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Fort Garry United Church - Rev. Min-Goo Kang
First Sunday of Advent / December 2, 2018
Text: Luke 21:25-36

Rethinking Darkness
Advent, for me, is so much more than an event or a certain period of time leading up to Christmas. Advent is a way of life. We take time to be fully present to the world around us because that’s where holiness resides. It requires our active participation. We slow down our pace, pay attention, watch, listen, smell and feel everything – big and small - using all of our senses. We stay curious, focused, wondering what God is up to in our lives and in the world. God the Creator took flesh and bones, taking shape as one of us. The Creator became a creature in the most vulnerable form, a baby. This is what the church has been celebrating over the two millennium, so it must be our oldest memory. However, we suffer from amnesia thinking that only special people deserve God’s attention as if we are not enough. We can only honour the truth – Immanuel, God with us – when we see ourselves and others in God’s ongoing story.
We can participate in Advent by affirming who we are, no matter how broken, lonely or vulnerable. We are just enough to be loved and to be loving. In fact, we are what we need to make a difference in our lives and in our communities. Let that sink in for a moment. We don’t have to look for signs of Advent somewhere out in the world unknown to us. Instead, Advent begins where we are, especially the deepest place in us. It’s where our souls cry out to God. It’s where our longings are revealed. I would call it a place of darkness within us.
The word, darkness has been so much misused that it’s almost impossible for us to grasp the full meaning of it without some negative images attached to the word. The dictionary defines darkness as the partial or total absence of light, meaning the state of darkness is something incomplete as it lacks what is essentially necessary to be complete and whole, the light. The second definition uncover an uglier side of using the language. It says that darkness is synonymous with wickedness or evil. The list goes on such as sin, iniquity, immorality or devilry. Darkness also means unhappiness, distress or lack of spiritual or intellectual enlightenment. I don’t need to remind you of what is synonymous good – all that is light and bright.
This belief, both consciously and unconsciously, has resulted in assumption, prejudice and discrimination based on skin colour or race. We really have to be careful about using the language because it has so much power. We can use it in a way that we maintain, if not enhance, the injustice system or we can use it in a way that we can dismantle the oppressive system.
Although the Bible has some references to this black and white binary image like in the Gospel according to John, “the darkness did not overcome the light” there are other references with a different nuance like Psalm 139, “Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you!”
So we don’t have to think that darkness and light are two separate states. Blending or mixing up the two seemingly different conditions will bring a better and truer understanding of them all. Darkness and light bear each other, and require one another. In fact, we can pay attention to light only in the darkness, like looking at the numerous starts in the night. Although we tell about the change of daylight, no one can tell exactly what time the day ends and what time the night starts. The change from day to night or from night to day is so thin and momentary that they don’t actually exist except in our mind.
Of course, there are times we would call darkness rather than something else when we are overwhelmed by a sense of uncertainty, hopelessness or helplessness. I understand the anguish that comes as evening has fallen. We do have a reason to fear the unknown or unknowable. Our task is to name what we experience as darkness, and to find what it asks of us: whether it is darkness that asks for justice to bring the dawn of hope to a night of terror, or for a candle to give warmth to the shadows, or for companions to hold us in our uncertainty and unknowing, or for a blanket to enfold us as we wait for the darkness to teach us what we need to know.[1]
Darkness is where Advent begins. A seed that one day will sprout and grow and bear much fruit must grow its root in the dark soil. A new life is formed and nourished for nine months in the dark womb of the mother. Everyone, no matter how much power they have must go to sleep in a dark room once a day. Without it no one can sustain their lives. After all, we are going to celebrate the one who grew in the fertile darkness of Mary’s womb, who knew that darkness is not evil but the tending place in which our longings for healing, justice, and peace grow and come to birth.

