By Rev. Joan Kessler
Back on Tuesday, we had a most wonderful Community Coffee time. We had all kinds of people sit at the table with us. We had one visitor come looking for help with his iPhone, having exhausted every class available and what he identified as needing was one on one coaching. One of you who was also at that table on Tuesday suggested that perhaps a small group could come together and learn from one another. That got me to thinking about how this bit of time spent with another could really improve one’s quality of life and help them to feel connected to the world and its workings that we are part of. And a mother, daughter, and granddaughter made the journey from Kelowna to visit the Thrift Store and they made a repeat visit to Community Coffee. And another gentleman who had come back in the winter returned after visiting the thrift store, retired, and recently moved to Lake Country. We are connecting with our neighbours, and we share something of ourselves every time we gather together. We are showing what is most important to us as a community of faith.
And just yesterday, there was the plant sale and all the helpers who spent part of almost every day here at the church this past week and all the generosity that came through the doors and the way the sanctuary began to smell like spring! The parking lot was busy with shoppers and helpers, and we ate hot dogs together and showed the wider community again what we value and that we want to be accessible and welcoming. In a few weeks’ time, we are going to host a coffeehouse evening with live music and other sharing’s of talent. This has been a long-awaited dream that is finally able to come to fruition. Because music and laughter are things that we feel moved to share with others. It is part of who we are.
The current issue of Broadview contains an interesting and sobering report on the state of religion in Canada. The article indicated that the United Church of Canada has declined by 40% in the past decade. We currently sit at 1.2 million affiliates; only 2.5% of UCC’s population is from a visible minority. In other, words we are largely homogenous in race and reflect the population of the 1950s and 60s when the UCC was in its hay day, building stage. Today, Canada’s religious landscape is changing and other world religions, such as Islam and Hinduism, are seeing growth, and the authors of the study attributed this to immigration. We live today in a pluralistic cultural context. Many of us practice a hybrid-style spirituality that draws on many different traditions and practices. The Church finds itself in the midst of all this wondrous diversity.
From our reading from Acts, Paul is in Athens. He is a man of his times and he goes out into the public square. Athens was considered the intellectual capital of the Roman empire. As he walks around and visits their shrines and their objects of worship, he commends them for their religiosity. But he brings their attention to one altar with the inscription “to an unknown God”. He proceeds to tell them that Christ is the one for whom they have been seeking and he preaches a sermon that explains his understanding of Jesus, his relationship to God and what Jesus’ mission was.
This passage from Acts is a most difficult one because it was used to provide the justification for the mission work that led to colonization and showed a lack of respect and understanding for those who lived in different countries and held different traditions and beliefs. Paul wants to bring everyone together and seems to reject the Athenians beliefs and practices. Today, this is not how we seek to build relationships with those who think differently than we do. Paul is trying to find common ground with the unknown god but instead diminishes the worship practices of others in order to elevate the Jesus movement.
We live in an era much like the time of Paul. We are fearful of our international neighbors. Technologies are being used and extorted to gain information. We only have to watch to our nightly newscasts, and we will likely hear of how our relationship with China is deteriorating. The war in Ukraine seems to have no end in sight. We are in an era of protecting our interests and erecting walls to keep our nationhood safe. And yet the call of the church is to promote intercultural dialogue, and this is done by building one relationship at a time. We can be part of the conversation around getting to know our neighbors and being listeners. When we take this approach, we can be a witness to our beliefs in ways that are respectful. This passage reminds us of our history and where it is we want to go.
In the children’s book I shared this morning, The Invisible Web is made up of invisible strings that connects us, one to another and to our environment in countless ways and life-giving relationships. They reach to everyone we know, and they remind us of bringing together the qualities of goodness, kindness, and compassion. All these strings connect us into one giant web of belonging and understanding. I think about this image as a model for discipleship and being community. Sometimes the strings get ignored and then all tangled up into a right mess but the more people that care the stronger the web becomes. It is our work to untangle the strings with strong and supportive fingers. Healing and restoration can happen, but it can be slow and patient work. People will smile at one another, help one another, forgive easier, and more often. And then suddenly, the invisible web becomes real and people use their voice to tell others about this beautiful connection.
I think about this story, and I think about the church’s place in society. I think that maybe the work of the church and the time it has left is to be a good listener. Jesus was a very good listener and discerner, but this takes practice. The church has gone into places where it shouldn’t have and took a message to people who were doing just fine with out it. But perhaps the future is about not imposing but listening. It is not easy to stop talking – silence can be uncomfortable.
Maybe the question to ask is not “Do you believe in God?” but rather “What kind of God do you believe in?” We look forward to that conversation.
Peace be with you all and Amen.