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BLESSINGS ON A JOURNEY JUST BEGUN

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					                 BLESSINGS ON A JOURNEY JUST BEGUN
         Sermon preached by Rev. Steve Willey at the inaugural service
                  at 49 Bogert Avenue on January 15, 2006


Texts:        Deuteronomy 10: 12-22
              John 15:1-11


When Trevor Kai was designing this banner using a photograph from the
dome in our former chapel, he asked me if any words should go on it. In
essence, I said, “Sure—but keep it simple.” He did keep it simple. He
chose one word—and it was the perfect word for the occasion: “REJOICE!”

It hasn’t been easy to say goodbye to 701 Dovercourt, and to the Moriyama
chapel has it? Yet even sad hearts are gladdened by grateful remembrance
of all the years there. Even grieving hearts can rejoice in their own quiet
way in remembrance of blessings past.

This morning we ride into worship upon the sound of trumpet celebrating
blessings present and blessings to come. We give thanks to God for
bringing us here—bringing us safely here—to this sacred oasis of still
waters beside the hustle and bustle intersection of two urban trading
routes.

                  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
                       the conviction of things not seen.”

That’s what the writer of Hebrew’s says—and I believe it like never before.

When we started the journey that brought us here 3 ½ years ago, we really
didn’t know where we were going. We did not have the assurance of being
able to see very far over the horizon. We did not have the sure conviction
that comes from moving forward with a precise map of the road ahead.
What we did have were heads cocked listening for the guiding voice of the
Holy Spirit.

Now, our faith was far from perfect or unwavering—but what faith we did
have was sufficient. What God said to the apostle Paul has been upheld in
our journey to this new beginning for our congregation:

                        “My grace is sufficient for you,
                   for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

So this morning would be the ideal time for us to say little Emily’s prayer!
As I mentioned last Sunday, when I invited our congregation to pray in the
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silence of their own hearts a few weeks ago, we could hear Emily quietly
whispering the perfect prelude to every good prayer: “O God, O God, O
God….” I don’t know about you, but over the last few years I have often
prayed:

       “O God, O God, O God.

             O God, what are we doing?

                   O God, where are we heading?

                          O God, show us the way!”

Well this morning is the time for us to pray it again, only this time saying:

      “O God, O God, you are so good!

             O God, your grace is sufficient in the face of
             our weakness!

                    O God, thank you!”

As one of the people you asked to offer leadership through these years of
transition, I am especially thankful for God’s blessing of peace and
cooperation. Without this, our road would have been much more of an
uphill climb.

You know, the story is told of a young rabbi who was having an uphill climb
in his new congregation.

During the Friday service, half the congregation stood for the prayers and
half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that
theirs was the true tradition. Nothing the rabbi said or did moved toward
solving the impasse. Finally, in desperation, the young leader sought out
the synagogue's 99-year-old founder. He met the old rabbi in the nursing
home and poured out his troubles.

"So tell me," he pleaded, "was it the tradition for the congregation to stand
during the prayers?" "No," answered the old rabbi.

"Ah," responded the younger man, "then it was the tradition to sit during
the prayers?” "No," answered the old rabbi.

"Well," the young rabbi responded, "what we have is complete chaos! Half
the people stand and shout, and the other half sit and scream."
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"Ah," said the old man, "that was the tradition."

We can accept it as a sign and a blessing that through all the very difficult
discussions and decisions of the last few years, we have not fallen into
standing and shouting, or sitting and screaming. A few of our beloved
congregation have not been able to move with us, but we are not a
congregation divided. Let us attribute this to the guiding presence of
God!

Now we should never put our faith in earthly signs and signals, and we
ought not to limit the freedom of God by being overly confident in our
ability to know what God is, or is not doing. Jesus warns us against
relying upon signs and wonders. But when he spoke of the ways God is
active in the world, he also said, “Let you who have eyes—see, and you
who have ears—hear.”

Even imperfect faith can glimpse God’s Spirit rustling through the trees.
Even the scarred human heart can intuit the presence of God at work and
at play. We are constantly being blessed in ways we do not know. But not
all God’s blessings go unnoticed.

So let us take notice this morning of just a few of the ways God has
blessed us on our journey thus far.

Remember how once the decision was made to re-locate, you asked the
Joint Task Group to find a new home that met the criteria you laid down. It
was a very tall order!

Our congregation—and TJUC—said they wanted a location that was:
    in central Toronto
    on a subway line, and close to the 400 series of highways
    with lots of parking
    in a safe neighbourhood
    in the building of another United Church congregation
    with a hosting congregation that was not in such financial
      difficulties that its own viability was uncertain.

