BEACHES PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
“Home by Another Way”
The Rev. Matthew McKay
Isaiah 49: 1-7; Psalm 40: 1-12; 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9; John 1: 29-42
May my words and our thoughts be in the name of God;
+the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. -Amen.
Oh, how soon they grow up!
One day, they are just little bindles of joy...you know being adored by mysterious Magi...
The next thing you know, they are 30-something and being hailed as the Messiah by prophets and disciples...
This week, Jesus is all grown up and full of questions; questions like, “What are you looking for?”
How is that for an Epiphany-season question?
“What are you looking for?”
I wonder what my answer would be? I wonder what yours might be too.
Having passed through the Sunday of Epiphany to the season after Epiphany, we are now once again in the green season of growth and vitality. In this second round of “Ordinary Time” we are invited even more deeply and completely into the ongoing mystery of the Epiphany--seeking, finding, and seeing clearly.
This year, as Easter falls on its latest possible date, our green season is extra long-- abundant time for encountering abundant grace; perhaps as never before.
This Epiphany, I have really experienced an epiphany. Between you and me--it is about time!
For as long as I have been an inhabitant of “church land” (these 31 winters) I have experienced Epiphany as kind of a poor cousin of Christmas, a quaint and silent tableau; a “still-life” in every sense of the term.
This year, though, things were very different. I was knocked down on the mat with a great “POW!” by something very powerful.
This year, Epiphany got to me.
Epiphany got to me even through a nasty case of “the Januaries” as I was getting back into the swing of things.
I had gone searching, as I often do, in one of my great Christian treasure-chests--the Church of Scotland's prayer book.1
When trying to find just the right prayer for Epiphany Sunday, I found not a prayer, but an answer to prayer.
Here is the punch that knocked me down with grace unlooked for: (We prayed this together just last Sunday).
before your infant form sages bowed the knee and acknowledged your lordship over all power and wisdom. Grant us also clear vision and courage, that in the light of your light we may devote our power and potential to your service, even when that requires us to go home by another way. Amen.2
You see, I had always focused on the coming of the Magi-- “We three kings...” and all that.
I had never before considered the notion of going home--home to where we truly belong--but by another way--as part of the essence of Epiphany.
Home is always home, but the way there can sometimes take the form of a new and exciting adventure.
What is our home? Where is our home? Where do we belong? AND to echo Jesus', “What are we looking for?”
I'm speaking here, not of postal codes and real-estate--not even of culture and kin. I am speaking to you (and to myself) as disciples. I'm speaking here to us all as baptized Christians.
Where is our true home?
Is not the most perfect and timely answer to that question found in the text of the reading from the Prophet Isaiah this morning?
Who are we? Where is our home? Let's listen once again:
(I change the language slightly)
Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The LORD called [US] before [WE] [WERE] born,
while [WE WERE] in [OUR] mother's womb he named [US].
He made [OUR] mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid [US];
he made [US] a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid [US] away.
And he said to [US], "You are my servant[S],
Israel, in whom I will be glorified."
But [WE] said, "[WE] have labored in vain,
[WE] have spent [OUR] strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely [OUR] cause is with the LORD,
and [OUR] reward with God."
And now the LORD says,
who formed [US] in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for [WE ARE] honored in the sight of the LORD,
and [OUR] God has become [OUR] strength-- he says,
"It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to ones [DISCOURAGED, LONGING FOR MORE]
"Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the LORD, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."
That is our home. Far from real-estate, post code, or address, our home is God and the call of God; loved into being as we are.
Our truest identity is: baptized servants of God called to life and ministry. But, in a way, even that isn't enough--God says that we are to be light to the world.
We are the living, breathing Church. We are called of God to great things.
It is my belief, as your Minister, that it is high time that we--Beaches Presbyterian Church--began to go home....
...to go home to our truest place,
that we may be our most authentic selves,
as God's holy Church---alive in Ministry and liberated from the Babylonian captivity of “building maintenance” and “numbers.”3
I believe that 2011 is the beginning of a new era for this church and that we are being called to go home to where we have always been, but by a different way.
I can remember feeling, in my last parish, that it was time for a move. But I can also remember feeling terribly frustrated, though, because I didn't really know where that move would, should, or could take me--I couldn't see it clearly laid out.
My wife, my greatest help and love that she is, went on the PCC website and said--”Did you know that there is place called “Beaches” that is vacant in Toronto?”
“Beaches!?” I said, “Beaches?...” (very dramatically with an up-turned accent, as you do.)
I knew Beaches' excellent reputation very well--and I felt that it was far beyond the likes of me. My wife rightly knew that it represented all that I had always wanted and worked for in Ministry---she encouraged me and encouraged me to apply and embrace the adventure.
