June 10, 2020: Happy anniversary to all of us in The United Church of Canada. Our church is 95 years old today!
Do you wonder, like me, what those founders from 1925 would make of our church – and our world – today?
So much that we take for granted would seem completely strange to them. On the other hand, so much of the way we are living today would have seemed completely strange to all of us just a few months ago. At the beginning of this year we would have shaken our heads in disbelief if someone what tried to tell us some of the things that we accept as part of our reality during this COVID-19 pandemic time.
But here we are, living in a changed world. How much is changed for good, and how much is changed only temporarily, we don’t know. There is a lot we don’t know.
It is an unprecedented time. Unprecedented in the lifetime of anyone living today, and actually a unique time in all of history. There has never been a time exactly like this, and we have been challenged to figure out how we are to live in this time.
And yet change itself is not unique to this time. The current changes have been unusually rapid, but change itself is a constant in all times. We carry the stories of scripture with us through our lives, and yet we encounter them differently as we move through different phases of life. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus sends out the disciples, telling them (and us) to travel light. Not to take along a lot of baggage that could encumber or distract them.
Today we hear these words in the context of a time when we can’t travel at all. We are told to stay home and not do any visiting.
Perhaps our very circumstances provide an opportunity – or actually force us – to examine what baggage we had assumed was essential, but was actually more of a burden. Or a distraction. What have we been carrying that was actually getting in the way of our connection with others?
We have learned a lot in the past couple of months about how to go out into the world while staying in our own homes. Some of the those attending online worship services across our church are people who had not been worshipping in a church building for years… Or perhaps ever.
As we celebrate this 95th anniversary of the United Church, COVID-19 is part of our reality, and so is the turmoil about racism that has dominated the news media and social media since the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis.
That incident occurred in the United States but it is painfully clear that anti-Black racism is very much part of our reality in Canada too, and part of our beloved United Church of Canada.
In the same passage from Matthew that is part of our lectionary for this week, Jesus directs, “As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'”
It is a bit hard to think about proclaiming good news right now. In the midst of the anger and pain and fear and hatred and struggle… the kingdom of heaven does not feel near. Right at this moment, the Kingdom feels very far away.
So much of our faith, and our lives of faith, rests in paradox. Things that stretch us. Things that go beyond rational understanding. Things that are hard to believe.
I suppose that in times when the Kingdom of Heaven feels near, when its closeness is evident to all, there would be no need to proclaim it.
One of the paradoxes of our faith may be that the very times when God feels furthest from us are actually the times when God is right here, here with us, here to guide us and accompany us through our anger and sorrow and fear.
And maybe, too, these are the times when people most need to hear the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
On this day, as we celebrate the 95th anniversary of The United Church of Canada, I have been thinking of those founders back in 1925 and wondering what they would have made of the world that we face today.
I don’t know what they would have made of going to church while sitting home in front of our electronic screens. I don’t know what they would have said about the racial tensions exploding across North America; possibly things that would make us cringe today.
And yet I believe that they created this church as a place that would nurture coming generations in a courageous faith, a compassionate faith, to share in our times, the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven is near!
— Nora Sanders is General Secretary of The United Church of Canada.
This message was originally sent to subscribers to the General Secretary's letter, "Note from Nora." Subscribe here.