Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C
29 May 2022
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Recently, the congregation of Matsqui Lutheran Church in Abbotsford received 30 new members. Thirty is a significant number for any of our congregations, but especially for a congregation with an average Sunday attendance of perhaps 16. To the surprise of the long-time members, on the Sunday after the newcomers had been received presented demands, demands that amounted to a takeover of the church: That the congregation end its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and stop the practice of infant baptism.
Fortunately, a procedural error was discovered in the admission into membership of this group so that this hostile takeover ultimately failed.
This is very much like the technique by which the Nazis took over churches in Germany in the 30ies to ensure to prevent the Gospel from superseding Nazi hatred. They showed up en masse for church council elections, which was possible in a Christendom church in which every citizen is considered a member, they outvoted regular members, and installed Nazis in all offices. It is for this reason that the congregation in which I was raised delays voting eligibility by two full years after someone has joined the church.
I am telling you the story about Matsqui because it beggars belief, although as people who believe in the forgiveness of sin we should know something about sinning, so we shouldn’t be quite so surprised.
I think it is also a story that should make us take a good look any safeguards we should have in place.
But mostly I am telling you this story now because it seems to me that the people who attempted the hostile takeover presented themselves as Christians and likely believe themselves that they are Christian. And yet they were able to concoct a devious and dishonest plan.
When Peace Lutheran in Abbotsford made the news because of our very modest outreach to the local homeless population, I was asked by one interviewer where all the other churches in the Bible-belt were and why it was only us who were out there. That is probably not an unreasonable question for someone to ask from the outside, yet while I affirmed that Christians were in fact called to minister to the poor and homeless, when in our services we confess our sin, we ask God to forgive us not only the things we have done, but also the things we have left undone, usually called sins of omission.
That was important to say because at no point did I believe that we were better Christians than people in other churches.
And that brings us to our Gospel reading for today. Jesus prays for the unity of his followers, for the unity of the church.
I think you know that the unity of the church is important to me. We usually call the pursuit of this unity ecumenism, which has the same root as economy, both coming from οικοϛ (oikos) for house. The idea behind both economy and ecumenism is that we all live in the same house, though both the church and the economy don’t seem to remember that very well, for if they did, perhaps Christians would not be so quick to condemn each other, and there would not be such disparity between rich and poor.
So why is there not more unity among Christians? Jesus prays for our unity, “that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (v.23)
Unity then is an act of witness to God. We are pursuing unity not simply for our own sake or to create synergies in order to be able to make our budget, or to keep things going, but for Christians unity is a spiritual exercise. This spiritual exercise begins by me refraining from demonizing others, which, of course, is an ever more popular sport.
The demonization of others is the easy way to find one’s own identity and worth, not in who one is in positive terms but who one is not. Demonization is what happens every time a buzz word is mentioned like antifa, antivaxer, liberal, right-wing, and so forth. I think the words in the church would be liberal and evangelical or fundamentalist, and the use of such words makes it clear that we have no need to talk with those people because they have nothing to contribute.
That may be the case at times, but it’s not enough to deny someone’s worth, besides it’s been said that ‘the mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ In other words, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak with one another.
But there is something else going on here as well. A couple of weeks ago I referenced our inability to accept opinions different from our own and our lack of ability to deal with conflict. This wasn’t so much about us in particular but about the church in general.
Could it be that despite all the church’s claims of forgiveness, that we are much more concerned about how to do things right, which is a good and noble goal? And could it be that being concerned about doing things right could also have something to do with wanting to be right, and that wanting to be right makes it hard for us to allow for mistakes, our own, or those of others? When Luther said, “Sin boldly,” it wasn’t about sinning but about seeking to live our faith without fear to make mistakes, for we have been called by a merciful God. Not permitting mistakes strangles creativity, it also is not conducive to unity.
I am not advocating for some sort of indifference toward matters, including what church body we belong to, or how to understand the sacrament of baptism. After all Paul and Silas had strong convictions, convictions strong enough to land them in jail. So, yes I do think what we believe and proclaim is important, as is how we live.
But what I also believe is that we can learn from each other and from others. Such learning cannot be done with the kind of deception that was at play in the attempted takeover at Matsqui, as it cannot be done if I believe that there is nothing I could possibly learn from others.
Learning from each other requires humility, the humility that I do not know or understand everything, and that others too are created in God’s image. That this humility also requires us to know who we are before we enter the conversation goes without saying, for if we don’t know who we are we will fear loosing the things we don’t know we are.
May God grant us the immersion in God’s story that it be our story, so that we need not fear to lose our identity when coming together with others.
And may God grant us the humility to know that we can learn from others,
and the unity that is the fruit of both, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit.