“We Keep … Getting Up and Going” ~ 20th Anniversary Sunday
Mark 4:35-41 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ June 24, 2018
There is nothing quite like being a ‘risk taking’ Christian. I have tried skydiving, but there is nothing like living the Christian faith; I have driven a motorcycle in my young adult years, but there is nothing like living the Christian faith; I have bungee jumped, but there is nothing like living the Christian faith. There is nothing like being a ‘risk taking’ Christian who lives out their faith because we boldly wear a symbol of death and oppression around our necks ~ the cross ~ and boldly proclaim that we do not need to be afraid. For God is with us transforming even the ways of death into ways of life. There is nothing quite like being a ‘risk taking’ Christian.
I am remembering back to the mid 90’s when I was attending Seminary, training for ministry. And I heard about these two churches who felt led to leave their buildings, to sell them and to become one even bigger spiritual family who were better enabled to serve the North Surrey / Fleetwood area. (Perhaps you have heard of them?) You just saw the pictures of Northwood’s history…some of you were there! You were a little younger…a little more hair…a little more of a youthful glow…and YOU were there taking risks…taking risks for the gospel. What was previously North Surrey United Church and Fleetwood United Church married together to become Northwood United Church. And for four years, you looked and looked for a place that would be your home. You wandered in the wilderness looking for the promised land flowing with Tim Hortons and the myriad of other restaurants that are in this neighbourhood. And then … one day…you found it…8855 156 Street. The vision of the new home was made real. Plans were drawn and the construction began. And a covenanting service dedicating the new building was held on June 28, 1998. And the sermon preached was by the Rev. Dr. Tom Bandy ~ who at the time was the secretary of the department for evangelism for the United Church ~ a church growth consultant. The title of his sermon: “Get Up and Go”. And you did you ever!…you got up and you went.
And over the past 20 years, you have kept ‘getting up and going’. New ministries have been created, other ministries have concluded. New people have arrived, other people have moved away. New ministers have arrived, former ministers have been bid farewell. And to be clear…being in the ministry business is risky, difficult business. It is hard, patient, caring work. You know, of course, that we are in an era of rapid church decline? Just keeping the doors open of a church is a tremendously challenging and scary task! While we are the largest Protestant Denomination in Canada, and the second largest Christian denomination behind the Roman Catholics, even our United Church is rapidly declining ~ yet we keep on getting up and going! Statistics show that we peaked following the WW2 baby boom and since 1964 have been declining. In our ‘hey day’ we were at 1.1 million members. We have been declining by around 8% per year since that time putting us around 400,000 members today. ‘Being the church’ is scary, it is challenging, yet we ‘keep on getting up and going’ because that is the call to the follower of Jesus.
I ruminated over selecting a perfect text for this morning’s service ~ readings came to me in my sleep and I would wake up and jot them down. Then I decided to look at what the lectionary had for us to consider this morning. And as I looked at the gospel reading, I knew the Spirit was moving. Imagine…Jesus and the disciples are crossing over to the other side of the lake by boat, a great windstorm comes upon them, the waves are beating upon the side, the boat is becoming swamped and they prepare to go under…and while this is all happening…Jesus is asleep on a cushion. They run to him “teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” After calming the winds and the sea, Jesus challenges them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they say to one another “who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
What I love about this text is the call for us to place our whole selves into our faith ~ amidst our individualistic, self-serving, (sometimes even) narcissistic culture, we are still called to have faith…not in ourselves…but in God’s grace, God’s guidance and God’s universal embrace. We are, to use Dr. Bandy’s term, called to “Get up and Go”. And that is exactly what, I think, makes Northwood such a blessed community of faith ~ and what will serve us well in the future. People can spot, a mile away, phony country clubs who gather for their benefit. Yet when you actually model the way of Jesus’ love, grace and peace, people can’t stay away! There is something about being welcomed so genuinely that you know you matter, that you know you are in Jesus’ presence; there is something about living our your faith ~ the way you do ~ in ministries with the homeless, with the refugee, with the stranger who comes for food, or prayer ~ that speaks louder than any cross upon your roof.
So…we are 20 years old. On the milestone of the United Church’s 80th anniversary, The Rt. Rev. Peter Short was our then United Church Moderator. I recall him commenting on the meaning of 40 in our faith ~ as we had just completed two seasons of 40 year’s in length. Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness; the Hebrew people’s 40 years in the wilderness, Noah’s 40 days at sea (and the list goes on) ~ In biblical terms, 40 means ‘a long time’. Interestingly, we are just half way there ~ we are 20. We are half way through the journey. You have just completed a roofing project with a life expectancy of 20-30 years, so it seems like you have some big plans! I wonder where the journey will take us? I wonder how we will be called? I wonder where we will be at 40 years?
One thing is certain…there will be challenges. The waves will beat the sides of our boat and the wind will blow. Yet, if we do as the disciples did in the boat did, we will be OK. They asked good faith questions about the one they follow. They said “who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him”. And perhaps that will be our task…to discover ~ together ~ to discover what following this Mediterranean peasant rabbi really means. Following him with nothing but our faith, knowing that it will be enough and that all will be well.
And so, as we move into the next 20 years, may we keep getting up and keep on going.