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Core Values Sermon Series 

Author: Rev. Deana Dudley

May 5, 2002

 

Living Our Faith:  Core Values 1, 2 & 3

        For several weeks now, some of you ? many of you ? have been participating in developing what we have called the core values of Holy Fellowship.  This process began with a day that we spent with our District Coordinator, the Rev. Diane Fisher, to talk about how to re-energize the ministry that we want to do together.  And one of the first things we did with her was to look at who we are.  We did that as individuals -- looking at our own particular personality traits and quirks, with a view towards how we work together as a church -- and we did it as a body, seeing what it is that draws us together and makes us "CHURCH" as opposed to, say, a social club or a service organization or a political party.  And we discovered that what one
of the things that makes us church was a set of shared values, core values, things that we experience and believe and cherish.  
        So a group of folks got together, the Core Values committee, to seek input from as many people as possible in Holy Fellowship, members and friends, to see if what we came up with really, truly reflected our shared values.  This fairly innocuous sounding job turned into a much more ambitious enterprise than just coming up with some catchy slogans.  The job that the Core Values Committee undertook had to do with helping us take a hard look at ourselves, to help us discern how to become the church that Jesus Christ intends us to be.  I think they did a terrific job.  And after a lot of great discussion and sharing, and after a lot of hard work on the part of the Core Values Committee ? for which I cannot thank them enough ? and after a lot of prayer and thinking on everybody's part, they helped us come up with some core values to consider. 
        We thought about just taking a vote, to see if these were values that we could affirm, not just as individuals, but as a church, but that didn't seem like the way to go.  So what we're doing here, is essentially treating these values as a kind of covenant that we enter into together.  And in the tradition of one of the most important covenants that people enter into ? MARRIAGE ? we are essentially reading them as "banns of marriage" over the next three weeks, and if, in the view of the church, there is no serious objection, then these will be our core values.  I thank Andrew for the idea of doing it this way.... it has a lot of appeal to me, because these values really are, essentially, like the vows that we take when we enter into an
important relationship, in this case, our relationship with one another as Holy Fellowship MCC, and, most importantly, with God.  If you look at these values, they really are how we would like to think of ourselves relating to one another, to God and to the world, aren't they?
        So, what we're doing over the next three weeks is proclaiming these values, and reflecting on them.  Today, I'm going to be looking at the first three values; next week a representative from the Core Values Committee, Adam, will be looking at the next three, and then I'll conclude the following week.  Assuming that we have consensus about moving ahead with them, we'll formally adopt them as our core values in a ceremony during our worship service on June 1st. 
        Because we have no hope of keeping you here all day, you know that we can only just touch on each value briefly.  Basically, you're getting what they mean to two people, me and Adam.  I suspect that each of you will understand these values in your own unique way, because they will speak to each of us a little differently, and, most importantly, they will call each of us to our own unique ministries, and thereby will help us define what the core ministries of this fellowship will be.  Because that's the REAL purpose of this exercise ? not just to come up with some nice words about the church, but to develop a core understanding of who we are in God's world, and the work God calls us to do.  These values will be what we can go back to, time and time again in the future, when we need to ask ourselves tough questions like: Who am I?  What has God to do with me?  What choices will I make for my life? 
        That's what a core value is.  They're the consistent choices that
shape the daily, monthly, and yearly behaviour of the people in the
congregation - both individually and collectively.  Our core values are positive preferences or choices that we spontaneously ?  and/or daringly ?  make in daily living.  Our core values reflect our lives, not just our ideals.  As ideals, though, they're core because they are as precious to us as gold.  For instance, as individuals, or as a church, we might want to claim as a core value, that we're friendly.  I'd like to.  But then I have to wonder if that's really a value at my core being when I cuss and make rude gestures at the trucks on 401 that try to crawl into my backseat.   Or, for instance, as individuals or as a church, we may want to claim the core value of being open and inclusive, but then do we merely condescend toward people
with different tastes in clothing, or music, or people with different
abilities, or however they differ from us? 
        See.... we're all human, and therefore, even when we identify and claim our core values, we may not always model them perfectly in our daily living.  But because they are at our core, when we fail, we notice it, and regret it, and vow to try harder.  So our aim is to understand these values so that they become a natural part of our thinking in our life together in the church.  If they are truly core values, we'll work to live by them.
        Now, our first three Core Values are:  We believe that God loves us unconditionally as we are.  We respect the right of each individual to define their relationship with God.  And, We believe that we can experience God as individuals and in community.  And to shed some light on these values, I want to look at the scriptures that were read this morning. 
        In connection with that first value ? we believe that God loves us unconditionally as we are ? let's look at the passage from John's gospel, especially verse 21.  "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."  At first glance, that might not sound unconditional ? you might read it as saying we have to love God first.  But that's not what it says.  Jesus isn't saying "if you want to be loved, you better do as I say."


