“Kick Off Sunday: Embracing the Community with the Love of Christ”
Mark 7:24-37 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ September 9, 2018
She stood there ready to take on the world. A new backpack filled with freshly sharpened pencils, new pads of paper, and a new binder. Her outfit was carefully picked out during a ‘back to school’ shopping trip. Clean new shoes, pants free from rips and tears, and a beautiful fall jacket. She paused at the door as her proud father took her picture ~ a family tradition done every year on the first day back to school ~ and with a “Love you guys!” she was off to greet another new year and take on the world. This has been a week of beginnings for many: summer holidays concluding; rain showers returning; school reconvening; a new year is in the air! Have you seen any of these fresh, excited faces on their way to class this week? Their enthusiasm is infectious; their optimism irresistible; their hope contagious.
This is the same energy we feel in September around Northwood, isn’t it? We have missed the people who make this a church. We have missed the ministries that feed our soul. We have missed being ‘family’…we have missed being all that makes us ‘Northwood’. As much as it is ‘back to school’ time in the secular world, it is also ‘back to church’ time in the spiritual community. But this year seems to be even more resplendent with optimism and hope. It seems, at least to me, to be monumentally significant to have finally done what seemed to have been…the impossible ~ for you to have finally completed the roofing project. Listen to the rain coming down…how good does it feel to have your new roof in place? While it made good sense to follow the consultant’s advice 5 years ago: hold off, use a temporary tarp, wait for the expansion of the LRT along Fraser Highway, and look at the redevelopment of our property. This forecasted expansion did not materialize and we have been ‘in limbo’. Since my arrival the roof seems to have occupied an enormous amount of our energy. And, as you know, one only has so much energy to put out. People have described the roof to me as ‘the elephant in the room’ and an ‘anchor weighing us down’. But, as we enter into this new year, it has been made even more exciting because…YOU DID IT! The elephant has left the building; the anchor has been released and we now find ourselves liberated and sailing with freedom into the open sea. The question for us as we cast aside those things holding us back and become filled with the enthusiasm for ministry once again becomes: where will we sail in massive open ocean before us? How will we feel led to exercise ministry? Where will our ministry take us? What will the Northwood of the future look like? We hosted Presbytery for their closing BBQ back in June and they celebrated the completion with us. One Presbyter asked a poignant question that stuck for me: “now that you will not be known as the ‘church with the tarp over its roof’, what do you want to be known for now?”
One way that you have answered this question, of course, goes back to your beginning as an amalgamated congregation which we will celebrate as being 25 years in June. As Northwood, you answered this question through your mission of “embracing the community with the love of Christ”. And, my oh my, have you ever taken this mission to heart! I truly felt a call to serve with you in ministry when I realized that we both shared a ‘smorgasboard’ approach of ministry offerings. We are far from being a Sunday-morning only place…we are a very BUSY church! The Northwood brochure in your bulletin is a thumbnail sketch of many of the ways that we ‘embrace the community with the love of Christ’. We start on Monday with the Grief group, Centering Prayer and Healing Hands, the week continues with SPA’s yoga, mindfulness meditation and ‘On Our Faith Journey’ discussion group. It continues with Prayer Shawls, Senior’s Coffee, Japanese Seniors, Book Club, Lectionary Bible study, scrapbooking and our two Youth Groups. You maintain an amazing Thrift Store that serves the community and further supports ministry. You fill shoe boxes with items for people living on the streets and then feed them with the Hot Lunch ministry, and when they show up looking for food, you maintain a Food Pantry to offer emergency food! And, of yes, we also meet on Sunday for worship too! Sunday mornings with our heavenly choir, Children’s Church and Youth Group, Sunday afternoon with Jazz Vespers and the Japanese Service and Sunday night with Contemplative worship.
But it wasn’t always that way, was it? You started by gathering…gathering in the spirit of Jesus…and somehow He was in your midst…and then things began to happen. I think that is what the text was getting at in the ways that sharing Jesus became unstoppably infectious. The text opens with Jesus entering a house…not wanting anyone to know he was there…yet the text says “he could not escape notice”. Before he could get a rest, the Syrophenecian woman and her demon-possessed daughter beg Jesus for healing. Jesus and his disciples’ journey continues from Tyre towards Decapolis. And it happens again: the healing of the deaf man. Even when the healing is performed in private, the more Jesus ordered them not to tell others, the text reports that “they proclaimed it even more zealously”. The thing with the Good News / being in Jesus’ presence / being a Jesus community…the more we are with Jesus, the more we reflect and echo his way. Isn’t that what happens around here? New people come and they become inspired ~ literally ‘in the spirit’ and new things happen. New expressions of Jesus. Most recently that’s how the grief group occurred. Our 10 week fall course “Christianity: Roots and Influences” with Bren Broadland is our newest example. And next week, you will hear more about “Spirit Kids” an outreach program for elementary school aged kids on the 7 ProD days during this school year. That’s how it has always worked. You can’t stop it …when the spirit of Christ is alive! It is infectious! It is like a great party that we never want to end.
I think that is what is at the root of Jesus’ healing in these stories. After Jesus healed the deaf man, the text describes Jesus as looking heavenward and saying “Ephphatha”. It is only one six places that the gospel retains the original Aramaic language that Jesus would have spoken (see also Mark 3:17, 5:41, 7:11, 14:36 & 15:34). And as the text describes, it is literally an ‘opening’ ~ “Ephphatha…be opened!” Nelson Mandela wrote wisely of this text “if you talk to someone in a language they understand, that goes to one’s head. If you talk to them in his/her own language, that goes to their heart”. I think Jesus is literally speaking in a way that opens their ears…opening them in a way that goes not just to their head…but also to their heart…opening them to the possibilities of creating God’s Kindom of love. In the first healing, there were the boundaries between the Gentiles and the Jews. The Jews… the Children of Israel…the elect. And there were also the Gentiles…the non-Jews…in this case the Syrophenecian woman and her daughter…in our case, us. And there was that saying that they all understood in their head “Let the children (the Jews) be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs (the Gentiles)”. Children and dogs…they knew that language in their heads, and Jesus threw it back at them so that their ears might be unstopped and their hearts might begin to receive one another as all being blessed children of God.
I wonder how our ears will be unstopped as we enter into a new year. I wonder what will happen in those areas where we are deaf? Where will we begin to hear? How will we be called to ‘embrace the community with the love of Christ’ in this coming year? That is the joyful excitement we feel at this moment.
One thing is for sure, with a new roof over our head and the body of people God has united together as Northwood, we are well suited for the journey. Let us together ‘embrace the community with the love of Christ’!