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- describe what it was
- how it came to be
- how we organized it
- describe what we did
- why it ended
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/thesaurus/abject). Throughout history, people always seek to deem certain people or groups “abject”: we project on to the abject all that we despise or loathe in ourselves, especially our fleshly or bestial nature, because we do not want to admit that dark and disturbing side of ourselves exists. So it is easier for us to cast onto some “other” that which disturbs us about ourselves to make us feel as if we are pure and perfect. The ‘other’ or ‘abject’ changes over time: at various moments in European and North American history, it has been the Jews, the disabled, the blacks, the Muslims, the Mennonites, women, gays and lesbians, trans men and women, and the list goes on. Of course, the last thing many people want is to be associated with is the ‘abject’—everything that is considered loathsome by society. After all, from a global socio-economic perspective, many of us are probably among the top 1% of the world’s population: you only need to earn $44,000.00 CDN / year to fit into this category (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/050615/are-you-top-one-percent-world.asp). We are among the world’s elite. But we at LMF, like all Christians, are called upon to align ourselves with the abject, just as Jesus did when he walked this earth. That means that we have to stand at the side of, and be aligned with, those others call “despicable” and “unworthy” and we may be maligned by others for doing so. Some will think us “vile” and “contemptible” as a result, just as they did Jesus. But this is what a future LMF must continue to do: reach out to, befriend, and show grace and mercy to the “abject,” whoever they might be in the time and space in which we live. So what does this look like practically, not just theoretically, in a church like LMF, which is ecclesiastically traditional but theologically progressive? I would suggest that it will look rather messy and will make a lot of us uncomfortable at times. It means bringing in people who don’t look like us, act like us, or even talk the same language. It means giving up the idea that we are pure and that others are unclean, that we are worthy and others are undeserving. It means that we must engage in a kind of kenosis or self-emptying, so that Jesus can dwell in us fully. It means bringing in new and different ways of knowing God and being Christ-followers while retaining a commitment to our past and traditions. It means sacrificing our time to listen to the laments of those around us and, unlike Job’s friends, attending without judgement. It means working to develop the spirit of humility, grace, and mercy, so that we can bring a sense of peace and hope to others, regardless of their station in life or their life circumstances. In many ways, I know I am “preaching to the choir.” When I look at the lives of many of the people who attend LMF, I am quite simply astounded at how they have embodied the love, mercy and grace of Christ in the world: some at LMF have dedicated their lives to working with youth who struggle with mental health problems, others with prisoners who seek restoration and redemption; some have staged plays that give voice to the dis/placed, notably the refugees, while others have sat quietly and listened to the painful and traumatic lives of Indigenous people for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; some have given voice to the faithful whom Stalin hoped to silence, while still others work to better the lives of those who have suffered with traumatic brain injuries; and there are those who work with ‘special needs’ children trying to make their way in the world. These are but a few of countless stories of the lives of those who attend LMF. Living in a world constantly in flux and in need, LMF and its members must continue to be committed to enacting the gospel within and beyond its walls and in doing so, must be willing to welcome anyone—even, or perhaps especially, the abject. As Rachel Held Evans writes, The gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, ‘Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk… [After all], God’s kingdom is a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more. (Searching for Sunday 149) May God “hold us in the palm of His hand” as we continue on this spiritual journey.
- When LMF purchased a larger building on 56th and 198th, we shared our space with Langley Adult Daycare Centre. The center ran a program for seniors during the week.
- LMF alerted the people at the popular annual Abbotsford Air show that many of the airplanes were built to destroy life.
- From the beginning, LMF has also helped refugees. We used our church building as a sanctuary for a mother and her four sons, refugees from Somalia, whom the government of Canada wanted to deport. We also sponsored refugees from many parts of the world, beginning with Vietnamese “boat people”. Our commitment continues as we prepare for refugees from Syria.
- LMF also sought to serve single mothers and their children through the Langley Open Door,
- LMF began a recycling program in 1990.
- We were a regular participant in the annual lively Vancouver Peace Walk in the 1980s where we found ourselves alongside groups such as ‘Prostitutes for Peace’ and ‘Punks for Peace”
- A number of people associated with LMF, served with Christian Peacemaker Teams in various places of the world.
