MORE SEPTEMBER NEWS
Hi again. Just a few updates from our last letter.
We have been promising you virtual services – and we are now up and running as of today.
Rev. Marilyn, along with retired Minister Rev. Jill Rogers will be providing virtual worship and we hope you enjoy all we have to offer. This is a project in the making – so please bare with us.
The services may be reached through our website – www.londonroadwestunitedchurch.com under “Virtual Services”. You should see the date – in this case, September 20th, 2020, click and you will be able to watch from that page.
The link below will take you directly to the “You Tube” view of all services, again listed by date.
Simply click on the date you wish to see and Watch/Listen in the comfort of your own home.
If you have a friend or family member who does not have access to the virtual world, please take some time to share the service from your own device, be it a cell phone or an Ipad. Or ask a family member if they could look this up and share it with you. We hope to reach all of our congregation in some manner with a “Sunday Morning” service at any time.
If you are out and about, check out our “Harvest Wagon” Thanks to Colleen Trott for her handiwork on the banner – it looks great. It is our desire to remind people that we are still here, alive and part of the community even if we can’t be open. The idea is to highlight our Thankfulness for all our good blessings.
If you have items from your garden – pumpkins, gourds, cornstalks – anything to continue decorating our wagon, please feel free to add them. But we are also looking for any extra produce – fruits/vegetables from your garden, or canned goods, which will be donated to the Inn of the Good Shepherd as we get enough to share. So, if you have anything to offer over the next few weeks, please add it to the wagon anytime. We hope you will help make this a feature of our front yard.
Our Beef Dinner is set to go for Saturday, September 26th. If you haven’t placed your order yet – you only have until tomorrow to do so. Call 519-542-2084 and leave a message with your order.
We will also have Beef Pies ready on Monday, September 28th – Price is $4.00 per pie.
If you’d like to order, please call 519-542-2084 and leave a message with your name, telephone number and number of pies. We will call you back with a curbside pick up time.
Lastly our UCW held an outside get together this week and a book review which was most enjoyable (Where the Crawdads Sing). We are hoping to do so again, probably late October and the book we are reviewing is “The House By The Sea” by Santa Montefiore. We wanted to give you plenty of time to read the book and be ready for a lively discussion, in some manner. Watch for more information on date, etc.
As always, we thank you for your continued support.
If you have a chance to “surf the net”, I invite you to search out Susan Cohen Pearlman Film – called Tears – Be Kind Today. This 3 min film has won the Oscar for the best animated movie – and we can all find a take away from this clip.
Be Safe and Stay Healthy
Hello to everyone – It looks and feels like summer has left us and we are moving into “Fall” very quickly. You can feel it in the air. This can be quite a beautiful season and we’ll look forward to the changing colours over the next few weeks.
We hope you continue to be well and we realize that we are all missing being together as a Church.
We always endeavour to keep the congregation up-to-date on what is happening here at LRW and we hope you find this newsletter informational.
Our Search Committee will continue to meet on a regular basis.
In the meantime, we have secured Rev. Marilyn Townsend-Smith and Rev. Jill Rogers to provide pulpit supply and pastoral care as required. We hope to begin weekly virtual services this month and you will receive an email with a link and instructions on how to access the virtual services once the process is in place.
Also, we would encourage anyone who has a pastoral care need or a need of any kind to contact the Church office at 519-542-2084. Please leave a message, the telephone is monitored daily, and your concern will be directed to the appropriate person.
If you are aware of someone who is celebrating a special occasion or who could use a “ spiritual lift” with a card from the Church, please let Dorothy Jackson know at 519-542-5021.
Our Session Elders & Pastoral Care Team continue to make contact with our church members and should you have a concern, you can certainly talk to them when they make contact.
Rev. Marilyn and Rev. Jill will also be making contact with members of the congregation and we hope you will feel comfortable in speaking with them.
The Re-Opening committee have met and put forth their recommendations. After lengthy and in-depth research of the insurance requirements, the recommendation from the Re-Opening Committee is that we are unable to open at this time. In contacting our insurance brokers regarding our coverage, the most important information is that “COVID-19 is not an insured peril under the UCC Protect Program. This means that not only does the church itself not have coverage, but that we nave no individual Officers, Directors and Volunteers liability coverage for any claims arising due to the COVID-19 virus.“
As a result of a lengthy Official Board discussion, the consensus of Official Board is that we will not open in October and a re-opening date is indefinite at this time.
We wish to thank the Re-Opening Committee for their work and especially Doug Beatty for his in-depth review and understanding of the insurance situation. Our main concern is the safety of our congregation and those who volunteer their time. During this difficult time, we are learning something about ourselves, our friends, our church and our community and hopefully that will assist us in moving forward so something good will come of all the disruptions we have endured over the last 6 months.
