Today is a Sunday for us to appreciate life in all its fullness, and to imagine even broader horizons.
In case you have not seen the elephant in the middle of the room this morning, its name is “Amalgamation Vote.” It’s quite friendly, I think, but you can’t miss it, and it will have its time about an hour from now. As I hope you all know by now, I am very much in favour of the proposed amalgamation with Rundle Memorial United Church for many reasons, but the one closest to my heart is the availability of numerous and varied “entry points” for people from both communities seeking to reach beyond themselves in Mission in the name of Jesus. Yes, there are significant financial benefits that come with merging the economic models of these two congregations, and that’s no small thing – it’s hard to reach beyond yourself, as an individual or as an institution if you’re worried about your own viability – but I have long imagined this broader approach to our United Church presence in the Bow Valley, which clearly expresses Christ’s love for the community beyond these walls as well as the faith community that gathers within these walls. So that’s one aspect of “broad horizons” on this day.
A second place of “broad horizons” is World Communion Sunday. This is one of the days in the Christian year when we are aware that what we are doing here is part of something massive. While it’s not accurate to say that EVERY Church worldwide will have communion this Sunday, all Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican and a goodly portion of Protestant Churches will. Christians in the Philippines and Scotland, in Peru and Goa, in Niger and Spain and Australia, are today gathering in worship to receive this holy sacrament. As we heard last Sunday when Elder Glenda Crawler spoke to us in her Stoney language, Christ’s ability to touch our lives is beyond human limitations of language and culture. On World Communion Sunday, our horizons are broadened as we bring to mind all the places and languages and modes of worship of those experiencing the bread broken, the cup shared, and the brokenness of the Christ emerging in resurrection hope.
A third place of broad horizons relates to a Church Season that we’ve been in for the past month but have barely touched. With origins dating to 1989 in the Orthodox Church, The Season of Creation was picked up by The United Church of Canada in 2010, running from early September to early October. Rev Hilde Seal – also known to many of you as Allan Buckingham’s mom – writes this about this season: “This is a time to realize and celebrate that we live within a miracle – life on the planet Earth, and that we are biologically and spiritually kin with all creation. The realization that we belong to Earth means that we are not so much her beneficent caretakers, as we are indebted and grateful because all of our life energy is derived from her. [In this season we] regard all creation as a radiant manifestation of Spirit, and understand that the one we call the Christ is cosmic in scope and in love… Our vocation is to fall back in love with creation and to treat the planet, her biosystems, and creatures, as we treat our family”. That’s quite a bit bigger statement, than simply saying that we admire the beauty of nature, or feel close to God in these mountains and valleys, and might even spur us to treat this planet with greater respect.
Our Indigenous neighbours have much to teach us in this area. The Assembly of First Nations website states, “First Nations peoples’ have a special relationship with the earth and all living things in it. This relationship is based on a profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that guided indigenous peoples to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity. It is also based on the subsistence needs and values extending back thousands of years…Everything is taken and used with the understanding that we take only what we need, and we must use great care and be aware of how we take and how much of it so that future generations will not be put in peril”. The kinds of steps we have taken here at the Church to lessen our carbon footprint – the solar panels on the roof, the low-energy LED lighting in the hall, improved thermostats and appliances and heat recovery are a good first step, but with that, we need to find ways for this bigger, broader perspective to find a home in all the ways we live on this planet. When we regard all of life as sacred – earth, sea, skies, flora and fauna – rather than organizing everything purely for the convenience of Homo sapiens, we find our proper place and it becomes easier to spot when things are out of order. And the deeper we go in our understanding of the holy interconnectedness of all things, the broader our actions become in safeguarding the earth.
And the fourth place where we see broadened horizons today, is the place that helped me to see the other three. The 146th Psalm makes explicit that the same God whose boundless creativity is on display each time we experience the glories of creation, is the author of equity and justice. The one we love in a very “familial” way does love us with parental love, but it’s the kind of family that always has room for one more at the table.
Hear the words of that 146th Psalm once more, this time from the New English translation:
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live.
I will sing praises to my God as long as I exist.
3 Do not trust in princes, or in human beings, who cannot deliver.
4 Their life’s breath departs, they return to the ground.
On that day their plans die.
5 How blessed is the one whose helper is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 the one who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who remains forever faithful, 7 vindicates the oppressed,
and gives food to the hungry. The Lord releases the imprisoned.
8 The Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord lifts up all who are bent over. The Lord loves the godly.
9 The Lord protects the resident foreigner, lifts up the fatherless and the widow, and opposes the wicked.
10 The Lord rules forever, your God, O Zion, throughout the generations to come. Praise the Lord!
Notice here, a fairly traditional praising of the God of Jacob, in the first few verses quickly “goes broader”, making clear that the same faithful God responsible for heaven and earth and seas also “vindicates the oppressed, and gives food to the hungry…releases the imprisoned…gives sight to the blind….lifts up all who are bent over…loves the godly…protects the resident foreigner, lifts up the fatherless and the widow.” When I hear Christians confidently proclaim that God is “ours” in an exclusive kind of way, they miss the mark entirely. God welcomes our praise and devotion but then immediately stretches and re-shapes it, urging us to expand that devotional energy into practical actions that make life better for all who are oppressed or in any way disadvantaged. Love of God, and love of neighbour, walk hand in hand.
In each of these four instances, we have evidence of a God who wants us to engage broader horizons than we had first envisioned.
I love what we have here at Ralph Connor – the wonderful, energetic music, the contemplative mid-week Oasis called Evensong, the desire to relate to the community around us rather than just keeping a focus on “parish life.” In many ways we are already inclined to broader horizons, including our decision to become Affirming three years ago, including our commitment to Live into Right Relations, including the important decision reached three weeks ago to proceed with the Building Accessibility Upgrades project, and will learn much as we live into those commitments. I love what we have here AND I love what could happen if we choose to have even broader horizons, as we consider amalgamation and hands-on participation in the Missional outreach that happens in Banff through the Rundle Memorial building.
I love being able to have communion in-person again after two years of doing our best to make it happen through online worship AND I love what it means to visualize our United Churches in the Bow Valley as part of the worldwide body of Christ: a church of many languages, many ethnicities, on many continents. World Communion Sunday is one of my favourite days of the year as I realize that the God I meet here is the God who is met everywhere.
I love living where I live, having familiar vistas and previously-undiscovered hikes take my breath away AND am so indebted to Church leaders like Richard Rohr, and my friend Sarah Arthurs of Green Exodus, for helping me to see not just the natural beauty of the earth, but its holiness. In the way I am connected to you, and in the way we are connected to our surroundings, and in the interplay of earth and skies and seas, God is known.
I love the ways that I have met God in the life and work of the Church AND I love how God always shows me ways to make my spirituality more real, through social justice advocacy. This has always been a vital message for the Church to convey and, quite frankly, if the Church is to survive into future generations as a meaningful expression of Christ’s love, that connection to the needs and injustices of the world will need to be more and more explicit.
In all these ways, today is a Sunday for us to appreciate life in all its fullness, and to imagine even broader horizons. May the ever-creative God continue encouraging us to reach beyond, in these healthy and holy ways. Amen.
NOTE: at the congregational meeting following Worship, the amalgamation was passed by a 90% margin: 35 for, 4 opposed.
Assembly of First Nations. https://www.afn.ca/honoring-earth/
Season of Creation. https://seasonofcreation.org/
Arthurs, Sarah – Green Exodus. https://greenexodus.ca/
Rohr, Richard – Center for Action and Contemplation. https://cac.org/
© 2022 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church