Sermon: Unity in Diversity

Opening Remarks

Welcome everyone, to our service today, in which we celebrate the 88th Anniversary of the forming of the United Church of Canada.

In case we haven’t met, I’m Lee Spice, in ministry here with the people of Scarboro.

Scarboro is an affirming congregation, which means that you are welcome here, however you identify yourself and whomever you love.

Today we’re going to honour our Anniversary by singing our way through many traditional hymns, mixed in with some newer ones. We’re going to use liturgies and prayers from that Service in 1925, when the Methodists, Congregationalists and majority of Presbyterians in Canada came together to form the United Church of Canada. We’re also going to use more contemporary ways of speaking.

I invite you to notice a few things. Notice how we have changed over the years, particularly in terms of imagery of God, how we view Jesus, how we acknowledge gender…and also notice the things that are the same. What traditions have remained or been brought back? What aspects of our faith have changed or stayed the same? This is a day of celebrating our past, our present, and our future.

At this time, I invited you to take a look around and greet your neighbours with the words “Peace be with you.”

Meditation

It was kind of a miracle. For many years, several major church denominations had been talking about getting together.

The Methodists (Dove – Holy Spirit): The “feel it from the heart” Christians – our website describes them as having evangelical zeal and appreciating the warmth of Christian fellowship and the ministry of music in sacred song. They testified to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. They believed in clean living – “I don’t smoke or drink or cuss or chew, or go with guys that do.” I had a minister once who wasn’t a good dancer – he said he had “one left leg and one Methodist leg.

The Presbyterians (burning bush – indestructibility of the church): staunch Calvinists who believed in the dignity of worship, the education of all people, the authority of scripture and the church as the Body of Christ.

The Congregationalists: a heritage of liberty in prophesying, the love of spiritual freedom, awareness of the creative power of the Holy Spirit, and a clear witness for social justice.

Later on, the United Church was joined by the Wesleyan Methodist Churches of Bermuda in 1930 and the United Evangelical Brethren in 1968.

Those visionaries back then believed that union would be stronger – not despite diversity, but because of it.

In 1925, in a hockey arena in Toronto where the Inaugural Service was held, they read the Psalm that we just read, and also the Scripture that we read in church a few weeks ago – Jesus’ prayer for his disciples “that all may be one.” That phrase appears in Latin on our Crest, along with “The United Church of Canada” in two languages, and “all my relations” in Mohawk (the language of first contact with Europeans).

As we have worshipped together this morning, no doubt you have been aware of changes that have happened in 88 years. You’ll hear this even more clearly when we have Communion in a little while, using the very words that they used in 1925.

We have evolved in our use of language, in our imagery for God and in our viewpoints of gender and sexuality. We have asked forgiveness for mistakes such as the Residential School system, we have formed partnerships in the secular world, ecumenically and in interfaith. We have waded in to social issues. We have learned a lot along the way. We have changed a lot along the way. We have explored and suffered and rejoiced together.

And we are still together.

Our biggest strength is still our diversity, and our desire to be one – the body of Christ broken and whole and having members from all aspects of humanity.The United Church of Canada is still a miracle.

On this anniversary day, I say we celebrate. Let’s celebrate the ties we have with the past, the ministry we have in the present, and the mission we have for the future.

I would like to end with a prayer that was prayed at that service in 1925. I invite you to listen through the language. Listen for one grave mistake – the mistake of leaving out the First Nations, and also listen for the heart of the prayer – the dream that our forebears had for us:

Almighty God, who didst lead our fathers into this land and set their feet in a large place: give grace, we beseech Thee, to us their children, that we may approve ourselves a people mindful of Thy favour and glad to do Thy will. Fashion into one godly people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Save us from lawlessness, arrogance and greed of gain. Give to all the spirit of service, love and mutual forbearance. In prosperity make us thankful; and in the day of trouble suffer not our trust in Thee to fail. So that, loving Thee above all things and our neighbour as ourselves, we may fulfil Thy gracious purpose in this land: through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

– Reverend Lee Spice

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