

How fragile it is, able to be crushed by a deer hoof

Yet strong enough that, with time, it can push rocks aside and grow through the toughest soil

 

These seedlings of the church are small

They are often unnoticed

They may be as small as a commitment of one or two people united in purpose

One seed might be a ‘Spirited’ conversation shared between strangers that changes each of their lives and trajectories

Another might be the work of a small community church that honors its season and time and follows fearlessly the Spirit of God

It may be from time to time, that God works more astonishingly in these small things, these small sprouts, than in the greatest of spruce or poplar

Honor the small

Honor the smallest nudging of the Sprit

Honor the tree that has fallen

And blessedly in the ecology of the Creator, that tree is decomposing where it was rotted out

 

 

I find most helpful, this image of the fallen tree

to process what is going on in the Western church

The fallen tree image is at once a call to honor what has been

and to understand how the thick trunk of the past enables the future

It is also an image real to our world, it is cyclical like we are.  It is cyclical in the way that God sustains us through the land, in the way that we are dust and to dust we return

We return to dust, so that we may return our gifts and our energies to the next generations Those next generations who God will likewise “in-Spire” with divine breath

The tree image is also a parable, like unto our Lord’s teaching

A story through which he invites us to share in a new vision and understanding

And as a parable, the fallen tree image invites us to become innately hopeful about our demise

And content with the death of the Traditional Church as we knew it.

There is grief there of course, much of it

Because it has been a Great tree

And we have rested in its branches

We all have

I have given my life to God’s purposes in that organism

But the way it has been is gone

 

And you and I must now feel how the sunlight and rain

Reaches a new place

We are exposed now as the church

In a way we have not been so in living memory

We face new questions

We question ourselves

We feel awkward and unsure of the next steps

The old patterns don’t quite fit any more

But we’re not yet sure of the new way

And in our awkwardness

We are being called to

And honor the small growth of new sprouts

To be content with new iterations and new species of church

Waiting to see how they will blossom and re-inhabit the forest

Some will flower in their first year and die in three

Others will grow slowly

And become themselves, after generations, a great oak

It is amazing to think that of the oak and the raspberry

It may be difficult to tell the difference between their two sprouts

When they are only an inch tall

It is only after much time passes that the kind and shape become clear

And so it will be with new things in the church

Some exciting things will die quickly

And some unexpected things will stand the test of time

This transition of church is a grand conversation we said last week

With no clear end or definition

 

 

 

So what have we learned about church these last Sundays?

Everything, and not much

Those early Christians came to know the Trinity as they would pray and eat and listen and work together

And we are to do the same and hold these things well

And understand that the church is about God

We are not the maker

But joyfully

We do our part and share in the cycles of life

And in this transition time of church

 

Our AGM report is out

And it is a lovely cover of what old and new has been living and growing together at St. Augustine’s

We are the church

We are disciples gathering after the resurrection of Jesus

We are people of the resurrection

With hope to share

Who are not scared of the future

But walking in faith

And sharing in the work of God

 

Jesus Christ is a great gift to us

a promise of the life that lives in us

and an image of how we may live in unity with our Creator

He is the future to which we move

And he is the great host who is gathering the faithful

The faithful – Confused, weak, stumbling and unassuming

Yet named Daughters and Sons

And called and invited

to break bread with Jesus the slain

and share life in the Spirit

And walk in the ways of our holy ancestors

Who dwell with God the Father in eternity

 

The church will be well

Because the church is with Christ

And we are with Christ in God

 

So be the future

So be the past

Let us be faithful

With what God has given us now

This remains our generation.

 

And in great diversity across the globe.

We are the church.

Thanks be to God.