Below you will see the highlights from our Official Board meeting held on Wednesday evening.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OFFICIAL BOARD MEETING
SEPTEMBER 9th , 2020 AT 6:30 PM
Meeting held via teleconference
• Our Treasurer reported that as of the end of August, our financial position is behind by $12,000 from our budget, and of course this will be due to our closure. We continue to have the normal maintenance expenses but see some savings in janitorial expense and no costs for a Minister over the last nine months.
• We continue to say “Thank You” to all those on PAR and all the members who faithfully send cheques during this time when we can’t be open. We sincerely appreciate your continued support
• The Re-Opening Committee provided an up-dated report setting out the ramifications of our insurance. As a result, we will not open October 18th as originally communicated. At this time there is no date set for re-opening.
• We will begin virtual services in September and notify the congregation by email when and how to access these services.
• The Re-Opening Committee will reconvene to clarify their role and decide if they are willing to continue with looking at re-opening protocol and changes to the rules and regulations.
Our up-coming Curbside Beef Dinner will proceed on Saturday, September 26th following rules and regulations set out by the Health Unit.
As always, we Thank You for your continued support.
If you have any questions concerning the above please let us know.
We hope you continue to be safe and healthy. If you have any suggestions on how we can reach out to you or those of our congregation more effectively, please let us know.
Random Acts of Kindness from the CBC
Blessing to All
SING to the LORD a new song;
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
SING to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day,
Declare his glory among the nations,
His marvelous deeds among all peoples.
Psalm 96, verses 1-4
As has been a tradition here at LRW, we usually have a “Music Sunday” in August.
Since we are unable to be together in worship and since we cannot Sing and “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” at this time and perhaps even into the next little while, I thought I’d share some music that was recorded from music Sundays in the past, along with a reflection and some “food for thought”. LRW has been graced with musical talent over the years and I hope you enjoy the selections.
Simply click on the music and let it take you back awhile.
London Road West has a long history and has been here on this same land for 167 years.
People may not know the name exactly, but they always say – oh the “red brick church on the corner” Well here is a song “The Little Red Church” performed by Grace Mitchell Hall, daughters, Carol Monteith and Norma Griffin.
In these up and down times, when all seems lost and dreary, just remember you can always have a little talk with Jesus anytime. Listen to the Danby/Searson Quartet – Russell Danby, son Larry Danby and grandsons – Mike & Jeff Searson
As we look around at all the beautiful flowers this time of year, we are continually reminded of God’s goodness. As part of the “Bible Garden” one flower caught my attention –
the “Anemone” (Lily of the Field) – from Matthew 6, verses 28 – 30.
I admired this flower last fall and thought, Oh I’ll plant this new flower – new to me by the sounds of it.
These are wild field flowers in Palestine and almost certainly the wild anemones that were referred to by Jesus as the “lilies of the field” in his sermon on the mount, as they still grow wild near the Lake of Galilee.
How interesting that we sometimes think something is new when actually it was here all along. And how interesting that through all of time, God is with us – His goodness is all around – we can feel His presence everywhere!
Here is our own LRW Choir singing “Surely the Presence”
It is incredible to watch life flow through nature; the way the waves rise and fall at the beach, the way the sun and moon dance their routine of day and night, the way a flower grows and blooms from a tiny seed. Behind the beauty of nature lies an awe-inspiring God.
We are filled with wonder as we see his painted skies each day, and as we notice the way He clothes every living thing with garments more intricate than what our top fashion designers could imagine. Just think of the many unique patterns on a butterfly’s wings for example, the many different shapes flower petals can have.
Perhaps as we seek to understand earth’s nature more, we will also grow to understand the nature of God who made it all.
Here is the Sunshine Quartet – Carol Monteith, Mary Moore, Carol Ritchie & Betty Allison
I came across this little story and felt it was worth sharing –
Sunflowers turn according to the position of the sun, in other words, they “chase the light”. – You might already know this; but there is another fact that you probably do not know!
Have you ever wondered what happens on cloudy and rainy days when the sun is completely covered by clouds? An Interesting question, isn’t it?
Perhaps you think the sunflower withers or turns its head towards the ground.
Is this what crossed your mind? Well, that is incorrect!
They turn towards each other to share their energy.
Nature’s perfecting is amazing. Now let’s apply this reflection to our lives. Many people may become low-spirited, the most vulnerable ones, sometimes, become depressed.
How about following the example of the beautiful sunflowers – “Supporting and empowering each other”
Let us take on the “Sun-flower” trait of turning towards each other on their cloudy and gloomy days.
Spread goodness… it will come back to you.
