June 19, 2016

1 Corinthians 13
1 John 4:7-12

“The Fruit of the Spirit is LOVE”LeapIntoLake

The photograph on the front of this morning’s bulletin shows a boy named Jake, in the midst of a great leap off the dock into Lac Castor – Beaver Lake. I know that lake well, as it’s the lake at Gracefield Camp – the Presbyterian camp that I attended as a child and worked at for many years as a young adult.

The picture was chosen to mark the beginning of the Christian camping season and the goodness of God’s creation coming alive at this time of year, but what I noticed about it was the boy’s leap! He looks so confident and free… trusting that the water won’t be too shallow for such a leap, or too cold for a little boy, or too full of strange creatures like fish, or turtles, or leaches, or lake sharks!

The boy’s confident leap makes me think about the leaps that we adults are invited to make, and about which we often show a great deal more hesitation… things like buying a first home, starting up a business, deciding to change careers, embarking on a new ministry, or getting married.

Pope Francis remarked this week that the vast majority of young people getting married today don’t truly understand the meaning or significance of the commitment that they are making to each other. It’s like they are children, leaping into a lake without checking the depth, or the temperature, or the presence of lake creatures.

When I heard the Pope’s comment, I realized that he was exaggerating, but I still objected. Over the years that I have been conducting weddings, I’ve been impressed with the depth of understanding that I have seen in most of the couples I have worked with in preparing for marriage. Most of them are well-prepared, well aware of the lifetime commitment that they are making, and ready to partner with their spouses in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, as long as they both shall live.

And, of course, when I invite couples to select the scripture readings that they would like included in their weddings, many of them choose 1 Corinthians 13. And I don’t mind the repetition too much, because it gives me a chance to talk to them about the biblical concept of love.

Although Paul didn’t write 1 Corinthians 13 for a wedding, his wisdom can be very helpful for marrying couples. Paul describes love as a deliberate, determined, committed action… instead of love as a feeling that flits through your heart and floats away in the wind just as easily… Paul describes love as something that you decide to do, and something that takes effort to keep on doing when times get tough in our relationships.

Paul wrote today’s passage for a congregation of Christians that was experiencing conflict. It comes right after that wonderful passage that we celebrated a few weeks ago about the body of Christ having many members. You see, the Corinthians had been arguing with each other about who had the greater or most important gifts of the Spirit. Some of them, who had the gift of speaking in tongues, were looking down on others who could only do things like teaching or administration.

But after reminding them that each of the gifts comes from the same Holy Spirit, and encouraging them to value all the gifts and all the members of the one Body of Christ, Paul tells them that there is a still more excellent way for them to live together in Christian community. And that way is the way of LOVE:

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Hopefully all marrying couples know the high calling that they are responding to when they commit their lives to such love. Certainly, we who have responded to the call of God to follow in the way of Jesus know the challenge of trying to enact that love in our family relationships, in our friendships, in our church community, and for the world around us.

The good news is that the LOVE that we are called to enact is the fruit of the Spirit. It is something that we are equipped to do when we receive the gift of God’s Spirit in our lives and allow that Spirit to work on us, and in us, and through us. LOVE is not something that we need to come up with the strength and power to do on our own. But when we ask God to help us, the Spirit will enable us to do far more than we could have imagined.

Today I just want to share a few stories with you about LOVE being enacted through the power of the Holy Spirit. And I invite you to celebrate this LOVE, to be inspired by this LOVE, and to make space in your life for more LOVE to grow as the Spirit leads.

As you know, today is Father’s Day. I imagine that in some of your homes, there were breakfasts served to Dads in bed, cards and gifts given, special meals planned, or phone calls made. Lots of LOVE being put into action on a day for particularly remembering our fathers.

I heard a statistic the other day that 1/3 of fathers in Canada won’t receive anything special on Father’s Day. And the person who told me that statistic was horrified that so many fathers would be neglected. I, on the other hand, thought… what a lot of families are getting together, and caring for each other, and saying thank you for the men who nurtured or guided them into adulthood. Two thirds of fathers are being honoured! That’s amazing!

But beyond our families and close friends, we are called to put LOVE into action to help those who have more serious concerns than what to do for Father’s Day. The strawberries that will go to the Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry to brighten the day of the hungry people who drop into the mission tomorrow are just a small example. The sandwiches we regularly send, the volunteers who serve on the Board and on the front lines, the art program we support through our giving and encouragement… These are all examples of LOVE in action in our community.

