Our Purpose and Mission Statement

Working to build God's dream. Help wanted!

We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Monday, 10 June 2013

“With a little bit”   June 9, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Pentecost 4, Year C
Readings:1 Kings 17:8–16; Psalm 146; (Galatians 1:11–24); Luke 7:11–17           

“With a little bit of bloomin’ luck,” sings Alfred P. Doolittle, father of Eliza, the main character, early in My Fair Lady, the famous 1956 musical by Lerner and Loewe. The song reveals Doolittle as a man with very few morals. Here’s verse four, for instance, about love of neighbour, after we’ve heard sly advice about work (getting out of), liquor (getting into) and marital fidelity (optional).

The Lord above made man to help ’is neighbour,
no matter where, on land, or sea, or foam.
the Lord above made man to help his neighbour‑but
with a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck,
when he comes around you won't be home!

I’m not recommending Alfred’s approach to life. The catchy chorus of the song based on the phrase “with a little bit” came to mind when I was reading the passage in 1 Kings. Elijah is, at first glance, the complete opposite of Alfred P. Doolittle. He is resolute, intense about  faith, and upright. Having Doolittle as a friend would be a laugh (a “larf”?), but you would discover that somehow or other, you always paid for the drinks. And he would turn up to help on moving day just as the work was all done. From the way he’s portrayed in the bible, knowing Elijah personally seems like it might be intimidating.    

Except in this story. Elijah finds himself broke and on the run. From the king and the army, no less. Alfred Doolittle could relate. Elijah gets sanctuary from a widow. Doolittle would be jealous. The widow is also broke, though. She has run out of basics, and there is no food bank in the neighbourhood. No grub around the ’ouse? Doolittle would be out of there faster than you can say, “bloomin’ luck.” But this is Elijah. The story goes a different way. No flour? No oil? No problem.

As a character in a musical, the United Church would definitely not be Alfred P. Doolittle. Not enough work ethic. It wouldn’t be Henry Higgins, either. Too snooty. Higgins was trying to get a lower class person to pass as upper class, just to show off. I hope that doesn’t describe us. I’m not sure which character from a musical it might be. Those of you who know musicals can think about it. Curious, adventurous, somewhat self‑effacing, straightforward, a little uptight still. It’s the church’s birthday tomorrow. Eighty‑eight years young. Still in recovery from an addiction to growth, and still over getting an abusive relationship with empire, with power. But still smiling, and still big-hearted.

The United Church has a chance to be more real, more faithful than it ever has been. The historian who came to address Toronto Conference two weeks ago led us through five eras of the church from 1900 to the present. He pointed out the times we have struggled to be faithful. Times, for example, when the leadership of the church squashed more daring proposals coming from the grassroots. One was to do with equalizing salaries for ministers.  Another, from Toronto Conference, approved of various socialist programs.  Early into the Second World War, the Young People’s Union proposed alternative service, for pacifists who didn’t want to take a weapon. National leaders put the brakes on. The tension in the church is often like this, between daring expressions of Christ‑like love and a fear of moving away from middle class values, values of security and a reluctance to ruffle any feathers.

We have a certain freedom now. Society doesn’t know who we are and doesn’t care. People with power are not concerned with Gospel values. Their days are taken up with helping the ownership class, the ultra‑rich, get even further ahead.  We are not on their radar, a minor irritant, at best.

And yet Canada is the way it is partly because of a theology of love of neighbour, an ethic of scrupulous honesty, a concern for those on the margins. The United Church was conceived in the first decade of the last century, a time of boundless confidence about the future. The birth was delayed by war, and then cold feet on the part of many Presbyterians, but the impulse at the heart of union, to make a nation with gospel values, persisted.

What is our mission now, as the consensus about national values has broken down, and a progressive vision has moved to secularism, materialism and individualism? We have these stories to share. Or if no one wants to hear the stories themselves, then they will inspire us. Stories about healing, stories about how far a little bit of flour, and a large dollop of faith can carry you.

The stories of our recent past are not much help right now. In 1960, there was a new United Church, hall or manse opened every four days. We honestly believed this rate of growth would simply continue. Like early investors in a Ponzi scheme. It’s possible a church might experience this rate of growth again, but to pine for those days gets in the way of being faithful now. We carry a message like a glowing coal, the way people used to transport their fire from one campsite to another in a little bundle. And there is hope. I said our society has moved to secularism. In fact, many people consider themselves spiritual. Spiritual but not religious. SBNR is the awkward short form for it. I can hear you thinking, Wait, that’s me! It could well be. Who wants to think of themselves as religious these days? The phrase has become so loaded with negative images.

I guess it’s possible that nobody owes anything to anyone else. That Ayn Rand is right. That there’s no such thing as society. You are the answer to that. You are the gentle objection. You beg to differ. A couple of you got Queen’s Jubilee medals the other month for extended community service, but it seems to me they could just bring a box of them by, and hand one out to everybody around here, and many other churches driven by love of God and love of neighbour. These stories about doing for others still move you, shape you. After church we are going to turn to our own history, using the timeline hanging on the wall. It will help us figure out how we got to this place. It can’t predict the future, but it may help us learn lessons from the past. The timeline shows us how much social turmoil has taken place since 1900. Church people, and United Church people have been in the midst of things the whole time. People such as Mike Pearson, Bertha Wilson, the first female Supreme Court justice and Jack Layton have been shaped by the United Church, and they, in turn, have shaped the country and the world. John Humphrey, the UN official who pulled together the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, came from Montreal, and the United Church. The list goes on and on. And those are just some high profile people. The real contribution of the United Church has been its members from coast to coast.

It’s ordinary congregations who have set an example for their communities with their responses to “the other,” whether that person is a newcomer to the country, a refugee claiming sanctuary, low income or homeless, or part of a sexual minority. Canada has been a viciously sexist, racist, homophobic place in times gone by. It is much less so now. And that’s partly on you, and hundreds of thousands of other faithful people who have been asking themselves the good questions about Jesus of Nazareth. Not just United Church people, not just Christians, of course–many others over the years. And United Church people are always trying to build coalitions with others seeking a more caring society. It’s what we do.

If we only have enough supplies for one day, we carry on. Miracles happen. If word comes that something is over, dead for all intents and purposes, we hold out hope. There isn’t a long enough roll of paper in the world to record all the Jesus events, all the little and big acts of redemption, all the feeding, sharing and reviving that have taken place because of the three thousand or so United Churches and their resilient, thoughtful, creative people.

Listen again to today’s psalm. Ancient words that feel like a summary of so many of the things that are important to us as we love and serve others, seek justice and resist evil:

Praise God!
Praise God, O my soul!
I will praise God as long as I live;
   I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
   in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
   on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob and Rachel,
   whose hope is in God their God,
who made heaven and earth,
   the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
   who executes justice for the oppressed;

   who gives food to the hungry.

God sets the prisoners free;
   God opens the eyes of the blind.
God lifts up those who are bowed down;
   God loves the righteous.
God watches over the strangers;
   she upholds the orphan and the widow,
   but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

God will reign for ever,
   with a little bit of luck,
   your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise God!
I added that part about luck.

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