Nov14SunNovember 14, 2021 by Carey Meadows-Helmer
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- Pr. Carey
25th Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 10: 11-25
During my seminary time, a beautiful quilt made by Lutheran church ladies was given to each graduating student. On the day they were gifted, the quilts were draped in the seminary chapel. The students walked around admiring the work. I identified my favourite. It was boldly patterned with vibrant colours and in retrospect rather busy. It was not the quilt I received. I received what at first I thought to be a rather plain and ordinary quilt. It was cream and a light green colour. At first I didn’t notice the detailed intricacy of the the stitching and the scalloped edges. At first, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. However, it didn’t take long to come to the realization that this quilt was indeed the perfect choice for me. Actually, it was so much more beautiful and fitting than any of the others would be. It’s my favourite to this day.
Unlike many of the previous Sundays, today is a rather ordinary Sunday in the church year.
While I love the feast days and large festivals, I also appreciate the smaller Sundays. The snow day Sundays. Christmas morning. The Sundays after the big events. Like the leftovers after a good meal or like when Sebastian and I visited Paris, we walked by the Louvre but decided to go to the smaller Rodin and Monet galleries.
While I love myself the large festival days, I also find blessing in the more quiet ordinary times.
Are you similar?
Ordinary Sundays are important. They might not have all of the bells and whistles but they are the building blocks of what makes a disciple. They remind us that we are not consumers of Sunday worship but participants in a community of people living the Gospel call. Disciples of Jesus who show up for the extraordinary and ordinary.
I am reminded of the verse,
Those who are faithful in the least are faithful in much.
The readings this morning encourage us in our life together as people of God. They teach us about letting go of what’s unnecessary, holding on to what’s essential and living together as a community of faith - as disciples on the way.
These words of ‘letting go’ are all over this time of year.
The sign at my children’s school says,
Autumn is the time for letting go.
Another variation is: Leaves remind us of the need to let go.
On my street, the basswood, cherry, lindens, and some late maples are holding onto their leaves while others are already bare. The bleak grey tones of November are more pronounced.
Letting go is not as easy as the trees make it appear.
Actually, it’s one of life’s wonders that we get any of this business of letting go or holding on correct. It must have something to do with the work of the Spirit guiding us to know when the time is upon us.
So we reflect within ourselves and within our community:
What are you are letting go of?
(The unhelpful, meaningless, inconsequential, harmful)
What are you holding onto?
(The good stuff that builds you up and makes for a full life.)
The reading from Hebrews offers to a word of grace. It has to do with the role of forgiveness in letting go. In Sunday & Seasons, the introduction to Hebrews reads:
These are words that invite us to let go. It invites all God’s people to stop trying to fix everything, bear every burden and do everything right. It is a word of freedom that invites God’s people to be daring, to risk everything for the sake of the gospel, knowing that even when we don’t get it all perfectly right, and we won’t, forgiveness and grace still abounds.
This helps us to grapple with our life together in community. Even as we live imperfectly in the world, God continually invites us to live out this call in a bold and daring way. God welcomes us at the table, gives us voices to join the song, calls us to the renewing waters of baptism, asks us to turn toward ways of wholeness and justice in the world, not only for others but in our own lives as well.
This promise of wholeness and fullness of life, is in part made possible by forgiveness… in community together.
Because …..forgiveness changes people.
Opening to us a new way.
To God and each other.
We let go so we can embrace what is before us.
At times, we need to let go of how we think something should be and embrace what is.
There’s an anecdote about the first time Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” was performed. Even though the singers chosen for the leading roles were the best of the day, many things did not go as planned. The story goes that the tenor was sick with a cold, singing in a barely audible, hoarse, voice. The soprano who played the delicate, sick heroine was quite a large lady with a loud thunderous voice which did not match with her sickly character.
Apparently, during the Third Act when the doctor declared that consumption had wasted away the “frail, young lady” and she could not live more than a few hours, the audience was thrown into a spasm of laughter. This wasn’t the anticipated response or what was suppose to happen. This was a tragic scene not one that would cause the audience to laugh. As the legend goes, Verdi and others deemed this first performance to be an utter failure.
Often the first iteration of a project is not the best or the final. It takes years of tweaking to get to the desired end product. The first performance of La Traviata was not a success. As we know, over the years, this opera has turned into an often performed favourite of many. People gather to listen and watch operatic classic.
But it didn’t start in this finished state. Verdi and the others involved in this project likely had multiple times where they needed to let go -
When it did not work out as planned and live with the imperfect.
It’s a good reminder for us that we never fully arrive anywhere. Life is a work in progress and so are we, as individuals and community. It’s about discerning where we are at any given moment and living fully into that reality - trusting in God’s promises of forgiveness and calling.
From one generation to the next, we pick up where our ancestors left off and work for a better life or a similarly good life to what we experienced. A life that embodies wholeness and just living for ourselves and those in whom we encounter.
Imperfect communities working together toward wholeness.
In our own community of Kitchener/Waterloo we are often faced with decisions that invite us to turn toward wholeness.
A wholeness that is evident when all people are treated with dignity and worth.
When we witness disturbing news coverage about the concerning treatment of a man with a service dog at a restaurant in Kitchener, we are keenly aware that all things are not yet equal or in balance or whole. That viewpoints and experience can differ so greatly that a young man with Aspergers can not only be denied the opportunity to sit down to eat but also be verbally and physically assaulted in a nearly empty restaurant.
When we hear of such happenings we are keenly aware that there is not wholeness in the world, but torn fabric needing to be sewn back together.
Can we be the hands that add the stitches that help mend the tears?
Yes! We stitch the torn fabric back together. Mending the tears and the tears.
As we begin to gather together again in person here at church, in small numbers, we are sewing back together the fabric that was torn by the pandemic. Maybe we are stitching together something new altogether.
In the recent edition of Canada Lutheran, in a reflections about the digital pandemic church, the editor wrote, it is clear people need people, face-to-face, talking and touching and just sitting quietly together. While online activity helps when being together is not possible, it is a poor substitute for being there in the flesh. Perhaps, that’s why God decided it was necessary for the Word to become flesh.
Gathering together as community is essential. Whether that is at a distance by forced online migration or in person. Yet, we certainly cannot underestimate the value of gathering together in person. I don’t say this to guilt yo into returning. When you are comfortable with the pandemic situation, you’ll be welcomed here - Where Community Gathers and Grows - with joyful hearts. Gradually, we welcome you back to in person activities. Because being together in-person is essential.
I love the final words of the Hebrews text that encourage us to meet together and the importance of gathering together in community. What can happen…
One of the beautiful functions of meeting together, is so that we encourage one another. When we meet together, a space is opened so that we consider how to provoke one another (as the scripture says) to love and good deeds, encouraging one another.
Brothers and sisters, if we are going to provoke each other (encourage each other), let it be toward these ends. So the world will know we are Christian by our love and good deeds. And we will know each other by how we were provoked by each other to such goodness. It’s holy ground to hear and speak about a community that encourages each other….. how I encouraged the best in you and you encouraged the best in me.
Together we embody this in community.
Together we stitch this torn fabric back together and yes maybe we even stitch it into something new. I wonder what our new quilt will look like? I can’t wait to see.