Here is a husband & wife Duet by two who have long gone, but what a pleasure to have caught this on tape after all these years. Evelyn & Russell Danby singing “Something Beautiful”
As we enter into another week, a week of unknowns and a continued time of self distancing, when it is even difficult to recognize someone under their mask if we are out and about, we hope you will remember those we cannot be with, those who are suffering from anxiety and frustration, those who find this time lonely, those who are unwell or who are grieving, those we long to be with again, – help us reach out – make a telephone call, send a little note, contact someone you haven’t talked to in a while – make their day by saying “Hi, how are You” Remember we are all in this together – and we will come together again soon.
I’ll leave you with a little blessing, sung by “AS IS” – This was a teenage quartet comprising of
Jennifer (Allison) Nickles, Jessica Allison, Mike & Jeff Searson – “Undivided”
Stay well & God Bless
As we continue to self isolate and practice distancing, we pray that you are safe; that you are able to communicate often with family and friends and that you are able to seek out ways to worship, either through on-line streaming or through radio services. We do not know how long this will endure, but we pray for our front-line workers, those who are ill, lonely or depressed. And we pray that we may all join together again in worship soon. Please reach out to our Church at 519-542-2084 if you need assistance. Blessings to all.
Robert Fulghum, who wrote, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten”, placed a picture of a woman, who is not his wife, beside the mirror in his bathroom. Every morning as he stood there shaving, he looked at the picture of this woman. I wonder how many wives would stand for that.
The picture is of a small humped-over woman wearing sandals and a blue eastern robe and head dress. She is surrounded by important looking people in tuxedos, evening gowns, and the dress of royalty. It is the picture of Mother Teresa, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
Fulghum said he keeps that picture there to remind him that more than any president of any nation, more than any pope, more than any chief executive officer of a major corporation, that woman had authority because she was a servant of God.
In 1970, Malcom Muggeridge went to Calcutta to do a special documentary on Mother Teresa for BBC television. He met her as she was working on the streets of Calcutta among the sick and poor people in a ghetto like no other that Muggeridge had seen before. Amid the stench, filth, garbage and disease, the poverty was unbelievable. But what struck Muggeridge more than anything else, even in the midst of that awful squalor and decadence, was the deep, warm glow on Mother Teresa’s face, and the deep, warm love in her eyes.
He began his interview with her saying, “Do you do this every day?” “Oh yes”, she replied. “It is my mission. It is how I serve and love my Lord.”
“How long have you been doing this? How many months?”
“Not months, but years”, she replied. “Maybe eighteen years.”
“Eighteen years!”, he exclaimed.
“Yes, she said simply and yet joyfully. “It is my privilege to be here. These are my people. These are the ones my Lord has given me to love.”
“Do you ever get tired? Do you ever feel like quitting and letting someone else take over your ministry. After all, you are beginning to get older.”
“Oh no. This is where the Lord wants me, and this is where I am happy to be. I feel young when I am here. The Lord is so good to me. How privileged I am to serve him.”
Later Malcolm Muggeridge said, “I will never forget that little lady as long as I live. The face, the glow, the eyes, the love, it was all so pure and so beautiful. I will never forget it. It was like being in the presence of an angel. It changed my life. I have not been the same person since. It was more than I can describe.” Mother Teresa continued to serve in that sacrificial way until the end of her life, nearly twenty-seven more years.
I know that I can’t be Mother Teresa, nor can any of you. But we can all live in that spirit. We can all learn to give with that kind of spirit.
Our Gospel story today is about another woman who lived with very little material comforts. It is about a woman who became widowed and she went to the Temple giving all that she had to offer and received the praise of Jesus. Jesus had been watching the Pharisees in their giving practices. They were very open about their giving, because they were giving big bucks and they were proud of it. They made a point of everyone knowing what they gave. In the light of this, Jesus pointed out the widow. There was no paper money, so the coins dropped into a long, horn-shaped object and then fell into a pool of coins, making a tremendous noise. Yet when the widow dropped her two copper coins in, they barely made a noise; a little plink, plink in the pool. Jesus calls his disciples over and says, “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” To the Sadduccees this woman is a waste of time, but to Jesus, she is the very stuff by which the Kingdom is erected. At its heart, this story is not about giving. It is a story about motivation. Why do we do what we do? Why do we give what we give?
The Pharisees and Sadducees gave to receive peer recognition. Jesus said they received their reward. People praised them. The widow, on the other hand, gave out of love for God. According to Jesus, she also received her reward. What is the motivation behind our giving?
In the early church, Apostle Paul said, “first we gave of ourselves, and then we gave of our resources.” We often have gotten that backwards. We say, I give, therefore I am a Christian. But it’s the reverse. It is because we are followers of Christ that we give.