[1] Jan L. Richardson, Night Visions – searching the shadows of advent and Christmas (United Church Press: Cleveland, 1998) p. 3.
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Fort Garry United Church

Some beautiful faces at our annual Cookie Run. Thank you to everyone for your support. ... See MoreSee Less

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Just 4 days until our big Cookie Sale! The cookies are all home made & delicious, and such a bargain price! Come on down on Saturday, Dec 1, 10:00 am. ... See MoreSee Less

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COOKIE RUN!
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1
10 AM – 12 NOON
Fort Garry United Church
800 Point Road
Buy an empty box & for $7
fill it with your choice of delicious homemade cookies!
Check out our specialty baking table!
Enjoy a cup of coffee, tea or
apple cider & a cookie in our café for $1.50!
Best buy in town!
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There’s nothing like singing with a good bunch of people. We have been known as a singing congregation. That’s why we invite you to come and join us for our special service on Sunday, Nov 18 10:30am. Faithful Journey in Song! - how singing can change the world. Come sing along to new and old tunes. ... See MoreSee Less

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HOW THE CHURCH CHANGED MY LIFE – by Heather Ragot

Like so many stories we have heard over these last few weeks, my relationship with the church began as an infant at my baptism. Christian faith was a birthright given to me by my parents and claimed on the day of my baptism. My parents and the assembled believers at Church on that day prayed for me and this relationship. Over the years these believers gave me a template of a Christian life. Psalm 139 verse 13 and 14 reminds me of this gift. “For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.”

The years have given me the opportunity to claim for myself this gift of my baptism and the house of my faith, the Church. Other members in the Church have inspired me to carry on down this path. To stand among other believers in Church has encouraged me to fully claim this gift from God and to proudly proclaim myself as a “Child of God”.

But in reality, the truth of my faith and the relationship I have had with the “Church” was fully articulated and came to be when I had my own children. I reflected on my faith, how I wanted to introduce God and his Church to my child, and how so very blessed I felt at becoming a mother. My husband and I both felt a deep sense of blessing and immediately thanked God for the miracle of our son Eric. I remember attending the baptism preparation meeting for Eric and explaining why we wanted to present our child for baptism. We said, “We are overwhelmed with the enormity of the blessing and the trust God had placed upon us with the gift of this Child.” We explained that “we were so sure that this child came from God”, and it was “our duty to return this child back to God”. This formed our parental philosophy for a Christ Centered experience for our child and now our younger children!

As an educator I have observed that if parents don’t choose a group experience for their child, then the child will always find a group to experience life, and that may not always be a healthy choice. And so we chose the Church over all other things. Sunday to Sunday, much like my youth, we come to Church and week after week we are encouraged by the assembled believers

Since the birth of Eric in October 2002, we have been blessed beyond measure with the two more wonderful gifts from God, both through adoption. First, a beautiful baby boy Elliot in November of 2009 and our sweet and determined girl, Margaret in July of 2014. It is hard to put into words the answer to prayers, the unmeasurable joy and blessing of these two children. We were told when we first attended meetings on adoption that we would “have to wait 8 years for a newborn baby” and so we tempered our prayers. We hoped and prayed to have any child that God would grant us join our family. As we went down this path, we called upon God and the Church. We were rewarded with two newborn babies over 5 years. Our Elliot reminds us that Eric came “regular delivery”, whereas he and Maggie came “Special delivery”, but in truth we are not fooled, they are all wonderful blessings and miracles of faith, prayer and God’s trust!

We feel so blessed, grateful and so very happy that the Church is here and supports us, and encourages us, and houses our faith, and allows us, in real time, to demonstrated our faith to our children! And now this journey of the gift of faith belongs to our children as they are known to be “Children of God” through their baptisms and for this we rejoice! Thank you for the opportunity to put into word the importance the Church has been to me and my family.. The Church has changed my life in ways that words could never be enough to explain…..it has given me the gift of deep, profound belief in the hand that guides, once you have the faith to let go.....Yah God!
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HOW THE CHURCH CHANGED MY LIFE – by Lori Jorgenson
Like so many stories we have heard over these last few weeks, my relationship with the church began as an infant at my baptism. Christian faith was a birthright given to me by my parents and claimed on the day of my baptism. My parents and the assembled believers at Church on that day prayed for me and this relationship. Over the years these believers gave me a template of a Christian life. Psalm 139 verse 13 and 14 reminds me of this gift. “For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.”

