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Homily by Rev. Gary Magarrell

Epiphany 2, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 20, 2013

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11; John 2:1-11

God’s Call From Tomorrow

Today I am privileged and pleased to lead this service in this congregation where I have enjoyed many times of worship. This homily is a brief explanation of my home denomination in Canada. I have been an ordained minister since 1966 and have worked in parish and secular work across Canada and in our national office in Toronto.

Our United Church of Canada is 87 years old. On June 10th 1925 three Canadian denominations joined as one church: the Methodist Church in Canada and Newfoundland, the Congregational Church in Canada and the majority of the Presbyterian Churches in Canada. In Western Canada in numerous smaller villages, these three churches had already started to work together and called themselves Union Churches. All of these Union Churches joined the new United Church on June 10, 1925. As well, there were union churches across Canada serving the indigenous people in small communities and these entered the new union. Our Canadian original indigenous people are now known as First Nations.

An act of the Federal Parliament made the new church union official and transferred all properties, churches and manses, all funds, pension funds and ministerial personnel. And so began the great adventure as a new denomination, Canada’s largest protestant church, a new and hope filled expression of the Christian Church.

There was a clearly stated dream in 1925 that other churches would seek to join the United Church sometime in the future. Some individual congregations have done so since.

In 1968 the denomination known as the Evangelical United Brethren officially entered into the union bringing churches, manses and ministerial personnel.

The new union became a model for union churches across the globe. A few of these unions were The United Church of North India; The United Church of South India and your own Uniting Church in Australia.

This new United Church of Canada attempted to take from each denomination one of their governing structures. Thus we have the following courts of our church: the presbytery from the Presbyterians and the Conference from the Methodists. The senior spiritual leader of the church was and is known as the Moderator with the senior staff leader named the General Secretary. The senior court of the church is the General Council, now meeting every three years. It met in August this year in Ottawa electing our 41st Moderator the Rev. Dr. Gary Patterson from Vancouver. Incidentally, he is our first openly gay moderator.

The United Church has from its inception sought to balance evangelism with social service. As Christians we must be doers in the world acting out our faith with justice and equality for all.

On the faith side, our church at union was formed around a clear statement of faith. In 1968 the church developed and adopted The New Creed which has been a backbone of our church life ever since.

Our church has been at the forefront of human rights issues in Canada and across the globe. Always a champion of women’s equality with men, our church ordained its first women minister in 1936 and elected our first woman Moderator in 1980. Both lay persons and clergy have been elected to the position of Moderator. In 1988, the church voted acceptance of gay and lesbians officially into its ordained ministry and as same sex marriage is legal in Canada, performs these marriages.

The United Church and its congregations played a prominent role in relief programs in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The church also sent missionaries abroad in large numbers. Today our foreign mission outreach by and large is channeled through sister denominations in other countries. United Church folk respond generously to tragedies which occur around the world and willingly open our congregational facilities to many community groups.

Our church has struggled hard through good times and difficult times to be faithful to the call of Christ in our individual and congregational lives. We celebrate in worship and deed the great love of God and acknowledge the wonder of God’s forgiveness and God’s boundless grace.

Our history exhibits a willingness as a church to face tough theological and social issues. Our church continues to speak out against injustice, prejudice and inequitable treatment of people whether here in Canada or across the globe.

Many people criticize the United Church because of our inclusiveness, our willingness to welcome all God’s people regardless of age, race, colour, gender, sexual orientation or economic situation. Many critics see this openness as a great weakness. However, we see this as our great strength. We view this fundamental stance as our response to God’s love of all people in the Creator’s world. God’s people must be out in the world, not hidden or protected from the world. No one is to be excluded in the welcome to discover God’s love and forgiveness.

So today we celebrate our particular expression of the Christian Church. One cannot be alive in this place we call home without a sense of thankfulness. We are grateful that others have shared their faith with us and led us to an understanding of our loving Creator God as we have known him through Jesus Christ.

We who call ourselves Christians are in no way superior to others because of our belief. But our faith should and does colour all we do as we attempt to walk in the footsteps of Christ, following the example of men and women of faith throughout the centuries.

In this congregation, numerous members and adherents pledge their commitment to leadership roles in the congregation. Duties vary on the Church Council and the committees. However, whatever the responsibility taken on, the pledge is to work together in love and faith that this place of worship, this congregation and this ministry be here and available for us, for the community of believers and for those seeking to know God in their life and wish to join in a common pilgrimage to a richer and fuller understanding of what it means to be a follower of God.

Let us never forget that our God is always ahead of us urging us into the unknown tomorrow. Do not be afraid for I am always with you says our God. Be prepared to be surprised by what lies ahead but know this: together we will face the future; together we will look forward to tomorrow; together it will be worth the adventure. I am not afraid so why should you be afraid? Trust me; I am always with you in this world and the next.

For 87 years the United Church of Canada has been alive and active. None of us can predict the future of this faith institution or this congregation anymore than we can with certainty predict anything accurately in this fast paced rapidly changing world. However, none of us need doubt that whatever occurs, God will be there, encouraging us all to ministry, to service, to partnership in faith so that God`s creation might be a better place for men and women throughout the world.

The Prophet Isaiah spoke of his personal call from God. Faced with his sense of God`s presence one day in the temple, Isaiah was struck by his own great realization of his inadequacies and his sinfulness. Once he was assured of God`s love and forgiveness and when he heard God`s call to move into the unknown future, he knew it was God who asked this question: who shall I send; who will go for me. Filled with joy and wonder at God`s generosity to him, Isaiah heard himself say: Here am I, send me.

Here we are today Lord; send us as together with you as together we explore the wonders of tomorrow. Help us be of courage and strength and may we listen with our ears and hearts for your guidance to us personally and also as a congregation and pastoral charge.

On behalf of the United Church of Canada and my parish Eastminster United Church in Belleville, Ontario in central Canada, may I wish you the members and adherents in South Sydney Uniting Church well in your journey together as a living and vital congregation. You are not alone for all Christians are here with you. You are in our prayers and in our doing.

Thank you for the invitation to share in this moment of celebration of your long life of ministry and your commitment to journey together as a people of faith and service. May the years ahead be joyous as you follow God’s call to ongoing ministry in this part of God`s world.

Remember, we are not alone for we live in God’s world. God is in front of us urging us to risk and believe.

Please now, I ask if anyone has anything to share re: why the Uniting Church in Australia and/or this congregation has led you to worship here.

Rev. Gary Magarrell of the United Church of Canada.