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Fort Garry United Church Day of Pentecost / Celebration of Baptism / June 9, 2019 Rev. Min-Goo Kang Text: Acts 2:1-21
A Letter to Holland Dear Holland, this is my letter to you. Today is a big day for you and your family as we are celebrating your baptism. You may not fully realize the significance of your baptism now, but as time goes by you will learn to appreciate the meaning. It is here in baptism that we recognize God’s love for you, and we respond to that love by rejoicing in it. Baptism is God’s way of saying “I love you so much more than anyone in the world can” and our way of saying “yes, God, yes, let your love fill our hearts so we can demonstrate your love in all that we say and do.” This is the moment in your life that will continue to evoke who you really are and to whom you belong. Holland, you are a beloved child of God; you belong to God and God’s family. By the time you will be able to read this letter, Holland, you will understand already that the world around you is not entirely safe or reliable. Things happen for no reason, and everyone goes through good times and bad times. Since you were born, you probably have cried a lot because that’s one of the ways you communicate with the people close to you. There is, however, a spiritual meaning of cries. Just like you cry to your mom when you are hungry, wet or something is not right, you can cry out to God. You see, nobody is going to cry if there is no one who will listen to them; we can only cry because we know someone will answer. By crying out to God, Holland, you express your deep trust in God. The good news is that God will not forsake you or leave you; you can always rely on the hand of God that will hold you in all circumstances especially in times of trouble. Baptism is a recognition and celebration of God’s faithful companionship, the journey together with you. That’s why we are excited to be here as witnesses to the power of God’s spirit, who works in you as it works in us. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he wasn’t alone. There were lots of people who shared one baptism with him. The gospels describe this special moment with such an imaginative and affirming way. “The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” I am sure that the people at the river were in awe because as Jesus was affirmed they were affirmed, as Jesus was loved they were loved. They would have remembered Jesus’ baptism throughout his life and ministry and beyond. I can tell you that there are lots of happy faces here today. Holland, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We will continue to support you and your family remembering always this shared experience of God’s grace and love. Once again we welcome you into the body of Christ. You are joining with countless siblings of Christ around the world in celebrating God’s presence. Throughout your journey with Christ, Holland, you will learn the mystery of living in community. In fact, you already know what it is like living in community. In your immediate family, there are not only your parents but also your older sister, London who came before you. You are blessed to be in relationship with everyone in your family. You are a blessing to your family as together you and your family continue to learn to live as a family of four. You were born into a very loving and faithful family. Both your mom and dad were born and raised in a Christian family. It is important for your parents to pass on what they have been given from their previous generations to you – being part of the community, believing, knowing God, being kind to others, and helping them when needed. These values will keep you grounded and strong. I was struck by how your sister, London shows her empathy toward you, and how you like to follow everything she does. Holland, you have the gift of paying attention. You really notice what’s around you. When you came into my office the other day with your parents, the first thing you noticed after a brief greeting was the fan in the ceiling. Then, your mind was captured by the rain stick I gave you. You were mesmerized by the wonder of things as we were mesmerized by the gift of attention you bring to our world. You are so observant that the people around must pay equal attention to what you notice. Thank you for your gift of attention; it helps us notice things we sometimes take for granted, and it helps us communicate more deeply. That is the work of the Spirit. Everything becomes extraordinary when you let the Holy Spirit breathe into each and every moment. When the followers of Christ gathered together in one place, they experienced the transforming power of the Spirit. They were able to communicate beyond the limit of language or cultural differences. That’s how the church began, and that’s what makes church alive – listening to the Spirit, and speaking boldly and acting courageously as it moves us. It is my prayer that throughout your life, Holland, you will be guided and strengthened by the power of the Spirit. It is still possible, just like what happened on the day of Pentecost, people will be perplexed, they will misunderstand you, and the world will misjudge you. But remember, Holland, to follow the same voice that is speaking to you today “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Following the Spirit, you will always speak the truth in love, notice the beauty of everything, and hear the sound of praise to God as your great crowd of witnesses have always done. ... See MoreSee Less
Fort Garry United Church Pride Sunday / June 2, 2019 Rev. Min- Goo Kang Text: Psalm 139; Galatians 3:23-29
