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October 23rd 2022

Sermon By Rev Adam Snook

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’ Grace, peace and mercy is yours, from our triune God. Amen. It gives me so much joy to bring you greetings this morning on behalf of your Bishop, Bishop Michael Pryse; my colleagues in the office Pastors Doug and Christie; as well as all your Eastern Synod siblings in ministry worshipping in 173 congregations - from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia…and all of those wonderful places in-between…just like this one!! A BIG thank you to Pastor Joel for allowing me to hijack the preaching spot this morning – and an even bigger thanks to each of you for welcoming me so warmly into your midst! It feels so good to be together. As congregations return to in-person worship after such a very long pandemic interlude, we in the Synod Office are trying to visit as many congregations as possible…simply to say “Hello…it’s great to see you!” But today also provides me with an opportunity to express my gratitude for the ways in which you show such consistent commitment to the mission ministries of our Synod. Your unwavering willingness to step beyond your walls in ways that seek to meet the needs of the community all around you – is nothing short of inspiring. AND I KNOW…THAT IT HASN’T ALWAYS BEEN EASY! And yet…you have, and continue to set an example in our synod, of what it means to live as a creative, innovative, bold and faithful expression of God’s love in God’s world. And so please hear me when I say this: thank you. Thank YOU! And thanks be to God for you! … Let me ask you a question this morning: What are your hopes for the future of God’s church? What are YOUR hopes for the FUTURE of GOD’S CHURCH? Interestingly, this is the exact same question that I always looked forward to asking my confirmation classes around this time of year. (1) What were their hopes for the future of God’s church? (2) What did the days ahead look like to them? (3) What visions were they experiencing for ministry at that time…and in those places? And let me tell you – they had answers! My goodness…did they have answers! Now admittedly, sometimes their answers weren’t all that helpful. In particular, I recall one confirmation class who suggested that lazy-boy recliners with charging stations for cell phones ought to replace the uncomfortable wooden pews in the sanctuary…and another class who insisted that the future of the church would only be realized through the installation of big-screen TVs and Dolby Digital Surround Sound 2.0! Alas, such is the risk of such a question! But more often than not, and when we finally got past all those silly giggles – I was usually impressed by the ideas which rose to the top of my discussion with these beloved confirmation-age children of God. They had a clear vision for their future in God’s church – and just listening to them talk about it would leave me feeling excited! It filled me with abundant hope! You know, as I’ve had the opportunity to visit with congregations, ministries, members as well as Rostered and Lay leaders from across our Synod – I have found that as the big, beautiful body of Christ that we are – we too are grappling with this same question: What are OUR hopes for the future of God’s church. The soil is ripe for such deep discernment and dreaming. We’re asking ourselves: How is God calling us to share God’s love in new…old…and authentic ways? What wilderness are we being led into, willingly (and oft-times not so willingly)? How can the voice of God be heard in our midst…and what is God saying? I don’t know about you – but I love these questions! • For some, questions such as these have led to new or strengthened relationships (just like the ones you’ve experienced here in the Ottawa Region). • Others have discerned new opportunities for missional outreach and partnerships. • There are places that look very different than they did several years ago – choosing the path of redevelopment to meet a social need in their communities. • Still others are doing the difficult work of determining how best to use the gifts they’ve been given to the glory of God – even, and especially, when that pathway leads to some pretty difficult decisions. And yet in each of these examples, and so many others, I find hope in the courage and boldness shown through faith in a God who has been…is…and will always be found at the centre of God’s church…and with God’s people: • It’s the kind of certainty that allows us to step over the uncomfortable threshold so that our eyes might behold the beauty which awaits us on the other side; • It’s the kind of unencumbered creativity that allows us to try something new…knowing that even in failure we grow closer to the one who first created us; • It’s the kind of beautiful ministry which helps us to see beyond the brick and mortar…and into the world that God loves so deeply; • And (I believe) that…it’s the kind of church which God is leading us to be…it’s the kind of people who God is calling us to be…and it’s the kind of disciple that God has equipped us to be. In these ways, we are living into the future (not, perhaps, that we ourselves have dreamt, necessarily) – but we are living into the future which God has dreamt for us! And my goodness – God dreams the most wonderful dreams!!! In a recent talk given by Barbara Brown Taylor, she said: Faith evolves with the times and with the Spirit; it passes away with those who want to remember it the way it was. We are living into it because we are part of what comes next. Hear that last part again: WE ARE A PART OF WHAT COMES NEXT. That line gives me goosebumps...and I hope it gives you goosebumps too! Because notice, that there is no conditional clause tacked to the end of such a profound statement – no asterix nor footnote. God hasn’t insisted on a pre-requisite. There is no minimum grade-point average. No fee for admittance will be rung up. Rather, you are…I am…and we are already a part of the new thing which God is doing. The church, as God’s holy and imperfect table in the wilderness, has already been set! The good news, the gospel, is that we (each of us…and all God’s people) have been invited to pull up a seat where there will always be room for one more!! And it’s around such a table – and in such a church – that we will find moments of laughter and lament, times of joy and sorrow, it’s here that we will take risks and make mistakes (knowing that we can’t break this…we can’t break God); and it’s here that all people will find welcome in the soul nourishing, life quenching love and grace of God. We are a part of what God does next! It’s kind-of like a family gathering – where there will undoubtedly be lots of differing opinions, a few spilled glasses of wine, debate over who makes the tastiest stuffing, noisy children, robust laughter, wayward conversations, and more than a few hiccups along the way. Yes, like a family dinner! But that means that there will also be lots and lots of love. And that love…God’s love for us…and our love for one another, will be our guide for the days ahead. One of my son, Nate’s favourite things to do when he’s trying to stall bedtime (which he does almost every night) is to ask his mother or I, “Mommy, Daddy, how much do you love me?” To which we answer something outlandish like: we love you more than one billion herds of sheep. Of course, to keep his stall tactic alive, Nate will reply: well I love you one billion herds of sheep…plus one! Well, I am not about to let a seven year old get the better of me…so I come back with an even more ridiculous, even more outlandish metric by which to gauge my love for my son. And so it continues. Well, beloved children of God – I am here this morning to tell you that your God loves you more that one billion herds of sheep…plus one…plus two…plus three. In fact, your God loves you more than any metric could ever adequately capture. You are loved – as you are, who you are, where you are – loved fully and completely. May the assurance of such a love sustain you as the Spirit leads you into God’s vision for the days ahead – as you build relationships, dream new dreams, and embrace the godly opportunities which abound. We are a part of what God does next. For this, and for you, I say Thanks be to God. Amen

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