Issues & Concerns that our congregation needs to be aware of (series: constants in the context of change) By Tim Beachy
I was asked by the Worship Planning Committee to talk about issues and concerns that our congregation needs of be aware of, to think about and act on as we change for the future.
At first I thought this would be relatively straightforward – that there are a few things on which we could agree to focus together in our congregation, our church, our community and our world. I have spent the 45 – 50 years in the work of organizing to support social causes, finding finances, building coalitions and developing leaders in the field of social care. I still do it every day.
So, for me this seemed like pretty much of a slam dunk.
The more I immersed myself in preparation, the more complicated it has become and today I find myself in a quandary about what to say. I hope this comes across as a bit of a tentative meditation rather than as a sermon. For me this is exploratory thinking – something to start a conversation.
Firstly I want to talk briefly about what I see daily and on how our individual and our congregational perceptions vary widely – we are diverse and bring different visions and values to any discussion.
Secondly, I want to touch on some of the scriptures already presented this morning to see what those might teach us.
Thirdly, I want to think out loud a little bit about the New Jerusalem to come and what preparation is required of those of us currently alive. And,
Fourthly, I want to see if there are a small number of values or commitments that we can share as we go forward in preparation for the New Jerusalem.
Every working day I get an email from the Federation of Community Social Services of BC that highlights social needs in our Province. We can look at a sample set of headlines that I received on Wednesday this week. Here are the headlines:
The first headline refers to media releases from four BC media outlets regarding homelessness:
- Metro Vancouver Homelessness has jumped 30% over the last three years.
- 22% of BC homeless people are employed full or part time but cannot afford a place to live.
- Youth homeless is down slightly but seniors homelessness is up
- 82% of homeless people have at least one health issue
- The story of a young Vancouver man pushing a shopping cart across Canada to raise awareness of youth homelessness
The second headline drew my attention because it refers to a group of Langley parents, advocates and teachers rallying to support more inclusive school policies and education regarding LGBTQ issues.
The third headline warns us not to become complacent about the opioid crisis – that high numbers of deaths don’t get normalized. Advocates want safe spaces for use of street drugs and more treatment programs for youth.
The next one speaks to the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls – the struggle of losing family members along the “highway of tears”
Fifthly: the lack of staffing and facilities for frail elderly people in many communities.
Lastly: there is good news about youth and wellness centres in Maple Ridge and Nelson – bad news about the 50 children in Surrey that cannot be matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister.
These are samples – more come every day.
And, this sample is only one small slice of the concerns that many of us have. We each have personal issues and intimate knowledge of others who experience health, mental health, poverty, other personal issues and lack of services in many areas.
We each have our antenna sensitized to issues in our congregation, our neighbourhoods, our country and our planet. We each have a different perception of various causes – whether it is climate change, justice for pets or criminal justice reform. And, we all have different views about solutions – political change, monetary and economic solutions, solutions based on relationship building and inter-personal caring or radical transformational social change. We bring different skills and experience to each issue or concern – some are artists, designers, engineers, teachers, social workers, trades persons, thinkers, activists, etc.. In other words, it is not always easy to work with one another on issues of mutual concern.
God’s world and the history of God’s world is complex, confusing and extremely burdensome if we get consumed by these too many issues and concerns.
So, what do we do?
If we are mindful we notice that our own passions for social justice, caring and healing or other issues are shared by a few others. We also notice that we are incapable of caring deeply about too many things. We can be mindful about many things without adopting every concern as our own. As a community, we are more than the sum of our parts. And, we can recognize that the church as a whole and we as a congregation can have an impact on many issues without our personal passions becoming too burdensome. The early Anabaptists made a significant contribution the enlightenment by declaring a simple belief in freedom of conscience; Mennonites have led in acquiring recognition for conscientious objection to violence and war; our congregation along with others led in developing reconciliation approaches in criminal justice; our congregation led most recently in acknowledging that we worship on the lands of the Kwantlen people.
In the Matthew 4 scripture, Jesus is tempted by visions of economic, religious and political power as potential pathways for his ministry on earth. He put those temptations behind him. They would not save him nor save the world. In this test Jesus teaches that earthly wealth, religious fervor and political power do not provide the answer.
In Matthew 5, the very next chapter, Jesus gave us his perspective about the route to salvation – he gave the Beatitudes as examples of what is important to those who follow him.
Later in Matthew he was again tested, this time by the Pharisees and Sadducees (the Law-Givers and the agnostic lawyers). He was asked by them to “show a sign from Heaven”. His answer was: “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
I hear Jesus saying: You are smart people who can put together information – you can reach conclusions and make predictions but you cannot see the future or the signs of things beyond your experience. In this test, Jesus teaches that there is more to the future than what we can predict.
In today’s world we have access to incredible amounts of data (we have Big Data!) that help us know and predict many things. And, we have lots of smart people who know how to do it. We also have Big Banks, Big Oil, Big Government, Big Armies, Big Media, Big Churches and Big Social Movements. But we also have Big and wicked problems.
In Matthew 18, Jesus proposes the “small solution”. He was talking about forgiveness and reconciliation and here is what he said: 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
In this test, Jesus teaches that his presence is available to bring change “… if two of you agree about anything they ask”. Where two or three of us are there, Jesus will be there too.
In the parable of the Mustard Seed Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which grows and become a tree and makes a home for the birds in its branches. He teaches that starting with the small can have an impact on the whole. That, over time, a purposeful vision of God’s kingdom will grow and occupy natural place in the community, neighbourhood or the whole world.
We can ask: What are the mustard seeds that we as a congregation are called to plant. What is our organic role, our calling for this time and place? What are the core things that we should notice and be concerned about as we prepare for the New Jerusalem as described by the Apostle Johnin the Book of Revelation – as we prepare, not for a place of perfection, but a place of continual growth in spiritual understanding and where human concerns and issues are addressed through the mustard trees that we have planted?
I believe that one of the great sins of our time is the alienation of people from one another. The lack of purposeful belonging, of being wrapped in cocoons of self-loathing and doubt, being busy without purpose, driven by fake wealth, effectively sidelined from the community and from community life.
The Congregation needs to be a place of purposeful belonging to those who come. This may not be easy, it can be completely misunderstood and people will talk, just as they talked about Jesus eating with tax collectors.
On that platform of purposeful belonging, what are some common commitments we can make?
One commitment could be that where two or three of us are together and agree, Jesus will be there to assist in change. The diversity of our Fellowship provides a great place for this to happen. The range of experiences, skills and knowledge is wide and strong. This allows us to undertake many different seed plantings if we choose.
Another commitment could be to have a faithful vision that integrates fully with our world, embracing realities of our community through the mindful compassion of Jesus. This was a teaching of our Anabaptist fore-runners: that faith and life are not dual existences but one and the same.
And, finally a commitment could be to justice and peace – having a commitment to heal and sustain in this world; a place where all can participate as truly engaged, faithful people in a world filled with faithlessness; mindful and clear about who we are and what we have been sent to achieve.
Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts. If this little mediation sets us to thinking a bit, I will be grateful.