2 Timothy 1: 1-14 - Luke 14: 15-24
Earlier this week we have learnt that The Lion King is the next Disney animated classic to be made into a live action film. I do not know. Does it make me a conservative or a purist if I am not sure it is a great idea? For those who might not have seen the movie, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion who is to succeed his father, Musafa, as King of the Pride Lands. However, after Simba’s uncle murders Musafa, Simba is manipulated into thinking he was responsible, and flee into exile. The clip I would like to show you this morning is one of the pivotal in the movie.
Remember who you are. These words could easily be the subtitle of the first biblical text we read this morning. The second letter to Timothy is another epistle written using the voice of Paul, probably a generation or two after the dead of the apostle. It is also different from the others because Paul’s letters sound like by-laws of a church or attempts to solve the problems of the first Christian communities. The beginning of Second Timothy is more intimate. It is almost if we are reading someone else’s personal mail. Here the author exhorts Timothy to remember where he came from. He is encouraged to remember the faith he received from his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. He is called to remember the gift of God that is within him. Timothy, says the author, remember who you are.
I believe the lectionary could not have given us a better gift on this Sunday morning during which we invited to remember the first worship service of Kanata United Church. Anniversaries are always a great time to look back and contemplate all the amazing achievements a group or a community. Some of us can testify of the incredible journey that led this church from a community centre, to two different schools, and finally to this building. Many remember with fondest past ministers, interns and students who took care and fed the people. Many stories could be told about choir practices, Sunday school classes, Marriage Encounter evenings, lectures by John Shelby Spong and John Bell, and many other amazing events during the last 50 years. We can remember our story that shaped us and made us who we are today.
However, anniversaries could also be a mix blessing. As we look at the great achievements of our past and compare it to today’s reality, we cannot but notice signs of wear and tear. With all this negative narrative we hear these days about the decline and the death of the church we begin to wonder. When we look at the empty pews on ordinary Sunday mornings, the financial challenges to remain open and the aging of our membership, we start to doubt. We not sure if we have the strength to continue. We do not know if we have the courage to go on. We wonder if we should simply move on and let the past be the past.
And yet, we have moments, maybe like this morning, when we remember who we are. We remember our purpose as a church in this community. And we say to ourselves that this cannot be the end. It cannot finish this way. No! We are not dead; we are still alive. We are still filled with hope, ideas and projects. Yes. We can be a thriving church regardless of our number or age. We can raise capital money to repair this organ because we want it to hear it for the next 25 years. We can respond faithfully to the needs of our neighborhood. We can find ways to overcome the obstacles we encounter on our path. We can wake up and get all fired up about our church. And you know what? We can organize a great celebration. We can send beautiful invitations to many, like the mayor, our MP, and other dignitaries in our community. It will be an amazing party. It will be huge. It will be like Jesus’ parable of the great banquet in the Gospel according to Luke.
Yes, like Jesus’ parable in Luke we also read this morning, we worked hard to prepare a great celebration. We invited many. And when we say, “Come for everything is ready”, our guesses do not show up as we expected. “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it.” “I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am going to try them out.” “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” “I do not need to show up since my children are all grown up.” “I still remember when one of my projects was turned down by the Board.” “I cannot accept that gays and lesbians are allowed to be married inside our church.” “No, I am not coming to your celebration. I am staying home.” And suddenly, our beautiful party does not go as well as we planned.
Desperate, we look at each other and we say, ‘What is wrong with those people?’ Do they know hosting a party is not so easy? Are they realizing the number of hours we gave to prepare this? We had to invite the “right” guesses who might get along. We had to select a menu the people would like. We worked on a schedule of activities. And we have not yet even touched on the actual act of inviting strangers into your house, in our intimacy. We are taking a significant risk by exposing ourselves to the expectations, judgments and critics of others.
You know what? We should not even have to send them invitations. Don’t they know they are already invited? The prophet Isaiah said clearly that all are invited. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” What else need to add? If those people would come to church more often, read their bible regularly and really committed to our congregation, they would know they are welcome in our non-judgmental church.
Are all invited in our churches? Yes… in theory. In reality, it is complicated. After all, we have rules and membership. Furthermore, Christianity carries a long history of exclusion based on age, status, disabilities, language, origins or the amount of pigments in our skin. Many were made felt uncomfortable because they were not wearing right clothes, using the right words, knowing exactly when to stand up or sit down. They left our midst feeling they were valuable enough. You know what I am talking about. I am deeply convinced that all of us experienced this feeling one way or another at least once in our lives. We know how it feels to be left out by our peers because you were not good enough. We remember how we felt when at school, when it was time to pick up for team, we were always selected last. We know how it feels to be the only of our circle of friends not invited a dinner party. We do not need many words to get that we do not belong. I sure there are some people outside who would like to come in. There are some people who would like to bring their contributions. But they do not come in because they are too shy, they do not believe they are allowed to show up, nobody cared enough to invite them personally.
It is exactly in those moments and situations that we ought to remember who we are. As Christians, as disciples of Jesus the Christ, we are called not to wait patiently for guests to arrive, but to reach out to the forgotten, the marginal, the excluded, the unloved, the poor… Our call is to follow the example of the parable and to go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in those who are not necessarily valued and accepted by our churches, our communities or our world. And when we noticed that there is still room, we need to double down and reach out even further until all are invited, until all are told they can come in.
Today is not just the 50th anniversary of the first worship service of Kanata United Church. It is also World Communion Sunday, a day set aside during the year when all Christians from around the world are invited to partake in this sacrament. The bread and the cup shared during the last meal Jesus had with his friends are traditionally understood as a representation of the heavenly banquet we will experiment in the after world. However, the more I think about it, the more I believe it is the other way around. We celebrate the sacrament of communion in our churches to remember the sacredness of sharing food with family and friends around the same table. Have you ever noticed we have our best conversations when we eat with people we love? When we gather around the same table we are often the best version of ourselves. Our tables are safe spaces when we can share our sorrows and joy. Our meals once a month before choir practice, our church potlucks, coffee times and cake after church reinforce our community. Each time we pull an extra chair, each time we invite one more individual to join us because we believe in abundance, each time we share our bread and cups, we remember who we are. We remember our purpose in this world.
In a few minutes, we will celebrate communion with Christians from all around the world. And as we will experience the sacredness of eating from the same bread and drinking from the same cup, maybe we will remember all of our forefathers and foremothers who were there for us in the past and helped us to understand the gifts God places in each of us. Maybe we will remember those who cannot be with us on this morning because they are deceased, moved away or did not accept our invitation for many different reasons. We will also open those doors in a few minutes and maybe our children and grandchildren will help us to remember all of those who are excited to be invited to join us, who are truly hungry for more, who want to experience something special. Maybe we will remember we are part of a continuum, a great circle of life that began before us and will continue after. Maybe we will remember to live between memory and hope. On this Sunday, on this special day, maybe we will remember who we truly are. Amen.