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 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
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
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.