Yes...she was very right. But I couldn't see all the steps nicely laid out...I was afraid of an unknown future. I needed to get over that.
But, I listened to the encouraging and I got over my fear of the unknown. And now I am home, right here with you, but by another way.
Coming to Beaches, I discovered all the great things I had heard about and then some!
I discovered gifts, the likes of which I had never imagined possible in a congregation.
There is so much wisdom and talent in this congregation. There are so many people, young and old; new and established who are capable of such amazing things!
The way you people are--your way of being the Church is so refreshing and “right-on!”
There is a Session here that works so hard and so creatively--putting Ministry and openness above formality and legalism.
There is a treasurer and a finance committee here that works so hard to hasten a day when finances will not be a stumbling block.
There is a property committee here that works so hard with almost nothing--constantly dipping into their own pockets just to help get the building by.
There are Christian educators here who are passionate about teaching and spiritual formation. They love what the do and they love the ones for whom they do it.
There is a music ministry here that redefines both talent and diversity. What other church have you experienced where you can be silent as a monk at vespers as a Latin motet is sung, and then find yourself clapping your hands and stomping your feet as children bang tambourines and sing a Bob Marley tune--appropriate for the day?
I mean, people just pop-up from the congregation with a cello, a recorder, an electric bass, an African drum, a violin, a double bass, a harmonica, drums, a voice...a lute so big you could shoot rapids in it!
There are people here who are worn out from helping refugees and they want to be worn out again! And...again...because that is their passion.
There are people here who go out to boarding homes to bring light into darkness and spread the good news that in God, we have intrinsic and infinite worth and value.
There are people here with gifts for hospitality--creating opportunities for our fellowship to continue after the service has ended.
There is a great nursery program here that sees its role in the potential this church tries to actualize.
There is a renewed passion for outreach into our community here and being for our neighbours--all of them.
There is a spirit...there is the Holy Spirit here...cultivating a culture of openness, creativity, imagining, flexibility, inclusivity and welcome that I have not seen in any other church.
There are people here (all kinds of faithful people from many different places)--who are glad they have come--people who have found something that they can't quite describe-- but something that enables them to be in communion with God--something that moves them to extend God's love outward...
I'm only just getting started....
There is so much here--it ought not be held back, nor its light dimmed.
Yes, coming to Beaches, I have seen such gifts--I keep seeing them and experiencing them every day. Carpenters, illustrators, painters, handy-persons, people willing to try anything and meet a challenge head on.
Just listen to what our witnessing stewards have spoken of. Do you remember Marlene's inspiring talk? It was all about relationships, discipleship, friendship, and offering out of love.
BUT, (in addition to all of this) I also see in your eyes and hear in your voices the frustration of being perpetually behind a big brick “8-Ball” called “the building.”4
We want to be “there” engaged in 100% ministry--boarding homes, refugees, our neighbours, and beyond....we want to be there...way out there with Jesus Christ, but the building keeps standing in our way, blocking the path saying,
“Oh no you don't! FIRST you have to deal with me...you always have to deal with me and I've brought a friend along that worships the ground I walk on--?finances.' Aren't we scary?”
Almost like the school-yard bully that knocks you down and takes your lunch money, this depression-era...depression, keeps knocking us down on our way to follow the risen Christ.
Every which way we turn--the building and some impossible structural need. Every penny...to the building, without much to show for it. This doesn't work, that is leaking, the roof has failed here and there, mould, mildew, stained glass about to fall out unless huge sums of money we don't have are spent and spent and spent. And...there is still a mortgage!
We never seem to have money or space for what we are truly called to do and be because of the building. Of course we have history here.
Of course we have a love for “place.” We can honour that. But we have a calling that transcends past or place---ministry is our calling and it knows no bounds.5
The passion, the energy, the spirit and the people of Beaches can be the church anywhere.
So, Jesus says, what are you looking for?
We have found the Messiah--and we want to follow. What if we just ran with that and said “goodbye” to this building.
*Now, don't misunderstand me--lest anyone be spooked. I am talking about a gradual process of intentional visioning and imagining a brighter and more lively future for this bright and lively church. Presbyterians don't know the word “sudden.”
All I wish to do is to be true to my vows and to“Tend the flock of God that is in my care.” Sometimes that means taking on a prophet's mantle and daring to look up with the binoculars, saying, “Let's all have a look and compare notes.”6
Is 2011 the year where we all gather together and say, “Where shall we be in __ years and how will we get there?” I believe that it is. With all the talent and ability in this room right now, let alone in the wider community, we can go home by another way.
