Stay in the Transfiguration a Moment

Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 9:2-9; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

This story is splat in the middle of the Gospel of Mark. It’s at the beginning of chapter 9 of a 16 chapter book and without actually counting the verses, I’d say that about as central as you can get. In fact, it is so central to the story, that some people think it’s Mark’s description of the Resurrection that got moved to the middle for editorial reasons, and the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke copied the literary choice as well as including their more expansive resurrection accounts as a fitting and hopeful endnote to the story.

If you’re wondering why someone on the editorial board of the Gospel of Mark (probably the author) wanted it in the middle instead of the end I can’t tell you for sure. All I can offer is my opinion which is that the open ending of Mark that has the man in white telling the three women to tell Peter and the others Jesus had been raised and they should go to Galilee and Jesus would meet them there and they were terrified – that ending was hopeful, but uncertain. It was an invitation to action, and Mark’s is the Action Gospel, so it makes sense to end there.

Still we need something to sustain us and that is this – this revelation to a few disciples. Like the revelation at his baptism that voice that Jesus heard, the Spirit that descended like a dove, only to those most necessary to keep the faith and stay strong and believe that Jesus is who they have found him to be: the embodiment of the Law and the Prophets, Beloved Son of God, the Messiah, the one who will lead them to freedom.

They’re going to need that. Not later. Now.

If this was a traditional Methodist 4 hour sermon, we could unpack all that as it was then, has been understood over the ages and may be deconstructed for today’s context, but we have our mountains to go up and slide down so can’t do that. We can’t stay here forever.

Which is often, maybe normally, what we get from this sermon.

It would be AWESOME to stay up the mountain and bask in the glory of Jesus and Moses and Elijah and be as close as we can handle to the face of God.

We just can’t. We have to go down the mountain and discuss theology and heal people and argue church politics and worry about the end and recontextualize the scriptures, challenge the rich and powerful, and wonder what the resurrection looks like these days. And that’s just chapters 9 and 10.

No wonder Peter wants to create temporary permanent housing for the three great figures of his faith. It’s the light of Jesus as Messiah shining out of the darkness of deny yourself and take up your cross if you want to follow me.

Peter needs that mountain. We need that mountain.

We do – absolutely – need to go back to the plain. And we will. But for now, we need that mountain and the memory of that glory to sustain us through the cross and the self-denial and the arguments and the uncertainty and the overwhelming task in front of us. Don’t give up the mountain.

For parents that mountain can take the form of seeing their children sleeping like the babies they were after a long day of needs and runny noses. For lovers it might be make up sex. For someone dispirited by their job it could be that one encounter that brings them back to why they saw in this line of work the sense that were engaged in a ministry that mattered.

For us a time like that was when Craig Perry came and preached a sermon that reminded us of the kind of church we envisioned and have worked to build and what that meant to him and how important it is to Christianity.

We need these moments. Moments when we behold the glory of God and are enveloped in its vision defying glow.

On a good day, those moments can transform us.

Transformation, by the way, is not the same as transfiguration. Jesus was transfigured as his true nature – glorious, rooted in faith, beloved son of God, Messiah – was revealed to Peter, James and John. Peter, James and John were transformed – remade as disciples into people with a deeper understanding of what was going on. Perhaps more hopeful. Maybe more committed.

We are unlikely to be transfigured. We get glimpses in the sleeping children, the make up sex, the work that is also a calling that remind us of the true nature of love and service, but the kind of things that Peter, James and John saw on that mountain is rare. But like Peter, like all of them, we can be transformed when we are able to reconnect to the heart of what we hold dearest and prize most highly.

In this story, Peter, James and John, and anyone who heard the story after, even us, reconnect to that sense that they had when Jesus said “Follow me” – that something amazing and holy and life-giving and salvational was going on.

And beyond that, there is one who calls us to become much more than we know ourselves to be or ever realized we could be. Bask in THAT for a while.

Clean and Faithful

Clean and Faithful

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-27

Just before sitting down to start the first final draft of this sermon, I cleaned the bathroom, putting all the towels and mats into the washing machine with hot water for maximal sanitizing effect. I even polished the mirror. As you probably know, cleaning the bathroom is the cleaning job with the shortest job satisfaction time because as soon as it’s cleaned you need to brush your teeth, go the bathroom, wash your hands or do something to mar the perfect shiny surfaces. Even so, as I stepped back to admire my work I felt a tremendous sense of goodness. Why?