The years have given me the opportunity to claim for myself this gift of my baptism and the house of my faith, the Church. Other members in the Church have inspired me to carry on down this path. To stand among other believers in Church has encouraged me to fully claim this gift from God and to proudly proclaim myself as a “Child of God”.

But in reality, the truth of my faith and the relationship I have had with the “Church” was fully articulated and came to be when I had my own children. I reflected on my faith, how I wanted to introduce God and his Church to my child, and how so very blessed I felt at becoming a mother. My husband and I both felt a deep sense of blessing and immediately thanked God for the miracle of our son Eric. I remember attending the baptism preparation meeting for Eric and explaining why we wanted to present our child for baptism. We said, “We are overwhelmed with the enormity of the blessing and the trust God had placed upon us with the gift of this Child.” We explained that “we were so sure that this child came from God”, and it was “our duty to return this child back to God”. This formed our parental philosophy for a Christ Centered experience for our child and now our younger children!

As an educator I have observed that if parents don’t choose a group experience for their child, then the child will always find a group to experience life, and that may not always be a healthy choice. And so we chose the Church over all other things. Sunday to Sunday, much like my youth, we come to Church and week after week we are encouraged by the assembled believers

Since the birth of Eric in October 2002, we have been blessed beyond measure with the two more wonderful gifts from God, both through adoption. First, a beautiful baby boy Elliot in November of 2009 and our sweet and determined girl, Margaret in July of 2014. It is hard to put into words the answer to prayers, the unmeasurable joy and blessing of these two children. We were told when we first attended meetings on adoption that we would “have to wait 8 years for a newborn baby” and so we tempered our prayers. We hoped and prayed to have any child that God would grant us join our family. As we went down this path, we called upon God and the Church. We were rewarded with two newborn babies over 5 years. Our Elliot reminds us that Eric came “regular delivery”, whereas he and Maggie came “Special delivery”, but in truth we are not fooled, they are all wonderful blessings and miracles of faith, prayer and God’s trust!

We feel so blessed, grateful and so very happy that the Church is here and supports us, and encourages us, and houses our faith, and allows us, in real time, to demonstrated our faith to our children! And now this journey of the gift of faith belongs to our children as they are known to be “Children of God” through their baptisms and for this we rejoice! Thank you for the opportunity to put into word the importance the Church has been to me and my family.. The Church has changed my life in ways that words could never be enough to explain…..it has given me the gift of deep, profound belief in the hand that guides, once you have the faith to let go.....Yah God!

Fort Garry United Church - Rev. Min-Goo Kang
November 11, 2018 / Remembrance Sunday
Congregational Giving Program 5
Text: Mark 10:17-31