Jesus has said, where you treasure is, there will your heart be also. What does our giving say about where are our hearts? No matter what we say about God, what we give says more about what we really feel. Our money follows our hearts. If our commitment to Christ has not yet reached our wallets, then it has not yet reached our hearts.
It is in giving, not just money, but ourselves, that comes from the priorities in our lives. If the young soldiers during the world wars decided to just give money, where would we be today? They gave themselves. They joined the war effort and many even gave their lives. They were motivated by their love of our country and they wanted to save their way of life and not be ruled by a rascist tyrant. They wanted to preserve our freedom. So they joined the war effort. My dad, who never lied in his life, lied about his age so that he could enlist before he was eighteen. None of these men knew what they were getting into. Many of them gave their lives, out of a sense of patriotism that we don’t often witness here in Canada any more. There are still young men and women in the military, going to war to help other countries to fight for their freedom from tyrannical rulers. If they come home, many of them suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, having witnessed atrocities that we can’t even imagine. So too, did the young soldiers in the first and second world wars, but unlike today, they did not talk about the horrors they witnessed. At least not until they grew much older. They were anxious to get married and move on with their lives, and put all of that ugliness behind them. But in their senior years their memories come back and they remember losing comrades right before their eyes, being blown to bits. Others survived prisoner of war camps and endured fear about what would happen to them. Nobody went to war and came back untouched. We can never fully comprehend what those experiences were like, other than through the stories we hear. So it is important to remember what price our freedom cost so many.
My mother was a young girl during the first world war. Her sister was eleven years older than her and she had to work in a rubber factory making tires to support the family. My mother never forgot how her beautiful sister came home smelling of rubber every day. She remembered food stamps and how it hurt her mother’s pride having to use them to purchase food to keep the family fed. During the second world war, my mother and father got engaged before dad went overseas. He didn’t want to get married in case he was killed and left my mother a widow, but he wanted her to know that he would do everything possible to come back to her. They wrote letters to each other every week for four years. Her letters from him had many sections blacked out. All of dad’s letters had to be edited to omit anything that would give away their location or intentions. My mother kept all of those letters and from them, years later, when dad turned eighty, he wrote his memoirs, using the letters to help jog his memory.
Everybody pulled together in a united cause. How different is that from today, where everyone lives for themselves. That sense of being united for a common cause is unheard of. We fend for ourselves. We don’t dare ask for help from anyone. We try to make it on our own. That’s why the transition to our senior years becomes so difficult. We’re used to relying on ourselves and then it comes to the point where we can’t and we need help. So we feel like a burden. But that’s not what God wants for us. God want us to love and care for each other, all throughout our lives.
We know how to give, because Jesus gave His life for us. The soldiers from the World Wars gave their lives for us. It’s one hundred years today since the First World War ended. My mother-in-law was a five year old girl when the war ended, living on a farm outside of Forest and she used to talk about how she remembered hearing the bells ringing in Forest, signalling the end of the war. What a glorious sound that must have been.
So today, as we remember those who have fought for our freedom, we give thanks. We give thanks to those still living and we remember with gratitude those who are gone. Among those is my grandpa, John Townsend, who served in the army in the first world war, and my dad, Jack Townsend, who served in the airforce in the second world war. We also remember today’s young veterans, who continue to fight for the freedom of others in the Middle East, many who gave their lives and many who lost limbs. These realities bring the horror of war closer to home. May we show our gratitude as we remember and may we never forget.
The story of the woman weeping and washing the feet of Jesus with her tears is one of my favourite stories in the Bible. There are so many levels to this story. There is a woman who is ashamed of her sinfulness. There is criticism of Jesus for allowing her to be in the same room as the men. There is plenty of touching happening. There is extravagant love. There is forgiveness. There is compassionate healing. It’s amazing what we find when we delve deeper into Scripture. It is not just a nice story about a woman cleaning the feet of Jesus.
Let me begin by telling you another story. Before she went into ministry, a colleague I know used to work as a PSW, or Personal Support Worker. These people work in long term care facilities, hospitals, hospices. They tend to do the grunt work, the work of bathing people, cleaning up their messes, and generally spending the most amount of time with patients or residents. These people tend not to be highly educated, I believe the course to be a PSW is one year after grade 12. Yet the work they do is invaluable. As in all careers, some are better at it than others. This colleague worked in a long term care facility. She was with a woman she had never worked with before. My colleague was quite young at the time. It was time for the resident’s bath. When she removed the woman’s she was shocked at what she saw. This elderly woman’s feet were so ravaged with arthritis that her feet were quite deformed. Her toes curled under her feet and criss-crossed each other. She had bunions and generally her feet looked very painful. My colleague couldn’t understand how this person could possibly walk at all. After the bathing was over, my friend began to dry the woman off. When she got to her feet, she did one foot at a time and took special care not to hurt her as she dried her feet, with extreme care. When she looked up, the woman was crying, tears streaming down her face. My friend’s first thought was that she had hurt her, so she said, “oh I’m so sorry. Did I hurt you?” When the woman collected herself, she replied, “No. It’s just that nobody ever touches my feet. They look so hideous and nobody will touch them.” My friend was shocked. She asked what the other PSW’s did when they bathed her, to which the woman replied, they avoid my feet. They won’t touch them. My friend and her resident became very close after that. The woman had not been touched on her feet for longer than she could remember. The very act of touching had become something sacred.