Because cleanliness is next to godliness.

I was not raised as a neat freak and I’m not one now unless you ask Rowan right after I’ve bugged her to put something away for the umpteenth time. And I know that God is no more present in my freshly vacuumed rug – even if I take the time to make sure all the vacuum lines go in the same direction – than in my dog hair, dog toy and general disorder covered rug.

But cleanliness is still next to godliness.

This is an Old Testament ideal. And I say Old Testament instead of Hebrew Scriptures because it’s not a faithful reflection of the real underlying theological principle which is that as things get more chaotic they get further from God. Chaos is not the same as untidiness. And it’s not really further from God it just becomes harder to find God in the unpredictability and threats to life that are all around.

We no longer believe that I was closer to God on Friday morning at 10 a.m. when my bathroom was pristine than I am now after two days of use or than I was on Friday morning at 9:30.

All of which is to say that when we consider the man with the unclean spirit, we need to be very careful and about saying that man with that unclean spirit had a mental illness. Because the unclean spirit – we can tell this from the word “unclean” – was something that kept that man from God. It meant he was unholy, profane even, and we need to watch our language because for most of us in some way clean is more holy than unclean. It might not be house, it might be habits – like eating healthily is more pleasing to God and respectful of the life God gives us than eating unhealthily. Is eating healthy foods in moderation better than eating unhealthy foods, eating too much or eating too little? Yes. Does it make us more holy? I doubt it. And if it does, it’s probably for some other underlying reason.

Does going to church make us more holy than not people who don’t go to church or than ourselves on days when we don’t go to church? No. But it does connect us intentionally and communally to what is holy – God, God’s teachings, God’s holiness, God’s glory, God’s presence in our community and in our lives. Yes, we can do it at home, but there is something about reaching out to God together that is more profound and more satisfying.

And again, I’m back to the man in the synagogue, the man with the unclean spirit. The unclean spirit in him made him unholy and unfit to be in the synagogue. It is astonishing that he was there. Did they know he had an unclean spirit but chose to include him anyways or had he been able to hide it from those around him? Did the man himself recognize that there was something in him that didn’t belong? Or did that unclean spirit only manifest in that moment?

We have no idea and we have no way of knowing. What we do know is that when Jesus came in with him authoritative teaching, the unclean spirit recognized that Jesus represented a threat to the community: “‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’

Not me. Us. Later on, Jesus meets another man who lives in a graveyard and is so unpredictable and frightening that the community has tried to chain him and when Jesus asks his name, he says “My name is Legion; for we are many.” But before that, when he saw Jesus approaching he yelled, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ (Mark 5:1-13). Jesus can change me. But Jesus can also start by changing us.

I feel like all I do is talk about grammar but do you notice? The man with so many unclean spirits that their name is Legion, which means 20 000, says “me” and the man with the unclean spirit, implying one, says “us”.

I may be reading too much into this but to me that says that the man with the unclean spirit at the very beginning of Jesus’ story recognizes that what Jesus is about to teach – for the next 15 chapters of this story – is a threat to the community. Because Jesus has come to set the values system of the faith that has sustained them for centuries, that they have fought for and died for and struggle to live out day to day, on its head. Not to change it into something different, but to transform it into something unrecognizably the same.

This will call people out of families and society and into danger and new communities. This is the word of a prophet who is trying to reinterpret the Word of God for a new time and a new place. And if you ignore it, it will not go away. It is the Word of God and it must be told. To ignore it is to invite some kind of disaster, spiritual, political, geo-political, social – who knows?

So had Jesus come to destroy the community? Yes. Or no.

Yes. Jesus had come to upset the apple cart and put the horse back in front of it. He had come to call people back (Repent!) into a new way of entering their relationship with God through their relationships with their neighbours. Jesus was offering a sense of wholeness and holiness in every day living that had begun to seem distant. The community could be stronger and more godly than ever. Jesus continues to try to destroy our communities in this way.

No. Jesus had not come to destroy the community. He wanted to restore it. To shore it up. To make it strong in those things that make people and places and societies holy, not in the distractions that let us think we’re holy – like clean bathrooms, church attendance and noticing the faults of others.