Becoming a Lover
Today we celebrate Remembrance Sunday. We remember and say thank you to those who served and sacrificed in times of war and conflict. So many lives were lost, so many people were injured, and the intergenerational trauma of war has been real to many of us. We take time to remember, acknowledging the interconnectedness of life. We are who we are today because of who they were. We live because of what they have done for their homes, families, communities and the world. How they lived their lives, and how they suffered and died affect all of us. None of us is self-made. When we see each other, we acknowledge countless faces of those who have gone before us.
We celebrate their courage, resilience, struggles, suffering and pain. Their dreams and visions – although have not been fully realized in their time - have come true in our own time. Their lives – although interrupted relentlessly – continue to be fulfilled in and through our lives. Their stories – although unfinished or incomplete – are fully alive and complete today in our remembrance. We let the lost voices speak through us, and discover that our own deepest longings are woven together with theirs. To remember is to create space for the lost voices to speak, and for us to listen to the voices. They left everything behind, and gave their whole selves to something greater than themselves. Not only how they lived their lives, but also how they died teach us what it means to give.
Over the last four Sundays, we have explored the importance and challenge of giving. This seemingly repetitive annual congregational giving program has led me to discover a deeper meaning of life. The more seriously I think about Christ’s call to live the gospel, the more earnestly I have to think about my possessions. We cannot talk about gospel without talking about money, because how we spend it tells what our values are. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The following is what we have learned so far.
It all begins with our needs. Our neediness and dependency are the driving force of God’s new creation to turn things around. We cannot be a perfect giver until we first know how to be a perfect receiver. The truth is that we are all needy as long as we live. We humans are the neediest in the whole creation. This realization places us into the right relationship. God has come to us disguised as our neighbours, whether they are in human forms, animals, plants or the earth itself. Our neighbours love us first, healing, comforting and filling our needs. How can we not love our neighbours? So we begin to realize that we have it to give back. Giving what we don’t need is not really giving. The real giving involves our willingness to become vulnerable and needy: to become the food, the nourishment for others so we can truly live in the lives of those who can be nourished by the food. Jesus demonstrated such giving. ‘Eat your food, so you may have abundant life, sharing it with everyone and everything else.’
The passage we heard today sums everything up. Jesus, looking at the rich man, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.” This invitation is so much more than to give something to the poor; this is a radical invitation to become poor. In the gospels Jesus is not so much concerned with rich people giving to the poor, as with rich people becoming poor. There is a huge difference between the two. Giving something to the poor can remove the rich man’s selfishness, but it can never remove his pride. So the invitation to become poor is to remove his pride, because it is the ultimate enemy of love.
I am indebted to Arthur C. McGill for the following definition of love:
“What is love? To want the other’s good (love without selfishness). To affirm the other’s good (love without envy). To live by the other’s good (love without pride). This is the essence of the Christian life. A lover does not think about possession, does not want possession. That’s about himself, but as a lover his thoughts are filled with the other.”[i]
The Bible says that the rich man, after hearing the invitation, was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. What is he afraid of? Of course, he is afraid of being poor. But what he is really afraid of is emptying himself and by doing so becoming needy, and becoming a true lover of God.
This invitation is also given to each of us. Becoming a true lover of God may not be as cool as it sounds, because we first have to face frustration, fear and shame in order to empty ourselves. It does require deep trust in God. Like a child and parent relationship, we do not receive from God so the things become ours. We remain as children of God forever. And what else do we need when we are filled with God and all that God provides?
