The Emerging Spirit project will officially end on December 31, 2010.
As part of the closing of the project we gathered those who had presented workshops, under the banner of the project, from all across the country. Not all could attend but 35 gathered at Church House November 23-24, 2010. This reflection formed part of the closing worship.
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During the past few years we have been proclaiming that the prime story of our time is not that the church is dysfunctional or in decline but that God is at work and inviting us to write a new chapter in the story of God’s people.
We have used, until it wilts from exhaustion, the quote from Loren Mead:
We are at the front edges of the greatest transformation of the church that has occurred for 1,600 years. It is by far the greatest change that the church has ever experienced in America; it may eventually make the transformation of the Reformation look like a ripple in a pond.
If it is true that we are being called forward, it will not be the first time that we, as the people of God, are called to be on the move.
Our earliest stories are of a people on the move. In the identity defining story of Exodus God calls the people out from the place in which and to which they had become captive. And the people were of mixed mind about the new possibilities.
When we take the vote, during the Living the Faith sessions, as to whether people instinctively find this time to be one marked more by opportunity than loss, the vote overwhelmingly is for opportunity; and yet …. “All who want to leave behind the bread, the practices and forms that feed us and give us comfort?” – not so much.
The early ones stopped at Sinai. A profound encounter, life-changing, story making and yet, even they, felt the need to carry some of that “presence” with them. What was required to make that journey not only bearable but sacred was the presence of the tabernacle, a temporary symbol and vehicle of the presence of God. Long chapters are devoted in Exodus to the specifications of every detail and the commitment required of the leaders and the people. This section struck me in light of our gathering in this place of meeting.
Exodus 35 – 36
So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and pendants, all sorts of gold objects, everyone bringing an offering of gold to the Lord. 23 And everyone who possessed blue or purple or crimson yarn or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or fine leather, brought them. 24 Everyone who could make an offering of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s offering; and everyone who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work, brought it. 25 All the skillful women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linen; 26 all the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. 27 And the leaders brought onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece, 28 and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. 29 All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. Moses then called … every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; 3 and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, 4 so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed, 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” 6 So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; 7 for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work
I recognize you in this story, those of “a willing heart” who brought their best and offered it. This has been our experience through Emerging Spirit. You, leaders of the strange people called The United Church of Canada, stand in this line of those who offer who they are and what they have so that all the people would know God has not abandoned us AND so that there would be a visible vehicle through which the presence of God can be acknowledged and the promises of God remembered and lived again.
I am grateful for your offering. The Emerging Spirit team is grateful and the church is grateful to you.
Your offerings are a visible sign of hope for the church
Who you are and what you have to give is considerable AND it is all that God expects. I understand that we live in a time of diminishing resources and the focus is upon what we once had but I am coming to trust that what we have to offer will be enough, perhaps even more than enough, for God to write the next chapter.
Is that too strong? Too radical, too bold a story? As I am among you and listen to you I do not think it too bold. Risky but not too bold.
Sometimes as Christian leaders we are carried along by the memory of great times and great encounters that seem saturated with the holy. And sometimes, as Christian leaders, it is all we can do to cling defiantly to the promises of a new reality in spite of ….. .
In part this defiance is what Emerging Spirit is about. Can you imagine a dream more outrageous than to think our friends, our children and grandchildren might be in sacred relationship with a transforming church? Only the wild and courageous would risk such expectation. Only the talented and capable could risk trust in a life-altering God.
In this we stand in the line of those who dare to believe in new stories – the people at Sinai; the woman who reaches just for the hem;
shepherds (too stinky to be ritually clean), lepers, prostitutes, slaves who gathered in what some think was an old graveyard, overlooking Jerusalem, on the way from Bethany. And to these who were desperately in need of a new story Jesus gave a bold and strong prayer that separated them from all the other stories being told.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name. (not the name of the One who owns us or buys us)
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done, (not that of the empire of the Romans, or those who own us or the money collectors or the herd owners) …
A bold, strong, defiant story when nothing else will do.
The old hymn, Now Thank We All Our God (VU 236), was written by Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor. Rinkhart ministered during the beginning of the Thirty Years War when cities were overcrowded and ravaged by pestilence and famine. In 1737 Rinkart was the only pastor remaining alive in his city of Eilenberg. He conducted as many as 50 funerals in a day and that year 4000 in total, one of whom was for his beloved wife. In the midst of this time he wrote Now Thank We All Our God.
He is one of us; we walk together in the same company – defiant in hope during uncertain times, expecting a radical and bold story from a trustworthy God.
Hymn 236 Now Thank WE All Our God