We have inherited a living tradition and it is our responsibility to pass on a living tradition … We spend a lot of time exploring our faith tradition so that we can adapt it to our own time and place and have something meaningful to pass on to the generations that come after us. The Word is important.
Sermon by Rev. Jenny Carter
June 25, 2017
Based on Ephesians 2:17-22
How do you know you are home? That might sound like a foolish question, but it actually lies at the heart of our exploration of today’s faith stream. How do we know we are home?
This past Thursday, after work, I jumped in to my car and drove to Lac la Hache to celebrate, with the rest of my family and a large group of friends, my Mom’s 80th birthday. The party took place at my daughter and son-in-law’s house. The house is new to them, since they have only lived there about a year. My Mom moved to a small house on their property the past November. So, it’s new to her as well. Yet as soon as I got there I knew I was home.
How did I know I was home? I knew because the people I love the most in this world were all there – even my sister who rarely ventures out of her West Kootenay home. I knew because as we worked to shop for the party food, cook the party food, tend the children who still had needs despite the busyness of the adults in their lives, set up the food stations, mow the lawn, and decorate the yard, I could feel that this was all in the service of love. We gathered together as family to celebrate my Mom and her 80th birthday. It seemed like a good excuse to celebrate her, and the love we all share.
Yet there is one other reason that new house in Lac la Hache felt like home. As we sat around drinking our mimosas, coke zeros and copious amounts of water because of how hot it was, I knew I was home because of the stories that were shared – the stories that began with, “Do you remember the time when…”. We would all listen to a story any one of us could have told because most of us had been there and we knew each one of them by heart – and we all would inevitably laugh at the punchline – because a family story remembered in love brings joy. The stories connected us, the shared memories connected us, not just to one another, but also to those in our family who have died, most notably my Dad and my brother, my aunts and my uncles. Though they were not physically present with us, they sure were in spirit. Through the sharing of those stories I knew I was home and, once again, I felt myself giving thanks for the collection of wonderful, odd ball, loving, and fun people that are my family. They are my home and home is everything.
It is this sense of “knowing home” that we need to carry with us as we explore another theological stream that exists in this place. Today we are going to talk about the ecclesial stream. First it might prove helpful to define the word “ecclesia”. Ecclesia is a feminine noun used to describe an assembly, congregation, a church and THE Church universal. It is often used to describe the whole body of Christian believers. Yet it means more than that too. The term ecclesia also has an additional meaning of “to call”. For us, it is a call out of the world, and a call to God.
So, being called out of the world, and being called to communities of faith, means that when we gather together we are very much like a family. We have been called together for the purposes of love and service. We have a common theme, a common purpose, a common language. When we remember our stories, like the ones we find in the Bible, we find our common ancestry and it adds resonance and meaning to our lives. Just like the stories shared at my Mom’s birthday party. Our common faith stories all help in our seeking of God, and how to be faithful, because our ancestors have been this way before, and no matter the twists and turns of their lives, God was there for them, and so we know God will be here for us. God is faithful. And we, too, seek to be faithful to God.
When you hear the phrase “Body of Christ” either in the bible or in worship, it is a clue that we have slipped in to the ecclesial stream. By remembering that we are a part of Christ’s body, we are reminding ourselves that we are the most faithful to God when we are in service to the world. Our task as a church being as open and welcoming to others as God has been to us. This is what the reading from Ephesians is all about. As the Body of Christ, we remember that Jesus preached peace to those “far away” and to those “who were near.” So, whether we are insiders or feel like outsiders, this peace, this fellowship, this family, is ours.
The Ephesians reading also gives us a lot of insight into this stream. In this reading, we hear about how we come together, a rather oddball grouping of people who might not choose to be together, or have any reason to be together, if it were not for seeking to be faithful to God. We come together and allow ourselves to be built into a holy temple, temple, a church, a body, that seeks to serve the purposes of love in the world. We do this with, in, and through its gathered community who is always seeking to know God.
Now for a little bit of polyfocalconspectus – the brilliant part of this stream is its ability to connect the life-giving traditions of our ancestors in the faith with our own. In this stream, the notion that we inherited a living tradition and it is our responsibility to pass on a living tradition – that’s the letting ourselves be built into a temple bit – is paramount. We spend a lot of time exploring our faith tradition so that we can adapt it to our own time and place and have something meaningful to pass on to the generations that come after us. The Word is important. We study the bible and we raise up proclamation of that Word through preaching ministries. The Word is what connects each generation of believers. It is of critical importance. But the sacraments are also key. They help us come together and acknowledge God’s grace in our lives. They are a communal experience of God’s faithful presence with us. In fact, in this stream, since our ultimate goal is to teach faithfulness to God – Creator, Christ, and Spirit – we do that teaching through worship, service, attention to creeds (or what the church believes) and sacrament.
This is a life-giving stream for us here since the traditions on which our faith is built helps provide the vessel for love and service in our own time, by empowering its people to be loving, faithful, and in service to the needs of the world. Our ecclesial practices give us a framework in which the work of passing on our living tradition in relevant ways can be achieved.
The shadow side of this stream, however, can be deadly to the passing on of the faith tradition of which we are a part. The shadow side of this stream is consumerism. Not just the consumerism that is so prevalent in our world today – where the accumulation of “stuff” becomes the point of living – but the kind of consumerism that can be experienced when our times of worship become the point of our existence. We, as members of the body of Christ, do not exist so that we can worship. We exist to be a vessel of love and service in the world. Yet when the ecclesial stream slips in to shadow, it all becomes about the one hour “live event” on Sunday morning. It becomes about the “right way” to pray, the “right way” to arrange the liturgy, the “right way” to dress, and the “right way” to sing. And in this shadow place, people will give generously of their lives when all the right ways are followed, but will retreat when they are not.
We are called to a broader sense of living as the body of Christ. Worship, at its best, connects the past to the present so that we might live in to the future. Worship at its best teaches us about God and God’s faithfulness to the unfolding generations. Worship, at its best connects us to one another. It connects us not just to the people sitting along-side of us, but the generations that came before who showed us the paths they followed so that we might find our own and connects us to the generations that come after us. They too are a focus of our concern and care.
When you entered the sanctuary this morning, and the lights were dimmed, and the symbols of our faith – the cross, the font, the communion table, the pulpit and the scarlet red, the colour of Spirit – were highlighted. I hope you took a moment: a moment to reflect on how those rich symbols of our communal faith fed your spirit, and how it felt to be part of a long line of faithful people who know God and who seek to be in the service of love to all generations. You took a moment to know that by looking at these symbols you knew you were home, that you belong, and that you are loved.
May it be so in your life and in mine.