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, 19 June 2012

“The State of the Church, 2012”

1 Samuel 16: 6-13; Mark 4: 26-32

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC on Sunday, June 17, 2012

 God of seedtime and of harvest, your ways are sure even when they remain matters of hope.  May we prepare our lives for the growth you bring. May we flourish as your children that our lives bloom with love, justice and welcome.  Amen.

Recently many of you have seen cars flying small national flags in the streets of the city.  Euro 2012, the European Soccer Championship, is under way. I am not a great soccer fan.  However, many people in Korea, my native country, are.  Just like the Stanley Cup here in Canada, they are crazy about professional soccer championships, especially when there is a soccer game between Korea and Japan.  Then, the whole nation rocks. 

There is a history behind the fever of soccer games between the two neighbouring countries.  Japan occupied the whole Korean peninsula by military force early in the last century until the end of WWII and, during this illegal occupation, Korean people suffered severely by being forced to take part on Japan’s side in the Pacific War.  Our parent’s generation is still haunted by vivid memories of the brutal occupation and horrible war.  Historically, Korea has been a small and weak country squeezed between two big and powerful countries, China and Japan.  Japan frequently invaded Korea whenever it was preparing to wage war against China.  You may imagine, because of this history, why Korean people love to avenge themselves on Japan by beating them in soccer. 

No matter whether they are Christians or not, Korean people have a clear reason for loving the story of David beating Goliath.  They love today’s story too. Here, David appears for the first time in the Bible. Israel’s first king, Saul, has fallen out of favour with God because of his unfaithfulness. God moves Samuel, the prophet, on to his task - he must choose a new king. So begins a story that God does not choose the obvious leader, not the oldest son, not the strongest of the group. Seven of Jesse’s sons come before Samuel but God keeps saying “No, not this one; keep looking.” God chooses the youngest and the least powerful – the one not even invited in when a significant religious ritual is taking place. All during this ceremony, the youngest is out in the fields, fulfilling his responsibility - caring for the sheep. Yet God chooses him to be the king and thus he is anointed by Samuel. David has been growing in ways that only God has noticed.

The two brief parables in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel picture seeds and growth. The first parable narrates the mystery of agricultural growth that occurs beyond the sight or control of the farmer. In doing so, the parable invites trust in the growth of God’s realm. What may appear dormant is actually flourishing. The second parable uses similar imagery to affirm the greatness that comes out of small beginnings.

The significance of such growth comes more clearly into view when heard in the context of Mark’s community. This group of Jesus’ followers was small and vulnerable. They lived in the tug of war between the “realms” claimed by Rome and Jewish Zealot revolutionaries. On the surface, those two groups commanded the attention of their day. Yet the parables assert that the future is not in the hands of the violent, but in the often unseen hands of God.

I expect you remember that the Forty-First General Council will meet in Ottawa this August.  Much material related to this important triennial church meeting has already been posted on the church website.  We are encouraged particularly to read the document, “The State of the Church 2012.”  This is a report that has been prepared specifically for General Council to give a context for its work. It presents a background for where the United Church is today.  This morning, I would like to share with you part of this document.

The United Church of Canada was created by an Act of Parliament in 1925. It is hard to imagine Parliament getting involved in the creation of a church today. Much of the commentary of United Church leaders in the first few decades had to do with the desire to make Canada a nation that lived by Christian principles. In our increasingly diverse Canadian society, the old assumptions of a common faith background no longer apply.

We are in a time of change not only in the church but also in society. Canada is in an era of rapid growth and urbanization. In contrast, the majority of United Church congregations are located in rural areas and small towns and cities. Canada has the highest rate of growth among the G8 nations; this is mostly due to immigration. In 2006 the proportion of the foreign-born population from Asia and the Middle East (40.8 percent) surpassed the proportion born in Europe (36.8 percent). This population trend underlines the importance of the 39th General Council decision in 2006 to become an intercultural church.

Change can be both painful and exciting. We feel sadness about things that cannot continue, but this is also a time of opportunity. We are free to question assumptions about how things are supposed to be, let go of what once was, and embrace new possibilities and ways of being church that remain faithful to the example of Jesus in our place and time. As a church in Canada today, we have become smaller and more vulnerable, living in the tug of war between commercialism and secularism.  However, we do not believe that the future is in the hands of the Mammon. 

We are part of a movement that began roughly 2,000 years ago, when people were called to leave behind their familiar lives and follow the way that Jesus led. The things that Jesus said and did as he encountered strangers—breaking bread with outcasts, healing the sick—were a great challenge to the religious leaders of his time. Those who seek to follow Jesus, as we do, have invented and reinvented “church” many times over the centuries. We do not always welcome change, but it does give us the opportunity to reshape our structures and our lives, aligning them anew to the core of our faith.

In response to those changes, for example, a New Ministries Fund has been established and funds dispersed to innovative projects, and the United Church Foundation has expanded partnerships with congregations for long-term investment in developing new ministries. EDGE: A Network for Ministry Development has been created by the General Council to support the positive transformation of ministries according to needs felt across the United Church.

Here, I am reminded of the Environics report our Joint Needs Assessment Committee received last year. It was prepared by the Environics research group upon our JNAC’s request.  This report contains much interesting information about our neighbourhood, things like religion, ethnicity, education and occupations, income and marital status in our catchment area.  It presents not just numbers, but offers profound insights based on the analysis of our environment.  I think these are tremendously valuable when we explore possible new ministry options in the future.  The problem is that many of us here may not be trained or prepared professionally to discern all the implications of this report for our future ministry.  Those numbers, the in-depth analysis and intriguing interpretation may seem overwhelming to many of us. 

Recently I was glad to learn that part of the work of EDGE I mentioned earlier is to offer consultations to help individual congregations tackle these kinds of daunting tasks. Today, we celebrate the completion of the work of the Transition and Joint Search Committees.  Even though these committees have been disbanded, our ministry continues to be “reinvented” based on their work.  Now, I wonder if EDGE may well help us absorb the data of the Evironics report to understand better our environment and, as a result, be ready to plant seeds of new ministry around this neighbourhood.

A respected United Church theologian has said that we need to be ready to decrease in order that Christ may increase. We cannot enter this new phase without pain, for we may look back on glory times in this world’s terms. It may seem to many of us a humiliation that we are made to reconsider our destiny as “little flocks,” not unlike Mark’s community in the first century.  Changing times offer opportunity and hope, times to engage in fresh ways and to include new people. The call to journey to places unknown is central to Christian life in all times.

While developing opportunities for future generations in our church to respond to God’s call to mission, the next decisions we make may need to look more deeply and dream with greater imagination in order to plant the seeds the church needs to live faithfully into the 21st century.  Let us join the 41st General Council Commissioners in praying for the guidance of God’s unseen hands in their decision-making. Amen.

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