This woman had felt shame about her feet and thought this part of her body was hideous, due to the reaction of others. How we react to things that are unpleasant can have a detrimental effect on others.
I invite you to think of a time when you felt that you have been touched in a way that felt sacred. For me, one time was at my ordination. The hands of my mentor in ministry, the President of London Conference at the time, my chair of the Conference Education and Student’s committee and my husband were all upon my head as I knelt in front of them. They surrounded me. The weight of their hands on my head had quite an impact. It was a powerful moment, one that will be etched in my mind forever, I imagine. It felt sacred. Then I felt a finger gently tickling the back of my ear. It was my husband of course. He knew how emotional I must have been feeling and it was his way of gently reminding me that he had my back, he was there for just me. In all the headiness of the ritual of ordination, his little finger was a gentle reminder that everything was okay and it grounded me. The intimacy of that small gesture, that barely discernible touch, helped me to cope with this momentous occasion in my life.
We should never underestimate the power of touch. We are a society that is very aware of touch, especially inappropriate touch. People too often cross boundaries with their touching. Sometimes situations call for touch. Visiting someone in the hospital of long term care facility or hospice are places where touch is almost expected. Sometimes when people lose the ability to talk, or communicate in any other way, touch is the only thing that connects one to the other. Placing a hand on the arm or hand of another person can have a huge impact. It cannot be forced or superficial. It has to be genuine, because what a touch expresses goes beyond words.
We often hear about elder abuse, when touching is inappropriate, not gentle and caring, but hurtful. Any touch that is abusive is obviously wrong, whether it is with a child, a spouse, or an elderly person. Our touch can result in severe damage, both physical and emotional in these cases. But our touch can also heal, as it did in the story of my colleague and the woman in the long term care facility. Even withholding touch can be a form of punishment. We need to be touched to survive.
When a person loses a spouse, they also lose the loving touch of another person. We don’t realize how important touching each other expresses love.
The woman in our Bible story today was aware of it. It was the only way she knew how to show her respect and love of Jesus. Though her action drew criticism from the other men in the room, her need to express her love to Jesus was greater than her fear. Jesus reaches out to people who others won’t touch. If we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, who are the people we touch that others won’t?
Tony Campolo is a great theologian and preacher and tells the story of walking down the streets of New York when a homeless person was approaching from the opposite direction. This was a well-seasoned homeless man, with a beard that hadn’t been trimmed in years, nor washed for an indeterminant amount of time. The man was smelly, he was filthy with dirt, he was unkempt in every way imaginable, his clothes were ripped and shabby and the soles of his shoes were coming apart from the uppers of his shoes. Tony, on the other hand, was smartly attired in his suit and crisp white shirt. He had his hand in his pocket, ready to give some money to the approaching homeless man. Tony greeted the man first. “Good morning.” The homeless man looked up at Tony and he said, “Good morning to you. What a fine morning it is.” He was sipping from a styrofoam cup which Tony assumed was filled with alcohol. As Tony started to pull the money out of his pocket, the homeless man said to him, “I would like to share my coffee with you this morning. It is such a beautiful day and I have this nice warm cup of coffee. Won’t you have some?” Tony looked at the man, looked at his grimy hands clutching the cup and thought what an insult it would be to deny this man the pleasure of sharing with someone. So keeping his eyes on the dirty hands offering him a drink, he gingerly took the cup from the man’s hands and took a big swig. It was coffee, and very good coffee at that. He thanked the man and handed back the cup. As he did, their fingers touched, and Tony felt blessed. In that brief moment of connection, Tony felt that what transpired between them was a connection, and he looked up into the smiling eyes of this stranger, and knew that God had blessed him.
I doubt I would be able to overcome my fear of disease, or the odour emanating from a person in his condition, to do what Tony did. I don’t know many people who could. We are so germaphobic these days. We are sanitizing our children so that they will never have the immunities that we have in our bodies. They used to say that touching a horse as a young child would improve a chld’s immunities. Maybe that’s an old wives’ tale, I don’t know. But being around animals and touching them can’t be all that bad. Most of the farmers I know are pretty healthy individuals.