Romans 8:12-17 Today is Trinity Sunday, that day in the church year set aside to proclaim one of the most difficult and important mysteries of Christian experience, the three-in-one nature of God. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or, God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, or God is some similar choice of three foundationally different human experiences of the nature of God, personally and in history. It’s not an easy concept. Much ink has been spilled and many trees given their lives in the effort to make sense of it. If someone were to give me an hour I think I could explain it, though the last time I did so the audience unanimously voted to adopt a heretical point of view rather than the orthodox. I don’t know if that was a case of a bad teacher or just that we don’t think about these things the way the Greeks did. Part of what makes it difficult is that it isn’t a particularly biblical concept—a comment that once earned me an askance look by a teacher in theology class. But it isn’t. There is no clear passage in the Bible that teaches or explains the Trinity. Something like it is obviously implied in a number of places, but it wasn’t until well into the post-biblical era that the Church figured out that this was one of the foundational Christian truths. So on Trinity Sunday the lectionary gives us texts like today’s, Romans 8:12-17, which has an implicit Trinitarian understanding of God, but not an explicit one. As Paul writes: “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the sins of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Okay, did you get that? Clear as anything, isn’t it? There’s God the Father, the Spirit of God, and Jesus the Christ. They are all crammed into one vitally important section of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Thus we have a doctrine of the Trinity. Makes perfect sense! Well, maybe you didn’t follow it. I’m not sure it matters whether you did. What mattered to the early Church was its proclamation of the three-in-one God, not whether it was particularly biblical. It was how they experienced God in the context of the declining Roman Empire, and it was a vitally important truth. It was the God they encountered and saved them and they found it in the Bible. But… maybe you remember your Anabaptist History and Theology class from CMU or CBC and you caught a whiff of another trinity in that Bible text from Romans. The Anabaptists argued for three baptisms, a baptism of Spirit in the inner being, of water into the community of the covenant, and of suffering into discipleship. It doesn’t take much squinting at this text to find these three baptisms here as well. A quick check of my sources found that Balthasar Hubmaier directly references this text in his writing on baptism. He writes in 1526: “I confess three types of baptism: that of the Spirit given internally in faith; that of water given externally through the oral confession of faith before the church; and that of blood in martyrdom or on the deathbed. … Whoever will cry to God with Christ ‘Abba Father,’ must do so in faith and must also be baptized with Christ in water and suffer with him in blood. Then he will be a son and heir of God, a coheir with Christ, and will be glorified with Christ.” Did you catch the many resonances between Hubmaier and the Apostle Paul? In the late medieval/early modern world of the Anabaptists their vital truth was the mystical encounter with God that led through the community to a life of visible and sacrificial witness and possible martyrdom. It was the truth they encountered and saved them, and they found it in the Bible. So now we have two trinities, the Divine co-existence of God in three parts and the three-part baptism of the true Christian. Each was a powerful truth to its community, and each found its truth in this passage from Paul. It kind of makes you wonder what Paul really had in mind. Except no one knows what Paul really meant. You can read the commentaries and they all understand that this passage is part of the Apostle Paul’s central concern in the letter to the Romans, but none agree on what he actually meant. That’s because no one really knows what Paul is trying to say in the letter to the Romans. Krister Stendahl, one of the most esteemed Paul scholars of the 20th century was commissioned to write a Commentary on the letter to Romans for one of the most prominent commentary series. When he got to Romans 8 he gave up. He is reported to have said that he couldn’t make sense of the chapter and since it was the hinge of the whole letter, there was no point in trying to finish the commentary. Everyone agrees the Apostle Paul is trying to explain here how it is that Christians become part of God’s salvation. Since no one in quite sure what Paul means by inclusion in God’s salvation, no one can figure out quite how this text explains it. Are Gentile Christians included in the Jewish covenant? Or are Jews included in a new covenant in Christ? Some combination of both? What does the flesh-body dualism mean? Is sin a personal state, a personal act, or a cosmic power? Choose your favourite answer and then find a commentary to match. So this is an important text of profound confusion and which is subsequently used to explain profound truths and mysteries. We keep finding in Paul’s truths our truth about how God works in the world. … Of course our world is different and our profound mysteries are a little different again. I think there is a profound mystery which we express here every Sunday and which is also found in this text from the Apostle Paul, even if he didn’t intend to put it there. This profound mystery is that in our technological-materialist-individualist world, we stand together and cry “Abba-father” in the hope of our salvation. It is an act of self-denial in the name of Christ, and we do it because we feel claimed by God as coheirs so that we may live in the Spirit of God. Our profound mystery is the truth that as individuals we find our salvation in a trinity of Spirit, Bible, and Community, and through that trinity we find the meaning of