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, 31 October 2011

Sermon October 30, 2011

We Are All Students
Matthew 23: 1- 12
Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes United, Oct 30, 2011

We are all students under one rabbi, Jesus Christ, O God.  We are all students called to live out servant leadership in and through your body, the church.  As your students, may we say less and live courageously the faith he lived, died for and lives today in each of us.  Amen.

 A few weeks ago, we celebrated Thanksgiving Sunday.  In Korea, my native country, people celebrate Thanksgiving Day a month or so earlier, based on the lunar calendar.  Like here, each family gathers in one place, usually in the rural ancestral home, where their grandparents live, and give thanks to their ancestors.  One of the ways to give thanks is to go to the gravesites of their ancestors and bow deeply twice in front of each grave. 

Before making the bows, the head of the household explains to younger generations who is buried in each grave, reading the inscription on the gravestone.  The title the ancestor had in life is inscribed on each gravestone.  The title usually refers to the various offices of the old dynasties.  However, most ordinary people did not have such offices at all.  The descendants of ordinary people, nevertheless, wish to address their ancestors by certain titles.  So, they often use the title, “Haksaeng.”  The literal meaning of this common title is “student.”  As a result, most gravestones in Korea start with the same word, “student.”  If I died in Korea, my children might inscribe my gravestone like this: “Student, Kim Jong Bok, Rest in Peace...” 

I have no clue to why our ancestors chose the word, “student.”  Perhaps, they wanted to say we were all life-long learners.  This morning, it is interesting to see that Matthew chose a word with the same literal meaning to address all the members of his church.

To begin with, let us explore the meaning of some of the words in today’s Gospel.  “Scribes” and “Pharisees” are distinct, but overlapping categories. Scribes were a professional class with formal training, somewhat like lawyers in contemporary society. They were schooled in the tradition. Pharisees were a group within Judaism defined by strictly religious rules, composed mostly of laypersons without formal theological training. Some scribes were also Pharisees, but few Pharisees were scribes. Together, they represent the Jewish leadership of Matthew’s time.

“Moses’ seat” is a metaphorical expression of the synagogue leadership - the Scribes and Pharisees. Matthew’s critique of their leadership is threefold: first, they say but do not do (23: 3a); secondly, they burden others while failing to act themselves (23: 4); thirdly, they act for the wrong reason: to make an impression on others (23: 5-7).

The Scribes and Pharisees were intent, above all else, on keeping the Law that God gave Moses.  They strove to keep all God’s laws as carefully as possible. They applied the Priestly purity laws to the people as a whole. For Matthew, their efforts were an intolerable and misdirected burden for ordinary people. The alternative to the “burden” placed on people’s shoulders is Jesus’ own “yoke:” according to Matthew, Jesus said earlier, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (11: 28-30).”

Furthermore, the synagogue leadership emphasized external signs of piety.  Matthew was not happy with these practices either. “Phylacteries” refers to small leather boxes containing portions of the Torah strapped to the forehead and arm during the recitation of prayers (Deuteronomy 6: 8). The “fringes” are those commanded as part of the dress of every Israelite, later understood as the tassels attached to the prayer shawl (Deut 22: 12). The “best seats” in the synagogue refer to the place of honour at the front, facing the congregation, occupied by teachers and respected leaders.

In response to the practices of the synagogue leadership, Matthew stressed a strong egalitarian leadership. The word, “rabbi,” literally means “my great one.” So, Matthew forbids its use for Christian leaders, but allows it, or even encourages it, for Jesus alone.  All members of the Christian community, as members of the family of God, are “students.”  Matthew does not want to distinguish them by titles.

In addition, just as he restricts the title “rabbi” to Jesus, Matthew restricts the title “Father” to God. “Father” is Matthew’s favourite designation for deity. Matthew’s church did have a class of leaders, but Matthew regarded them from a more egalitarian perspective. For Matthew, leadership in the Christian community is to be servant leadership. The concept of servanthood comes from the word, “deacon,” which means literally “servant.”

Today’s passage sounds like a once-upon-a-time story.  Some of us might well be wary of reading this text as a way of criticizing the hypocrisy of first-century Jews.  At first reading, today’s text may seem to have little to do with us. However, when we read it more closely, it may address something central to our own lives, something that seems so human.

We all like to be acknowledged at social gatherings; we all like to be greeted in the marketplace. It is not a matter of being hypocritical, but of being human: we are social creatures, and we like to be known and liked. All of us live with the desire to be accepted by others. We all may be guilty of playing out our lives as responses to these pressures for recognition.

