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Not A Spectator Sport

posted Nov 18, 2013, 6:52 PM by Westminster Webmaster   [ updated Nov 18, 2013, 6:53 PM ]
By Rev. John Lougheed

Rev. Mary was on a break and Rev. John Lougheed was the guest minister for the service on Sunday, October 27. The Bible readings were from 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – Ambassadors for Christ.

With our ongoing thanks to Laura and Bethany for their leadership with the children here, including the theme conversation this morning with their Mom Joan, as a ‘press release’ for this sermon! Like Joan, I am a Voluntary Associate Minister here at Westminster, along with Robin.

Last Sunday, Mary asked if any of us had ever thought of being an astronaut! A few years ago, I heard about such a person! With my privilege to conduct several weddings – and attend some receptions – I have heard lots of wedding speeches, many of them good! One particular father of the bride had seemed rather ponderous through the festivities; that is until he got up to propose a toast to his daughter. And concluded by telling us – the little known fact - that a few years earlier, she had applied to be an astronaut! And, though she had not been selected, so proud was he of her well-rounded skills and sense of adventure, that he commended her to his new son-in-law saying: “You are both of such calibre, getting out there in the world – and even aspiring to travel beyond it! – and I’m very proud of both of you.” Beyond being a spectator.

I think of weddings – including for same-sex couples- as being part of the outreach and witness of Westminster United Church, along with our partnership with Temple Shalom, and initiatives like Supportive Housing of Waterloo (SHOW) and support for Out of the Cold locally and Oxford House in northern Manitoba, among others. The upcoming Weekend on Homelessness – November 22 and 23 – with the Temple is just our latest example of being more than observers.

Today we celebrate The Observer—magazine of our United Church of Canada. With roots dating back to 1829 - as the longest continually published magazine of its kind in North America and winner of over 150 awards, it’s a leading Canadian voice of “Faith, Justice and Ethical Living”. The Observer goes beyond its name to inform, empower and encourage action in building up the Kingdom of Peace with Justice that Jesus came to proclaim.

With my interest declared as a former member of the Board of the Magazine, I want to offer a bit of its context, and put it into the context of our Epistle lesson this morning.

Published from a modest house adjacent to Bloor St. United Church in mid-town Toronto – a site soon to be redeveloped as the new home of the General Council Office, it is moving from Bloor and Islington after several years. Let’s cast our minds back to 1925, just prior to the founding of the United Church of Canada with the coming together of the Methodist Church in Canada, 2/3 of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Congregationalist Church in Canada. (This latter group was ‘only’ 10,000 strong, but wielded a considerable influence, including insisting on the ‘free conscience of the ministers’ such that at Ordination/Commissioning, they wouldn’t be expected to sign a statement of belief…only the pension plan!) The Methodists were led by Dr. Chown and the Presbyterians (those who were coming into the United Church) by Dr. Pidgeon (in those days, a Doctorate in Theology was a title and a name.)

It was a divisive vote for the Presbyterian Church, with some Congregations voting to join Union, and others – like Knox, Waterloo – voting not to, and thriving ever since.

As June 25th, 1925 approached with the meeting of the first General Council of the United Church, Dr. Chown was expected to be elected as the first Moderator. But he made the gracious suggestion that Dr. Pidgeon should be – and indeed became – the first Moderator of our United Church of Canada. And to this day, The Observer magazine and staff meet around a kitchen table that supposedly belonged to Dr. Pidgeon (though Dr. Pidgeon never actually lived in the house that bears his name.) As we sang earlier with the children “sitting at the table round Jesus Christ”. 

(Later, in 1968, the Evangelical United Brethren (the EUBs) also joined, with local congregations including Emmanuel, Waterloo, and Zion, Calvary Memorial and Olivet in Kitchener.)

Back in 1925, the national magazine of the United Church was called The New Outlook, and eventually, it was renamed The Observer.

And the most read section of the magazine is still the Letters to the Editor! St. Paul might have hoped for that popularity with his Letters to the early Churches, including at Corinth; the second of which we read from this morning. Where Paul writes that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation …!” Reconciled to God, not counting our trespasses, and entrusting this message of reconciliation to us, Paul goes on to invite us to be ambassadors for Christ.

I like the translations of Clarence Jordan, who describes this as ‘bridging a gap’ with God, and God ‘hugging the world’ to Godself. (The Cotton Patch Gospels, New Win, 1968). In the Aramaic idiom that Jesus spoke, it is an invitation to ‘open up to God’ as surely as God has opened up to us.