our lives. And as with those earlier trinities, it is a complex and confusing truth, no less than it is a profound statement of the reality of our experience of salvation. Just as those earlier Christians felt their faith stand or fall on the basis of their trinities, so also with ours. We dare not abandon Bible or Community or Spirit. And like those earlier Christians we face the reality that there is no easy co-existence between these three and none can be defined in such a way as to include the others. Spirit, Bible, and Community, these are the three distinctly different ways we encounter God but it is only through the three together that we find our salvation. This is our mystery which we must confess or affirm, even though it is logically impossible. It is both truth and mystery. The temptation for Christians is always to stray to the error of excessive simplification. We want our faith clear and easy to understand. So inevitably the Church must respond by proclaiming the complexity. To make my point I want to briefly look at these three and how an emphasis on only one of the three quickly leads us astray and how together they serve as a corrective to those errors. In our world the temptation of simplicity leads us to fall into the heresy of centering our faith on one of Spirit, Bible, or Community, just as the early Church struggled between the errors of only God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Spirit, and medieval Christians struggled between the errors of Spiritual baptism, or sacramental baptism, or martyrdom. Each point in these sacred and mysterious trinities is true and each on its own destroys our faith. Always the three points together form the truth we live by. A Christianity of Spirit? Here on the West Coast the Spirit is everywhere, clamouring its truth from every rock and tree, or creek and mountain. We know God speaks to us through the very being of the world through a spirit of inclusion and transcendence. Denying that truth is one of the great evils that besets our province as we take part in the industrial scale rape of the planet, as we blow up sacred rocks in order build another suburb or protect a railway, as we denude the mountainsides of the trees that sustain the very air we breathe. We must know and worship God in Spirit if we are to reclaim our souls from industrial-technocratic cyborg death. Faith without Spirit cannot judge right from wrong. Yet the truth of Spirit quickly races on its own to the heresy of spiritualism, of failing to properly love our neighbours in order to stand in the Pacific ocean at sunset or raise our arms in praise, forgetting at the same time the weightier matters of paying taxes and reaching out to the suffering. The Spirit must be framed with the limits of justice, justice understood through the lens of Bible and Community. We need the Bible and Community to correct us from the error of spiritualism and bring us back to the fullness of God’s truth. What about a Christianity of the Bible? The Bible is one of the truthful anchors of our experience of God. It reaches back through to the origins of time and space to proclaim who we are and what makes us whole. Yet this truth is easily denied through a materialism that proclaims truth is a collection of facts and thus the Bible has nothing to say to us. The result is a faith that is rootless and easily swallowed by hubris. But the Bible is easily taken too far through a focus that elevates it to an unquestioned beacon of truth, a beacon whose glare in our eyes causes us to ignore our messy contextual existence and faithlessly ignore the partiality of all language and the inherent ambiguity of meaning. The Spirit and Community correct this error by informing us that humans live by metaphor and fractured glimpses of another reality. What about a Christianity of Community? Community is the third mystery of our trinity. We have no faith except the faith of our communities, the one expressed by those around us and handed down from our ancestors. In our hyper-individualistic world it’s not hard to find Christians who deny this point in our trinity, Christians who find in some buddy Jesus or a self-satisfied personalism a faith empty of any of the hard-stuff inter-personal encounter, and with that of change and growth. It is also possible to focus too much upon the truth of community. That is the faith of revered traditions and quick conformity, a place where conflict is denied or papered over, and rules, unconscious as much as conscious, replace the on-going struggle with self and others to be disciples. Dare I say it, it is a perspective where an ideal of consensus is prized over necessary and difficult change. The reality of the community is of ever-present conflict, of the partiality of collective identity, and the ever growing fractures between us. It is Spirit and Bible that form and sustain us, not community on its own. To be faithful Christians in our world requires the hard stuff of proclaiming the mystery of Spirit, Bible, and Community together. It isn’t easy. If it was, we wouldn’t need to proclaim it. But our way in this time is of these three in one. … Divine mystery surrounds us, carries us, saves us. The human tendency is to try to simplify, to focus, to box in that mystery so that is not so mysterious, and certainly easier to manage. But the constant experience of the church is of mystery that when confronted, allows no easy answers. Often these mysteries come in paradoxical dualisms or confusing trinities—conceptual groupings that force us to stop and admit our confusion. And then to probe the foundational complexity of our experience of God and salvation and the inadequacy of our humanity. We experience the trinity of Spirit, Bible, and Community. The Anabaptists experienced the trinity of baptisms in Spirit, water, and suffering. The early church experienced the Trinity of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. These are mysteries and these are truths. In them we live and breathe and find our meaning. Much as we might dislike the complexity, thus it was and thus it shall always be. Amen.