God was and is not there for the status quo. Personal interests would not be protected. Illusions about our own special sanctity might tumble around our ears. And while that could make space for more spiritual religion to grow, it would come at the cost of self-image and self-righteousness.

If you want the Oscar nominated movie tie in, go watch The Post, in which the struggle to get an unpleasant but important truth out of the hidden files of the government is a threat to friendships, national self-image and personal freedom. But it’s the truth and it’s a movie so it all turns out.

Jesus’ audience didn’t know the ending. They just knew that what he was saying was new and compelling and had the ring of truth about it. But the man with the unclean spirit also recognized that it held a note of menace. A whole hearted buy in was going to change everything. And the struggle to ignore it could ruin all the carefully constructed patterns that held it all together.

And here we are. We are trying to discover the voices that will tell us God’s will so that we can inhabit the glory of God without being destroyed. We are trying to find a new way to be what we have always been: faithful, inclusive, servant people of God, open minded, open hearted, open armed.

And when when we hear the voice, external or internal, ask “Is this going to destroy us?” we get to wonder together – is what new direction might God be calling us that will destroy us as we know ourselves in order to create something new? or have we become so distracted by false promises and false prophets that we are now at risk of no longer being who we are meant to be?

Wrestling with this stuff is what faith, religion and spirituality are all about. It’s not about how clean we are, how shiny we look or how much we are like our own ideal of a Christian person or a faithful place. It’s the struggle to always be paying attention to that voice of God, that call to obey, to draw closer, to be true to ourselves, our faith and our God-given calling – even when it scares us. Even when it feels like it might destroy us.

Because we are not a people of cleanliness. We are a resurrection people, a people of repentance, grace and new beginnings. And it is only in those things that we find God’s abundant life.

Fishers of Humans

Fishers of Humans

Mark 1:14-20; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Let’s talk about the difference between a noun and a verb.

According to my Harper’s English Grammar, a noun is the name of a person, animal, condition, material, object, place or quality. There are common nouns like church, coffee, irritability or fish and there are proper nouns like Vancouver or Shannon or Anglican.

From the same source, a verb is “a word or a term with which one may make an assertion in regard to action or in regard to state or condition”. I learned a simpler version: a verb is an action word. Although sometimes the action is “to be”. So things like run, sit, think, climb, speak and fish are all verbs.

And there are words that can be both. Like fish.

But never mind fish for the moment. We’ll get to fish.

For now, let’s talk about you. What about you? What are some nouns that apply to you.

First of all there’s your name (or names). What other nouns are you? I tried this on Rowan and it’s harder than it sounds. As a clue these are sentences that start out: I am a….

  • person
  • man/woman
  • (profession – musician, accountant, teacher, nurse…)
  • (hobby like gardener, knitter, singer)
  • (family status – mother, brother, son, grandparent, aunt)

Now what about verbs – what do you do? In fact, what are you doing right now?

  • Sitting, listening, making notes, doodling, texting, tweeting, knitting

Other things you do –

  • Cook, clean, pay bills, walk, run, swim, paint, write….

Now – there’s a difference between what you are and what you do. Except maybe for breathing, what you are you are all the time and what you do, you do while you are doing it.

So you can be an accountant or a retired account but you are still an accountant. It’s how your mind works, it’s the things you notice, it’s the way you like the world to line up. Your mother can be dead or have dementia or be estranged for years but you are still a daughter. You can have too much arthritis to be able to garden much, but your tendency will still be to pull up that weed, to imagine how it would look if that plant were over there and there were some daisies over here. And if you are a real fan, you are fan no matter how badly your team is doing.

But the things you do, you do while you are doing them. You walk for an hour every day at 7:30. You sit while the other thing you do works better sitting. You cook when it’s time to get the meal ready. You listen when there’s something worth listening to . You pay bills before they’re due (probably) but not all day every day.

Do you see the difference? There are things that you are all the time, even when you’re not doing them and there are things you do while you are doing them. I garden but I’m not a gardener. I pay bills but that’s not who I am.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled fishing program.

Do you remember the King James Version of this story?

16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.

Now think about the way we just heard it, in the New Revised Standard Version:

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’

Do you hear the difference? Are we fishers or are we going to fish?

Normally, the New Revised Standard Version is a better translation from the Greek.