Diverse and Beautiful Nothing has a greater impact on me than a real encounter. While I was doing a Master’s degree in the study of religion, I joined a religious research group to travel to China. I was studying ancient Chinese Scriptures of Taoism day and night, but my biggest learning didn’t come from reading the texts, but came from meeting Taoists on the high mountain in China. I remember their genuine smiles, hospitality, the powerful rituals they performed, and their humble life styles; they were living a life of balance with not much materials joyfully and fully. Taoism, after meeting with the Taoists, was no longer an ancient belief system that existed in the library; it became a real possibility that could change my life and others. My biggest learning about Christianity also didn’t come from reading the texts or theology books, but came from meeting people, especially my LGBTQ friends who are Christians - ministers or laity. They helped me to unlearn things that didn’t make sense to me or to them. They taught me to appreciate what many of us take for granted – a sense of belonging. A colleague of mine in ministry shared her powerful testimony of two dramatically opposite experiences with the two different churches regarding communion - how she was not welcomed to the table because of her sexual orientation, and how she was welcomed to the table regardless her identity. One of the most profoundly spiritual persons I’ve ever met was a trans woman. She spoke about her journey of becoming who she was meant to be. Her deep self-awareness and spirituality broke down barriers – the confines of traditional Western ideas of gender. It was a sexual minority group who challenged the church to practice a radical hospitality like Jesus did. They taught all of us in the church to act out of love not out of fear. During the long hours of emotional discussion at the 32nd General Council in Victoria, BC, Tim Stevenson, the first openly gay person to be ordained in Canada, spoke to the gathered people in the room, saying “Please come and talk to me, don’t just talk about me.” Their courage to speak their truth eventually helped the church to experience the transforming power of the spirit. They planted the seed of hope with their struggle, pain and tears, and it took the whole church to nurture the seed as we have continued to learn a radical hospitality. We can draw our circle wide, and make it wider still because of God’s radical love that can dissolve all the existing boundaries. Again it was my friends from LGBTQ community who showed me such boundless love. Living where you don’t know the language or culture can be very intimidating. I remember a sense of dislocation and confusion while studying at Vancouver School of Theology. I don’t know how many times I had to watch my classmates talking back and forth with the instructor like a ping pong game. The language barrier made me feel insecure at school and elsewhere. Those who helped me to participate in the life of the school and in the wider church, and eventually helped me to feel I belonged there, were usually the ones who also experienced exclusion somewhere else because of who they were. As I shared in my column this week, I spent an incredible weekend last week at Queer and Faithful, a conference about intersectionality of faith, race and queerness. Seven panelists shared their experiences with their communities of faith. They are Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Metis and Christian. The power of truth-telling unveiled the damage done to LGBTQ and Two Spirit persons in the name of religion. A question was raised during the Q & A which, I think, sums up the whole conference. What would be a role for LGBTQ and Two Spirit people in transforming communities of faith? In other words, how can religion be saved? Although it’s not fair to ask a particular group of people to fix the problem of religious oppression, I think, the question implies possible alternatives to the dominant culture or system based on a hierarchical, top-down, bureaucratic and binary way of thinking and doing. Many of my queer friends practice their faith not despite of but because of their queerness. It has deepened their understanding of the Holy, and I believe, it can help broaden and deepen our understanding of the Holy. A variety of expressions of faith and of who we are can only affirm the beloved creation that is always diverse and beautiful. Now I invite you to listen to a story of Ruth Wood, the minister of Calvary Pastoral Charge in Kingston, Ontario. She talks about her new journey in life, that as a transgender person and her theological reflection on acceptance and love. www.youtube.com/watch?v=FD4X1TKjtL4Ruth Wood, the minister of Calvary Pastoral Charge in Kingston, Ontario, talks about her new journey in life, that as a transgender person and her theologica... ... See MoreSee Less
Every once in a while we encounter those who are different from us, and it’s up to us how to respond. In most cases, we don’t have to engage others. They come and go, and we are busy minding our own business. We pass them by like driving through intersections – we pay attention to other cars around us no more than what’s required to keep us safe. As long as we can continue living the life we have known, we don’t mind spending a little extra time interacting with others. We can get to know them, and even befriend them as long as our personal boundary or our life style is guaranteed. There are other cases, however, when we are forced to engage difference if the otherness exists within an intimate circle of relationship like family. There is no greater school to learn about differences than family. In other words, if anyone knows how to engage with one another’s differences in family, they know how to do intercultural ministries. Family is where we can learn what it means to be living