*Epiphany has led me to ask: “If we are always and everywhere saying 'we can't____ because of the building' (or) 'We can't_____because the many renters we have taken on just to make ends-meet need the space' (or) 'We can't ___ because the building needs such massive repairs that are light-years beyond our finances;' (or) 'The physical location and state of the building keeps us unknown to those we would wish to welcome....' If almost all impediments are building or building related --why can't the true, living, and wonderful community that is Beaches live to the glory of God IN sOME OTHER ENVIRONMENT that doesn't bleed it dry of human and monetary resources?”7
(Knock on the stone wall) This is NOT Beaches.8 (Walk around the nave reaching out to each person) THIS is beaches--alive and very well indeed, ready to serve passionately.
The more people I talk to, the more I find that we are all so excited about ministry here. We want to do great things. I have found that people here don't want to be faithful--they ARE faithful! We have a tremendous heart for Christ's gospel--let's let it live and bless the world!
Everyone (bar none) has said to me at some point (in some way) since my induction-- “Oh, ugggg, the building...” I can feel the despair viscerally. It is like a ghost that haunts our dreams for vibrant and thriving ministry.
When I first met with the search committee, I asked them what they felt were the key problems/issues facing the church. They were very clear and very brave in saying, “The building is our single biggest concern and it affects absolutely everything else.”
BUT, more powerfully and viscerally than that despair, I can feel the life here and the excited desire for something more. I can feel a readiness.
Over the past many months, Heather (one of our Elders and our representative Elder to Presbytery) and I have participated in some gatherings called by our Presbytery to discuss “Congregational Health and Viability” within our Presbytery.
In plain language, it is Ministers and Elders getting together and collectively losing the will to live. Honestly, they are only missing some cold drizzle...and then the picture would be complete.
Heather and I seem to among the few who have something positive to say about our particular church. We very gladly say that there is such life here--such creativity and openness.
As I look around our Presbytery and our country, this living breathing family that we name “Beaches Presbyterian Church” is desperately needed as a leader. It's life and presence make a difference. Beaches has something critically important to give.
Our building keeps us poor.
Our building is beyond any notion of maintenance.9
Our building keeps us from doing the work of ministry to which we were called in the ways we feel called.
Our building is out of the way and is unnoticed--it keeps this vital and beautiful community a secret.
Our building takes too much time and devotion that ought to be offered to God.
Our building makes us full-time landlords and part-time disciples. Our building tells untruths about us. You know, that we are NOT vibrant and welcoming; that we are falling apart and shabby--almost dead, in fact. (That is not so!)
This Christmas I heard so many say, “There is such life and goodness here--so many wonderful things and such great potential. BUT we are a secret--no one knows that we are here, tucked away off the main street. If people could just come in and get past the outside--then they could experience the truth.”
WE ARE A TUXEDO...
OUR BUILDING AND LOCATION ARE A PAIR OF BROWN SHOES...10
When I was a Divinity student at Knox College, I was elected as the student representative to the college's Board of Governors.
Even as a student, it was no secret that the college was in trouble. A beautiful gothic building with stones and arches constantly needing repair; a roof that couldn't seem to ever repel water; space that was impossible to heat efficiently, and a shrinking roster of professors and programs--and the list went on and on...while our fees kept going up and up.
Scaffolding always covered some part of the college--work never seemed to stop and it never seemed to be affordable. Students were often kept out of their college spaces on occasion because some movie company had rented out the space for filming. The college had to do that; trying in vain to keep up.
One weekend, the board held a retreat at Glenview Presbyterian Church and the principal spoke at length about the building and how it was really affecting theological education in the worst ways.
The money was running out, we could barely keep up, the repairs cost millions--the building, the building, the building...
That weekend, all roads led to the building and the unending related costs that were killing educational life...
UNTIL... one Minister put up his hand. He was a 25 year graduate of the college and very well respected on the board. He said, “I have a solution--sell the building. If the building has become such a liability and is destroying what we are actually here to do (educate clergy to serve God's church) then let's sell it. We could successfully run the college anywhere! We could run it out of a suite of offices and still be here on the U of T campus--right where we want and need to be.”
Well, nobody took him too seriously. The building was not sold and I continue to get mailings all the the time saying, “Dear alumnus, Please, please we have no money--the costs, the costs--more money, more money!”
That Minister dared to ask: Is the college's reason to be--to employ stone masons and slate roof fitters? Boiler technicians? Armies of staff to send out “please give more money” mailings or is it meant to be something else?
For Beaches: Is the solution to give more and more money or is it to broaden our understanding of what “stewardship” means and work smart?