However, the New Revised Standard Version also tries really hard to use inclusive language for people. So we get brothers and sisters unless we’re talking about males with a sibling bond (like Andrew the brother of Simon) and we get people unless it’s clearly and specifically men.

Given the number of female followers Jesus had, and welcomed, it seems unlikely that Jesus was really focusing his ministry on males. So the great minds (and I say that with a complete absence of sarcasm) who put together the New Revised Standard Version translation thought they’d make that clear from the get go. They probably tried “fishers of people” and “fishers of folk” and maybe a few other things and eventually decided that they’d better just go with “fish for people”.

So which is it? The proper response at this time is always, “Well what does it say in the original language?”

I’m glad you asked.

It says “fishers”. So Andrew and Simon were fishers of fish and Jesus was going to make them fishers for people.

This is crucial for us and for our understanding of ourselves as people who heard Jesus say “follow  me” and did, because we do not go fishing from 5-7 a.m. on Saturdays, rainy evenings and for a couple of hours on Sunday, longer if the food is good.

We are fishers. We are constantly evaluating our environment to see if the fish are likely to be biting. We carry worms in our pockets and wear funky hats and vests with lots of pockets for those worms.

At this point I need to drop the fishing analogy because it’s getting ridiculous and the idea of baiting and hooking doesn’t really work so well. I can work with worms and hats and now I have to quit.

The worm, by the way, is not the food or the singing or the idea of going to heaven. It’s the story – the story that brings meaning and purpose and hope to our lives, to this community and to the world.

What Jesus was calling them to be was disciples who were going to wander around telling a story. And in that process they would find find others who wanted to be part of that story and follow in that same way. And they were not going to (forgive me) “disciple” from 5-7 a.m. on Saturdays, rainy evenings and for a couple of hours on Sunday, longer if the food is good. They were going to be disciples all the time. 24/7/52. Even when they didn’t really understand what it meant to be a disciple they were still disciples. Even when Jesus was shaking his head at their complete inability to get the simplest concept, they were disciples.

The reading from 1 Corinthians comes from a larger passage about how to live in this world with an allegiance to another world. Here, Jesus tells us in the big picture what Paul attempts to break down to a bunch of smaller pictures. We are here for now. We are disciples for always. It’s who we are and it’s more than just what we do when it works into our schedule. We are disciples.

Precious, Beloved and Called

Precious, Beloved and Called

Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

There are a lot of directions a preacher can take with the Baptism of Jesus. A lot of erudite theological,

homiletical and exegetical points she can make.

And if you pick up a copy of the Bible Background Sheet you’ll get some of those and maybe you’ll like them and want to hear (or preach!) a sermon on them.

Someday.

Today I want to talk about this candle.

This is our candle, that we process in every Sunday in front of the Word,

and the worship leader;

and then place,

front and centre,

on our communion table.

 

This is the Shiloh-Fifth Avenue United Church candle,

representing God in our midst.

Reminding us that once there was a man

who said such amazing things

and did such wonderful things

that people followed him.

But they didn’t know who he was.

One day they asked him and he said “I am the Light”:

the light which was the first act of Creation

when the Spirit of God moved across the the waters,

when all was formless and void.

 

That’s why we have a candle.

We have this candle because we used to have a candle that was a white plastic column with an oil canister insert. When we ran out of oil canisters, Vilma and I were appalled by how much it cost to get more and how much more you had to get as a minimum order. I forget where Vilma pulled this candle from when she said “Let’s use this” and I said “Okay”.

 

The rainbow was obviously a good choice for us –

it fits with our logo,

it fits with our inclusivity,

it reminds us of God’s promise after the flood, of a time when sunshine streams through grey skies after rain.

 

But now it is many years later.

The colours are faded, and they kind of run together.

It’s a little wonky on one side on the bottom.

And the wick started to drown

so Vilma dug out a space

and we stick a tea light in it.

The tea light sometimes runs out during the service.

 

I have suggested that we get a new one.

So have other people.

A nice crisp, maybe white? new one –

fresh and with a wick that works.

One that looks like a church candle.

 

But first Vilma and then Rowan have pointed out –

separately and independently

– that this is theologically unsound.

They ask (indignantly) if I am implying

that only the fresh, the crisp, the beautiful,

the white (metaphorically not racially) (I hope) belong here?

If I am suggesting that anyone who doesn’t fit

the traditional mould

of what a church person looks like isn’t welcome to stay?

