ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH SEPTEMBER 15, 2019
Rev. Reg McMillan
Look on the Other Side
1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Luke 15: 1-10; John 21: 1-8
Where were you 55 years and 2 days ago? How many of you were at Adam Scott Collegiate? Thank you for being there and here.
September 13, 1964 a group of people that has become known as St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church were gathered for worship. A group of people who were called to start a new community of faith in this newly developing area, called to minister to individuals and families, young and old, living and working together in a loving relationship with God, our creator and each other. Dale and I and our family are grateful for the privilege of having been a part of this faith community for 16 years and in many ways we are happy to say we still feel connected.
That first service at Adam Scott marked a beginning, but months, perhaps years before that God had led people to consider a new church in a new area of Peterborough. All of these are steps along the way as the love and forgiveness of God has been passed from generation to generation and in various times and places since the beginning of time.. If we go back to the beginning, I think of creation as an act of God’s grace and love, and then there was trouble. Adam and Eve had to leave the garden of Eden, but first “the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.” an act of love and forgiveness.
It seems that we humans tend to lose our way a lot even with a GPS, sometimes because we think the GPS is always right, other times we think we know better. Throughout the Bible God has been seeking a loving living relationship with us, and then we try to ritualize and institutionalize that relationship in order to maintain it, often it is helpful, but sometimes we begin to worship the rituals and the institutions and we wander away from God and the living loving relationship God wants to have with us. Sometimes it is obvious that we are lost, but if we wander away it can be a while before we realize that we are lost and then we have no idea how we got where we are or how we can get back to where we should be until God comes looking for us like God went looking for Adam and Eve.
Many years ago our family and my sisters family were enjoying a day at the Sylvan Lake beach in Alberta, when another family near by became very distraught. A young child had gone missing, they could not find her on the beach and so they asked us to form a line and do a walk through the water to look for her, fortunately all I found was an empty beer bottle. The whole beach was quite long. Dale and my sister Grace, realized how fast children can move so they decided to go separate ways and not stop until they reached the end of the beach. Quite a way down the beach Dale found a group of people with the lost little girl and she brought her back to her mother who was ecstatic and alternated between hugging her and scolding her.
Lost and found appears to be the theme of today’s readings. A lost and found sheep, a lost and found coin, a lost and found messiah and a lost and found apostle – the “chief of sinners” who discovered God’s amazing grace in Christ Jesus. In our first Gospel reading, Jesus told his stories, because the respectable religious leaders of the people were accusing him of eating and drinking with all the wrong types of people. It wasn’t so much an accusation as stating the fact, a fact they thought would ruin or at least question his reputation and faith and turn people against him. Not a whole lot different than modern politicians.
Jesus responded with a couple of scenarios to illustrate his understanding of God’s will and God’s ways. “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep, and losing one of them, doesn’t leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that’s lost until he finds it?” How many of us would do that? Leaving 99 sheep in the wilderness to look after themselves is a sure recipe for disaster, losing them all – to theft, accident, wandering off, or wild animals. So that when the shepherd came back triumphantly with his found sheep, he would be fortunate to have a few sheep left.
The people who were listening to Jesus that day were probably wondering why he was telling this absurd story about a shepherd and one lost sheep. Shepherds were not considered very high on the social or spiritual ladder of the day. And then Jesus goes on to talk about a woman who had ten coins. We don’t know if they were part of headdress and had sentimental as well as monetary value or if they were money for the household expenses. Either way, losing a tenth of your possessions would be distressing.
I expect those listening to Jesus would appreciate the need to search, although Jesus describes a pretty extensive search. I think we have all lost something that we spent time searching for. I am not wearing a wedding ring these days because my fingers are not as fat as the used to be. One day a few years ago I suddenly realized it wasn’t on my finger anymore. We had been planing lumber to use for trim and then I stuffed the shaving into four garbage bags, fortunately they were still in the rec room, so I dumped them out one at time carefully sifting through the shavings and there it was near the bottom of the fourth bag. It is safe to say the I was as happy as the women who had found the lost coin. Jesus punch line must have dealt a real blow to the religious people who thought they had a privileged place in God’s kingdom Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Our second gospel reading also deals with the lost being found and a love so great God came and lived among us. Tragically the religious authorities of the day were not open to the love and forgiveness of God for themselves or anyone else. Feeling threatened by Jesus popularity they arranged for him to be executed. When someone dies we talk of our loss. On that dark Friday 2000 years ago, the followers of Jesus lost their teacher, their guide, their friend, their purpose in life, But then in the resurrection experiences, they found Jesus again, or rather, Jesus found them. The resurrection is a miracle, but for me the greater miracle is the love and forgiveness of God. The disciples never did really understand what Jesus was all about and then when things fell apart and Jesus was arrested they ran away and denied knowing him. Jesus came back to these same people and said “Peace be with you”. I want you to get on with the job of living and sharing God’s love and forgiveness.