Are we charged with getting more people in here to get more money to just keep on keeping on? Or are we charged with growing for God's glory? Growing as a sideeffect of putting ministry to the suffering world FIRST?
Whom do we follow; Jesus Christ, or the building?
If Epiphany is all about seeing clearly: What is our reason to be the church in this place called “the Beach?”11
Are we, as God's family and Christ's Church in this place done worshipping at the alter of building and property and maintenance? Are we ready for more? You know, are we ready for what eye has not seen, nor ear heard...?12
Yes, I think that we are.
What's more, I think the “yes” to our true home and calling has already begun. I believe that it actually began (the “yes!”) when The Rev. Drew Strickland and a visionary congregation turned the pews around and got us to see what is truly important:
TABLE/MEAL (Jesus Christ with us!)
AND...PEOPLE...PEOPLE! The image of God living and breathing--Christ in you, the hope of all glorious things to come.13
These things can be anywhere. They do not need a building with crazy overhead.14
When we turned around to see what was truly important, we began to say “yes” to the call of God and “farewell” to the idol of building.
With our Annual Meeting a few weeks away, we would do well to remember the words of our Lord Jesus on the subject of what the Church needs:
“He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff, no bread no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”15
“Sell all that you have and distribute the money to the poor--then come and follow me.”16
Nothing there about worrying about a roof or a boiler.
The list of what the church actually needs is astonishingly brief and simple.17
There is another Epiphany today. One without magi and frankincense.
It is the Epiphany of John the Baptist saying to anyone who would listen, “Hey! Hey! Look here! This is that person I was telling you about in the prologue to St. John's gospel. Are you going to follow him? Come, see clearly! Come, see clearly!”
Some people do see him--really see him and say, “We have found the Messiah!”
What a journey from “What are you looking for” to “We have found!”
WE HAVE FOUND...
In 2011, I believe that this is the journey God has set before us: To begin the journey from: “What are we looking for?” to “We have found...”
That takes courage, imagination, creativity, and determination. Good news! We already have those things! We have what we need in those departments--and we have it in abundance.
This sermon has gone on far too long and you have all been so very indulgent (or very Mennonite).
I'll conclude with this:
Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner once said,
"The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done....The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
Instead of round and round the building and bad numbers, having our ideas and passions stopped before they have even started...
Imagine, our deep gladness meeting the world's deep hunger.
Now THAT sounds like Beaches to me.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, let it be so.
1 The Church of Scotland Prayer Book: It has always been a true and abiding friend on my journey, and like any good friend, it keeps challenging me and surprising me. It keeps encouraging me to aim high and reach even higher when I feel a bit “ho-hum” about my faith.
2 Church of Scotland, The Book of Common Order (3rd Ed.). Pg. 431
Edinburg: The Saint Andrew Press, 2005.
3 Martin Luther “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church” published in October 1520. One of Luther's three greatest treatises on reforming the Church. I use this powerful image as Beaches often seems to be held back by the incredible needs of the building and physical plant. So often, we want to do (x) but we are unable, because too many resources have been taken up by the bricks and mortar etc...
4 For me, this is a pastoral concern. This is what I hear my people and their committees worrying about. This is what they speak to me directly and openly. In many ways, all of this has been an exercise in “observe and report.”
5 Please understand, this is in no way to diminish or dishonour our history here. It is also not a slight against our brilliant design for our sacred space of church “in the round.” This excellent design could be kept in a different and more viable environment.
6 The Presbyterian Church in Canada, The Book of Common Worship (1991 Ed.) Pg. 337 Toronto: PCC, 1991. [This is taken from 1st Peter 5: 2-3]
7 That question is deliberately left open: What would that other environment be? Let's work on this together!
8 While I was rehearsing the sermon in the sanctuary this week, I wanted to practice this physical movement--banging on the wall and saying “This is not Beaches.” When I did so, I could hear a hail-storm of bits and debris come crashing down inside the wall! My point was well made.
9 “Maintenance” implies something stable enough that it may reasonably be maintained or repaired. Beaches' physical concerns involve re-builds. We would not keep driving a car that cost us thousands of dollars each year to maintain--we would take action based on cost/benefit.
10 That one is straight from Bob Hope.
11 German thologian Jurgen Moltmann writes, “The Church's first word is always Christ--not 'church.'”
12 1st Corinthians 2:9
13 Colossians 1:27
14 We should remember Paul's letter to Philemon. Paul greets “the church in [his] house.” It is not the other way around. “Church” seems to be a dynamic living thing that transcends physical place.
15 Mark 6:8
16 Luke 18:22
17 When we sit in the sanctuary, we can see all that we need.