At the Community Dinner last Monday evening, I was pleased to see three boys doing dishes in the kitchen: Matthew, Tyler and Collin, three grade six students from the Boy Scouts.  They came early and started their work, guided by Warner, as soon as the plates began to pile up.  Collin cleaned the dishes at the sink and Tyler took them to the dishwasher grid while Matthew dried them.  And Tyler joined Matthew in putting them back on the shelves.  They did not say much, but worked together efficiently like a well-trained team. 

As their work was almost finished, I couldn’t help but say thanks to each of them.  When I approached Matthew, Warner made fun of me, saying, “This is Minister Pirate.”  Then, I realized I was wearing a red bandana on my head.  In spite of Warner’s joke, Matthew seemed to be shy and nervous of me.  Asked if he had been here before, he said “No.”  Asked how he felt about his work today, he said “Okay.”  In response to my thanks, he said, “No problem.”  That was it.  The other two boys responded to me almost the same way, except that Collin had been here before.  I wonder if these three boys may well teach us how to live out our words through our lives.  They are students, but as well they are our teachers, doing things quietly, not worried about others’ recognition.

One of the joys I have at the Community Dinner is that I have many opportunities to share life stories with the volunteers.  While delivering plates, Ellie told me that John and she had been nannies for a kitten her friend couldn’t take care of temporarily.  It sounded to me that it was challenging to look after the untrained kitten.  But she said that, as they had never had a cat before, the kitten had trained and taught them.  I appreciated her perspective.  I was reminded that learning was always a two-way interaction.  What is missing from the lives of the Pharisees in Matthew is humility, an openness to be learners as well as teachers.

As all the clients were served, Ellie and I sat at the same table for a meal.  Our conversation moved to the flowers she brought to church last Sunday.  I wonder how many of you remember the dark blue flowers flanked by birch branches last Sunday.  Ellie kindly taught me about it: it was Monk’s Hood.  Isn’t that an interesting name?  I was amazed with the depth of her knowledge of the plant.  She went on talking about its scientific name and its characteristics, where it grew, when it bloomed, what kind of soil it needed - things like that.  She is a student as well as teacher.  Listening to her, I felt guilty because I had not said thank you enough to Ellie for her exceptional contribution to our Sunday service.  She said she loved to do so, not thinking about others’ recognition of her contribution. 

If we want to look for students living out the servant leadership Matthew is referring to today, we do not need to look far.  We find plenty of them right here at Glen Rhodes, everyday of the week.  

Today, Matthew proposes an alternative world, a world seen from the perspective of the kingdom of God, an alternative family where all are called students under one rabbi, Jesus Christ, and one Father, God.  There is no need to “make our phylacteries broad and fringes long” or to be acknowledged by others.  God acknowledges us all as members of one faith family. The acceptance of God removes the heavy yoke of self-justification. Thanks be to God that there are so many students who say little but live courageously in the faith here at Glen Rhodes.  Amen.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sermon October 09, 2011

Why Should We Give Thanks?

Deuteronomy 8: 7-18; Luke 17: 11-19
Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes United, Oct 09, 2011

Thank you, God, source of all life and wholeness, for living among us, your people. May we rejoice in your grace, in which we live and move and have our being, with gratitude. Amen.

The provincial election is over.  Whenever elections take place here, I am always reminded of what happened in my native country, South Korea, until the early nineties.  There were no elections in any real sense.  Typically, there was only one candidate, usually a military dictator, during Presidential elections. Supported by the United States, it was presented to the world as a democratic election.  Throughout three decades, inspired and guided by many dedicated political activists, people took to the streets and finally ended the military dictatorships and elected a civilian President by a fair election process for the first time in their history in 1991.  It was a costly endeavour; it claimed thousands and thousands of lives.  So many political activists or opponents were brutally tortured and killed during this long movement toward democracy.

Because of that experience, I am always excited during elections, federal, provincial and municipal.  To me, the election process itself is very important. I always rejoice in the opportunity for all citizens to be part of forming our governments ourselves, since governments have such an impact on our everyday lives.  In my native country, I gave thanks to those who dedicated themselves to the democratic movement, especially those who offered their lives during the various political uprisings.  Here in Canada, I do not know any specific group of people to whom I should give thanks for this well-developed electoral system.

According to today’s readings from both Deuteronomy and Luke, the people living in Palestine thousands of years ago, also wondered about to whom to give thanks. On this Thanksgiving Sunday, today’s passages express wonder and joy at the goodness and abundance of God’s creation. Yet, each reading also refers to the reality of our human tendency to forget or ignore the source of all this goodness and our failure to give thanks. Often we do not even fully recognize our abundance. We do not feel grateful and instead of sharing our blessings with others, we find ourselves clutching what we have and longing for more!

