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
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is already out of date – because of the members who have died, but also because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.