It is good to be with you all. Thank you for the invitation.1
I want to remind you a story from a few years ago.
10th Ave Alliance Church in Vancouver decided to renovate the front of their building.
Because work was being done on the front of the building, neighbours who came to the church for weekday meals – along with everyone else – were asked to use the back entrance.
It was the people who came for the meals, not those who came for Bible studies, choir, and other activities that got other neighbours to complain to the City of Vancouver.
The City intervened by sending a letter to the church, which stated the church is not permitted to feed the poor and the hungry because it is not in the possession of a social services permit.
Do you remember the story?
This made the folks at 10th Avenue and their friends think about a response to the City and in order to respond to the city they needed to articulate what it is to be a follower of Jesus.
What they articulated (the_social_vocation_of_the_church) for themselves first and for the city second was that serving the poor is essential to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Yes, they said, not all churches do it, and not all Christians do it all the time, but it is mandated by our Lord. We do not need a social services permit because we are merely doing what our Lord mandated.
2017 was the year of the commemoration of the Reformation. It used to be called celebration but commemoration is a better word because not everything about the Reformation is worth celebrating, like the schism that was the result of the Reformation. My wife grew up at St. Jo’s and when we first dated she would affectionately call me “you splitter, you.” I tried to reciprocate by calling her a “papist” but that somehow got no traction with me because I didn’t mind the pope or a pope.
In John 17 Jesus prays that his followers be one.
When asked about the greatest commandment Jesus quotes Deuteronomy and Leviticus, 29 … ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’
What we do tonight may seem like a luxury. After all, most of us who are Christians have already been to church today, and other may have been to their mosques, temple, Gurdwaras, and respective houses of worship. But if we, and I speak as a Christian, pay attention to the One we follow, we will see that just like the care of the poor has nothing to do with a social services permit, so pursuing the unity of the church and loving our neighbour is not a luxury but essential to what it means to follow Jesus.
We don’t do it all the time and not all of us do it. But it is not optional.
Let me add that this prayer of Jesus for the unity of the church and the commandment to love our neighbour are not a burden but a gift, for we know that we meet God in our neighbour for all people are created in God’s image, and it means that we are not alone.
Not to be alone is important in times like these, changing as they are.
And so we come together not only out of a sense of duty but with deep gratitude that God has placed us together in this community.
1Carol Event at St Monica Parish in Richmond, BC