ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH                                                                                                     SEPTEMBER 8, 2013

 

A YEAR OF JUBILEE!

Leviticus 25:8-13 & 20 – 24; Psalm 106: 1 – 6 & 44 – 48; Matthew 12: 1- 8

 

Today marks our 49th anniversary.   Congratulations to each one of you – whether you’ve been here 50 years or this is your first time St. Stephen’s would be much less without you.   This also begins a year of celebration and thanksgiving as we move towards our 50th anniversary.  A lot has happened in 50 years.  The seed of the vision of a North End Church grew from St. Paul’s  Presbyterian Church.  A number of people with a passion for church expansion volunteered to participate.  This was no small gesture as they left their church family to begin another.  A congregation was gathered from the neighbourhood around us and officially established.  A building was erected and later an addition.  Community was built and friendships blossomed.  Many of you have had the bond of supporting one another as your children grew up or as spouses have died.  Lives were touched as people went through difficult times.  Joys were shared.  Faith was nurtured.  You have been a faithful witness to Jesus Christ for 49 years and I think that the fruit of your witness is evident in the spiritual growth and service of any and all who have participated here.   We are blessed to be a church that is still active, still excited, still growing, still loving and still reaching out into our neighbour with acts of service.  As you are well aware you have gone from being a group of strangers to a family and not just any family, the family of God.  That is a remarkable transformation and it is certainly one worth celebrating.   As we honour this year and all it symbolizes we are really celebrating and honouring God.  Without the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and without the power of the Holy Spirit St. Stephen’s would have quite a different story.

The 50th year is an important year to the Lord and to the Jewish people and therefore to us.  Just as each week ends on Saturday with a Sabbath observance, so every 7th year was a year of rest for the land; in that year the land was not to be farmed.  The 50th year begins on the 49th anniversary.  49 years consists of 7 years of 7 years.  These intervals were mega years!  Just as each Sabbath is a holy day – a day set aside to honour God, the mega year was a holy year.  A year set aside to honour God in mega ways.   This significant year was known as “The Year of Jubilee”.

In Hebrew the word we translate as “Jubilee” referred to the sound of the shofar or ram’s horn.   A Jubilee is like “a trumpet blast of liberty”.  This had two meanings.  On the one hand it was the sound that began the New Year celebration of Rosh Hashanah which was one of joyful revelry in which the people gave thanks for all God had done for and through them.  On the other hand, the shofar was also blown to call people to atonement – to repentance and reparation.  The Jewish people were told to begin the year of Jubilee on the 10th day of the 7th month, the “Day of Atonement” or Yom Kippur which follows on the heels of Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish Calendar. The Jewish people were to begin each year and especially this sacred year by clearing and cleansing their souls; by becoming right with God and their neighbour.  It gave the coming year a fresh start.  Over the span of 49 years a lot accumulates.  I had a friend who said for the first half of our lives we gather stuff and for the next half we divest ourselves of it.   The same is true with our souls and even within a congregation.  After 50 years there’s a lot of history and emotional luggage – some is good but not all.  We begin this year with a spiritual purge.  Each of us needs to look into their own soul and remember the things we have done and the things we have left undone.  Is there is someone we have hurt that we need to talk with and if possible make amends?  Is there something you feel resentful about and need the Spirit  to flush out?  If there is anything but charity, grace and respect for another, we need a change of attitude.  As we begin this year, each one of us is responsible for the unity of the body.  This is our opportunity to start fresh.

The year of Jubilee was a Sabbath, which we often take to mean a time of doing nothing.  In this year the Jewish people were reminded of how demanding observance of the Sabbath can be.  This was a year of release, restitution and return.  The Law – the Torah – required some difficult things.  Back in the day every tribe in the Middle East had slaves which they took and kept from other tribes after a battle.  In this year all the slaves of the Israelites were to be liberated and permitted to go back to their people.  Although this would greatly impair the Jewish work force, the dignity and human rights of all people were to be upheld.  As well as this the people were expected to return any land they had bought or were renting to its original owner or his heir.  You can imagine how this kind of reinstatement would disrupt the social order and affect the economy and the livelihood of people!    During this year people were also to return to their families – this referred not to slaves but to regular people who were far off geographically or emotionally.   It was a time to be together, to re-connect and to heal old wounds – a time of reconciliation.  As we celebrate our year of Jubilee, we’re reminded that our faith is not only a private thing between us and God.  We’re called to acts of justice which free people giving them back their dignity.  We’re called to stand for human rights regardless of the cost to us.  We’re called to do the right thing.   Usually when people party we let loose and indulge ourselves.  It’s a time to forget about the woes of the world and the problems of people.  As we celebrate this year, we’re called to remember it’s not all about us.  We are encouraged to freely celebrate with our whole hearts and enjoy every happy minute of this wonderful time while remembering we’re not alone on the planet.  We continue to reach out to others who are trapped by loneliness, poverty, unhappiness, addiction, emotional illness, etc so that they too can hear “the trumpet blast of liberty”.  One definition of justice is “deciding what belongs to whom and giving it back to them”.   That can range from a piece of land to the soul of another; from a financial grab  at what is not yours to owning your own thoughts and actions and letting others take responsibility for theirs.   Justice creates life-giving boundaries.  If we acted on all of our relationships in terms of this definition what would change?  This can be a frightening prospect because we know it will upset the social order of our own little spheres.  It may cost us dearly in some way.   How will we create justice in the coming year?