_______________
[1] McGill, Arthur C.. Sermons of Arthur C. McGill (Theological Fascinations Book 1) (pp. 38-40). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
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Fort Garry United Church
How the Church Changed My Life - Lori Jorgenson
How the Church Changed my life, and yes, how the church changed me.
The church has been my rock. The church has always been a solid foundation for me. One place I could always come back to and it did not matter why I was absent or for how long. My parents set this firm foundation, and like Trevor’s story, ‘as a kid I did not know any other thing.’ I have perfect-attendance certificates that are artifacts now, a little brittle and a collection of pins that kept records of the perfect attendance years. Even as a rebellious teen, I still attended church singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school and getting confirmed.
This constant in my life would keep me grounded even when my life spun out of control.
I have been fortunate as I have two churches. My country church, Morris United Church and my city church, where I have been able to call both family. But since moving my membership to Fort Garry in 1982 I have invested in my city church which I now call my home church.
I have so many interesting and heart-warming stories of how my life intersected with church. I was the first baby baptised in the newly built Morris United Church and our family has a pew plaque with The Jorgenson Family on it on account my Father helped build the church. At Christmas time we can easily fill this pew and a few more. A favourite memory was when it was your birthday you got to go up to the Alter and put your birthday-age pennies in a beautiful ceramic deer bank. This was a long running tradition in our country church along with the memory of the most beloved Reverend McLeod.
Many years later, I will never forget the day my daughter Jillian was hit by a car while riding home from school on her bike. My sisters were with me at the Health Sciences Centre while waiting for the surgery to end, but after long hours they needed to get home. While I sat alone in the middle of the night (Rev.) Gordon Taylor showed up; seemed like an angel, a light in the darkness. In the months and years that followed I received much help from my friends at Fort Garry. A year after the accident I had placed flowers in the church in Jillian’s name; someone asked if she had died. I said “No” I was celebrating a life.
I had to write a biography to get into Seminary, for my Masters of Divinity. I certainly did not think I had a great record but what they read was enough to know that I have been grounded in the life of the Church. It was in the process of writing my entrance bio I realised God had been directing me all my life, willing to take me back into the fold and asking me to step up even more. I would finally succumb to a calling. The exercise in reflecting and writing I saw God’s hand; always gently drawing me back to the church. I was surprised to see I did have a pretty good record, I was a good person. In this the church afforded me the reference I needed and I in return I committed my life’s work to God.
A requirement for employment as Chaplain at Concordia Hospital is to have the support of your home church. Some of you may remember that YOU and I are covenanted; as a congregation you have promised to keep me in line; thank-you for this trust and support. Again, if not for the church community I have here with you, I would not be able to fulfil my vocation. The church continues to challenge me, to be the person God intended me to be. There were many times that I would have wiped the dust off my sandals and walked away, but God knew that I needed to stay.
The one last story I would like to share with you happened in 1997. Our EMO-Emergency Measures Officer for Fort Garry United Church organised a crew of sandbaggers. First, to help on South Drive in the morning, come back to the church basement for lunch, and then head back out to help at another location in the afternoon. I walked into the upper-hall entrance wearing old blue jeans and a sweatshirt, a baseball hat and in rubber boots. Before we headed out we were introduced to the few guest sandbaggers. And that was when I was introduced to one Douglas Bedford.
God is good! This man was a prayer answered although I did not know this at the time. I am so very grateful Doug has adopted Fort Garry and made it his home.
I am a better person having Doug as a partner.
I have a career, vocation thanks to the church.
I have a faith community that has shaped me, challenged me and helped me grow in my faith.
How could I not be changed?

