… for today, let’s simply remember that faith comes first, theology is always second, and as a body, a faith community with such diversity, we need to honour the faith of those sitting with us. Because when all is said and done, it is the faith we carry deep within us that is our common home. Faith is bigger than theology.
Rev. Jenny Carter
July 2, 2017
Based on Luke 4:14-21
Today we wade in to the third theological stream – the missional one. Once again, we will be exploring how those of us who swim in this life-giving stream view God’s agency – or how God works – what that divine work looks like, what the church’s project or work is to be – and how that shapes our identity as Christians – as it answers the questions of what’s in it for me – the individual believer – and what gift is this church work to the world. We’ve done that for the evangelical and ecclesial streams, and after today we will be doing it for the ecumenical and spiritual streams as well.
But first two things. While we all swim in more than one stream, or resonate with a couple of different theologies, there will be one stream that speaks to us more than others. And when we are in this stream, when worship is in this stream, we feel good because it feels so right. When the songs and the prayers and the sermon proclaim God in the ways that speak so deeply to us. It feels right because it touches that deep faith place within us. And it is right. Yet, we need to remember our stream is not the only theological stream in the church. There is no one right way but a myriad of “right ways” or right theologies. The other thing we need to remember is that there are times when we will recoil in disgust and horror at some of the notions of those theologies not our own. While I’m going to speak about this more in August, for today, let’s simply remember that faith comes first, theology is always second, and as a body, a faith community with such diversity, we need to honour the faith of those sitting with us. Because when all is said and done, it is the faith we carry deep within us that is our common home. Faith is bigger than theology.
Since we are exploring the missional stream today, I want to begin with a story about a minister, a fight, and the day the United Church broke my Mom’s heart. It was probably 1967 – but since I was a little kid, and keeping track of such details was not a big deal in my little world – it could have been the year before or after. Either way, it was a day that shook my world. It changed a lot of things for my family.
Growing up my family attended the United Church. We lived in Brocklehurst, a suburb of Kamloops, and it was a great place to live. Back then it was Kamloops’ answer to the question “what on earth are we going to do with these baby boomers?” These thousands of children and their parents needed a place to live, so by pushing roads into orchards and building houses as fast as they could. Brocklehurst was born.
A few Brocklehurst people got together and started a United Church. We met at the Brocklehurst Community Hall. It was the same place that I took tap dancing lessons on Monday, and where my brother met for Cub Scouts on Wednesday, became our church on Sunday. It was a wonderful congregation! In fact, I credit it with helping me discover my call to ministry at 6. This faith community knew how to be church! They did all the typical stuff all churches did. They had rummage sales, and pot-luck dinners, and Sunday school, and church picnics, and of course church services on Sunday. But, at its core, was a sense that they needed to care for their neighbours. To look after those in our neighbourhood who were struggling to make ends meet regardless of whether they ever crossed the church’s threshold on a Sunday. I remember my Mom and some of the other moms, picking out the best of the donated clothes, taking them home and mending or re-sewing them into a more modern style, and then washing and ironing them before they took them to someone’s house whose children needed them. I remember sitting in the car as my Mom dropped off food hampers, or a few dollars so that some child could have a Cub Scout or Brownie uniform. When someone in the neighbourhood suffered a loss – these good people were there – always – doing what they could to meet the needs of those who were struggling.
While I for sure didn’t have the words for it then, the church of my childhood was firmly embedded in the missional stream. My Mom especially was. As poet Maya Angelou would say, my Mom grew up the hard way. While her parents did the best they could with the light they had. For my Mom, that light was not always sufficient, since it meant of a lot of family instability – a lot of being “shipped off” to a stranger’s house to be cared for while her parents “got back on their feet”, or found a home, or saw if the latest job was going to work out. The kindness and compassion of strangers helping in times of desperation was something my Mom held close to her heart. For her, it was more than just nice people doing good works – it was her salvation.
Then one day, it all changed. While I know that there are always at least two sides to any argument – I can only tell how my Mom experienced it. I will spare you the details –suffice it to say that our little Brocklehurst United Church decided to amalgamate with the one in north Kamloops – and they had to decide what to do with all the money they had raised. There was a lot of back and forth, but it all came down to these words – my Mom said it should go to help the poor – to which the minister replied, “Mrs. Ewen, there are no poor people in the United Church, to which my Mom replied, “And you don’t think that is a problem?”
I tell this story for a couple of reasons. First, to share in story form what the missional stream looks like. God works through and with Christ’s disciples, regular people who identify with being sent to fulfill Christ’s mission in the world – which is to help those in need – through concrete actions. Concrete real-time help. If you’re hungry, you will be fed. If you are naked, you will be clothed. If you are lonely or captive by grief, you will be visited. That was my little Brocklehurst congregation for sure. They exemplified, at least in my memory, Jesus’ words and actions that we heard from this morning’s passage from Luke.
It’s like many of us here too. In this room we have many, many people who seek to care, in tangible ways, for those in need. We have Rotarians who do such good work both locally and globally. We have people who work at Salvation Army programs, people who give countless hours to the Thrift Store and to Second Harvest. We have people who will shovel their elderly neighbours drive way in winter and mow their lawns in summer. And, who among us has not given a few dollars to a pan handler or prepared a casserole for a grieving family? This is what it is to be in the missional stream. We help those in need.
The second reason I tell this story (aside from my immense pride in my Mom who was a feisty woman back in the day when the world didn’t trust or condone feisty women) is that when two theological streams collide – people can not only be hurt, but they can lose their church and their faith. And that is a tragedy. My Mom and that particular minister were arguing theology – whose was right – which made the other person, naturally, wrong. How I wish they had been able to see the deep faith that gave rise to their theological language. It would have changed things I think. My family lost a lot when we lost our church community. My Mom especially. Although when we gather as a family we often laugh at the cosmic joke that one of her children is now a United Church minister!
The missional stream is a wonderfully life-giving stream. Yet it, like all the others, has a shadow side. The shadow side here is one of naiveté. A certain innocence when it comes to serving people who find themselves in great need. We assume if people just had the food, or the clothes, or those few dollars then their problems will be fixed. This is most often not the case. There are systemic and personal issues that a simple meeting of needs cannot possibly address. Yet if you’ve ever met a truly hungry person, or a person with no shoes, or a person with no home, how can we, in good faith, refuse them? We can’t.
Yet we cannot ever assume that what we give will “fix” anything. If we do, if we ever find ourselves thinking that this helping hand work is all that we need to be about, or we begin to think that after a person has been fed and housed they should “act better” or “be better” (which is rather judgmental of us when we do this), then we have slipped into shadow. We need those in the ecumenical and evangelical stream to help pull us back to the light; the one through their social justice work that seeks to change whole systems, and the one who will walk with those in great need for as long as it takes for them to do what they need to do to pull their lives together.
You see, it takes us all to live in the light. Each stream, each person, being the best disciple they can be, the most faithful they can be, so that God’s work of love, transforming love might be known. We truly are the hands and feet of Christ. And we are called to be a part of God’s work in this world.
May it be so in your life and in mine.