in a diverse community. There is not a single person in the world who does the same as we do, thinks the same as we do, and feels the same as we do. Even identical twins develop their differences to the point that one can wonder if they share anything. Intercultural ministries require a deeper understanding of who we are as people beyond superficial engagement based on our appearances. It can be a ground-breaking experience when we meet a whole new world through the depth and width of experiences of another person. This profoundly spiritual work requires openness and vulnerability. We rarely experience it because we’re afraid to be touched by the gifts others would bring to us. When it does happen to us, we don’t always recognize it. It did happen to me last summer when I was in Oshawa, Ontario attending the 43rd General Council of the United Church. The 7 day of worship and meeting, discerning God’s call to the church, brought more than 500 people together from across Canada and around the world. I was there as one of the worship leaders. The highlight of the entire gathering for me was what I received from two amazing people. Both of them live with cerebral palsy, a physical disability that impacts their mobility as well as their speech. Rev. Miriam Spies preached at the opening worship service. Her sermon was the most powerful, prophetic and compelling sermon I’ve ever heard. Miriam represents the United Church on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. Out of her ample ecumenical experiences, Miriam began talking about how the people she met in Palestine showed her how crucial hope was to life. “They do not have the luxury of despair. To live in that land, surrounded by walls and checkpoints, while holding onto the keys to the homes before 1948, is to hope.” Miriam continued preaching on why the church must go back to its radical calling to act with humility and vulnerability in service and love just like Jesus did to his dear friends in the upper room, washing, blessing, breaking, pouring, and sharing. It wasn’t just what she said, but who she was and who she was representing to the highest decision making body that struck me most. More precisely, it was the combination of her prophetic voice and her body. Because of her cerebral palsy, Miriam provided the text while preaching. She spoke slowly, weighing every single word with grace, love and compassion. Inevitably the audience listened carefully with the same attitude and spirit. As I reflect on why her sermon made a huge impact on me, I realize that it’s an image of God Miriam represented and embodied that challenged me, and eventually reshaped my image of God – from abled to disabled, from powerful to vulnerable. Representation matters. I have seldom heard persons with disability preaching in my entire life. That says about two things: how ableism exists within the church, and what kind of theology informs such practice. One example of ableism in the church I want to share with you also took place during the General Council. On the last night of the gathering something unexpected happened, which turned out to be transforming the church. An intercultural observer, Paul Wallfall was calling  broadview.org/i-worry-we-use-people-to-show-how-diverse-we-are-but-then-ignore-their-struggles/
on the whole church to recognize that racism exists in our church. His powerful reflection was followed by a profound act of truth-telling from the racialized folks – both ministers and the laity – sharing their own experiences of racism in the society and in our church. It was when almost two hours passed the promised time for dinner, and when most of the people in the room were exhausted that one person pointed out how not only racism but also ableism existed in the court. She was speaking the hard truth that how people during the General Council were reluctant to sit down with one of the 10 Moderator nominees, the only nominee with cerebral palsy – some people came to him saying how beautiful his speech was, but none of them was actually willing to spend time with him. Colin Phillips, the Moderator nominee came up to the microphone and shared the sad truth – people were scared that they couldn’t even know how to engage him. It was clear how ableism within the people, including myself, in the room hindered creating an authentic conversation with Colin that could have changed their perceptions. Theology matters as it informs our actions. So, we must examine and deconstruct theologies that are informing an act of excluding others based on race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical ability. Ableism is the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. It is much more than a matter of accessibility. As a people of faith, we must challenge our beliefs and assumptions based on a certain image of God who is so abled that there is nothing God can’t do. That is actually problematic. For, this all-knowing and all-powerful image of God can put us in a very arrogant position that those of us who are abled feel the need to fix what deems to be not normal in the name of the same God. That is a daily struggle of various people with various kinds of disabilities. Damon Rose shared one of many encounters when he was approached by Christians who wanted to pray for him to be healed. Damon said, while they may be well-intentioned, these encounters often leave him feeling judged as faulty and in need of repair. Since he became blind as a teenager this has been a regular. He shared one such encounter when he was on the London underground. The train was packed full of people all studiously ignoring each other when a man put his hand on his shoulder and asked if he could pray for his sight to be restored. Normally when people offer to pray for