Untied United

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered, “Some say that you are John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others one of the prophets.” Jesus asked a second question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” The response from Jesus was strange in that he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

We’ve all heard the statement, “It’s not about you.” Well, to be honest, most of the time it is! Not so for Jesus. Jesus did not wish to be bound by differing expectations of what it means to be a messianic figure. To be a messiah simply means to be anointed and set apart for a specific role or function.

Many today have a messianic complex, which by the way isn’t always a bad thing. In the best sense, I truly believe that elected public officials such as Rachel Notley, Justin, Trudeau, or Donald Trump are elected because they promise to make something great again or at least better. But…look at all the swirl of expectations, challenges, battles, and obstacles such public officials must deal with over the course of their term. Jesus wanted none of that. His being a public person was more about being a part of the public.

Jesus wanted to be free or untied from the expectations of being a messianic figure. His ministry was among the people and with the people. He was a healer, a provocative preacher, a wisdom teacher, and a community builder. Such ministry doesn’t go unnoticed for long. But Jesus was free to be with others by laying aside messianic identities and taking upon himself the role of suffering servant.

Jesus, after talking with the disciples, called to the crowd – the people whom he loved and came to serve. He talked to them about some strange paradoxes such as losing one’s life to save it and if one gains the whole world what profit is in it if they forfeit their life?

Losing oneself both individually and corporately are words, I feel, that expressly address the church in these days. Denominations have many names. I was baptized in the Presbyterian Church, ordained, in the United Methodist Church, and now by the grace of God, I am a minister of the United Church of Canada. However, the denominational name I like best is Disciples of Christ! And I sure hope that in all denominations that we find Disciples of Christ!

But do we find them? Are we bound to denominational labels and titles? Those of us who are United do we need to become the “Untied?” Perhaps to be truly united, we first need to be untied, loose ourselves, take up the sign of sacrifice and unconditional love, the Cross, and follow the way of Jesus.

The United Church is going through sweeping organizational and bureaucratic change. I can’t believe all the buzz around these breaking developments. The changes might be good and helpful, but not our salvation. Hope, for the church, resides in Jesus and following his way. To do that, we must be untied from identities, structures, and the past. Image the freedom which is love! Imagine the grace often seen in forgiveness, new starts, and community! Image a journey of merry folks laughing and singing and dancing and struggling and “coming alive in connecting, reflecting, and serving!” And dare I say, that with a glance to the past to guide us, we make it up again as we go?

Losing our identities as congregations, as denominations, and even as individuals is to gain our lives in new ways with new energy and creativity. In the church, I have had many different roles from the local presbytery right up to the national level. At first, they were great. Meetings, travel, synergy, new people and new ideas, but then the expectations continued to mount. Honestly, there was no way to meet them all. The old adage, “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” kicked in to play. The “fun” had worn off. And being with the people I loved became a challenge. I had to untie myself from these engagements.

And later, I learned more of what it means to be untied and that it’s not about me. I’ll describe it this way. I was speaking sometime ago with a group of people who volunteer for the Interfaith Food Bank. The ones new to this activity talked about how good it made them feel to help someone else. After many had spoken in glowing terms about their experiences, one ol’ grumpy fellow spoke up. “I don’t like doing this. Wish I didn’t to do this. I’m tired of people being hungry and in need. Wish we don’t need food banks. Wish we had a better society of abundance.” I asked, “Why do you do it?” His answer, “It ain’t about me and my feelings; it’s about the other. Until things change, the work must be done, but I don’t have to like it.” He had lost himself.

I survive in ministry only when I loose myself. I have learned to let go of my feelings of happiness, joy, anger, or whatever else I might feel in any given moment. The work isn’t supposed to provide me with anything. If I work only for what I might receive the Apostle Paul says that I am as a clanging cymbal. The mission is enough. To care is enough. To believe is enough. To hope is enough. To love is the greatest.

A friend recently shared this poem with me. It speaks of the many gifts, talents and abilities of people and the awesome grace of community.

Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild – Kathy Fish
A group of grandmothers is a tapestry. A group of toddlers, a jubilance (see also: a bewailing). A group of librarians is an enlightenment. A group of visual artists is a bioluminescence. A group of short story writers is a Flannery. A group of musicians is — a band.
A resplendence of poets.
A beacon of scientists.
A raft of social workers.
A group of first responders is a valiance. A group of peaceful protestors is a dream. A group of special education teachers is a transcendence. A group of neonatal ICU nurses is a divinity. A group of hospice workers, a grace.
Humans in the wild, gathered and feeling good, previously an exhilaration, now: a target.
A target of concert-goers.
A target of movie-goers.
A target of dancers.
A group of schoolchildren is a target.

Humans gathered in the wild set loose to do what they do now are targets. Targets of shooters. Targets seen through the crosshairs of hatred, fear, prejudice, and brokenness. The Florida high school students who experienced the shooting have changed the world and are changing the world. They are resilient! Humans in the wild set loose by the pain and fear to rise above it and change the world. People are amazing.

We, members of Deer Park and St. Andrew’s United Churches, are a beautiful tapestry, we ae a beacon, we are a raft, and we are strong. We know the transcendence of love. Our strength is greater as one.

Do we dare to become the Untied United Church? To live the grace? To transcend our differences and to be humans gathered in the wild”?

About the Author
Although Tom was born and raised an American, his life experience and faith journey have brought him to our congregation. His social justice background, deep empathy and sense of humor have combined to give him the depth to lead this flock in south Calgary. He can be totally at home leading us in prayer or in a rousing shout of “Yahoo!”

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