Thursday, November 21, 2013

from Sunday, Nov 17 (Anniversary Sunday)

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19
Sermon:  “Can Bits and Pieces a Good Thing Make?”

We have read that “some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.” 

Sounds like it could be us … maybe with the exception of the beautiful stones … but speaking of a wonderful heritage building, well-maintained, carefully renovated … solid and secure … with dark, warm wood … full theatre organ … windows and steeple and … well … I wonder, what part or aspect of our church building most touches you … most speaks to you in some way of God, of God’s love, or God’s power, or anything else?

There is a lot wonderful about this building … 144 years old, and still kicking … or maybe, still standing and speaking and embracing.   A deep, deep sign to our souls of the eternal and unchanging love of God in our life and the life of the world.

And yet … how many changes, how many upheavals, how many shifts have we suffered as a church and as a congregation – both now and all through our history as a community of faith and as a body of Christ?

We’re aware of our time today as a time of great change and of seismic shifts in the world that none of us are spared or given immunity from.  The culture we live in, is not the culture of a generation ago, and all of us – from the youngest to the oldest, are having to learn all kinds of new things just to keep up and fit in, let alone to lead and have anything worth saying that people will actually be able to hear.

The community is changing.  Winona is not what it was even twenty years ago.  And it’s not yet what it will be twenty, or ten, or even five years from now.  We don’t really know what it will be.

The church is changing – the building in some ways – a projector and screen in the sanctuary now, a renewed Lower Hall, entrances and outside siding, a beautifully renovated Upper Room … and the congregation is changing in even greater ways.  About half of our active membership,  including our worshipping congregation some Sundays, is made up of people and families who weren’t even here ten years ago.  Our two-year-old church directory is already out of date – because of the members who have died, but also because of the number of people who have come in over that time.

All these changes make connecting difficult.  We don’t know one another in the church in the same way we used to – a generation ago.  We’re more scattered.  Busier apart from one another.  Community and understanding … and accepting and forgiving and counting on one another, is not as easy as it used to be.  Perhaps a congregation – any congregation, never is a united, single body … but we are less so now.  Sometimes we’re bits and pieces looking to become a body.  Or maybe we are a variety of bodies under one roof.

And in our lives … in our homes and in our hearts … do we often feel the same?  Busy and distracted, rushing from thing to thing?  Disconnected?  Sometimes knocked down and broken into pieces by things that happen, changes that come, losses that are suffered?  Searching for a place of rest, a sense of wholeness, a promise of healing and reconciliation?

We’re tempted to think this is a time like no other – that maybe the world is falling apart, and we are falling apart in ways that have not been known before.  And that may be.

Or it may be just our experience of the universal human condition – that maybe we were shielded from for a short while by the affluence we knew as a society a generation ago, but that now we are growing out of … as we grow into a more universally human shape.

Think of the first members of this church – the first European settlers on the banks of The Fifty.  They were United Empire Loyalists – which sounds great until we realize it means they were families on the losing side of a war who had to flee the wrath of neighbours and former friends in the States after the Revolution against Britain, who settled in the wilderness of Niagara, and who with the help of a Methodist circuit rider, one another, the local First Nations people, and God found and fashioned a new life for themselves here.

In 1796 they were regular enough in their gathering for worship and spiritual education that they were known as The Meeting at the Fifty.  By 1820 they were established enough to build a church – a fine, wooden structure.  They were settled and secure … until in 1869 their church building burned down.  Accident?  Act of God?  Who ever knows why or how some things happen that test and try us, and make us feel that all we’ve built up is for nought?

All that was left after almost 50 years in what they had built, was bits and pieces and charred remains … which they cleared away to erect the brick structure we are still in today.  But even then, have the last 144 years been free of upset?  Have there been no times of turmoil?  Has there ever been a time free of change and conflict and a need for growth, compromise and accommodation?  The building – as stable and secure as it seems, is no insulation against any of these kinds of things, and I’m sure these walls could tell all kinds of stories.

So what is the security of Fifty United Church?  What is the assurance we have?

Not the building, but God whom we remember and whom we worship when we gather in this building.

In the days of Isaiah 65, the people wonder how they will ever rebuild what lies in ruins and rubble around them, and Isaiah tells them it is God who will help them rebuild, who will take the bits and pieces of what is there and of what they will do, and from it create a new world that none of them can even as yet imagine.

In the days of the early church, Christian believers and Jews alike are dismayed in 70 CE when Rome sweeps into Jerusalem, puts down an insurrection, and destroys the Temple in the process.  They had thought God was going to redeem all the world by appearing in the Temple and working out from there.  The fact that Rome destroys it, that it is no more, and that God lets happen shakes them greatly … until they remember Jesus saying something about the important thing not being the Temple, and they include it in the Gospel.  

God doesn’t need the Temple to come into the world and redeem it, Jesus says.  His followers just need to be open to the word and wisdom of God in their hearts and lives, and that is how God will save both them and the world around them.  Temple-blessed or Temple-less makes no difference.  God will make of the bits and pieces of their living what is needed, and it will from them – in whatever shape and circumstance they find themselves, that God will make a new world.

It’s no different today.

It’s not this building – as much as we love it, that’s our strength; it’s God – the God whom we remember and worship when we gather here.  And it’s not our physical stability and material security that makes or breaks us as a church; it’s God who is able to take the bits and pieces of our life – whatever they are, and use them to make something good, to create the new world that needs to come.

And isn’t that what others around us need to see, and are longing to know in their own lives?  Not just a building that they may or may not find their way into – but a God who they can meet here or there or wherever they are, who can make of the bits and pieces of their life, something good?

Praise be to God – God who is known and worshipped by us in this place, God who was known and worshipped here by others before us, God who will be known and worshipped by others after us as well.

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