Yesterday, some of us were up in Prince Albert, joining in the celebration of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church’s 150th anniversary as a congregation. Before the service, I was talking with a member of St. Paul’s and she was complaining a bit about a blister on her foot. I asked how she got it, and she explained that she had walked in the Church’s Walkathon last weekend. She started walking at 7am, and finished the distance around noon. The blister formed, then burst, then formed again as she kept to her goal despite the discomfort.

St. Paul’s had partnered with community schools, local businesses, and the wider community to raise money to send innercity kids from Prince Albert to Camp Christopher this summer, and the Walkathon was the major fundraiser. And just like the last several years, they will do it again. Through the love and dedication of people like Debbie who keep walking despite the personal toll, about 140 children will go to camp this summer to experience the love of God in creation, in Christ, and in Christian community.

While most of us were enjoying a beautiful weekend and sleeping in our own comfortable beds, ten community leaders in Saskatoon were experiencing homelessness for 36 hours and sleeping on the streets in order to raise money and awareness as part of “Sanctum Survivor 2016.”

The participants had to survive on the streets of our city, completing various tasks to demonstrate certain challenges faced by those who are homeless with HIV here in Saskatoon. And their ultimate purpose was to raise money for an HIV/AIDS hospice, as well as an HIV pre-natal care home that will support high-risk, HIV positive, pregnant women.

I was sleeping on a foam mattress up at Camp Christopher on Friday night… but I was thinking about my colleague, Bishop Don Bolen, sleeping in a park here in the city. LOVE in action, once again.

Today is not only Father’s Day, and it’s not only the day we are celebrating LOVE as the first fruit of the Spirit. Today is also Aboriginal Sunday. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has designated the Sunday before Canada’s National Aboriginal Day as Aboriginal Sunday. And the church encourages all Presbyterians to become educated about issues related to our Indigenous neighbours, the history of the residential schools, and our church’s commitment to healing and reconciliation.

In this part of the country, we have no excuses for a lack of awareness, as we can see before us – on the streets, in our mission, and on our doorstep – we can see the challenges and struggles of many of our neighbours, we can see the legacy of the residential schools, the Sixties’ Scoop, and the ongoing discrimination in society and institutions.

Many of us from St. Andrew’s took part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Event a few years ago when it was here in Saskatoon – an important part of our learning, listening, grieving, confessing, and healing. But when the TRC finished its work, the Commission presented a number of Calls to Action. Many of these are aimed at government, some at Canadians in general, and some are specifically for the attention and action of the churches.

They are Calls to Action – to put the LOVE that we feel, or perhaps even the LOVE that we DO NOT feel, but that we are called by God, and equipped by the Spirit to enact into faithful, committed action. Let me share just two of these calls:

Call #59: “We call upon churches to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization and in residential schools, and why apologies are necessary.”

Call #61: “We call upon church parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for projects that will further community-controlled healing and reconciliation, culture and language revitalization, education and leadership development.”

I am aware that we have much work to do. We need more education. We need more of us to know and understand our history as a church in relationship with the First Peoples of this land. We need to do more to support them in healing and reconciliation, and in the reclaiming of their cultures and languages.

But let me share just one more story this morning. Following our Presbytery meeting on Friday in Prince Albert, as the Clerk of Presbytery I got to write a letter to Canadian Ministries – a department of The Presbyterian Church in Canada that funds various ministries across the country.

The letter was to request the appointment of a new minister to serve the congregation and community of Mistawasis Memorial Presbyterian Church. Under the leadership of the Rev. Stewart Folster, the elders and congregation conducted a search for a new minister, brought in some ministers to visit the reserve and be interviewed, and they successfully selected a minister to come and work with them.

After making the request for the appointment, I wrote this:We are grateful for the immense support and assistance provided by Canadian Ministries for this ministry. The funding of this position makes it possible for The Presbyterian Church in Canada to provide ongoing pastoral ministry to a First Nations community that has a long history of relationship with our church. It is a community that struggles in many ways, and a part of that struggle relates to the legacy of the residential schools of which our denomination was a part. Our continuing ministry with the people of Mistawasis is a significant part of our shared journey towards healing and reconciliation, and we pray that it will only grow stronger under the leadership of this new minister.”

LOVE in action, once again. LOVE – the fruit of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, flowing out in committed action in Jesus’ name. May God give us the courage and trust we need to LEAP into the relationships, the experiences, the ministries, and the missions into which God is calling us to pour out our LOVE. Amen.