This week I was invited to attend a breakfast gathering of the members of the board of directors for The United Church of Canada Foundation who were meeting here in St. John’s. Their Mission Statement is, “Endowed by the Generous, Enduring for Generations, Enabling God’s Mission.” One of their main priorities is funding new and innovative ministries in our church.
The guest speaker at the breakfast was The Honourable Ed Roberts who spoke about our province and as he spoke it reminded me of the struggles facing the church. Here is an overview of the challenges. 1. We are an aging province. We have the highest median age in the country. 2. Oil revenues are unpredictable and finite. 3 We experiencing the highest level of wealth. With the wealth comes increased poverty and an increased number of people falling through the cracks. He concluded with an invitation to the church to engage in the public debate to ensure that our seniors are cared for, that people have food to eat and place to live. He encouraged us as a church to be engaged.
Both church and governments are faced with an aging population, increased expenses, decreased revenue and a call to ensure that people don’t fall through the cracks. We are not the same church that we were 50 years ago – even 10 years ago. Change is all around us in society and in our churches. We’ve talked about it here at Cochrane Street especially knowing that we have big decisions to make about the future. But also at East District and General Council because declining revenues means as now 17.5 % cuts to all programs. At some point as a church both locally and nationally we will have to decide how we are going to live in the future. But no matter how many changes surround us in our churches, there is one thing that has not changed – we are called to be engaged in the world. We are called to live out God’s message of love.
That message of love rings out loud and clear in our gospel reading. Jesus came to a town called Nain. As he is approaching the gate, he comes upon a funeral procession. The man who died was “his mother’s only son and she was a widow.” (Luke 7:11) You may be wondering why this detail is important. A woman without a husband or a son was basically destitute. She would soon have nothing. Luke says Jesus had compassion on her, he touched the bier and the bearer stood still and Jesus says, “Young man, I say rise!” The man sits up, begins to speak and then Jesus gives him to his mother.
It is a strange story in many ways. Usually Jesus’ healing stories are followed by call to live faithfully or an indication that their faith has made them well. But that doesn’t happen in this story. Jesus saw a bad situation. A woman who was about to fall through the cracks and he was moved by compassion to do something about it. He couldn’t help himself because the need was great and he could do something about it.
My friends the church and the world around us may be changing but the message of the gospel has not. We are called, like Jesus to be moved by compassion. We are called to live our faith by reaching out to help people in our community and in our world. Noelle Russell a young woman from Whitbourne Pastoral Charge who goes to Trinity United Church in Blaketown did just that. She’d heard much about the lack of clean drinking water in some African communities. She and members of her congregation embarked on a project to do something about it. They started the “Wells for Africa” campaign. In just over a year Noelle and members of Trinity United Church have raised over $7000.00 dollars for a well that will serve many communities.
Like Noelle, following Jesus’s example we can be moved by compassion to care for people in our community and around the world. The world, our province, the church are all changing but the message of the gospel has not. It says in Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) While we as a church figure out how we will live into the future we cannot let people slip through the cracks. This may seem challenging, even scary we are blessed in this journey because we share it with our brothers and sisters in faith. As we discern our path for the future, as we listen to the Spirit’s call to compassion, we do so knowing that God is with us, caring for us and guiding us as we care for God’s people in our community and around the world. Amen.