him to be healed, he says ‘No’. But this man told him that he was a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who had himself been healed by prayer. Damon got the sense that he really needed him to let him pray over him, so he said ‘Yes’ and let him lay his hands upon him. Damon can’t claim to be cured of blindness as a result of his prayer, but he will never forget how happy and grateful the man appeared to be. To Damon it felt like the roles had been reversed, and that it was the disabled man during the encounter who had given out a dose of healing. Miriam Spies also has many encounters of random people approaching her saying “I will pray for you” or “Bless you.” In those moments, she said, she is seen as someone to be pitied or in need of healing. Often they leave so quickly that she can’t explain how she doesn’t believe in curing disability, nor does she think God does. She believes that disability is part of God’s vast array of creation and she is as beloved and gifted by God’s grace as they are. When others cannot affirm this, she feels belittled and used. Yet, she had a different experience with Pope Francis. While she was in Geneva, the Pope made a visit to the meeting she was attending. The Pope delivered his sermon, followed by his personal greeting with some individuals. Miriam was invited to do so at his request. Pope Francis held out his hand with a warm smile, and after hearing from her, said, “Pray for me.” He saw Miriam as a sister on the same pilgrimage of justice and peace, where they are called to pray and work together. That is the vision John, the Apostle saw as a new heaven and a new earth. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” A city is a powerful image for his vision because a city is designed for every resident to work together for the common good.  www.bbc.com/news/uk-48054113?fbclid=IwAR0ED6rQjGUXvb6nc9_EUvS4dmbX2VwXnaXI1aMo6P_zntpm5XLEep8b7fc  broadview.org/the-moment-the-pope-asked-me-to-pray-for-him/ It is where we learn to live interdependently as equal and full participants in the creation of a just society for all, just like a family. “See, the home of God is among mortals.” In this vision, there is no double standard, and there is no room for indifference or ignorance toward others only a radical affirming and celebrating God’s creation that is diverse and beautiful just as it is. ... See MoreSee Less
FORT GARRY UNITED CHURCH / FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER MAY 19, 2019 TEXT: ACTS 11:1-18 REV. MIN-GOO KANG
No Winner or Loser Sometimes your job description doesn’t tell you everything you’re supposed to do. When I was a youth minister at the Korean United Church in Vancouver, part of my job was to organize softball practice for a church tournament. Many Korean churches in the greater Vancouver area participate in this annual tournament with overwhelming enthusiasm. The church I was serving, being the oldest Korean church in Vancouver, was proud of its reputation as one of the top teams. The youth who had garnered fame were now in their 40s but the new generation didn’t live up to their reputation. So the pressure was on me, the youth minister to work with the younger ones so they would not mar the reputation. Well. The whole time I was there, our team barely moved to the next round, and we got more sympathy than ovation. Despite the results, I became very interested in softball, and I organized some fellowship matches – the parent team vs the child team, and the Koreans vs the Taiwanese. A sport brings people together. There was a huge support from both the Korean congregation and the Taiwanese congregation. We had been planning and preparing for the game extensively, but there was one thing we didn’t discuss – the most important part when it comes to play the ball game, fast pitch or slow pitch. Turns out, the Taiwanese only played slow-pitch softball, and we only played fast-pitch. As you can guess, there was confusion on both sides, and most players were not getting adjusted to the different pitch. Before the next game, we got together to talk about how to respect each other’s differences, followed by a potluck dinner. Understanding one another through a dialogue was more important than who was going to win. That was one of my first intercultural encounters in Canada, and it set my framework for intercultural ministries. We usually assume that other people would do the same as we do. Chances are that we find our differences at the last minute, and a conflict is unavoidable. An intercultural ministry is quite the reverse. We can proactively engage others on a deeper level “choosing listening before judging, sharing before turning away, receiving before dismissing, and loving before condemning. Becoming an intercultural church is a way for us to live into a renewed relationship, both with God and with one another in all the complexities and diversity of this broken yet beautiful world God has created.” There are no experts on intercultural ministry. We are all beginners because there is always room to learn, grow and improve at every step we take in our journeys. It would be helpful to differentiate between interculturalism and multiculturalism. One good example of multiculturalism is Folklorama. One of the founding members of this popular festival, the largest and longest multicultural festival in the world, expressed her concern that it has become a business oriented event. Although I have enjoyed visiting different pavilions, what’s missing for me is deeper interactions with people from different cultures. The two weeks of festival is set up for cultural shopping. People pay for a taste of a certain aspect of a particular culture, adding more experiences without engaging others.  