Fort Garry United Church - Rev. Min-Goo Kang
November 4, 2018 / Congregational Giving Program 4
Text: John 6:48-58

EAT YOUR FOOD
We live in a death denying culture. When we go to a grocery store to buy meat, for example, we don’t see the slaughtering process, which is bloody and nasty. What we see is the meat wrapped in the plastic package. You probably have seen the hideous part of killing animals especially if you grew up in a farm. If so, you have seen clearly how a living creature turned into your food. Some organism dies in the process of giving nourishment to another organism. By hiding the dying process, we only see the half-truth. The whole truth is that it is dying that makes living possible. Life and death are inseparable. We cannot talk about one thing without the other.
The death denying culture also forces us to think that death is a form of failure. Living is normal and dying is alien. My colleague in ministry, who had a terminal cancer, once expressed the problem of the language, such as “fighting a cancer.” She said, it not only failed to describe what she was going through, but also dishonoured her journey as a whole. By denying death, and removing anything that reminds us of our mortality, we make ourselves lonelier and more isolated.
I want us to think beyond the narrow definition of death as the end of life. Every living thing involves eating in order to live, and eating requires a dying of another. Everything we eat – including plant - had first to die, and none of us get out of this world alive. We can say, therefore, that life consists of the constant flow of giving and taking. Arthur McGill says that life is always and exclusively a matter of communication. Life involves communicating something of ourselves—of our real selves—into the lives of others.
Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This is a very troubling verse especially in the death denying society. Jesus, however, was not afraid of talking about his dying and death. Three times, the gospels say, Jesus foretold how he was going to die to the disciples although they closed their ears. Jesus understood death not as the end of life, but as the consequence of expanding himself into the lives of others. To love is to be used up, and therefore to be eaten. Jesus was willing to become the food, the nourishment for others, which was the highest form of love.
That is our true food and we must eat it, said Jesus. As a matter of fact, aren’t we all hungry for the true love? No matter how satisfying, happy or safe our life seems, at the end of the day, nothing can quench our thirst as the unconditional love does to our soul. Everyone lives through some levels of giving and receiving. However, seldom do we see the perfect giving without expecting something to be returned. Many of us are generous in giving, but can we really give what’s essentially ours to the point that our giving can bring us danger? Most of us first want to secure our basic needs, and then think about what to give among extras, because we want to live.
What’s shocking about Jesus’ teaching is that it tells the opposite of what we usually believe. The real giving is giving what is essential to us to the point that it can make us vulnerable and needy. In other words, it is by dying, by becoming the food, the nourishment for others that we can truly live in the lives of those who eat the food.
Perhaps, this is what a theology of caring looks like. When we care for our loved ones, with all the physical, emotional and spiritual caring we provide, we find ourselves vulnerable and needy because we have been willing to become the food that is much needed. I know that many of you have been there. All I can say is that God blesses all those who struggle to act with compassion and be compassionate while taking the risk of giving what is essentially theirs, and therefore feeling vulnerable.
Jesus is willing to become our food. By the perfect giving to the point that he became nothing, he became the nourishment we need. But the only way his life can pass from him to us is for us to receive it. We must eat our food thankfully, and that’s how we celebrate his radical act of love, and that’s how he continues to live on in our lives. In the same way we are meant to be the nourishment for one another, as we are nourished from each other.
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How the Church Changed My Life – by Dianne Cooper
I’m here as a substitute for Russell Young who is recovering from a fall so hopefully we can hear from him another time.
Like those who have spoken and many of you, I thought I had been shaped rather than changed by the church. After all I started going to church even before I was born and ever since. My whole life wherever I or our family moved we looked for a church home. We wanted a community that we knew cared about each other and the world we shared. Church was in my bones. But as I thought about Min-goo’s question “how did the church change you?” I realised I had been changed. Here is what I thought about when I looked back. I grew up on a farm near a very small town. When I was in grade 8 we moved to a slightly larger town. Both places were almost totally homogeneous. I never even knew there was such a thing as varied sexual identities. I only saw one family of colour. There were only minor differences in income levels.
Additionally, my world view was shaped by a childhood and youth family who weren’t a family that followed the news. Not on the radio. We had no TV and took no newspapers, except the one about farming that only my dad read. Even though education was important and all 4 of us kids went to university, my world view was very limited. After university and some exposure to new ideas, after marriage and daughters, our family moved to Winnipeg and joined FGUC where my world view started to change. I helped out a little as the congregation settled a “boat people” family. I was exposed to peace movement issues and was recruited to go on a church sponsored trip to the war zones of Nicaragua. I remember asking this church for support. And I remember rick Abbott saying “well I think it is crazy, but if it’s what you think you should do”. The trip opened my eyes and my heart to a whole new world of struggles and amazing people people who were living in a war zone and struggling just to survive. People whose families had been massacred but they were making new lives. Rick’s words also helped me learn in a whole new way that it was possible and good to be able to voice disagreements but still support each other. For me that is church at its best.
As I think back to my earliest years in the peace movement I know I went on my first ever peace march in the days when literally thousands of Winnipeggers turned out. And some of you were there too, walking with the banner of Fort Garry United and joining other united churches. It was learning by doing that churches can be about more than our individual actions but also our collective actions.
I could probably give many other examples but will just share one more. It is about the UCC painful but important movement to open up to full participation in church and society for people of varied sexual orientations. From 1985-95 I was senior staff person for the UC in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. I was also still active here. The church struggle changed my understandings of the nature of human sexuality. The church showed me how so many people had been hidden and fearful. Participation in literally hundreds of gatherings across the years and across the region, and in this building, stretched my ability to listen and really hear people who fervently disagreed with each other and with me. Those events reminded me that the call to love one another does not mean avoiding the tough questions. I was proud to be of the UCC and I still am.
Church is where we love one another. In this small and special community and it is where we do what we can to speak and act on issues of peace and justice. I learned that in a whole new way and it changed me.
Each one of you is a vital part of what it means to be—in this place and this time a caring and loving community—to be the church—and for that I say thanks be to god.