My point is, as the woman identified as having many sins, touched Jesus, he was touched by her love. In compassion, he healed her. Being touched and touching others in appropriate ways is healing. Those who judged the woman had not offered Jesus water to wash his feet after a weary journey. The woman washed his feet with her tears, wiped them dry with her hair, and anointed them with oil. She expressed hospitality and extravagant love to Jesus, and He, in turn, healed her with His compassion.
I am not suggesting that you start crying on other people’s feet or drying their feet with your hair. I am suggesting that you not withhold your touch when the situation seems appropriate. Do not be afraid to touch another human being. It is what Jesus would do and you never know when that touch results in healing.
Another week passes after the events of Easter day. Simon Peter says, “I’m going fishing”. The other disciples join in, “We will too”. What else were they supposed to do? Jesus had risen and had appeared to them twice by now, but they had no idea what was going to happen. Jesus just seemed to show up every now and then, usually unannounced. They had no clear direction from him yet as to what they should do next. “Let’s just wait and see if he is going to drop in today.”
Fishing was their trade. It wasn’t the kind of vacation fishing that many of us have done. It was their livelihood, their daily work, before Jesus had called them on a mission. So it’s back to work and back to fishing.
Little did they realize this would be the parable of a lifetime, a parable of their calling, their future, their mission and a parable of our calling and our mission.
When they had fished all night and caught nothing, they heard a voice from the shore telling them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat, and when they did, they caught more fish than they could handle.
No a person can’t preach a sermon about fishing without telling a fishing story. Please allow me to tell you one.
It is the story of two brothers who always fished together. One brother caught fish every time, everywhere, but the other brother had never caught anything. Not even a sunfish. They began fishing together as kids; then throughout their adolescent years, college years, and post-college years. Same story. One brother caught his limit and the younger brother could never catch anything. When they got married, the two families vacationed together at adjacent lakeside cottages. Still, the older brother caught fish, the younger brother caught nothing.
One day, the younger brother said to himself, “Enough of this.” He got up at 4:00 a.m., quietly put on his brother’s clothes, jacket and even his hat. He grabbed his brother’s fishing rod and tackle and arrived at the lake as the sun’r rays were sneaking over the tree line. Walking out on the dock, he cast into the water. Nothing. So he cast again. Still nothing. Thinking that the third cast would be the charm, he was saddened to feel no tug on the line this time either. But a good-sized fish did poke his head out of the water, look around, survey the scene and ask, “So where’s your brother?”
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I wonder if what we are doing in the church could be categorized this way. We keep doing the same thing over and over and bemoan that attendance is decreasing. Maybe we should throw our nets on the other side of the boat and see what happens.
Rev. Dr. John Pentland from Hillhurst United Church wrote a book called “Fishing Tips, How Curiosity transformed a Faith Community.” I have read his book and it does not contain a recipe for all churches to transform, but it worked for his faith community. His list of nine fishing tips for the church includes let leaders lead; expand our circles; discern our values; don’t fight the resurrection; pay for what you want, not what you have; pay it forward; connect to culture; say who you are, and worship matters.
I encourage you to read the book if you are interested in his nine fishing tips. Some of the highlights for me about this community of faith are that they had gone from being a gathering of three hundred people attending each Sunday, and were down to ninety when John arrived. They sincerely wanted to increase their membership but didn’t know how. They were not a United Church of Canada by the books community. They gained a reputation as a community with outspoken opponents to United Church policy. They were less denominationally-centred and more congregation-centred. They did not set out to be cutting-edge or makers of social change; rather they wanted to be responsive to immediate needs, their own and the needs of the wider community. However, while a community may recognize the need for change, it may also actively resist it.
Our mission as Christians is to fish for people. Jesus tells the disciples, after they hauled in their enormous catch of fish and gathered together for breakfast on the beach, was to fish for people.
Let’s consider the number of fish that were caught that day. 153. There have been biblical scholars and seminary students who continue to study for the doctorates, that focused on that number. It became the core of their doctoral theses in some cases. Most of us just read the number and continue on.
I will not take the time to share the various theories about the number other than to say that at that time, Greek zoologists had recorded and catalogued 153 different kinds or species of fish, suggesting that there should be room in the net, or the church, for people of every shape, kind, race, and nation. This seems to be supported by Matthew 8:47 where a net thrown into the sea gathers fish of every kind.
The Christian church Ioves to slice and dice the acreage of the Kingdom. Yes, no. In, out. Sheep, goats. Saved, lost. Lifted up and left behind. When we confront the passages of scripture that read, “one way, only way, our way”, we should read them in the light of these more inclusive and universal images of the Kingdom. We talk about who gets to heaven. Won’t we be surprised when we reach heaven and those we never thought would make it end up standing beside us, not because they or we are good, but because God is good.