As Paul concludes this passage in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For our sake, [God] made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might [come into right relationship with God]. I understand this not in the sense of sacrifice paid, but as a ‘clean slate’ offered. And this passage took on a new depth for me last week, when a patient at the hospital described how Jesus’ own suffering and the Risen Christ’s triumph over death, were a great source of reassurance and inspiration to this patient who was experiencing physical pain – though it was being eased by medication – as well as facing his own mortality.

As I often say to the gathering of families and ‘friends like family’ at a wedding, their opportunity to pledge their support to the couple just prior to the vows, reminds us all that weddings – and subsequent marriages – are not a ‘spectator sport’. It takes communal support and encouragement for a marriage to succeed. And that is no less true of a baptism – particularly in the case of an infant – when the parents, godparents (if any) and congregation are invited to pledge to help nurture and encourage the child to a life in Christ. We’ll come back to the font, in a moment.

But first, a more formal word from our ‘sponsor’ today.

Thanks to The Observer staff, we have a wonderful display of sample copies of the magazine for you to browse and take this morning, including great issues on the 25th anniversary of the decision by General Council in 1988 to welcome all members of the church – regardless of their sexual orientation – into consideration for ordered ministry. And there is also a wonderful annual survey of Observer readers – the editors and leaders of the wider church do listen! – as well as a sample of the award-winning feature writing; in this case, about the wrongfully convicted, as well as the environment.

A deal at twice the price, the 10 monthly issues of the magazine come by subscription for only $20 a year. Currently, Westminster has 29 households as subscribers, and if we were able to increase that number by 50% or 15 households, the price per year for all of us would drop to $10 a year. So we encourage you to return one of these envelopes on the offering place, or mail in the card – marked Westminster, Waterloo – and we’ll keep you posted on our success, and rates!

This is also Reformation Sunday, when Protestants acknowledge Martin Luther’s decision in the early 1520s, to question the authority of the then Church at Rome, which led to the founding of the Lutheran denomination. Several years later, a similar split led to the founding of what we now call the Anglican Church. So we’ll be closing this Service with the singing of Luther’s epic hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God…that word above all earthly powers” (VU # 262).

Speaking of our Anglican sisters and brothers, meanwhile ‘back at the font’, we recall that on Thursday of this week, His Royal Highness Price George, son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and now third in the line of succession to Her Majesty the Queen, was baptized in the Chapel Royal of St. James’ Palace. Wearing a baptismal gown fashioned after the one worn since the 1840s when Queen Victoria’s children were baptized, and with the new Archbishop of Canterbury presiding, proud parents William and Catharine, grandparents, and great grandparents – including the Queen – gathered.

The several godparents – ever respectful of the Holy One of many names and traditions - were asked if they would help to bring up this child “to fight against evil and to follow Christ.” The ‘fight against evil’ echoes Psalm One – which we heard earlier – with its encouragement to ‘engage the Law of Torah’ (as our Jewish friends do) and invokes God’s support in the face of wickedness. (Personally, I favour the definition of Psychiatrist and author, the late Scott Peck, that evil is ‘knowing what one is doing is wrong, and doing it anyways.’ He called such evildoers,’ The People of the Lie’ (who lie to themselves). (People of the Lie, Simon and Schuster, 1985). 

So the Godparents – among others – pledge to face such evil and follow Christ. To encourage the Prince, as ambassadors for Christ. Not a spectator sport. Then, Prince George’s parents were asked ‘by what name shall he be known?’, water from the Jordan River was poured on his head “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, his forehead was anointed with oil as “Christ’s own forever”, and a candle was lit, as reminder of Christ’s light shining in this innocent young life.

Sounds like Westminster…United, rather than Cathedral!

As part of our own following of Christ, I invite us all to ponder our own baptisms – and what they represent, rather than what we remember – as well as one’s wedding, if we’ve been married, and to savour anew – or begin subscribing to - the United Church Observer. Count on helpful and inspiring insights on our denomination, as well as Faith, Justice and Ethical Living. And to paraphrase a proud father of the bride: “Such is its calibre, getting out there in the world - and aspiring to ‘transcend it’ - that I’m very proud to call her ‘our’ magazine.”

P.S. It says more about the magazine than the preacher to report that at least four households have indicated they will now begin subscribing to The Observer. Only 11 to go! Contact the Church Office.