Fort Garry United Church Rev. Min-Goo Kang
October 28, 2018 / Congregational Giving Program 3
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Receiving the Blessing
Blessing. It’s one of the words we use quite often, but hard to define. We say, “I feel blessed”, “God bless you”, “You are a blessing”, and “That was a blessing.” We say blessing before we eat. We sing blessing at the end of worship. We send those who embark on a new journey with a blessing. We give and receive blessing. We live in and through blessing but don’t always recognise it. Blessings acknowledge that there is a power greater than any of us, that we can rely on. Blessings carry a sense of warmth, belonging, protection and affirmation. Blessings come with a sense joy, happiness and inner peace.
Blessings imply that in our relationship with God we are always on the receiving end. (“God so loved the world” John 3:16) We need it every day. We just have to receive it with open hearts. They are available but not always recognisable. Sometimes blessings are hidden deep, and they require patience and practice for us to find them. We need reminders of God’s blessing, and they are everywhere. The sun, lakes, sky, trees, birds, breeze, a kind stranger, a welcoming neighbour. In fact, the whole creation not only reminds us of God’s blessing, but they are blessings to us. God blesses us to be a blessing. God is calling us to be part of the never ending circle of blessing.
The Beatitudes talk about how we can enter the circle. It is by receiving. Being poor in spirit, being sorrowful, hungry, humble, merciful and persecuted are never the condition for happiness or pleasure our world promises. They are, however, the perfect condition for receiving, and that is how we can join the never ending circle of blessing. Receiving must come first. We cannot receive unless we are in need. The need doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Rather, the need invites us to receive into the depths and centre of ourselves. That’s why Jesus said, “Unless you receive the kingdom of God like a little child….” We can only receive the gift of God, however abundant or life-giving it is, to the extent that we really need it. Only then the gift can touch us deeply.
I was in the public library when I was writing this reflection. Everyone was doing their own thing on a quiet afternoon. No one seemed to want to be disturbed or bother with anyone. Everyone seemed to keep reasonable distance from each other. It was a public space after all. Then something happened. A man near me was talking to someone on the phone. His voice was respectfully low and soft until it changed to unstoppable weeping and sobbing. The man on the phone cried in the middle of quiet afternoon in the public library. People nearby started packing their things and left their seats one by one. Whether their time was up or they wanted a quieter place, I don’t know. The man hang up the phone and bent his head down on the desk. A few minutes later he started packing his belongings. I went to him and sat in front of him. I asked if he was okay. He said, “My uncle died in Nigeria. He was very close to me.” He showed me a picture of his uncle on his phone. After a brief conversation, I asked if I could pray for him. Before I even finished my sentence, he put his hands on the desk wide open waiting to receive my hands. So, we prayed holding hands. There was still tears in his eyes, but his face was shining like the sun. We exchanged our names and phone numbers. His name is Lanre. We sent each other with a blessing. It was a beautiful afternoon.
I was writing about beatitude, but he showed me how to live it. The condition of Lanre – being sorrowful because he lost his beloved uncle in his faraway home – was indispensable for him to receive. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” His condition didn’t make him weak. Rather, it made him to be open to receive comfort. Lanre received it because he needed it. And he taught me what beatitude is. It is to receive the fullness of life.
The encounter brought me memories of those who comforted me when my brother was dying in my faraway home country. I was desperately in need of comfort. I received it from unexpected people in unexpected places like on the bus. Last week, I finally realised that I joined the never ending circle of blessing more than 10 years ago when I began to receive. I was needy, and that made me more receptive. Blessed are those who receive into the depth and center of themselves.
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