This powerful quote is from a participant describing a holistic and intensive program learning about intercultural ministry, Deepening Understanding for Intercultural Ministry. To learn more about this 5 day holistic and intensive learning opportunity visit www.interculturalleadership.ca/duim One of the prevailing cultures in our society, consumerism eats away at what was originally a community building event. You can see that there is no such thing as a culture-free zone or a culture-free perspective. The problem of Canadian multiculturalism is that while trying to accommodate diverse populations, it doesn’t challenge the dominant culture. There was a political reason behind the creation of the multiculturalism policy in 1971 – trying to gain more voters, and not to face any opposition. In theory, the policy implied an end to systemic racial and cultural discrimination, but in practice, the government didn’t even spend the money ending discrimination and inequality, except funding folk dances, festivals, language training and songfests. Reading Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s speech on multiculturalism, I see the strong emphasis on the personal freedom of cultural expressions, but not so much on the collective transformation of the society by diversity as if such policy is only the matter of individual choice. From the beginning there was an intention to maintain the status quo, and the Indigenous population wasn’t even considered in making this policy. The intercultural vision challenges us to go much deeper. It challenges the dominant culture to recognize that their way of living is not universal, and that no culture has a monopoly on wisdom. We are called to let “outsiders” lead, and to accept the vulnerability of not having all the answers. The United Church defines an intercultural church as a welcoming, relational, adaptive, justice-seeking, intentional and missional church. Intercultural means living together with a respectful awareness of each other’s differences. We do this by examining ourselves, building relationships, and distributing power fairly. The fundamental question for us to ask ourselves is why becoming an intercultural church matters. Individually and in community, we do everything through the lenses of our cultures. Our experiences and understandings are shaped by our cultures. Since we cannot capture the complexity of God through our limited cultural understandings, our understanding of God is limited when we see this God through only one dominant cultural perspective. Intercultural experiences can help release us from clinging to our instinctive perception. We can deepen our understandings and experiences of God and of one another by affirming and welcoming a variety of expressions of faith. That was what was happening in the early Christian church. And that’s what it took for the Christian church to move from a culturally bound community to a spirit-filled, diverse and ever evolving community. Peter was criticized by other believers because he did what his tradition and culture never allowed him to do – eating with the gentiles. So he began to tell a story of his intercultural encounter, how the Spirit was working in others as it was working in himself. All he did was to let the Holy Spirit to work through him, and to move freely among the people who were gathered regardless of their backgrounds. “Who was I that I could hinder God?” That was the most honest response to the power of the Spirit. That experience changed Peter, and eventually his community of faith.  www.canadahistory.com/sections/documents/Primeministers/trudeau/docs-onmulticulturalism.htm  Here I am borrowing descriptions of intercultural ministries from the United Church website. The United Church of Canada made its commitment to become an intercultural church in 2006. To learn more about the intercultural vision please visit www.united-church.ca/community-faith/being-community/intercultural-ministries Becoming an intercultural church begins when we give the Spirit a breathing space. All we need to do is to let the Holy Spirit to work through us, and to move freely among us. The movement has already begun right here among us through our openness, welcome and generosity. It will continue to change us, shape us, and renew us. We will respond saying, “Who were we that we could hinder God?” There is no winner or loser when it comes to intercultural ministries. We are all players, taking part in the work of love, justice and compassion under the guidance of our wise and experienced coach, the Christ Jesus as we never stop learning, growing, and evolving. ... See MoreSee Less
SAT, MAY 11 - ANNUAL GARAGE SALE @ Fort Garry United Church - Thank you to everyone who came and purchased treasures! Hope you come again next year! We need to give a big thank you to Dianne Cooper, who was leading the Garage Sale event and was there non-stop for the week! As well, we give a thank you to Laura Shwetz for her pricing knowledge. Thanks to Eltie Pearce for all the promotional work, especially through social media. To the 35-40 volunteers who worked so hard, setting up tables, transporting, moving furniture, and boxes; receiving, sorting, organizing the donations, & packing up on Monday, we sincerely thank you! There are Many Benefits: Many people were able to buy items at a fraction of the normal price We are recycling so many things that might otherwise end up in the landfill, and so are doing what we can to save the planet Many people who genuinely need items & can’t afford new, were able to find things Those who donated things, now have clean homes/closets/garages The items left over went to Salvation Army Stores to help the population who needs it And we took in $6880 fundraising for the church! Thanks to everyone! ... See MoreSee Less