Text: Samuel 3:1-10
About three years ago we had a congregational retreat in the Upper Hall. It was well attended and we got fed well both physically and spiritually. On the walls there were newsprint papers with some questions on them. The participants were encouraged to complete the following sentences ‘For Me, Being A Christian Is …’, and ‘Being A Christian Is Not …’, ‘For Me, Belonging to the Church Is…’ and ‘Belonging to the Church Is Not …’ I’d like to share some of your answers. For you, being a Christian is all you’ve ever known, about spirit to being a good neighbour, living the golden rule, being caring and compassionate and respectful to those around you and with those less fortunate, empathy for others, helping and understanding, trying to follow Christ’s teaching and knowing that falling short is always going to be a part of it, loving one another, being kind and understanding of others outside of your faith circle, about loving others to experience the holy, search for truth, enlightenment and trust in God, and respecting and protecting creation.
I am in awe of your genuine responses. Those answers don’t just come from your heads. They come from your hearts, born out of your life long quests. None of you says, being a Christian is about following a set of rules or the Manual or being judgmental of others. Instead, you express the desire to practice your faith in your relationship with everyone and everything else. You demonstrate what loving God and neighbours look like with your actions. Being rooted in God’s radical hospitality, you walk through the narrow gate that leads to the life abundant not just for a few but for all. God is alive in each of you. The Spirit is alive in the life and work of this church.
It’s been almost three and a half years since I came to accompany you on your ongoing journey of faith. The journey has been good for me, and I hope it’s been a good one for you as well. I feel like I am beginning to know you as a congregation. Perhaps, you feel like beginning to know me as well. You know, you have to either live together or travel together with your partner in order to know who the person really is. Sharing all the ups and downs of their life together, the two people get to know each other better. They know not only how much they need each other, but also how much their partners need them. That is, I think, one of the secrets of the healthy long-term relationship. As in any viable relationship, the more I get to know you, the more I get to understand myself and our shared ministry.
I am beginning to notice your values. Your values are the things you believe are important in the way you live and work. They determine your priorities, and they are the measures you can use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to. The following values are what I have found in you, and they are at the very heart of this congregation: spirituality, social justice and inclusion or hospitality. You don’t always speak about them explicitly, but they have played a significant role in your decision making.
First, hospitality. I’m a bit reluctant to use the word, inclusion as it implies not equal statuses between those who welcome and those who are welcomed. The act of including implies a separation between insiders and outsiders. Whereas hospitality is based on mutual responsibility for all. We are all both a guest and a host as we all give and receive at the same time. We can practice radical hospitality when we are willing to be challenged and changed by welcoming the Other. Our greeters and ushers are doing a great job to make sure that whoever walks into the building feels welcomed. We happily share our space with various groups and people in the wider community. The question is are we willing to create a free space where strangers become friends. Better yet, are we willing to work together with strangers to create a more sustainable future together?
Second, social justice. Traditionally it has been initiated by lay persons in this church, and there has always been a great support from the whole congregation. You never had to rely on any ministry staff in this regard. In fact, I have been inspired and challenged by your concern for the people beyond your own boundaries. You have demonstrate the boundless compassion of God by engaging your neighbours as near as in your own backyard and as far as in the villages in other continents. You have responded to the cries of the world. You have taken your part in mending the broken world, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice. No wonder you are known as a very caring and generous community. You know how to share blessings beyond borders.
Third. Spirituality. It’s about connecting: connecting to God, the ground of being, and sustainer of all lives, connecting to each other, and connecting to the truest and deepest part of ourselves. There are lots of ways to make that connection: spending time in nature, laughing with friends, crying with family, doing yoga, prayer with your body, mind and spirit, and feeding the hungry. The key is to use the body, and by doing so we learn to keep our balance. In this church, music has been a huge part of the spiritual practice. Those of us who receive the gift of music from our choir experience a deeper level of communication beyond the realm of thought or emotion. Imagine how much happier those who sing in the choir are. Ask anyone in the choir why they sing. They will probably say that it’s good for my body and soul. There is something special happening when a small group of people get together and hold the space together. A positive and supportive energy is generated, which none of us can create alone. I wonder if that is what Jesus meant when he said “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” We can continue to let the unseen guest guide us and empower us whenever we gather together.
Hospitality, social justice and spiritualty. You may have a different list, but those are what I have found in you by listening, observing and serving together. What we need in order for us to live up to our values is intentionality. It means, we are focused, mindful and consistent. It means, we walk the talk. It means that we let those values lead everything we say and do. It means, we remain faithful to God until the last moment even if we don’t accomplish what we hoped to do. It means that we begin each new day at home, and each new gathering here by asking God, “Speak, for you servant is listening.”
The story we heard today, Samuel’s calling, reminds us that discerning God’s will is a communal affair. Samuel, even though he hears God calling his name three times, needs Eli’s wisdom. Eli, even though he is an experienced priest, needs Samuel’s attentiveness. No matter how many times God speaks, it is the conversation, which involves both speaking and listening, that helps give birth to a new vision.
That brings us back to the sentence completion exercise we did three years ago. One person wrote down, “Chase a vision, not a quota” to complete the sentence “belonging to the church is…” The person didn’t write down what the vision is, because it takes everyone to discern what God is calling us to do. So, let’s continue to ask, search and knock remembering the unseen guest in every conversation and gathering we will have.