The year of Jubilee requires a great deal of trust and humility.  In this year the Jewish people were not to plant or harvest.  The ground was to be given a rest.  This would mean there would be no new crops for two full years.  When you have hungry mouths to feed and a rumbling belly it’s a huge thing to let go of your food source.  It’s a lot of trust to muster, and certainly goes against our Protestant work ethic where we’re inclined to think that “God helps those who help themselves.”  It puts our self-reliance up against God’s faithfulness and God’s promises.  It’s where the rubber hits the road.   God promised Israel, “I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, so that it will bring forth fruit for three years.” (Leviticus 25: 21)  We discover the point of this in vs. 23 where God declares “the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me”.   What might this mean for us?  I’m not suggesting that you stock your frig and wait for manna from heaven.   But during this coming year perhaps we are to remember with humility that God is a sure thing and our efforts amount to nothing without him.  God’s promises and God’s blessings are much more trust worthy than our self-reliance.  Too often congregations venture out in their own strength and their own wisdom with their own ideas.  Sometimes they become puffed up with pride at their accomplishments and success.  We forget that we have minor roles in God’s drama.    We’re on stage for a very brief moment.   After being part of a congregation we begin to take some owner ship of what happens there.  On the one hand it’s a sign of our love for Christ and his church; the shadowed side of this is that we may come to think the church is ours to own and rule so “our will should be done” (which is where most conflicts in churches originate).  Just as the land is God’s, so the Church, our church, belongs to Christ.  We’re just passing through. We’re like the Rabbi who invited a man to his house.  The man found it empty and said, “Rabbi where’s your furniture?!” asked the man.  “Where’s yours?” replied the Rabbi.  “What do you mean? I’m only a visitor here!”  To which the Rabbi said, “So am I.”    This year gives us a container in which to let go and rebuild our trust in the God who promises to care for us and bless us; the God who owns us and our congregation and will keep us as we journey through this life.

Ultimately the year of Jubilee is a year of celebration and renewal.  We remember that by God’s grace in Christ we are included among the people of God.   In celebrating our 50th year we might use the image of God’s blessings having been stored up in a treasure chest over the years.   As we unpack and remember God’s rich goodness to us over the last 50 years our trust in God’s faithfulness will be renewed.    The painful times will be gathered up and let go – liberated.  The joyful times will be brushed off and cherished.  This year is the year of Jubilee for St. Stephen’s, it’s a year set apart from all others before it.   It is holy to our God and so it is holy to us.  Just as Israel was to rest in God, eating only what the fallow fields yield, it’s a year for us to rest in God and be on the receiving end of his bounty.  Out of God’s grace will come health and wholeness.  And out of that wholeness will come new growth and new life to give us a fresh start and sustain us for the next 50 years and for every year after that until the great trumpet blast of liberty when Jesus returns.

Anastas�hdph��ible worth $2000.  A visiting monk saw the book and stole it.  He went to the city to sell it for $1000.  The buyer wanted to be certain the Bible was worth that much and took it to FA who said, “It’s a fine book. At $1000 it’s a bargain.” The buyer went back to the monk and told him what FA had said.  The monk was shocked and decided not to buy the book.  He returned to FA and begged him to take it back.  FA said, “It’s my present to you.” The monk told him, “I can have no peace until I return it.”  FA received the book back into his keeping.

 

Spirituality moves us beyond the ordinary, beyond possession, beyond limitations, beyond, the spectacular, beyond self-righteousness, beyond our self.  When we deny ourselves and take up our cross we open the way for grace to flourish.  We become the two way mirror, the icon, which others may look through to find the awesome mystery of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Wonder makes us fall to our knees.