I have to tell you that at one point the Joint Task Group became very
discouraged. We had visited churches right across the Bloor subway line
from west to east. We even visited congregations that were off public
transit a bit but were still generally within central Toronto. As you know,
we eventually identified two possible churches—one in the east end and
one in the west end—and we met face-to-face with their leaders for
discussions.
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Yet despite all the hours of hard work from the Joint Task group, our
congregation found it hard to get excited about either of the options.
They just didn’t feel right. They just didn’t feel it was blessed.

One night, the Joint Task Group was meeting for the umpteenth time.
We were tired. We were discouraged; and we weren’t at all sure what we
should do next. Inside I think all of us were saying, “O God, O God, O God.
Are you with us, O God?”

I remember the dead-end feeling of that meeting like it was yesterday. And
I vividly remember the moment when, seemingly out of nowhere, Linda
Fujita—God bless her—said: “You know, there is this church called
Lansing….”

We don’t put our confidence in signs, but through faith we intuit that we are
being guided.

Think of how we almost didn’t come to Lansing. And think about who you
are as a Japanese-Canadian congregation—your history, your ethos, and
your cultural connections. Now look around this sanctuary. What do you
see?

Do you see the origami cranes hanging down on both sides of the church?
They weren’t put there because we were coming—and yet, here they are to
welcome us bearing a piece of the story so many of you have actually lived.

Do you see all the rounded plaster forms of this sanctuary?
Does it’s visual vocabulary—its soft, feminine shapes and curves in plaster
remind you of another chapel which you have loved?

Do you see this arch? It was constructed to memorialize those who died
in the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. It has the same degree of
arc as the Peace Arch that now stands in Hiroshima. The architect did not
design this for us, yet could it be that within God’s design….?

We don’t put our confidence in signs, but through faith we intuit that we are
being guided.

Once again: Centennial-Japanese United is a highly relational congregation
and I think that’s why you wanted to be tenants of a particular kind of
hosting church. Our own Mission Statement speaks of our identity and
vision. It reads:

      We are a diverse and inclusive Christian congregation seeking
      to follow in the way of Jesus Christ with all who yearn for a
      loving, compassionate, justice-making community.
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Now hear what the Lansing congregation says of itself:

      We are a family of faith and service committed to God in
      Christ. The vision of Lansing United Church is to be a family
      that is alive, growing and inclusive. A community that cares,
      shares, and helps. Lansing United is a community-oriented,
      welcoming, caring Christian family.

Aren’t those Mission Statements surprisingly similar?

We don’t put our confidence in signs, but through faith we intuit that we are
being guided.

Through faith, we dare to believe that God has led us to this place, at
this time, and for a particular purpose. And through faith, we also
dare to believe that God has been active in Lansing’s decision to
open its doors to us.

This is a wonderful facility in a wonderful location. But we need to
keep things in perspective. We need remind ourselves that a church
building—any church building—is but a means to an end. A
building is not in and of itself, it is not God’s purpose for the church.

Our purpose is to contribute to God’s mission in the world, and to
worship God with creativity and joy, and to grow in Christian faith
and discipleship. And we dare to believe that God wants us here—
in particular—for that purpose. We now rent a new piece of turf, but
we are standing on a far more important kind of new threshold—a
threshold not made of wood and concrete but of spirit and service.

Biblically speaking, fantastic things happen whenever God’s people are
standing on such thresholds. Our ears get unplugged. Our hearts open
up to the question of what God wants of us in our new situation.

A threshold time is a defining time.

       “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord require of you?”

That’s the question put to Israel long ago as it stood on a new and
important threshold. Today it is being put to us. And the ancient answer
could hardly be more relevant for today:

                “Only to stand in reverence before your God,
                       to walk in his ways, to love him,
                to serve the Lord your God with all your heart
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        and with all your soul, and to keep God’s commandments.”

This is our new house, but God is our home, and we have the
opportunity before us to dwell even more fully in the heart of our
Beloved.

If there was ever such a defining time it was when Jesus and his
disciples stood on the threshold between Galilee and Golgotha. As
his mission was coming to a close, and as the mission days of the
disciples were about to begin Jesus said to his friends:

          “Abide in me as I abide in you…abide in my love.”

This is our new house, but Jesus invites us to abide ever more truly
in him—for he is our home. What motivates us to come home? Well,
there’s the necessary word of challenge, for sure, but it’s the
promise of joy that energizes our step.

It’s like you’re still a kid out playing with your friends in the
neighbourhood, blowing off steam after a day of sitting still in
school. At about 5:00 you hear your mother calling you to come
home for supper. And you answer her call and arrive into the warm
house and the smell of what’s cooking and your family circle around
the supper table where you are well fed in body and spirit.

          “Abide in me as I abide in you…abide in my love.”

This is Jesus’ inviting commandment, but his final word is this:

            “I have said these things to you so that my joy may
               be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

So let today be a day of joy!

       For we have been safely led to this wonderful place.

So let today be a day of joy!

       For we hear the voice of our Beloved calling us to come and
       abide.

REJOICE!

Amen

				
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