The link for worship is ready to go live at 10am, Sunday September 6, 2020! But first, you can find the bulletin here.
As usual, if you want to participate fully in worship please have a bowl of water, something small to eat and drink, and a lit candle in your space. All of this is optional, of course. Please do whatever works best for you.
The full sermon manuscript follows the video as well. Peace be with you!
O God, may our hearts and minds be awakened by your Word. By your Spirit, give us understanding of community and the will to forgive, through your living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When I started writing this sermon, my wife and I were still in the decision making process of what to do with our kids’ schooling in the midst of this pandemic that we are obviously still in. It was worrisome before summer started, when the cases were going down but we were still learning about the coronavirus, and it is worrisome now that we’re into September already and the cases have actually gone up although we know a bit more about the coronavirus. The schools gave us different options that we can choose for our kids and each had their pros and cons, but none of them were really ideal, if there even is such a thing. It made the choice really hard.
We flopped back and forth, back and forth. We talked with other parents at our schools, at other schools, our friends with school aged kids, and even people living in different cities. We read about what happened in other communities and countries that have already opened schools. And we of course kept a close eye to how the pandemic progressed throughout the Lower Mainland, which is of course the hot spot for the coronavirus in BC.
Now, you might think, why not just save the stress and keep the kids home? Isn’t that one of the options? Better be more safe than sorry, instead of worrying so much. Well, that is one of the options of course, actually it was 3.5 of the 4 options that we had. But why even think about taking them to school if we are so worried? Well, in a word: community. As much as we’d like our kids to see our church as their community, I think we all know the kid population of our congregation, so that makes it a bit hard for them. And we’re lucky enough to have 3 kids, and so they do have each other to be their “group of friends,” but as any of you with siblings would know, it just isn’t the same when you’re talking about your siblings.
We feel that school not only provides them with the knowledge and tools to learn skills and talents that will help in their contribution in the world, but that it also helps to teach them relational skills, how to make friends especially here in the Greater Vancouver Area that is notorious for being super unfriendly, and also to teach them the harsh realities that… well… people out there can be jerks. They can hurt you emotionally, mentally, and of course physically. They can bully you, just be mean to you, and harm you in ways that of course don’t seem fair. And so school teaches them how to make friends, but also how to lose friends, and above all, I hope, how to make amends with these friends.
So this is why our decision is so hard. On the one hand, we can control every surface they touch, every molecule they breathe in, and every person they interact with by keeping them at home, or we can take them to school to face the veritable cesspool of germs and creepy crawlies. We can shelter them in safety, or we can let them explore the world. We can rob them of their friends and human interaction, or we can let them learn the ways of community and relationship. It wasn’t an easy choice, and in the end we decided to take them back to school. Community is just that important.
And to live in community, one must learn to navigate it. One must learn to relate, interact, and empathize. One must learn to forgive. Because as important as community is, we all know that conflict will always rear its ugly head and get in the way. Friction will happen between any individuals who are able to communicate on any kind of level. Disagreement will happen among any two or more people who aren’t the same exact person with the same exact thoughts and opinions. It is a part of life. It’s a part of being human. It’s a part of living in a community.
Lucky for us though, Jesus anticipated this and gave us clear instruction on how to resolve such conflict. Notice that I didn’t say it was clear instruction on how to kick someone out of the church, or a method how to prove that you’re right and they’re wrong, or worse yet a means to publicly humiliate a member of our community. No, it is a way to reconcile with those whom we have friction, to understand the differing viewpoints of those who aren’t us, to ultimately forgive and love in the midst of difference.
Don’t get me wrong though, just because we have these guidelines doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy. But it does mean that it is important. Imperative, even. It is the foundation of our relationships and community. It is the very backbone of who we are as people, as children of God. Dare I say that it is the essence of Jesus’ ministry among us, as he even declares right after this that he’ll be among any of us gathered in his name. Imagine that. Jesus among us, in our relationships, in our communities, in our interactions with each other, teaching us how to live together in spite of difference in culture and belief, showing us how to love even when the world is against us, and being an example of a forgiveness so strong, that even the strongest conflict, the kind that leads to the death of an innocent person, cannot overcome it.
And that really is a tough thing. About a week or so ago we saw such conflict arise again in the States, where a young man killed two protestors and injured a volunteer medic in the name of self defense. How can you resolve a conflict like that? Here on our side of the border we hear of activists knocking down a statue of John A. Macdonald, our first Prime Minister, and the creator of the residential schools that still mar our Canadian history to this day. How do we resolve conflict like that? Both these events were fuelled by centuries of racial injustice leading our North American countries to what seems to be a civil war. How do we resolve conflict like that?
Practically? I don’t know. But essentially, I know it needs to be done out of love and forgiveness. It needs to be done with understanding and empathy. It needs to be done by civil conversation and discussion. It isn’t easy, but Jesus is there with us, strengthening us, empowering us, showing us the way to resolve our differences without the worry of losing face or respect, with only community and right relationship as the goal.
So not only does Jesus give us this gift of conflict resolution, we are also of course given the gift of relationship and community. We are placed among the gift of friends and colleagues to journey with, to learn with, and to eventually reconcile with. We are presented with the gift of God’s kingdom, full of love, peace, and forgiveness, in which we can see more clearly the promises of God, glean more fully the understanding of God, and feel more wholly the welcome of God among God’s people.
And above all, we are promised that Christ is there… here with us, where two or more are gathered, virtually or in person. Not to scare us or creep us out, but to help us in our relationship, in our community, and to remind us of how to understand, how to forgive, and how to reconcile with each other for the sake of and in the name of love.
So in this season after Pentecost, as we teeter on the edge between opening up the world and maybe not so much, may we actively pursue our relationships and community, looking for ways to reconcile and be reconciled, that we might see the love and forgiveness freely given to us and empowering us to reflect that love and forgiveness back out into the world, through the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.