 

And they are right.

 

We are not here because of our good looks

and we do not get to stay only as long

as we look or feel beautiful.

We come and we stay even when we are not

fresh and shiny and perfect.

Especially then – this is the place for us.

 

We are here because we fade and blend

and are a little wonky in spots

and sometimes need a little outside help

to be able to shine.

We are here because we are imperfect.

Especially to the wider world.

 

We are here because here we remember

that we are much more

than our tired, wonky, imperfect, un-beautiful bits.

 

We are here because here we remember

that God has made us in all our glorious wonkiness

and because here we can be seen as God sees us:

Beloved,

Precious

Children of God.

 

Here we know that with all of our imperfections,

the light that is God’s first act of creation,

the light in the darkness,

the light that shone through the man who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things,

that light shines in us.

 

And while baptism may be the rite of initiation into the church

it is also intrinsically bound up with these words:

You are my child.

You are my beloved.

You are precious in my sight.

 

 

Baptism is a sacrament.

That means that it is the outward sign

of an inward grace.

That inward grace is in those words

and they are true with or without the water.

They are true even if you cannot imagine

God calling you any of those things.

Because – remember –

God is far beyond our imagining.

So never mind your logic or you life story

or what your parents told you.

Just believe.

 

Just believe and remember what is said at the baptism of Jesus and what is true for us even when it is not said:

 

You are God’s.

You are beloved.

You are beloved.

 

Doubt and Faith

Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-16; Mark 8:31-38

At this point in our Lenten Covenant Time of Reflection

  • After God has challenged Abram to leave his home and his people to become a monotheist with the vague promise that as a 75 (now 99) year old childless man he would become the Father of Nations;
  • And after Jesus has invited everyone who wants to follow him to pick up a means of execution, deny themselves, walk away from their families, homes and communities and lose their sense of self
  • After all those stories about Faithful Commitment,

I think we need to take a moment to talk about doubt.

Abram’s doubt is left out of the story. He is normally held up as the Absolute Ideal of Faith. A man so faithful that he left his ancestral home in order to follow up on a promise made to him by one of many gods running around the local theology. A man so faithful that he was willing to take his son, his only son, whom he loved, his only shot at the promises made by his God that he would have more descendants than stars in the sky, take that son to sacrifice him to the God who had hung an entire Covenant on him. A man so faithful that he was willing to circumcise himself on God’s say-so.

All for the sake of his One God.

And now, after this promise, made 24 years after the first one, with a few strings attached and no sign of a son or daughter or any other offspring, Abraham allowed himself a small chuckle. Because, really, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child?”

But God did not hold this against him. This chuckle of doubt.

And doubt is what started Jesus’ terrifying speech about discipleship. When “he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” Peter had his doubts.

Whether those doubts were about the plan, the necessity or the Resurrection, we don’t know, but Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Because – it sounds like – Jesus was not completely immune to those doubts. They were more temptation from the Adversary, trying to poke holes in God’s ideals.

And the reason for the 40 day period of fasting, penitence and preparation, before Baptism and after a three year membership course was to allow time for doubts, for second thoughts and for settling into a whole new spiritual and theological practice.

Doubt is a necessary part of faith. It’s not the enemy of faith. The enemy of faith is certainty. Doubt is like a conversation that faith has with itself while it’s trying to learn more. Faith can’t grow if doubt isn’t allowed to ask questions.

I’m not talking about self-doubt, although some of this might apply. I’m talking about doubts around the Big Faith Picture, and about doubts about the details.

  • Can God be trusted?
  • Is the apparently impossible possible with God?
  • Is this the right thing to do?
  • Do I believe in a Bodily Resurrection?
  • Is hope a worthwhile pursuit?

These are big questions and important ones too. They are not questions we can or will have all figured out today.

So how lucky are we to have what is just as important as doubts, and that’s a place to ask them and people to ask them with. Not people who will give us the right answers. People we can trust with our questions and, along with our questions, our doubts.

How lucky – how blessed – we are to have places and people where we don’t need to be confident and sure of everything. How blessed we are to have places like Book Club and Bible Study and a Membership Course and Children’s Church where we can wonder and let faith and doubt and questions explore together. Where we can say Tell Me More about what you believe so that I can explore more deeply what I believe.

