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 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, my strength and my redeemer.  

This past week I have been attending online the annual clergy conference.  It was a joint conference with the Lutherans, which normally takes place in June and is normally a three day residential retreat.  There is a strong educational component and often a guest lecturer on one topic or another. The annual retreat is a time when the clergy and bishops can gather and catch up with one another, spend some time in fellowship, get away from the parish for a bit and hear what is going on in our diocese. 

This year, it happens to be the 20th anniversary of the Waterloo declaration.  This isn’t Waterloo, as in Napoleon, nor even ABBA’s Waterloo.  Rather it is a document that was put together in Waterloo, Ontario that has brought the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Anglican Church of Canada into full communion, that is…our ordinations are mutually recognized. 

In simple terms an Anglican Priest and a Lutheran Pastor can legally minister at each other’s pulpit and altar. Theologically speaking it declares that we are one in Christ in all ways that matter.  Or as Ephesians puts it…”we are members of one another”.

Throughout the conference we broke into small discussion groups and found that we shared many of the same challenges and opportunities in our churches.   We discussed the challenges of pastoral care and the expected increase in funerals.  We spoke of our mutual need to increase awareness of indigenous justice matters.  We spoke of the needs of clergy to engage in self care and congregations to be encouraging of their pastors need to say no from time to time.  We prayed together and worshiped together and shared ideas and resources.  In all ways that mattered, we were one.

This is a blessing in a world that is often marked by division.  Not just the wider world either.  I think that one quote from our Ephesians reading today is more commonly read in family homes then in the bible.  “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” is a very popular piece of marriage advise, likely because there is rarely anyone who knows how to push your buttons like a spouse.  Unless it’s your kids, or your in-laws, or that cousin…really it’s those who know you best who can really make you angry.

We see this in the church as well.  One of the great things about the church, and it’s so rare in society these days, is that you are gathered together with people with whom you share a common passion and spirituality, but not always people you would normally befriend. In the church you don’t get to choose who you are family with.  Sure, we all have people whom we prefer to be with, friends and family in the parish, but anyone can walk through the doors and join.  Anyone.  And we are called to love them.

The other thing I love about church is our scriptures, they are so convoluted, so controversial, so crazy half the time, because although the truth of God is contained in each iota, they are also so very, very human.

The writer of Ephesians is speaking to the church of Ephesis about Christian ideals and behaviours, not because the church is perfect already, but because it is full of people just like you and I.  Humans, prone to sin, self centeredness, grudges and all sort of behaviors that challenge the call we have received to imitate Christ.  

After all let us think honestly about what we are called to do in Ephesians: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear...put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” We don’t need to go much further than that first line.  Which among us has never let an evil word slip out, or even more common perhaps, spoken when there wasn’t need.  I know lots of folk who simply cannot resist giving advice, needed or not!

How much healthier and happier would any community or family be if we were always kind to one another, tender-hearted and just as forgiving as Christ has been to us. I for one find myself too often struggling with the later list of kindness and defaulting to the former list of brokenness.  Oh! the things we have passing through our minds.

But.  But! There is a reason this is in scripture, a reason it is inspired, because it is something we all struggle with, and God knows.  God is known for forgiveness, because God knows there is much to forgive.  God knows and Christ himself experienced, that we are human after all.  The scripture doesn’t say we must never get angry, or have the many other feelings and emotions that over take us, but scripture does say that we mustn’t let them cause us to sin.

And what is sin you ask?  Well this passage might describe it as those things we do which grieve the Holy Spirit.  Or in the BCP ‘those thing which we’ve left undone which we ought to have done and those things we’ve done which we ought not to have done’.

Sin is anything that draws us further from God, that damages our relationship with God.  In essence if that thing you say or think or do is not bringing you into a closer relationship with Christ or Christ as seen in your neighbour it is likely sinful.

We are called to live in love, as Christ loved us…to be imitators of God…to the very best of our ability, as beloved children.  Even though like all beloved children, we do, at times, grieve our parents.

This past week in the clergy conference, although we did not use this passage, we spoke of these very things.  One of the topics we spoke of was our relationship between settler and indigenous people and our mutual relationship as people of Treaty. 

In so many ways we have seen again and again the indigenous people demonstrate how to be angry and yet not sin, as they have sought justice and reconciliation.  After all, there is much in their history and in the present that would justify anger turned to riots, uprisings and violent demonstration.  Yet what we see is, and of course there are exceptions, but on the whole we see peaceful demonstrations.  Protests which involve dancing, marching, drumming and standing witness.

Whereas, we privileged, white and entitled folk run riot in the streets over sport matches and marriage ceremonies.  No one is perfect.  No church is perfect. Nor any group or society.  But we are all called to try.  To ‘put away’ those behaviours that break apart community and drive us further from God and to be loving members of each other.  Members of one another, and members in Christ.  One body, with Christ as our head.  Hurting another community, or individual is much the same as hurting oneself.    Remember as well, that we can be just as full of evil words, falsehood and a lack of forgiveness towards ourself as to others. 

Another thing we spoke of at the clergy conference was the toll this pandemic has taken on people’s mental health.  Especially in our context the mental health of the caring professions, including clergy.  The expectations are high, the need is exponential and the ability to fulfill those needs and expectation has been nearly impossible and people are burning out. The news, the pandemic, fires, droughts, isolation and so much more has taken it’s toll on all of us.  St. Andrew’s as well, our beloved community, has a history on top of that. 

Although it is always the right time, now especially it is imperative that we put away our malice, our bitterness, and all other community breaking behaviours and focus on being kind to one another, tender-hearted and forgiving.  The past years have not been easy, and given the Delta variant, things are expect to get worse again.  It is not an easy time to walk this earth, but we are called to build each other up, to be imitators of Christ, to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving.  Not in a sappy kind of way, but in the ways that bring life, and empowerment and love.  Forgiveness and kindness that restores life and changes the world.

We are members of one another, individuals and communities.  We are here together, and together we will build each other up.  Be it Lutheran and Anglican, Settler and Indigenous, BCP and BAS, Gay, straight, trans, black, white, Asian, able bodied or less so.  We are members of one another and together we will build each other up, in ways that are useful as there is need.

This is what Christ has done for us and this is what we are called to do in response. Simply, impossibly, always. Live in love. amen