The whole book of Deuteronomy reflects the joy experienced by the Israelites as they discover the richness and beauty of the land of Canaan. Written centuries after the stories of Moses’ life and death, it shares, with all who listen, the wonder of what they had received in the past. It was theirs by the gift of God, not by their own strength or will. In today’s reading, the people are cautioned that when they reach the promised land they may feel inclined to believe that it was through their own skills that they had acquired all these blessings.

The Luke reading describes Jesus’ encounter as he journeys to Jerusalem with some people living with leprosy. People afflicted with leprosy or some similarly debilitating skin disease lived in isolated villages, segregated from others because of their illness, but close enough to receive charity. Interestingly, the band of ten outcasts who travelled together was made up of nine Jews and one Samaritan. Under different circumstances, the Jews would have had nothing to do with a Samaritan. But here they band together out of common need! Sometimes we learn through painful experience what our ignorance prevents us from discovering when all is going well!

The ten people with leprosy, keeping the appropriately prescribed distance, call out for Jesus to heal them. Jesus responds by telling them to go and show themselves to the priest, an official act to be performed when a person was healed of a skin disease. (Leviticus 13 & 14)

Although they are not yet healed, those with leprosy trust Jesus and hurry off to see the priests. On their way, the story records, they are healed! When the Samaritan realizes this, he returns to Jesus to express his gratitude. It appears that the other nine forgot to give thanks. Jesus blesses the Samaritan and says, “Your faith has made you well.” The others may have been cured of leprosy, but it was the outcast Samaritan who had been made whole.  It may be helpful here to note that the Greek word for wholeness is often translated as salvation.

Ten were healed, but only one recognized the healing for what it was. When he saw the healing, the Samaritan did not just celebrate his good fortune; he returned to praise God and fall on his face before Jesus in the manner of profound gratitude. What about the other nine?  One may wonder if the absence of the ability to be grateful reveals a self-centeredness or an attitude that one deserves more. 

Last week, I read an insightful article in the latest ‘United Church Observer’ about giving thanks.  In her article, titled, “Giving Thanks amid Uncertainty,” the Rev. Trisha Elliott says that thanking God is easy when things go right, but hardship can foster a more radical kind of gratitude.  Quoting another writer, she says that there are many moving stories of people who have expressed gratitude in extremely difficult times: “Through their acts of gratitude, they did not let themselves be defined by death and destruction.  Because of gratitude, death did not have dominion.” 

I think the Rev. Elliott offers us an insight into the very reason why we should give thanks.  We give thanks not because God wants to be thanked or Jesus calls us to do so, but because we will be empowered to shift our attention from the drone of negativity and despair within and around us to the bigger question of God’s claim on our life.  By giving thanks, we find strength to transfer our focus from our brokenness to God’s embracing love for us.  According to Elliott, giving thanks does not deny pain or grief.  Giving thanks means that even while feeling all the pain or loss deeply, one chooses to rest in the gracious presence of God, “in life, in death, in life beyond death.”  It is knowing that we are more than the sum of our pain.

 Two Sundays from today, we are going to have a special Congregational Meeting to make a decision based on our Joint Needs Assessment Committee (JNAC)’s report and recommendations.  Our JNAC deserves our deep thanks for their hard work.  It took them months of painstaking commitment. They have met almost twenty times including conference calls since last June, even without any breaks during the summer.  Recently they worked so long in the Barbara Christie Room, spending so many hours in each meeting, even to a whole day, to finalize their documents that they were thinking they needed to set up bunk beds there. 

As you read the report, which will be available very soon, you will see that they have produced a well-crafted document about our ministry personnel needs.  You will be impressed by their superb ability to describe eloquently who we are as a congregation and what we need in terms of the skills and gifts of the ordained minister we are seeking.

Following a list of our needs for ordained ministry, the position description ends like this:
Above all else, we need an experienced minister who recognizes and shares largesse of heart; who understands and accepts the many diverse ways in which we express our faith and love for our own community, and the larger community, and all of God's creation. 

How does that sound to you?  However, let us not miss the part about what you have gone through in terms of your relationship with previous ministers. You have experienced enormous challenges including the sense of profound loss since the retirement of your over-two-decade-long, dedicated and much loved minister and subsequently, the feeling of painful separation from your next minister as she left on long-term medical leave.  Our JNAC invites you to acknowledge your pain and grief of the past with honesty and give thanks to those who have walked with you in such difficult times including your two previous supply ministers. 

Today, we are invited to give thanks to all those who have journeyed with us, and to God, in order to be enabled and empowered to begin a journey anew with an incoming minister next year.  Our JNAC declares: “We are a resilient congregation…. We have worked hard to be who we are - an open congregation, a loving congregation, a wise congregation, an Affirming congregation” and a living congregation.  Thanks be to God.   Amen.