That’s how we learn. At least it’s one way. It’s how we understand our faith and what we believe – by being able to explore What I think now in with people who will say Tell Me More with no agenda, no judgement or no hidden right answer they’re pushing us towards.

The traditional approach to doubts has been to tell people to ignore them, express the faith statement and eventually the repetition will take hold and the doubts will go away.

I prefer the statement of the father who came to Jesus looking for help for his sick child. Jesus said, “If you believe, all things are possible.” The father said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I don’t see any way to read that other than the father wanted to believe, and did believe, but had some doubts. He expressed that doubt to the very person with the power to punish him for it, and with that honesty – that faith in the face of doubts, that willingness to be honest and authentic and faithful – Jesus healed the child.

We are allowed to doubt. We need to doubt. Only through doubt can faith grown. How lucky we are to have permission to let doubt lead faith in community with others who are also trying to learn and to grow along our faith journey.

Belonging in Covenant

Belonging in Covenant

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15

What we have here is two wildly inclusive covenants – although Jesus’ isn’t yet labelled as such.

The Covenant described in this part of Genesis is made with “all living flesh” for multiple generations. Those Jesus invites to follow him respond to an open invitation to Repent and Believe in the Good News that the time is now and the Kingdom of God is here, which meant that the early followers were an amazingly diverse group, defying all demographic categorizations. In coming together those early followers became one group where no one belonged and everyone belonged.

Part of the point of baptism was to wash away the old self – your former relational, professional, geographical self – so that you could be made new in Christ. That was what early followers did during Lent: got ready for baptism and new life. Jesus was baptized first and then spent his 40 days in the wilderness, but for the early church the wilderness was a necessary preparation for the rebirth of baptism.

To join the early church was a lonely proposition: it meant leaving behind family, community, status, connectedness and your place in the world. This was not something to be undertaken lightly. But to join the early church also meant a whole new family, a whole new community and purpose in life, and it meant being part of something much greater than yourself.

So in the way you had always seen your place in the world, you had nowhere you know belonged. But in the new way you could see yourself in the world, you belonged to something very powerful and visionary.

Even after that 40 days of preparation, though, belonging takes work. No one magically emerges from Lent thoroughly reborn. If they had, Paul – and others – wouldn’t have needed to write all those letters explaining what it meant to be the church and care for one another and imitate Christ. No one, having been promised that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood, and that this promise is for all generations with all living flesh, is magically going to leave behind the tendency to violence – and the things that lead to violence – that they had grown up knowing was there and suddenly belong to the kind of human race that John Lennon described in the song Imagine.

The difficult work of belonging may be why God just couldn’t leave the covenant alone. That first covenant was all up to God. People didn’t have to invest anything into belonging to the covenant, so maybe they were less invested in the world it was aimed at creating. The early church needed heavily invested members. It demanded a lot of people – beginning with the separation from their former life and asking more and more along the way until it might event ask people to go to their death singing and praising God. Of course, those people needed a lot of time to think it over and strengthen their faith in the new religion they wanted to belong to.

Churches still demand things of the people who belong to them. They demand money, they demand time, they demand commitment and participation in programs and small group membership.Some churches have hard lines and high demands, others are less strict and more indirect in their approach.

We are radically inclusive but we still ask things of each other, starting with a membership course, and going on to acceptance of a congregational covenant and regular participation, whether in worship, leadership, outside of Sunday activities, financial support or practical help like photo-copying, proofreading or counting. Rebecca and Donna, who have done that course and will be received into Full Membership today, are excellent examples of people of whom much has been asked and who have given more.

They belong here in ways that pre-date today. And we are grateful that they have chosen to hang their spiritual hat with us.

But belonging is not just about doing stuff that is asked of you. Believe it or not that would be too easy. Belonging is about conversations and connections, about authenticity and vulnerability – all things that we will see and hear in the stories of God’s covenants, and the stories of Jesus’ ministry in the weeks to come. Belonging is about trusting ourselves and trusting each other.

True belonging is is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.*

We all continue to work on those things: trust, connection, conversation, authenticity and vulnerability. This wildly inclusive group of followers of the way, companions on the journey, is a safe place to learn and to grow – in faith, as children of God, as spiritual seekers and as those who go out into the world with a daring and a tender love.

May it always be so with us.

*Brown, Brené (2017). Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. New York: Random House, p. 40.