Exodus 14:5-31; 15:20-21 and Luke 1:39-55 When I was a child of about 10 or 11, I went along with my best friend, her mother, and their dog, Phoebe, to the local Woolco department store so that my friend’s mom could pick up a few items she needed. We walked there together, and it was my job, when my friend and her mother went into the store, to hold onto the Phoebe’s leash and wait for them outside. A simple job – just hold onto the leash, and don’t let Phoebe go to run among the cars in the parking lot. Well somewhere in the middle of this rather boring task and longer-than-expected wait, it occurred to me that it might be fun to see, if I crawled into one of the shopping carts left outside the store doors, whether Phoebe might pull me along like a horse and chariot. The carts were parked about 20 metres or so away from the front doors of the store, and I pulled a rather hesitant Phoebe along with me, and climbed into one of the carts. Phoebe just sat there looking at me curiously. Then my friend and her mother came out of the store. At the sight of her owners, Phoebe took off towards them, dragging the shopping cart, with me crouched in it, along with her. At first it was quite slow, and I was quite delighted, but soon Phoebe picked up speed and the rickety shopping cart, hardly a stable chariot, began bumping and tipping threateningly. I couldn’t stop. I held tightly to the leash, unable to get out of the cart, and for some reason determined not to let go. When my friend’s mother saw her dog barreling towards her with a shopping cart containing her daughter’s friend careening behind, she stared in horror. ‘Let go!’ she yelled at me. I didn’t let go. Now this story ended well – Phoebe was soon with her beloved owners, and my friend’s mother grabbed the shopping cart and stopped it before I was flung off the edge of the sidewalk and into the parking lot. I suffered nothing more than the humiliation and embarrassment of a really stupid idea. If only the Egyptian army and their chariots had fared as well. Our story from Exodus today is but a small part of the larger saga in which God rescues the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This saga of God’s salvation of the Israelites from slavery to freedom is a foundational story for the Jewish people, and one which, not surprisingly, echoes and threads its way throughout the New Testament stories and the early church’s understanding of God’s salvation in Jesus. In contemporary times, the exodus has served as inspiration and model for many groups, from early Protestant settlers to North America, to African-Americans striving for freedom and civil rights; from forming the backbone of a host of Latin American liberation theologies, to religious motivation for the establishment of the modern state of Israel. This is a story with many layers, many possible trajectories, and many, many concrete, historical outcomes – some of them inspiring, some of them tragic, and many of them unsettling and bloody. Much like their origin. Exodus is not an easy story to hear, especially for ears trained to hear the Word of God as a Word of Peace. There is no way around this one – no fancy biblical footwork that I can play this time – to remake Exodus into a peaceful story or the God of the exodus into a non-violent God. Exodus is pervasively and disturbingly violent, with the Pharaohs and God being the most violent actors. The crossing of the Red Sea that we heard this morning is but the end of chapter upon chapter of increasingly horrific plagues. As much as we might be uncomfortable with some of the ways the ancient writers imagined God, to too easily brush this story aside is to miss the ways the Word of God might speak to us and our world today. For although this saga has bolstered both movements of liberation and crusades of colonialism, in this story we are presented with a portrait of empire from the perspective of the oppressed. As Christians living within, and benefiting from, the modern empire of global capitalism, honestly addressing this violence in scripture can help us to address the structural violence in our own culture; to know and recognize our patterns of addiction to empire and our refusal to let go of the reigns of our precarious chariots. Because this story is so central to and within the Bible, it is normal for Christians to situate ourselves in this story as heirs of the Israelites – positioning ourselves among the Hebrew slaves over against the tyranny of Pharoah. However, speaking personally, as a white, non-Indigenous Canadian, my heritage has much more in common with the Egyptians. Sure my Mennonite ancestors in Europe and then Russia experienced violence and oppression, but there is no denying that their suffering and plight was taken up into the colonial goals of empire as it spread across North America. Furthermore, today there can be no doubt that I am one of the benefactors of this colonial violence and racism. To read this Exodus story from this location, a location many of you share with me, is to acknowledge our place among the oppressors, the ones holding the reins of the chariots even if we feel powerless to get off, and unsure of what it would mean to let go. We are aware that our way of life is predicated on structural and military violence, the widening gap between rich and poor, and environmental destruction that threatens much of life on the planet, yet we are either unable or unwilling to stop. And on this side of the exodus, we see God – who hears the pains of the oppressed and enslaved and actively sets out to liberate them – as a God who is fundamentally at odds with the very systems and structures that ensure our comfort, convenience, and affluence. The fact that we are good, loving people whose lives might also be full of suffering, struggle, loss