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

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Facing The Wolf Courageously 

Acts 4: 5-12; John 10: 11-18

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC on Sunday, April 29th, 2012

 God of our risen Christ, in your presence we are strengthened to live lives of love and truth; in Jesus you lived alongside us and in the Spirit you live in us. For this, we give thanks. Amen.

 Early last week, Alberta voters proved themselves to be literally conservative: in the recent provincial election, they stuck with what they have had for the last four decades; they refused to change to become more conservative.  They gave the Progressive Conservatives a strong mandate to continue to govern the province.  Defying all predictions, the governing party won a convincing majority victory over the Wildrose Party, a more right-wing version of the Tories.

From the beginning, most polls suggested that the upstart Wildrose Party was going to end the governing party's long reign over Alberta politics.  Because of those polls, this election drew national attention throughout the campaign.  The war for power between the two parties, one which had governed the province for over 40 years and another which did not even exist four years ago, has occupied the headlines of the media for weeks.

According to today’s passage from Acts, there was another war for power between two parties in the first century Palestine: one which had ruled for many generations and another which did not even exist a couple of generations ago.  Continuing last week’s story about the healing of the lame man, the author, Luke, paints a picture of two opposing forces. On one side stands the Sanhedrin, made up of the Saducees, Pharisees and Scribes of Jerusalem—high-ranking religious leaders. On the other side are Peter and John, “uneducated common men.” The members of the Sanhedrin ask the disciples to describe by what power or in whose name they healed the lame man. Peter answers that their authority comes from Jesus—the stone that the builders of the nation have rejected as unworthy. It is this same Jesus whom God raised from the dead and who continues to heal through the courageous and loving acts of his followers.

Throughout their testimony, Peter and John challenge the very authority of the religious leaders, tacitly accusing them of allowing God’s Chosen One to suffer. Despite their anger at this chal­lenge, the religious authorities know that if they discipline the disciples, there will be opposition and protest from the people. Instead, as Luke shows us later in the same chapter, the Sanhedrin tries to silence them. As history has proven, attempts to silence people often result in their message being more widely spread. Such is the case in this story. Luke records that Peter and John continued to preach, and more people became disciples.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Peter’s impassioned speech to the Sanhedrin is that the disciples are people of low status in their society.  Not long before, they had been meeting behind locked doors, fearful of the power of the religious authorities. Yet they now have the inner strength to openly declare their love for the risen Christ. The love and faithful­ness of God they experienced through the risen Christ has given them the power to testify to their faith even at great risk to themselves.

The writer of the Gospel of John picks up the image of the loving shepherd to describe their experience of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus is identified as the Good Shepherd who knows the sheep and is willing to die for them. Other sheep will listen to his voice and together they will become one flock. The true test of being in harmony with God comes with the ap­pearance of the wolf – hard times. Those who are not truly committed to the Good News will scatter when faced with opposi­tion and hardship. John wrote his gospel for those who were facing dangerous and testing times. For them, the wolf was Rome, the centre of military and political power.  Here comes again a war for power between two parties: one armed with military power and the other strengthened with Christ’s love.  

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting of ministers from the eleven East End United Church congregations.  This meeting was initiated by Jim McKibbin, the East End Mission Developer; he has been working on building a sense of community, developing a common mission and exploring a common vision among the United Church congregations in this area.  As it was the first meeting of this kind, we spent a great deal of time becoming informed about what has been going on in each congregation.  The majority of the congregations are struggling with almost identical challenges: dwindling membership and shrinking resources. 

During the conversation, I noticed that there seemed to have been two ways of trying to meet those challenges.  One way was to struggle to survive by focusing on their own needs; the other was to continue to reach out, focusing on the needs of the community around them.  In fact, many United Church congregations in this area have spent tens of thousands of dollars to maintain their buildings, replacing old heating systems or renovating for rental income or for their own needs. Only a few congregations have worked hard to meet the needs of their neighbours instead.  It is obvious that there has been a war for power between two forces: the fear of death and the call to ministry. 

Unlike the war for power between the two conservative parties in Alberta, ours is a war between polar opposite forces, life and death.  We know this is a difficult time for all the congregations in this area; it is a testing time for all of us.  As John says, a wolf appears just around the corner.  The wolf is prowling around us and we are afraid of being killed.  The force of this fear is enormous.  Like a hired hand, we may choose to run away from our call and focus on our own survival.  If so, our priority would be to meet our own needs like renovating our church building for our own use.

As a church, we have been committed through our outreach programmes like the Food Bank and Community Dinner to meeting the needs of our neighbours for almost three decades. These programmes are not cheap.  They require a great deal of our financial resources and donations in kind like labour, time and food. Not only that, but these efforts occupy much of our building space.  It means we have very limited space to use for other purposes, including rental income.  Ours is not an idle commitment, especially in these hard times.  We know what has happened to two neighbouring United Church congregations, Woodgreen and Riverdale.  Indeed, the wolf is prowling around us. 

Nonetheless, we believe the Easter experience transforms us and empowers us to love and transform the world. In our reading from Acts today, we see an example of that transformation. Peter—the one who had once denied Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house—now speaks out courageously when confronted by the Sanhedrin. God’s love, expressed in Christ’s resurrection and forgiveness, has changed him. Today that same love continues to transform and heal, giving us courage and enabling us to be open to the needs of others. In the giving of ourselves we often discover that it is we who are given the greatest gift—the assur­ance that God’s love is and always will be with us, providing us with the power to love and transform the world.

At the Annual General Meeting last month, we elected our Church Council members.  According to the Manual, the primary responsibility of the Church Council is to exercise leadership in the care and oversight of the spiritual life and interests of the Pastoral Charge (United Church Manual, 223).  Our Council members are elected to exercise leadership in our spiritual growth through our life and work together in this church.  Their responsibilities are huge especially in this time of trial.  The wolf is prowling around us.  Facing the wolf will take a great deal of courage and strength.  The Council needs our support, prayer and encouragement.  That is why we are covenanting with them today.  Now, I would like to invite all the Council members to come forward to the front for the covenanting service.

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