In our reading from Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul is remembering how lost he was before he encountered the risen Christ on the road one day. His life was completely turned around and he went from persecuting the early Christians to telling others about the love and forgiveness of God that knows no bounds. Love and forgiveness that goes to the ends of the earth for everyone.
I asked Sabrina to pick the opening hymn, because I like the service to start with a hymn people know and enjoy. She let me know that it is based on our second gospel reading and that is why we have a second gospel reading. So if you are glad, the sermon is not going to end here, you can thank Sabrina. When the risen Jesus saw the disciples out fishing and not catching anything he called to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they had an enormous catch of fish.
Sometimes we find ourselves doing what we have always been doing and we have to be open to the possibility that God is calling us to do something different, perhaps cast the net on the other side of boat, the other side of the street, the other side of the world, or the person next door. That other person may never be able to repay us or return the favour or darken the doors of this building but they are still someone God loves. Mother Teresa in Calcutta showed compassion for the poor and dying by caring for their needs with love. She gave dignity to those who had only known rejection and insult. One day, a man was brought in who was dying. He had been left for dead. As Mother Teresa washed his body and prayed over him, he regained consciousness. He said two words: “Thank you.” And then he died. That is how God loves each one of us. Each one is precious. There are no acceptable losses.
Preconceived notions and ideas are part of who we are, sociologists tell us that is a defence mechanism, it gives us something to go by until we can gain more knowledge of our situation. Sometimes we forget to keep looking, to keep trying to understand and love that other person who is also loved by God. I have to remind myself of this every time I deal with a telemarketer. This is someone loved by God who is trying to make a living, perhaps trying to feed a family and we have no idea where in the world they are and what their personal circumstances are yet they too are loved by God.
About 30 years ago Stuart Macdonald called me and prodded me to cast my net on the other side.
He didn’t put it that way. My first pastoral charge was in Dauphin and Winnipegosis Manitoba. I had thee congregations, two presbyterian and one United Church. Our children were all born there and they were starting school, we had been there 10 years and we were thinking it was time to move, my dad had died, my mother was planning to move from Saskatoon to Red Deer where my sister lived, mom’s only request was that we be near an airport. I was clerk of Brandon Presbytery, three pastoral charges in the presbytery that were in turmoil for three totally different reasons and through presbytery and Synod I heard of other ministers that were having difficulties in their congregation. I received the profile and the most recent annual report for St. Stephen’s and saw that this congregation had been in turmoil, so I just tossed the papers in the corner, literally. Audrey is familiar with my visual filling system.
Sometime later Stuart Macdonald called and said, are you considering St. Stephen’s or not. I thought, it really wasn’t fair of me to not give St. Stephen’s a little more consideration. Because of my filing system I was able to just reach out and read over material more carefully, then I called a few people including Alex Calder. I was still not sure that St. Stephen’s was were I wanted be or should be. On my way to General Assembly in Montreal I met with the search committee, and left feeling, I would really like to work with these people.
I took a chance, a leap of faith and I am grateful the folks of St. Stephen’s did the same 30 years ago. It was a great 16 years for a Dale and I and our family. It was great to be among people who care for each other and wanted to be a blessing to the community, to reach out and help those in need in many and different ways and welcome them in if that is what they wanted and needed.
We appreciate and cherish the friendships that were made and continue through the good times and the difficult. Over the last 5 years during our daughter Naarah’s illness and death, your love and support has been a special source of strength and comfort. We greatly appreciated the prayer service prepared by Sabrina and was held at the same time here, in Bolsover, Vankoughnet, Vancouver and individual homes. Thank you.
Let us now take a moment for prayer and reflection on the ways in which we are sharing God’s love in our daily lives, and if maybe God is calling us to cast the net on the other side where others are in need of God’s love and acceptance.