and pain does not negate the fact that this story proclaims that God breaks the chains of oppression, and in so far as we are holding onto the other end of that chain, that liberation will cost us. The first Mary whose song we heard this morning – Miriam, the sister of Moses – sings praises to her God who has saved her and her people from brutal slavery. The violence that happened to the Egyptians is celebrated as God’s triumph over evil. It is very difficult to hear the songs of jubilation that the oppressed sing when they see our destruction as necessary for their freedom. Had there been video and internet in the days of Moses and Miriam I can imagine families in Egypt watching in abject horror the tambourines and dancing that followed the annihilation of their beloved fathers and sons in the sea. Do you remember the cries of disbelief and accusation of barbarism as video clips of Arab populations cheering and celebrating in the aftermath of 9/11 went viral? The belief that God acts to destroy one people for the sake of another infuses the stories and histories of all the monotheistic traditions – the history of nations that embrace Christianity being the biggest perpetrators. It is right that we question this view of God, even as it appears in our sacred texts. Over the past 2000 years of Jewish engagement with this text, rabbis and other students of the Torah have struggled, just as we do, with the violence of God which resulted in the death of thousands of Egyptians. In one such Jewish commentary on the song of Miriam, it is suggested that God reacts against the singing, crying out "How can you sing as the works of my hand are drowning in the sea?" Here I can imagine God, watching in horror as the Israelites make their way to freedom on dry ground, the waters close behind them, and the Egyptians rushing desperately forward, clinging to the chain that God is breaking. “Let go!” God cries. “Let go! Let go!” But they don’t let go. And Miriam and the Israelites sing. And the second Mary, singing her song over a thousand years later, joins her ancestor Miriam in rejoicing in God her saviour, echoing the exodus message that God’s arm is strong and takes down the mighty from their thrones – lifting up the poor and hungry. Jesus – whose very name in Hebrew is Yehoshuah, which means ‘God is my salvation’ – becomes woven into this story of liberation such that he claims for himself the words of Isaiah “God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18, cf Is.61:1) God is our salvation – this is the central message of the exodus, indeed the whole of scripture. And this salvation, the exodus (and Mary, and Jesus!) insists, includes earthly liberation, freedom, justice, and dignity for the oppressed of this world. This IS good news for the poor and oppressed, but what of us who are the rich and the benefactors of their oppression? Are we left only to listen to the songs of the freed as we drown in our greed and refusal to change? Is it good news for us? Yes, of course, although not perhaps in the way we might first expect. The good news of the salvation offered by God is that it IS for all – such that we are all invited to participate in the salvation of God through solidarity with one another while we, as the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “work out our salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you (plural – the community) to both will and work for God’s good pleasure”. (Phil 2:12-13). We participate in the salvation of God by letting God act in and through us both in the breaking of the chains that oppress, and also in the discovery of new ways of living in the new-found freedom. Frederick Douglass – former American slave and civil rights leader wrote: “no man can put a chain about the neck of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire contends that in order to achieve true liberation, the oppressors and the oppressed must join together in communion towards a common goal: humanity. The abiding truth of the Exodus account is that aligning ourselves with “God our salvation” means aligning ourselves with the work of liberation and life for all beings – which necessarily depends upon the rescue and release of those who are enslaved, oppressed, commodified and vulnerable to abuse. The songs of our two Mary’s sing in celebration of that hope. What might our song be? Last week during sharing time we considered just that question. Years ago our church saw a need in the people of victims and offenders of violent crimes. This community acted, and a new ministry took root and is flourishing. Together I am confident that we can hear the call of God anew to join in the breaking of chains of destruction and oppression – there is rattling all around us. Meister Eckhart, 13th C mystic and theologian spoke of it this way: the most important person is the one right in front of you. The most important work is the work of love. The most important time is now. I conclude with a song of another daughter of God - Lee Maracle, from the Stó:lō nation, who are host to our own gathering on their traditional territory today. Her ancestors are part of the cloud of witnesses that looks on and watches just how we will work out this salvation God has so graciously given to us. She writes: I am your witness Inspired by the earth’s response to her desecration The waters will cleanse the earth; Hurricanes will rearrange rivers Earthquakes will object, but the earth will do her duty And we will too. We will all have to face ourselves And our sense of justice We will need to nourish our imagination And summon our souls, our hearts and our minds to a justice, Which includes all life – together So I call you Come, hear this song, Sing with me. (found in ‘Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry’, p138)