The Call

May 19, 2019 by

Sermon by Paula Papky

Acts 11:1-18          Psalm 148          Revelation 21:1-6          John 13:31-35


At our family dinner on Mother’s Day, some members of my family laughed at what they consider my obsession with hand-washing and clean food preparation.  I guess I am a bit obsessive.  When I bring home a cantaloupe, I put it straight into the sink and then wash my hands.  When the cantaloupe’s washed and scrubbed, I sometimes wash the sink, too.  To be on the safe side, I re-wash supposedly “ready-to-wash” carrots and salad greens.  The family thinks it’s hilarious but irritating.

The food rules of ancient Israel in Jesus’ day, now, they were obsessive!  They came from even more ancient laws laid down in the Holiness Code of Leviticus.  Those laws defined what one could eat and where and with whom.  The whole idea was to avoid practices that rendered one unclean.  One could not eat animals incorrectly slaughtered; one mustn’t come into contact with blood, which was polluting.  And some animals, birds and seafood were altogether to be avoided.  Ritual hand-washing was necessary before meals and one didn’t eat with strangers who didn’t observe the rules.  For hundreds of years, the Jewish people used these practices to distinguish themselves from the wider culture.

One Bible commentator quipped, “Jesus was killed because of the way he ate.”  He was someone who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, ate in their homes, no less.  He didn’t much care for ritual washing before meals; in fact, he washed his disciples’ feet at one meal!  He let his hungry disciples pick grain on the Sabbath.  Fasting?  Meh.  Not important.  His life was devoted to feeding hungry bodies and souls, not purity concerns.

No wonder he made the Pharisees, those rule keepers, angry.  He was breaking down barriers between the faithful people of God and the people around them who worshipped many gods, sacrificing at their temples every day.  It was a multi-cultural world that Jesus’ followers were living in.  And if, after Jesus’death, the church was to survive, it would have to make accommodations.

After the uprisings against the Romans, the holy city of Jerusalem fell in 68 C.E.   Jewish Christians like Luke fled to Ephesus in Turkey, others all over the Empire, and tried to hold to their ancient laws and rituals while being Christians.  But when people who had no Jewish roots were wanting to become Christians, they weren’t keen on circumcision or on obeying the food rules.  That’s what the story of Peter’s dream is about.  A heavenly voice tells Peter to kill and eat any and all of the foods shown to him.  Peter is shocked!  “Nothing unclean has ever entered my mouth,” he declares.  But when he is told a second time, “Kill and eat,” he obeys.  It’s as if he says, well, it would seem that the Holy Spirit has fallen on these Gentile Christians, just as it did on us Jewish Christians.  And who am I to second-guess what God is doing?

It’s something to ponder, this removal of barriers between people.  Our tendency today, as Canadians, is to say to those who reach our shores, welcome, all of you, to our land of milk and honey.  Here you can plant yourselves and grow roots and flower.  Still, some of us sometimes feel uneasy among people who are different:  women who cover their heads or hide their faces beneath veils; people who pray five times a day; others who build a shining white temple on the outskirts of Dundas; people who enter into arranged marriages; people who speak no English or French.

Mind you, those we think of as “the other” are suspicious of us Christians too.  Some of us even have family members who suspect we church goers are mostly hypocritical, judgmental and naïve.  In these days of rapid change, walls are going up and coming down like an elevator.  And by walls, I don’t mean just that one Mexico is going to pay for.  Luke-Acts issues a call to the early church to remove walls, to welcome the other.  That call is still going out to our world and we’re always trying to discern what our response should be when we’re called to be inclusive.

The reading from John’s Gospel could be heard as a call as well.  In it, Jesus, knows how little time he has left with disciples; knows one has betrayed him; and so he calls his disciples to love each other; that is, he appeals to them to be loyal to each other.  None of them proved to be loyal just before and just after the crucifixion.  All of the disciples turned and ran for cover.  But the risen Christ gives them another chance.  Feed my sheep, he tells Peter, the one who had 3 times denied knowing Jesus.  They’ll know you are my disciples by your love, your loyalty, he told his disciples.  And so it is still today.  At least, we hope it is so.  We Christians hope we are known by our love and loyalty to one another.  You’d think others would be fighting to be baptized!  But maybe not everyone feels up to the balancing act we Christians have to perform, reaching out to others while holding each other close as family.

