Philippians 1:3-11 Psalm 98, VU 818, Refrain 1 Luke 6:39-49
Let’s play a game. Can you guess when this was written?
“I came to St. Paul’s-Eastern United Church nine years ago. For me it was a great joy as I like the church building and downtown Ottawa. It was obvious, though, that there were great needs here. The church had been and we are still buffeted from the general malaise our society today has toward churches, the gentrification of this area, and the loss of members as they aged and were not replaced. And also, the building was and still is in need of much care.”
If you guessed yesterday, you would be off by about 20 years. It was written in 1999, by the Reverend Sam Wigston.
Some of you might remember the Reverend Wigston. Some of you, like me, might be newer to the church and not have had the pleasure of meeting him.
In reading the history of this beautiful community of faith, I noticed something. We have been here before. We have been in a position where we have been struggling with relevance and sustainability. We have been in a position where a new direction was required of us. We have been in a position where we had to look for new ways to serve God faithfully. And in every position, in every situation, we have come through. We have remained in this area for over 145 years, in a variety of buildings, as a variety of congregations, with a variety of resources. And throughout it all, we have remained a beacon of light to those in darkness, a source of comfort to those in need and a spiritual home to God’s beloved children.
As our own Heather Oudit wrote in her history of this congregation: “One could easily write another twenty pages about the people who have given so much to this church. Their faith, Christian example, dedication, giving, sharing, warmth and friendliness have made it a congregation that will endure.” Amen to that, Heather.
Our story is a rich tapestry woven of beautiful threads. Some of these include still having ties to one of our church’s earliest ministers in the continued membership of his great niece Dorothy, in shared activities and services with our friends at McKay as early as 1942, and where everything from the cross on the Communion table to our well-worn carpets has a story.
Although our Gospel reading today does not focus on the creation of the church – I mean that great passage where Jesus tells his disciple: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it,” – Our Gospel story instead focuses on what it takes to be a church that lives the Christian life.
We begin with not judging others, but with getting our own house in order so that we can then help them. Jesus says, ““Why do you look at the speck in our brother’s eye, but pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Please, brother, let me take that speck out of your eye,’ yet cannot even see the log in your own eye?” In other words, you need to correct your own faults so that you can help your brother with his. It’s impossible to truly help him when you’re even worse.
Then Jesus talks about the fruits of our being. He says: “A healthy tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a poor tree bear good fruit…A good person brings good out of the treasure of good things in his heart; a bad person brings bad out of his treasure of bad things. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Here, Jesus addresses our very natures. If we do what he says earlier by correcting our own faults, we will bear good fruit because the log will be gone, and we will be able to see what God wants from us. When we see clearly, the next step is to act on what we see and understand. That is what Jesus means by bearing good fruit and by our mouths speaking what is in our hearts. This last point leads to Jesus’ final point – our very foundations.
Our foundations are that which we stand upon to do everything else. What are we standing on? Is it a faith in Jesus Christ, or is it a faith in something or someone else? Faith in Jesus not only means treasuring his words in our hearts, but in also acting on them.
What happens when we are grounded in faith?
When we are grounded in faith, we notice our own logs and, with Jesus’ help, are able to remove them in order to help others with their specks.
When we are grounded in faith, we bear good fruit.
When we are grounded in faith, we are the church we are meant to be.
Because, when we are grounded in faith, all is possible.
The Reverend Wigston wrote, “We will have to get back to some basic Christian ideals and find more relevant ways to share them with the world.” Being grounded in our faith is a necessary start.
He goes on: “As the will becomes more evident, the way becomes clearer for clergy and laity to labour in the world of God’s vineyard with love, compassion, faith and courage. God has blessed us with much, for who we are makes this so.”
Session Clerk John Thorburn wrote a few lines in 1912 that I think are still relevant to us today. “It is our earnest prayer that the blessing of the Most High may rest upon our undertaking and that in his good providence it may be brought to a successful completion. This building will be devoted to the service and worship of the Triune God in whose name the cornerstone is laid, and it is our hope and trust that He will be with us in the future as He has been in the past, giving us, in ever increasing measure, the spirit of wisdom and fidelity and ‘Leading us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’”
I would like to end with one last note.
There’s a hymn in More Voices that I love: “Let Us Build a House (All Are Welcome).” The words are so embracing:
Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
I know you all know this hymn, but I want to tell you how it ends:
Let us build a house where hands will reach
beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.
That is the kind of church I have always longed to be in, and, thanks be to our Amazing God, it is the kind of church where I’ve found a home, with you.
My friends, it’s time for us to write a few more pages of our story – to add to what has happened in our church’s history. To give a record to those who will come after us as to how we lived our Christian faith. What verses will we add to our story, to our song of praise to God, to tell about our years of Christian witness and service, caring and sharing? What do you want our legacy to be?