Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
A little self-disclosure before I begin. The normal process is to read the designated portions of Scripture and then let research and the Spirit lead to a homily. This week, I started with a destination in mind and worked the process in reverse.
The two readings today are basically about the same thing – an inclusive community. The reading from James, in general terms, calls us to welcome everyone. The Gospel from Mark, the story of a Gentile woman, who heard about Jesus and decided to ask for healing for her daughter. At first rebuffed, she persisted and her daughter was healed. This was Mark’s somewhat clumsily composed version of Gentiles being welcomed to “The Way.”
On October 21st, we will gather for a special Vestry meeting that will receive a variety of reports that, together, will hopefully lead us to a vision and plan for the next several years. The Mission and Ministry Committee has consulted widely and listened deeply and are currently writing their final report. I have already put together some draft thoughts and will encourage the Wardens to participate in this process as well.
However, it is important that we not leave all this to the last moment and suddenly dump a plethora of facts, figures and ideas upon you and expect an immediate response. So over the next several weeks, we will try several approaches to ensure that you have time to contemplate and pray.
I want to share two opportunities for your participation, both of which I believe are important to a new view of community building that will help us chart the course. Some background comments. Not unlike both Scripture readings, we are at a place where the model of community that we have clung to, no longer works, While the Scripture versions of creating a more inclusive community are much more justice and fairness related, we are more constricted by a model that simply is inadequate to allow us to participate in community building that would lead to dealing with the same social inequality and unfairness that is becoming more and more front and centre in today’s society.
Think back to the first day they opened the doors here at St. James. Somewhere, there would be a barn to tie up the horses. Most likely families in the area walked together to church. The river to our north would have been a significant impediment for people to get here. It is unlikely that anyone came from a great distance and given limited communication abilities – not even telephones on the scene just yet – community would have been localized necessarily. That model lead to a community like London having some 30 parishes in and around the city. We can speculate from here, but I think hanging on to an inward focus and traditions, inability (or lack of need) to expand the community and a changing social understanding have all lead to the model coming apart. Look today to the success of big box, high tech churches with a vastly different understanding of community and we can see at least part of the equation as to why our model needs to evolve.
Back to the two opportunities. The first is an invitation for St. James to participate in a Diocese prototype Missional Instruction process lead by the Wycliffe School of Evangelism. The short description is a group of highly trained individuals leading members of 13 churches in an interactive conversation about how we move forward in reaching the community around us. The first of two major workshops in this process is September 22nd. There are still a few spots for people from St. James to participate. There will be a second workshop next spring and we will be looking for people to attend. The larger invitation is to ask you to interact with the process. Open your hearts to understanding new ways. The information from the workshops and the overall process will be presented and opened up to us all to pray, learn, change and engage. If you are interested in participating in the workshop in two weeks, please speak with Canon Keith or Judy Jones immediately.
The second opportunity comes from a summer lunch involving the clergy from Wesley Knox, Elmwood Presbyterian and St. James. While there was some vague memory of doing some things together, we all agreed that community building needs to be a priority. Perhaps in years gone past we saw some competition in relationship with our neighbours. Today, I will strongly suggest that our survival, but much more importantly our ability to thrive as a vital and relevant entity within our wider community, will require us to work together.
Starting on Tuesday, September 25th and running each Tuesday evenings through November, Wesley Knox, White Oaks, Calvary, Elmwood and St. James will host a joint study group. We will be looking at a book entitled “Redesigning Your Life – Spirituality in the Second Half of Life” written by United Church Minister Dr. Sheila McGregor. Along with other potential ways to build new connections within the local church community, this is first and foremost an opportunity to build new personal and group relationships.
Because this is coming on the heels of the summer season when the clergy and many parish members enjoyed vacation and time away, we are a little short on organizational time. The clergy of the five churches will meet this Tuesday to plan the study. Each of us will take leadership and sessions will rotate among the five church buildings. If you are interested, please speak with Canon Keith immediately. There is no charge to participate in the study and receive a book, but we will ask you consider a free will donation of up to $20 dollars to offset costs.
With one simple love filled response to a rather brash and bold question from an outsider, Jesus began the process to open the faith community to those previously excluded. While what we are proposing is far from being that dramatic; it is nonetheless key to finding a new, fresh and exciting way forward. Are you in???
Rev. Keith Nethery