“The State of the Church, 2012”
1 Samuel 16: 6-13; Mark 4: 26-32
God of seedtime and of harvest, your ways are sure even when they remain matters of hope. May we prepare our lives for the growth you bring. May we flourish as your children that our lives bloom with love, justice and welcome. Amen.
Recently many of you have seen cars flying small national flags in the streets of the city. Euro 2012, the European Soccer Championship, is under way. I am not a great soccer fan. However, many people in
native country, are. Just like the
Stanley Cup here in Korea Canada,
they are crazy about professional soccer championships, especially when there
is a soccer game between Korea
and . Then, the whole nation rocks. Japan
There is a history behind the fever of soccer games between the two neighbouring countries.
occupied the whole Korean peninsula by military force early in the last century
until the end of WWII and, during this illegal occupation, Korean people
suffered severely by being forced to take part on ’s side in the Pacific
War. Our parent’s generation is still
haunted by vivid memories of the brutal occupation and horrible war. Historically, Japan Korea
has been a small and weak country squeezed between two big and powerful
countries, China and . Japan Japan
frequently invaded Korea
whenever it was preparing to wage war against . You may imagine, because of this history, why
Korean people love to avenge themselves on China by beating them in
No matter whether they are Christians or not, Korean people have a clear reason for loving the story of David beating Goliath. They love today’s story too. Here, David appears for the first time in the Bible.
’s first king, Saul, has
fallen out of favour with God because of his unfaithfulness. God moves Samuel, the
prophet, on to his task - he must choose a new king. So begins a story that God
does not choose the obvious leader, not the oldest son, not the strongest of
the group. Seven of Jesse’s sons come before Samuel but God keeps saying “No,
not this one; keep looking.” God chooses the youngest and the least powerful –
the one not even invited in when a significant religious ritual is taking
place. All during this ceremony, the youngest is out in the fields, fulfilling
his responsibility - caring for the sheep. Yet God chooses him to be the king
and thus he is anointed by Samuel. David has been growing in ways that only God
has noticed. Israel
The two brief parables in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel picture seeds and growth. The first parable narrates the mystery of agricultural growth that occurs beyond the sight or control of the farmer. In doing so, the parable invites trust in the growth of God’s realm. What may appear dormant is actually flourishing. The second parable uses similar imagery to affirm the greatness that comes out of small beginnings.
The significance of such growth comes more clearly into view when heard in the context of Mark’s community. This group of Jesus’ followers was small and vulnerable. They lived in the tug of war between the “realms” claimed by
and Jewish Zealot revolutionaries. On
the surface, those two groups commanded the attention of their day. Yet the
parables assert that the future is not in the hands of the violent, but in the
often unseen hands of God. Rome
I expect you remember that the Forty-First General Council will meet in
this August. Much material related to this important
triennial church meeting has already been posted on the church website. We are encouraged particularly to read the
document, “The State of the Church 2012.”
This is a report that has been prepared specifically for General Council
to give a context for its work. It presents a background for where the Ottawa
is today. This morning, I would like to
share with you part of this document. United Church
The United Church of Canada was created by an Act of Parliament in 1925. It is hard to imagine Parliament getting involved in the creation of a church today. Much of the commentary of
United Church leaders in the first few decades had to do
with the desire to make
a nation that lived by Christian principles. In our increasingly diverse
Canadian society, the old assumptions of a common faith background no longer
We are in a time of change not only in the church but also in society.
is in an
era of rapid growth and urbanization. In contrast, the majority of Canada
congregations are located in rural areas and small towns and cities. United Church has the
highest rate of growth among the G8 nations; this is mostly due to immigration.
In 2006 the proportion of the foreign-born population from Asia and the Middle
East (40.8 percent) surpassed the proportion born in Canada Europe
(36.8 percent). This population trend underlines the importance of the 39th
General Council decision in 2006 to become an intercultural church.
Change can be both painful and exciting. We feel sadness about things that cannot continue, but this is also a time of opportunity. We are free to question assumptions about how things are supposed to be, let go of what once was, and embrace new possibilities and ways of being church that remain faithful to the example of Jesus in our place and time. As a church in
today, we have become
smaller and more vulnerable, living in the tug of war between commercialism and
secularism. However, we do not believe
that the future is in the hands of the Mammon.
We are part of a movement that began roughly 2,000 years ago, when people were called to leave behind their familiar lives and follow the way that Jesus led. The things that Jesus said and did as he encountered strangers—breaking bread with outcasts, healing the sick—were a great challenge to the religious leaders of his time. Those who seek to follow Jesus, as we do, have invented and reinvented “church” many times over the centuries. We do not always welcome change, but it does give us the opportunity to reshape our structures and our lives, aligning them anew to the core of our faith.
In response to those changes, for example, a New Ministries Fund has been established and funds dispersed to innovative projects, and the United Church Foundation has expanded partnerships with congregations for long-term investment in developing new ministries. EDGE: A Network for Ministry Development has been created by the General Council to support the positive transformation of ministries according to needs felt across the
Here, I am reminded of the Environics report our Joint Needs Assessment Committee received last year. It was prepared by the Environics research group upon our JNAC’s request. This report contains much interesting information about our neighbourhood, things like religion, ethnicity, education and occupations, income and marital status in our catchment area. It presents not just numbers, but offers profound insights based on the analysis of our environment. I think these are tremendously valuable when we explore possible new ministry options in the future. The problem is that many of us here may not be trained or prepared professionally to discern all the implications of this report for our future ministry. Those numbers, the in-depth analysis and intriguing interpretation may seem overwhelming to many of us.
Recently I was glad to learn that part of the work of EDGE I mentioned earlier is to offer consultations to help individual congregations tackle these kinds of daunting tasks. Today, we celebrate the completion of the work of the Transition and Joint Search Committees. Even though these committees have been disbanded, our ministry continues to be “reinvented” based on their work. Now, I wonder if EDGE may well help us absorb the data of the Evironics report to understand better our environment and, as a result, be ready to plant seeds of new ministry around this neighbourhood.
theologian has said that we need to be
ready to decrease in order that Christ may increase. We cannot enter this new
phase without pain, for we may look back on glory times in this world’s terms.
It may seem to many of us a humiliation that we are made to reconsider our
destiny as “little flocks,” not unlike Mark’s community in the first
century. Changing times offer opportunity
and hope, times to engage in fresh ways and to include new people. The call to
journey to places unknown is central to Christian life in all times. United Church
While developing opportunities for future generations in our church to respond to God’s call to mission, the next decisions we make may need to look more
deeply and dream with greater
imagination in order to plant the seeds the church needs to live faithfully
into the 21st century. Let us join the
41st General Council Commissioners in praying for the guidance of
God’s unseen hands in their decision-making. Amen.