In our own multi-cultural, scientific days, how different really are we Christians from non-Christians.? We women don’t wear a distinctive head-covering – sadly, those Easter bonnets are past and gone.  Women here at MacNeill feel free to speak up in church.  Men can wear long hair and beards or shave their heads altogether.  In our weekday lives we may eat with strangers out in the mall or at food trucks.  So, what distinguishes us as Christians besides our hospitality to outsiders and our loyalty to insiders?

I think we are different in some important ways and it’s all to do, again, with our calling.  We are called to wonder and to reverence.  And we are called to serve.  We see, as others do, the beauty of the world.  But we see, as well, a Divine Presence in all of it.  We know the One who has created and is still creating.  And we know, too, we are shaped and sent as co-creators.  We know ourselves to be called as stewards of creation.

We are just like people outside our faith communities in that we feel guilty when we watch the destruction of the earth, knowing we are part of that abuse, that lack of care.  But along with awareness of our guilt comes a gift from the Creator.  We are people who carry a vision from Scripture of the world restored to its original beauty and balance.  And because of this vision, we have hope in tough times.

Our Scriptures begin with Genesis, that poetic story of creation.  They end with John of Patmos’s vision of the new creation:  a new heaven and a new earth, John writes.  A holy city.  The nearer presence of God.  The death of death.  The end of crying and pain.  All things made new.  We’re called to dream and envision.  A big part of our Christian life is the call to wonder.

I find the call to wonder easy at this time of year.  The orioles at our feeder are flamboyant, almost other-worldly visitors.  They gladden the heart.  They come as a gift of the Divine, along with blossoms on the serviceberry and our neighbour’s pear tree, and the sprouting of seeds in tidy rows.

Psalm 148 captures the Genesis creation story.  It’s so skillfully written by that ancient poet that at first we may not even notice that it was intended as a call, as a call to worship.  It’s an invitation to praise the creator.  Yet reading this psalm in the perilous age of climate change calls for something beyond wonder and praise.  Surely it calls for an active response as well.  You can hear Christ’s voice today saying, “They’ll know you are Christians by your love —  for the earth.”

I’m troubled by what in the world we’ll tell our grand-children ten years from now when we pass the point of no return on climate change.  We can’t say nobody told us.  Every newspaper and TV schedule tells us we’re there.  We can’t say we didn’t notice what was happening.  Or that we didn’t believe it was all that urgent.  I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it?  It’s getting close to closing time.  And we can’t say we just let young people walk out of schools and march with placards because we were too busy.  Maybe we’ll say we didn’t know where to begin.  I know I feel that way every day:  where do we begin?

Most of us by now know that our Christian Education Board has arranged for us opportunities to learn where and how to begin our action as individuals and as community.  Here are some ideas that came from our very first session:

    1. We can witness by word – that is, speak out!  It’s our calling.
    2. We can witness by example, starting with taking a close look at MacNeill’s carbon footprint.
    3. We can reduce our carbon footprint here and at home. There’s a terrific book in the narthex called, “Drawdown” that can help us.  There are other resources out there, too.
    4. We can protest the implementation of long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines.

At the next Bread For The Body, Food For The Soul session this Thursday we’ll be taking a look at local climate initiatives with two guests, friends of Gary Purdy.  And John Douglas will talk with us about his work in changing the cars we drive.  Far from being guilt-inducing, these sessions have been eye-opening and reassuring.  I even wonder if we should put on our sign, “Worried about climate change?  Come in and talk with us.”  Don’t worry if you missed the other sessions.  Bring your bowl and spoon and a plate and join us.

There are so many resources out there, more all the time, to help us respond to our call to wonder and to work.  If you have Netflix, you might want to watch Our Planet.  It’s a David Attenborough series, very nature-focused.  The cinematography is breath-taking as you travel from desert to the poles to the rainforest.  It’s a deeply inspiring call to wonder and to action.

I’m inspired by action we have taken here at MacNeill in years past .   Remember our Eat Local Pot Luck lunches?  They were a powerful stimulus and were fun as well.  Maybe a more agreeable time of year could be tried – we did it in March.  And don’t forget we have a MacNeill garden.  You might want to ask John Sonke what we can do this year to give him a well-deserved rest.  Of course, we have a new roof on our church, a great step forward.  And I look forward to hearing this week the pledges people made over the past few weeks for their own actions.

Can’t come out in the evenings?  Can’t wield a spade or hoe?  Take time to wonder and to pray.  The earth needs your prayers for healing.  Amen.

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