Each day began with a sermon.
It`s customary to start the morning with worship at a CCS learning circle. Usually this involves singing a hymn or two, a prayer, maybe a scripture reading and a reflection question or activity. Seldom does morning worship include a sermon. But for last month`s theme learning circle on Worship, each student was asked to come ready to preach.
And preach they did. They preached of inclusive and transforming love in the face of divisions and hatred. They preached of courage in the face of racism and homophobia. They preached of connection and vulnerable community in a society that values independence, and defaults to isolation. They preached their call to ministry, daunting and inspiring.
Despite all being assigned the same lectionary passages – the “greatest commandment” from Mark’s Gospel, the story of Ruth and Naomi, Psalm 146, and a passage from Hebrews – the sermons were diverse. The scriptures spoke to each student, and each student found their own unique take on the good news for their own context.
Sermons varied in form as well as content. Students challenged themselves to stretch, try new things, and step out of their comfort zones. Some sermons were presented from a pulpit; others were shared in the circle, with the preacher sitting on the same level as the “congregation.” One sermon was presented as a letter to a friend; one was a podcast to be listened to by commuters on the subway or in their cars. Some were written with the student’s home congregation in mind, and others were written specifically for the intimate learning community at CCS.
Students and staff offered feedback after each sermon – sharing moments when the preaching connected with them, occasionally offering practical suggestions, and acknowledging the gift that each preacher brought.
A few snippets:
“When I begin to wrap my head around the truth of God meeting me here, where I stand and as I am, without trying so hard to prove that I am worthy after I have already been called, I can be lulled into thinking that I am off the hook. I wonder if some of the early Christians thought at first, “Really? I don’t have to give my best calves and goats and sprinkle myself in bull ashes? I am forgiven, and worthy of God’s blessings, just like that?” – that certainly they were being given the deal of the century. But that commandment that Jesus gives – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your strength and all your understanding; and love your neighbour as yourself – ohh, when I really think about that, I realize it is so much more than burnt offerings or hours spent writing what I hope is an intellectually competitive essay after consuming ridiculous quantities of coffee and with a small forest’s worth of crumpled paper at my feet; more than creating the Messy Church worship experience of the century or making the perfect family meal. It means that I stand and stare my inequities straight in the face. God wants my heart, a relationship with me.
“My heart takes so much more from me than my material resources. To love my neighbour means not only that I do my very best not to hurt them, but that when I inevitably do, that I face it and find out how to love them in full consideration of where I have failed. It means I give them the chance to hurt me too, and work at forgiving them when they do. It means I have to love myself, and know that I am just as God wants me to be; a factory mouthed, blue collar, big hearted, mess of a work in progress. Can’t I just sprinkle the heifer dust and call it a day?” — Jen Prince
“This parable is speaking directly to that fear of the foreigner. It’s very possible that Ruth wasn’t actually doing Naomi any favours in accompanying her back to her homeland. Ruth may be committed to Naomi’s wellbeing, but Naomi is also risking as well. She is silent, says no more, and faithfully brings Ruth with her to her homeland.
And they are…they are enmeshed….
The idea that our lives and our destinies are tied to other…it’s pretty counter-cultural in the current and prevailing North American context. Individualism and self-sufficiency are highly valued. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, right?
And yet we also heard some familiar words from our buddy Jesus, who, being Jewish, would have grown up knowing the story of Ruth and Naomi. In the Gospel reading, Jesus utters the famous words, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ I, myself, often run the risk of hearing ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ as an extension of The Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ But I wonder if it is more than that…I wonder if it is a call not only about action but about how we conceptualize ourselves in relation to others. Today, at this moment, I don’t hear a call to love my neighbour as much as myself, but rather that my neighbour is me, and I am them, and our destinies are tied to one another. That who I am and my identity is not entirely inseparable from the conditions and circumstances and experiences of those around me. We are all…enmeshed.” — Bri-anne Swan
“’I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.’
I love this line. It doesn’t stop at praising God with my soul but with all of me, all of my being. A slight change, but I think it’s an important one. For me, it changes the message from praising God in my heart to praising God with every fibre of what makes me who I am. It feels like a call to action…
We spend four years in this place, the Centre for Christian Studies, preparing for this kind of work in the world. We study great thinkers, we learn from each other’s lived experience, we work hard to understand the experience of those at the margins, we struggle with our part in the pain of others, we learn to listen and to hold space for the people we serve, we stand up as allies… But let us not lose sight of the holiness of our calling. We came here because we knew there was more to our work than education, social work, social action, and politics. We came because we felt a holy call to this work. We came to find ways to share hope in the world – the kind of hope that Jesus taught was not only the will of God but completely possible if we are willing to do the work. As we take our learning out into the world, let’s remember that when we do this well, we are singing praises unto our God with every fibre of our being.
‘Praise the Lord, O my soul.’” — Lorrie Lowes
“Becoming is a word I’ve been sitting with all week. It began as a theme pulled from that story of Ruth and Naomi, and moved to being the ‘thing’ that I just kept bumping up against. In my theology class this week we discussed humanity and wondered together about ‘becoming human.’ And as we in this learning circle gathered and spent the week immersed in studies together I thought about us becoming diaconal ministers. I witnessed us becoming voices of advocacy and leadership in our contexts; becoming risk-takers; becoming community….
In his book, Faith Seeking Understanding, Daniel Migliore says it this way: Being created in the image of God is not a fixed state or condition but a movement with a goal; human beings are restless for a fulfillment of life not yet realized. We are called to participate in and in some small ways reflect, God’s own life of relationship and communion.” — Karlene Kimber
Amen and amen!
Scott Douglas is part of the program team at CCS.