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Matthew 5:21-37
The Great Emergence

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Holy One, our teacher and role model.

So where was the Good News in the Reading we have just heard? I look out and see people who are familiar with the bible and the teaching of Jesus. And we take them in context of what we know of Jesus’ teachings as a whole. But what if someone who does not know the whole story should just happen to come to church this morning and hear these reading, how would it sound to them?

Obey the rules, or else; you are a sinner; you are sinning just because you are human; cut yourself off from everyone else who doesn’t believe what you believe. 

I think of the Reading each Sunday as “sound bites” to use a modern term. We don’t often use modern terms here in church land do we. For us, we understand the language of the services and readings…we have heard them over and over and we love to hear them. We find them comforting and empowering. But that is not true for most of our fellow human beings. 

I listened in on one of the Zoom Town Hall meetings that the Diocese hosted about what is happening to the church and one person said that we have not done a good job of selling the church to the younger generations.

And I keep thinking back on that comment. What does that say about us? Have we become this “exclusive club” that meets our own needs and not those of the wider world? I’m not rejecting the good things that we all do out in our daily lives, that is important too. But that doesn’t increase the "bums in pews" that we seem to be seeking. 

So what is the Good News we need to be hearing?

Maybe a look back at some history of the church and the world will help. As Phyllis Tickle writes in her book The Great Emergence, every Five Hundred years the world and the church face great upheaval and change and comes out strong, renewed and relevant to the times. Five Hundred years ago, the Reformation happened… Protestant churches popped up…The printing press made it possible for the bible to be read in each persons own language, not just Latin. And we must admit that it was and has been for a long time, taken literally. But we have grown.

So we are now five hundred years past that change. What is the big change in our world today that we can name? I would suggest that it is the internet and the availability of information almost instantly. Cell phones…you go into the grocery store and there are people, phones to ears chatting away as they shop. Go for a walk and there are people out for a walk and there they are again with phones to ears. Go to a restaurant and they are constantly checking their messages, phones beeping or vibrating. 

Our world has changed. And yes there has been much change in the church, at least now we accept the fact that women have a roll as priests, girls can be altar girls, and the priest does not say the eucharistic prayer with his back to the congregation. But change seems to comes with such anguish and dissent. The ordination of women, the acceptance of our LGTBQ2S+ brothers and sisters and the understanding that much of the bible is metaphor are just a couple of examples. I know that a lot of people view the church as very intolerant. And as such they see us as the church and thus as intolerant. It may not be us as individuals, but we get lumped in with the rest. 

So where is the Gospel…the Good News?

We know that what we read this morning is not the whole story. We know that Jesus taught love and tolerance and acceptance of our humanness. He taught that God’s love in unconditional. Yes we all make mistakes, we are human, but we are forgiven by God. We are asked by this Holy One to try to be as loving and as forgiving. 

Personally the pandemic, age and mobility issues have changed my world very much over the past couple of years. I now must be careful not to catch the virus. And so I spend time connecting on the internet. A lot of my contact is with younger people and I am encouraged by what I see going on out there in the world. Yes there is much junk and misinformation and hate out there too, but I see the Holy Spirit at work in so many ways. I see that the younger generations have found ways of Spirituality that they have not found in the church. Though they may not understand the Holy the same way we do, they do understand that the Holy is alive and active in the world.

I see examples of God’s work going on daily…and carried on by some people who do not belong to any “church”. Some local ones are the Food Bank and Drop In, the Local Shelters, the Thrift Store. The Go Fund Me accounts set up for the two local families and other fund-raising activities. Further afield, the Humanitarian Aid to the Ukraine, to Turkey and Syria and other natural disasters. 

We may find the Holy Spirit here in this space, but the Holy Spirit is also very much at work in the lives of others out there in the world. And she is calling us to recognize this and celebrate it. The church as we know it may be dying, but the Holy Spirit is not dying! And that is Good News!

Change is hard. I understand that. We humans do not like change. We really do like our comfortable little ruts! Comfortable Pews???

As I was working on this Homily or Marian’s Musings as I consider them, I saw on Facebook a Meme. But first, going back to modern terms…the term “wokeness” which is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality.”

So it said: “When I hear someone complaining about ‘wokeness’, what I hear is someone afraid that the world is moving on without them.”

And another one…

"I don’t care that much about wrinkles and gray hair, I’m more worried about keeping my worldview flexible enough that when I’m older I don’t condescendingly tell young people to play by the rules that worked in my day, with no concern for whether or not those rules still apply.”

The truth and the Good News is that the world has and is moving on and changing rapidly. Are we going to move on as well? But we also know that Jesus told his Disciples and us, not to be afraid, that he, the risen Christ is always with us. Change will happen with or without us! 

And there will always be Church…it may not be as we are used to, there will be parts that are familiar and parts that are new, but it will survive. We have a choice…do we sit in our familiar little rut or do we accept this Good News and step out boldly with the assurance that God is with us whatever happens and whatever changes come?