Who Has Created and Is Creating. Who Works in Us and Others
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, John 21:1-6
Sunday, November 26, 2017 – Reign of Christ Sunday
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
The story read this morning, as was mentioned, is a bit of a Midrash on one of the final stories in the Gospel of John, a Midrash being a term from the Jewish Tradition that simply means an interpretation, offering a suggested reading of a text —in this case a re-telling of the story of the disciples fishing early one morning.
This comes after the Easter narrative of death and resurrection as Jesus’ followers ponder what to do next —Peter and a few other disciples were fishers by trade, and so fishing it is.
It’s an interesting situation, a group of supposed experts, who have many years of discerning when the night’s catch just isn’t going their way, while they are about to pack it in, are invited to try one more time, but in a different way —with surprising results.
Rev. John Pentland offers this particular version of the story on the opening page of his book Fishing Tips: How Curiosity Transformed a Community of Faith in which he explores some of the principles that guided his work with Hillhurst United Church over the past decade and some in which Hillhurst took an intentional posture of curiosity and openness to change and found their trajectory as a community change. In 2004, when Pentland was interviewed and expressed his interest in exploring some new methodologies the interview team told him, “well, you’re likely to be the last minister we ever have, so go ahead” —today Hillhurst has moved to two Sunday Morning services to make space for everyone who attends, and the need to potentially move to a 3rd is being discussed.
The story of the disciples fishing highlights curiosity, that willingness to try and to wonder, what would happen if we…certainly a core principle in Hillhurst’s journey as they recognized that what they’d been doing for years, while at one time precisely what was needed to serve their community, was no longer doing it, and so they tried something else —a lot like being willing to recognize, there’s no fish on this side of the boat, but I wonder what would happen over there.
After worship this morning, we’re inviting and encouraging everyone to stay if able for a presentation and information session.
It will begin with Carol Schick, Chair of the Board, describing our current situation and what we know about our future if we follow the current course —and while not quite as stark as the disciples fishing from the one side of the boat where they couldn’t catch a thing —we know that ‘business as usual’ is not viable in the long-term.
We will then look to the other side of the boat, welcome Rob Dalgleish, Executive Director of the EDGE Network for Ministry renewal within the United Church of Canada, to talk about their work with churches, which could be described as akin to the disciples, following the nudge of that voice from the shore, casting their nets to the other side, to see what they might find.
The story hinges on the conviction that there’s fish out there somewhere, and here’s where the story breaks down as a metaphor, because the discussion around Ministry renewal is not about saying, well, there’s potential new church members out there somewhere, we just need to know where to cast our nets —that may well be part of it, but first I think we ask a more fundamental question —and it’s a complicated question —one that touches on how we understand God.
In the Creed that we spoke together this morning we said this…
We believe in God: who has created and is creating… who works in us and others…
To explore this more fully, I want to share some portions from A Song of Faith, adopted by the United Church in 2006. If you’ve not explored this document before, I’d encourage you to do so, printed copies are available in the Narthex, and we’ve posted a link to our Facebook page.
It begins like this…
God is Holy Mystery,
beyond complete knowledge,
above perfect description.
the one eternal God seeks relationship.
So God creates the universe
and with it the possibility of being and relating.
God tends the universe,
mending the broken and reconciling the estranged.
God enlivens the universe,
guiding all things toward harmony with their Source.
I want to hight some action words here —possibility, being, relating, mending the broken, reconciling the estranged, enlivening, guidance, harmony.
When we express a belief in a God who has created and is creating, I think these words help us flush that out, help us to name what we might be declaring in that statement.
Of course cosmologists and physicists will remind us that the Universe is ever expanding and coming into being, and I think our declaration of is creating is about affirming scientific understanding, and much more. Where we look around the world, our societies and our community and see possibilities coming into being, see relationships forming, see brokenness mended, see reconciliation, see enlivening see harmony being formed —I think we’re seeing God.
Now I don’t necessarily mean that we imagine God sitting at some sort of heavenly console, sort of like a gigantic pipe organ, with a creativity lever over here and a reconciling button there.
What if that reality, that Holy Mystery, that the Ancients began naming as God, is not a static being up there somewhere, watching, judging, accepting worship, answering some prayers, blessing some, but instead an active force, a flow to be entered into, to be lived in harmony with, to be celebrated when it comes phrased in religious language and otherwise.
As we think about our future, seeking to minister within the downtown of this City, I think we don’t just ask where does this community need mending and reconciling —but we might, with curiosity and humility, ask where these things are already happening, and wonder, if there is way to join in.
Thousands of people descend on this neighbourhood each August for the Regina Folk Festival, and this spring I was chatting with Beth, the Production Manager who described their work not in terms of logistics or acoustics, ticket sales, and band bookings —but like this…we’re inviting people to connect with one another, to celebrate one another and to connect with themselves deep within, and to be part of something larger than anyone of us, and to connect with that which joins us all together.
Now Beth might not have used those words I lifted out of the Song of Faith, possibility, a joy of being, relationship, reconciliation, enlivening, harmony —but I think we’re speaking the same language.
When I was working on New Ministry Projects with Halton Presbytery before I moved here, a mentor would regularly remind me —when we want to reach out, we first need to ask, not about the needs of the organization, but to have a compelling answer to the question, what do we hope will happen in the lives of the people we want to reach, and if we learn to do that, and to do that well, we will find that the needs of our organizations, which might change, are also met.
What do we hope will happen in the lives of the people around us, in the community around us?
Can we imagine one day, someone who perhaps does not worship here saying, Regina is place of greater joy, greater beauty, deeper belonging, richer harmony, because of Knox-Metropolitan United Church?
Again from the Song of Faith…
and calls all of us to confess our fears and failings
with honesty and humility.
and calls us to repent the part we have played
in damaging our world, ourselves, and each other.
and calls us to protect the vulnerable,
to pray for deliverance from evil,
to work with God for the healing of the world,
that all might have abundant life.
We sing of grace.
The fullness of life includes
moments of unexpected inspiration and courage lived out,
experiences of beauty, truth, and goodness,
blessings of seeds and harvest,
friendship and family, intellect and sexuality,
the reconciliation of persons through justice
and communities living in righteousness,
and the articulation of meaning.
And so we sing of God the Spirit,
who from the beginning has swept over the face of creation,
animating all energy and matter
and moving in the human heart.
How do we know where God might be found – where the vulnerable are protected, where healing occurs, where abundant life is shared, where inspiration and courage is found, where an animating force can be seen, moving around and in each human heart.
So where do we see that?
The Folk Festival is of course but one example within this downtown neighbourhood —we could list so many more, some of which are already happening within these walls, concerts that lift spirits and inspire possibilities, the work of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry.
We could name events we have put on as and those we have hosted, we could name what happens with an individual heart in worship here, or in a 12 step program on a Thursday lunch hour.
In grateful response to God’s abundant love,
we bear in mind our integral connection
to the earth and one another;
we participate in God’s work of healing and mending creation.
To point to the presence of the holy in the world,
We believe in God: who has created and is creating… who works in us and others…
As the dawn began to break, and the sky slowly fills with light, exhausted and tired fishers hear a voice from the shore, inviting them to cast their nets off the other side.
Curious, they try. What they find astounds them.
Who has created and is creating
And in life and death…In life beyond death. God is with us.
And we are not alone.
Thanks be to God.