The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Welcome Back Sunday, Part One, All Ages Service, September 13, 2015

Message based on selected verses from

James 3: 13-4:3 and 7-8a: Get serious about living wisely and living well

And

Mark 9: 33-37  Whoever welcomes a child, welcomes me

Opening Prayer:  Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may we know your nudging, nurturing, and sustaining presence as we reflect together on your Word for us this morning.  May it be so, amen.

This morning is a special day in the life of our church as we celebrate Welcome Back Sunday, Part One.

Of course, I am aware that for many of you, as Knox people, our church life is but one of a number of communities you serve in your various roles as volunteers, as teachers, and as ‘teachers’ and as ‘students’ of life.  We have but to think of our preschools, schools, colleges, and universities, and even Brock House Society, as places of giving and receiving as volunteers, as teachers and as co-learners.

As many groups and communities re-convene, some make new promises about how they will be together in their co-learning and in their shared building of community.

In some cases where communities of co-learners have been well established, codes of conduct or ways of being together or what some people call ‘rules of engagement’ are renewed or re-visited. 

The purpose of these guiding principles is to help foster an atmosphere where growing and learning can happen at the same time as helping all in that particular community feel safe, valued, and nurtured.

Thinking again on what Phil read for us this morning, I am reminded that those early communities were also communities of co-learners. I also heard again this morning that they were communities where people’s competing needs led to severe testing of patience and where misunderstandings did happen regularly, all in the name of becoming faithful ones and where feeling safe, valued, and nurtured didn’t always happen in a straight line, and, sometimes not at all.

In a nutshell, in James’ pastoral letter to his early church community was this: Good behaviour (or we might say ‘healthy functioning’ as communities) is no slam dunk.

This is also what I believe Jesus was emphasizing in those few short verses from Mark’s gospel this morning: 

Embodying God’s vision shalom that requires the last be first and the first last was not only counter-intuitive in the honour/shame culture of first century Palestine under Roman occupation but oftentimes were places where no one (except the privileged) felt safe, valued, or nurtured. 

The building of authentic and faithful community where all can feel safe, valued, and nurtured is not easy at any time. 

This, I believe is our true purpose as a church:  to build authentic and faithful communities where all can feel safe, valued, and nurtured in preparation for serving in the church and in the world.

Call me biased, but it seems to me that these are just the best of the best readings from scripture for our consideration this morning! 

As we strive to be this particular authentic community of faith picking up the threads of our various small group ministries this fall, I hope that you think so too!

Having been back in my leadership role myself for a few weeks now, I have had the benefit of observing how our co-learning relationships overlap and are interwoven together.  As roles have been resumed and, inevitably, as that happens, needs can conflict, patience can be severely tested, and misunderstandings can and do happen.

The good news for today? 

God is definitely here as we come together in faith and in hope for being the most authentic and faith-filled community of seekers and as learners we can be. 

More than that, we have access to the tools we need to keep everyone feeling safe, valued, and nurtured. 

All we need is to re-visit previously established codes of conduct and rules of engagement and then be intentional about putting them into practice, not just on Sunday but every day.

 My dream for this particular community of faith is that we might continue to strive to offer ministries of administration, teaching, music, faith formation, pastoral care, and co-learning relying on the servanthood model described in both the readings from James and from Mark this morning.

As we enter year two of our pastoral relationship together, I pray that we might find the courage and the tools to be intentional about learning how to nurture and strengthen one another in this co-learning and building of community. 

What do we need to do? 

We need to be intentional about showing up; we need to be aware of our own needs over and against the needs of others; we need to be present to those needs; we need to find ways to learn to tell one another the truth in love, and we need to learn to risk letting go of outcomes and expectations opening ourselves instead to where God’s spirit leads.

Let us continue to open ourselves to the blessing and the challenge of being a faith-filled community of seekers and finders, leaders and followers, learners and teachers, friends and neighbours.

Let us continue to strive together to find ways of encouraging the last and the least among us to feel welcome, safe, valued and nurtured.  Let us continue to learn to find and accept our own vulnerability, opening ourselves to all who cross our paths both inside the church and beyond its walls.   Called as we are into the building of authentic community for the well-being of our church, our community, and our word and in the name of Jesus, brother, friend, companion, and guide, let us pray that it may it be so.  Amen.