So when you look at that net full of 153 fish, the net didn’t rip. It held firm. It could accommodate all the different species of fish, all of us and then some. This suggests to me that the church of Jesus Christ can hold all the people that enter its doors, no matter how much diversity is involved.
An African American mother of several children was on stage to receive a mother of the year award. She was asked how she could love all of her children equally. Oh, I don’t love all of them equally. I love the one who’s down until he’s up. I love the one who’s weak until she’s strong. I love the one who’s lost until he’s found. Our God is equal to the need. Our net is equal to the growth, assuming that we will be equal to the challenge.
To fish on the other side of the boat means that we have never done things that way before. We have rules to follow and the fear of being sued by someone if we allow them to use our facilities and they get injured while on our premises. It breaks my heart that we live in a society that sues each other, yet the costs of medical assistance for those catastrophically injured is unbearable. Sometimes people sue to get a few dollars for their inconvenience, sometimes they sue out of a desperate, ongoing financial need.
Change is a slippery slope. Soon we’ll have people fishing out of the stern of the boat and the bow of the boat. Who knows what we might catch. Next thing you know, we’ll have women fishing on the boats and all the men will have to put their clothes on. (Did you notice that before Peter swam to shore, he put his clothes on? Men fished naked.) We’re much more comfortable fishing on the left side of the boat.
What would it look like for us to fish on the ride side of the boat, here at London Road West? Who is your brother, or sister, who has never caught any fish? Shouldn’t they be here too? Jesus does say to his disciples at the end of this passage to go out and feed his sheep. Notice that he says this after asking Peter three times if he loves him. Not once, not twice, but three times. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? I don’t know about you, but I never tire of being told that I’m loved. So Jesus is asking for that commitment, to love him and once he is reassured that Peter loves him, he tells him to go feed his sheep.
How many people are reaching for Jesus Christ? The great story-telling Fred Craddock tells the story of Frank, a man he met in Wahita Creek, Oklahoma ,a little town with a population of 450 and four churches, Methodist, Baptist, Nazarene and the church that Craddock pastored. Each had their share of the population, but the most regular congregation met at the local café . Pickup trucks parked and the men discussed wheat bugs, the weather and the wind. At 77 years old, Frank was the patron saint of the group. Men in the café would say, “Ol Frank will never go to church.” Craddock says when he met him, Frank gave him his standard line, “I work, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business. Far as I am concerned, everything else is fluff.” That is why everyone in the care as well as in church was puzzled when Frank presented himself for baptism one Sunday. There were lots of rumours in town about why he did it. Seventy-seven years old, and he had always minded his own business. Some folks thought he was dying. Some heard he had heart problems. Some thought he must be scared to meet his maker. But Craddock says Frank told him why he did it: “You know how I always said I work hard, take care of my family, and mind my own business? Said it all the time. Only thing was, back then, I didn’t know what my business was. Now I know.”
We know what our business is. Our business is fishing. Sometimes we just have to be willing to fish out of the other side of the boat.
I love children because I learn so much from them. They are a reminder of how we should perceive the world. Allow me to give you an example. Children are so much better at receiving gifts than are adults. We either feel overwhelmed, or unworthy of the freely given gifts that bless us. Some people might even feel suspicious or that now they owe something to the gift giver. Adults are better givers than receivers. But children love receiving and accepting gifts with great enthusiasm. A gift that children are good at offering and accepting is the gift of forgiveness. A four year old in Jr. Kindergarten might get into a heated battle over who gets to play with a certain toy. Tears and blows might even ensue. But after a truce is called, and apologies are offered, or sometimes enforced, in a short time all is forgiven and play time continues.
There are no thoughts of revenge, no nurturing of anger, no dreams of retaliation. The confrontation is simply over with and done. The wrong was deeply felt, but the new reality is that we will start over and stay together.
Not so with adults. For adults extending or accepting forgiveness is an even more difficult concept to embrace and embody than accepting gifts and grace. When learning to receive a gift, no matter how difficult, at least we gain something; a gift certificate to a restaurant or a spa, a new item of jewellery, or whatever the gift may be. But learning how to extend or receive forgiveness always costs us something. It costs us our anger, our right to revenge, our high road to hatred. Offering forgiveness forces us to retract our claws and recall our true cause, the cause of Christ and His kingdom.
The call to forgiveness calls us to hear what drives our heart. Are we driven by love? Are we driven by service? Are we driven by shalom? Are we driven by a need to always be right? Are we driven by a need for superiority? Are we driven by guilt? Or are we driven by grace?
