We Sing Thanksgiving – An Invitation to Speak about Stewardship
& our Call to be Church…
Sunday, October 1, 2017 – The 17th Sunday After Pentecost and Worldwide Communion
Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 78, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 13
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
God is creative and self-giving,
in all the near and distant corners of the universe.
Nothing exists that does not find its source in God.
Our first response to God’s providence is gratitude.
We sing thanksgiving. (A Song of Faith – The United Church of Canada)
We sing thanksgiving – a phrase that we’ll hear a number of times in different ways over this next month, as we weave through our times of prayer and worship, themes of stewardship —an invitation for us to consider how we respond to a call to be the church.
I think that in a number of ways, it is so fitting to begin this discussion less than 24 hours after the doors opened to welcome visitors, wanders, & shoppers for the latest edition of the Annual Flea Market.
I’ve brought with me this morning something that I picked up this year, which I’d like to share with you, but it wasn’t something I was initially looking for, and it certainly wasn’t the first thing I found.
First there was the unicycle, sitting in the corner with other sporting good type things. It needed a new tire, which isn’t a big deal, likely some tightening of bolts and a few other tune-ups, not an outrageous amount of work, but I’ve already got a few projects on the go, so didn’t want to add restoring an older unicycle to the list, but if it had been in ready-to-ride condition, I might have been delivering this sermon while wheeling back and forth across the front here.
Then as I wandered into the clothes section, a pair of bright, plaid wool pants, in red, yellow, green caught my eye, not quite as loud as those worn by the Norwegian Curling Team, but pretty close, and if I was a 38 (or so) waist I’d probably be proudly showing them off to you right now.
There was a wool tweed newsboy cap, that didn’t quite fit my head, and a pottery candle holder that didn’t quite fit the candles I light for meetings and reflections in my office, and then I found something I wan’t even looking for…but was delighted to discover.
I think that it’s great timing to talk about who we are as a community just after the flea market.
It’s an event that brings so many people with various connections to Knox-Met together to create, the week leading up to the event is flurry of activity, and of course the number of helpers on the day of is amazing to see —and the act of hospitality, opening the doors creating welcoming space.
Late in the day I was speaking to some friends in our neighbourhood who had just come from the sale, chatting about a dinner table setting and real cloth napkins, things they hadn’t necessarily been ‘in the market for’ but once they saw them, were thrilled.
I think it’s both a great example of this community being a great embodiment of itself, welcoming, hospitable, invitational, many days of preparation, with one day of action – but it’s also a great metaphor for how I hope, the people would experience this place on every other day of the year.
Some people come looking for something in particular, maybe hoping to find a new (to them) winter coat, or maybe a unicycle, or a pair of rain boots, but I figure most people have come here without a specific goal, drawn by the possibility —and hopefully, like my friend who was delighted to find cloth napkins, they find something of beauty, that they are so happy to add into their life.
Not unlike the merchant and the pearl.
Some people come to church knowing exactly why they’re here —exactly what they’re looking for, but I think we’ve entered a moment where that is becoming less and less the case, for many people —but that doesn’t mean that some aren’t coming. Whether people come for a Sunday service, to see a friend married, witness a baptism, sit in support of a family in grief saying goodbye and sharing fond memories, whether they come to walk the prayer labyrinth, listen to beautiful music, gather with a support group —I hope that they would find something of beauty, something that they may not have known they were looking for, but once experienced, feels exactly what they’d been seeking.
Yesterday, we put on offer well loved (and occasionally) brand new treasures —but every other day, as we seek to live into our invitation to be church —to embody that all are welcome to come as you are —to find music for the soul, to enter conversations that matter, to find space for the spirit, and companions on the journey.
This of course, isn’t new, although it may be a new way to say this —and the way that we will offer this invitation, articulate it, may come in new ways.
How to express that invitation is one of the pressing questions we face, a question being explored in a number of ways —through the Affirming Ministries process, the Joint Needs Assessment Committee, re-visiting our goals for children’s programming, pondering the future of the Building, re-articulating our goals and visions and clarifying our values —there’s a lot of things on the go, and it can be sort of dizzying in the midst of it all.
And over this month, we’ll be also thinking intentionally about financial realities, recognizing that the current mission and ministry of Knox-Metropolitan United Church sees more expenses than income —for 2017 a budgeted shortfall of $175,000 to be covered by investments, a pattern that cannot continue for the long-term.
Which is exactly why the afore-mentioned questions are being asked, exactly why investments in this work are being made, in the hope that in so doing, we find ways to enter a new rhythm of ministry that is sustainable, yet that poise the community to meet spiritual and social needs that may look different than they once did —in hopes that this work, these investments, will help the community embody itself, it’s invitations it’s been making for it’s life as a congregation (and the history of the congregations who came together to create this community).
There’s much to do ask and to do, but there’s also room to celebrate —the past year has seen modest increases in attendance, increases in offerings and rentals —so the projections (with a few months left in the year) look hopeful that the shortfall will be less than budgeted, and as we go through this month we’ll look at that more closely.
We’ll also share stories of other congregations whose DNA and historic trajectory mirror ours, and explore ways they have found, to be true to their legacies and find new ways to express themselves in creative ways, whether through social enterprises, partnerships, engaging with new communities in order to find sustainable rhythms of ministry.
Their stories are unique to their contexts, their communities, but there is much we can learn —and I think that one of the most compelling learnings, is how communities have navigated similar moments in their organizations to what we face today at Knox-Metropolitan United Church in such a way, that when structures, forms and offerings develop and evolve, the experiences that they provide —remain.
Hope —Connection —Peace —Companionship —Beauty —a sense of being part of this divine dance that our Tradition names as God.
Which brings me back to the Flea Market and the parable of the Pearl—I imagine that many here did some shopping yesterday, and I imagine that some found something you knew you needed, and others found yourself surprised at what you discovered.
But to take that as an image, I wonder if you thought about your experience here in this community, and what you’ve found here, not in terms of cloth napkins, or a new pair of binoculars or a unicycle. What gifts for your soul, what treasure to enrich your life.
I wonder if you could name a moment —I wonder if you can sense how moments have woven together.
I wonder what moments you might name?
I imagine that our moments would be diverse, but that our themes might be similar —which to me is where our celebration at this table ties this all together. Just as the forms of bread around the world look so unique, the basic ingredients of flour, water, yeast and salt tie them together. So we celebrate how the basic building blocks of story and ritual, prayer and community create so many diverse expressions of church inviting companionship, beauty, connection, and peace.
What will we look like to put this offer in the years to come —this we explore together, but we do it from a place where first we sing thanksgiving, where we know we are called to be church, and we celebrate, that we are not alone.