An old Chinese proverb offered some wise advice. “The person who seeks revenge should dig two graves.” An attitude of unforgiveness is ultimately an unfogiving death sentence. Keeping and maintaining an unforgiving attitude, an entrenched stance of vengeance and dislike, only leads towards one’s own spiritual death. Being unforgiving toward others ultimately is being unforgiving towards one’s self. The second gravesite our unforgiveness digs is our own sense of peace and fulfillment. Neither will be possible as long as revenge and not forgiveness is our modus operandi.
In this week’s Gospel text Jesus surprises Peter by reminding him that in Genesis, the biblical text advocated forgiving seventy-seven times. (Genesis 4:24). That was for the murder of a sibling. Jesus also advocated for any general offense an offering of forgiveness of seventy times seven.
These numers are metaphors for as often as forgiveness is needed and sought after. Jesus is challenging his disciples, in the first centruy and in the next twenty first centuries to find it within themselves to offer the gift of forgiveness, no matter how many times it took. For as long as we have breath, we are to forgive.
Let us not confuse forgiveness with forgetfulness. It is never forgetfulness. We will remember, but in forgiving, we no longer use the memory against others. Forgiveness is not pretending the event never occurred, or even that it does not matter. There is no use in pretending. The offence is real, but when we forgive the offense, it no longer controls our behaviour. We do not pretend things will be the same as they were before the offense because they can never be the same.
None of us can truly forgive without knowing and accepting the forgiving love that God has given to all of humanity, most perfectly in the gift of Jesus Christ, the ultimate gift. No one can be forgiving of others and their human failings until they have felt the power of the forgiveness that comes from the cross that crosses all boundaries and all dividing walls. It took Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness to become known within the bloodstream of humanity.
Jesus did not advocate a religion with a set and sworn system of rites, rituals and beliefs. Jesus offered all humanity who would receive the gift of faith a relationship with God that was personal and pulsating – alive to everyday moments and face-to-face encounters. Jesus offered reasons to receive God’s love and reasons to reciprocate God’s forgiveness. Jesus offered access to God’s love in a way never before made possible.
Jesus made God’s love for humanity something personal. Jesus made God’s love available for every one of us. Jesus made forgiveness God’s personal gift to all of us.
Our ability to forgive is forever linked to Jesus’ love for us and God’s compassionate forgiveness. It was only this divine, sacrificial love that made it possible for human forgiveness to be an active part of our world.
Forgiveness is never easy, never simple. It forces us to look at our own weaknesses while accepting the weaknesses of others. To offer forgiveness instead of lashing out in vengeance takes a new focus of faith that sees Christ’s sacrificial gift of love, not an ideal of dignity, as the reason for our actions and attitudes.
In Jesus’ teaching this week, he delivers us from being forever weary and wary; from being forever weary in keeping an eye out for those who seek to settle some score with us. And from being wary of every individual or invitation we receive to involve ourselves in direct contact with all others who are God’s children. If we are called to forgive seventy times seven, we are being called to open ourselves, throughout our lives, to simply act as a conduit for the greater forgiving power of Christ.
“Vengeance is mine, says the Lord”. Let us take that to heart. Some people call it Karma; others call it poetic justice. It gives us one less thing to stress about. We do not have to seek revenge. We have been summoned to offer forgiveness.
MalalaYousafzai, the fourteen year old Pakistani advocate for girls to receive an education, was targeted by the Taliban. She was shot in the head by an intended assassin on her school bus on October 9th, five years ago. Miraculously Malala survived and has since continued her fearless, ourspoken commitment for the education rights for girls and boys all around the world.
After recovering from her wound, Malala made the media rounds. But her focus was always on education, never on revenge. When interviewed by the always glib John Stewart on the Daily Show, she managed to leave him speechless. She declared that if attacked again by a Taliban assassin she would not physically defend herself, but would attempt to talk to her assailant about the need for education. She joked that she might try to throw her shoe at her attacker, but then she recanted saying, “If you hit a Talib with a shoe, there will be no difference between you and the Talib. She does not condone the violence of the Taliban, but she forgives the ignorance of the Taliban and continues to dedicate her life to bringing the light of education into that dark world. “You must fight others, but through peace and dialogue and education”, she insists.
Each one of us needs to forgive someone this week. It may be yourself. Can you forgive yourself? It may be a family member? Can you forgive your relatives? It may be an enemy that is doing everything they can to make you fail. Can you forgive your enemies?
Every week we say in the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is withheld from the person who won’t forgive, not because God is punishing us for not forgiving, but because the person who won’t forgive cannot receive forgiveness. Do not be that person. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Now it is our turn to forgive.
Let us pray.
Loving and patient God, help us to learn how to forgive, as Jesus forgave. Teach us how to let go of wrongs that have been committed against us. Help us let go of the guilt we carry for hurting others. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.