        It's deeper than that.  Loving God and keeping God's commandments are all rolled together.  You can't do one without doing the other.  When we truly know we're loved by God, we want to do God's will.  And we can't sincerely try to do God's will without first knowing that love.  God is present in our love for God and for one another, and most importantly, in our actions that live out that love. 
        You know, it's interesting... when we began this process; our
starting point was "We believe in God."  But eventually, we came to
understand that wasn't enough.  God is a given for us, but more importantly, we believe something ABOUT God.  God loves us.  Unconditionally.  As we explored our core values, many of us told our stories of how we ended up in MCC, and for many of us, those stories involved having been taught that God DIDN'T love us.  So for many of us, at the very core of our being, is that knowledge that what we were taught was wrong...  God DOES love us, just the
way we are. 
        What John is saying is that we know God's love and God's spirit are in us when we begin to live our love towards others.  That core value isn't just for me alone.  Notice it says "WE believe."  So the person sitting next to you, or the person on the street, or in your workplace or wherever, can say it just as surely.  God loves us unconditionally.  God loves ALL of us that way.
        But you know what?  We all may understand that love differently, and respond to it differently.  And that brings us to our second core value:  We respect the right of each individual to define their relationship ? that loving relationship ? with God.  I want us to keep this value in mind as we look at the passage that was read from the book of Acts. 
        In this passage we find Paul in the city of Athens, a cosmopolitan centre, and also a Greek religious centre.  The people of Athens have erected altars to every possible god or idea of god, but Paul finally sees one altar he can use as a starting point for proclaiming the good news of Jesus the Christ.  This altar was one erected "to the unknown god."  I guess the Athenians wanted to hedge their bets.
        What I love about this passage is that Paul begins, not with
criticism of the way they believe, but with an affirmation of their spiritual search and the varied religious journeys that they're on.  He respected them.  He says he knows they're deeply spiritual people and they're seeking the truth.  He wants to tell them how he found the way to God, to the One who created the world, the One who makes life possible the One they call the "unknown God."
        And you know, as we look at the world at the start of the third
millennium we may feel a bit like Paul felt there in Athens, as he proclaimed the words and deeds of the living God in a culture that was almost totally unaware of the claims of God upon a person's life.  Paul did not, as some would want to do today, totally trash the people to whom he was speaking, and what they believed, and tell them they were completely off-base.  Paul met them on THEIR terms, he saw what was good and right from their way of looking
at the world and then drew them into a Christian view of the world and challenged them to Christian commitment.  All beginning with what he saw as a genuine thirst for the knowledge of the things of God. 
        Don't we all thirst for that knowledge?   And don't we ? all of us ?  when we begin our spiritual journeys, begin our search with the unknown god?
        And to help folks understand that unknown God, Paul describes God as the creator and preserver of life.  And says that we are God's offspring. The idea of us as children of God appealed to Paul, because it didn't make sense to him that a god of stone, or gold or silver could have living, breathing offspring.  And the central message that Paul wanted to get across was that Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew people was this creator and Sustainer and indeed this God wanted people to make a commitment and follow in God's
ways.
        But even Paul admitted, there on the streets of Athens, that while there is indeed this spiritual dimension to the world, we don't know all there is to know about it.  God gave us curious minds, and a thirst for greater and greater knowledge.  We don't need to park our brains at the door and become members of the 'flat earth society' in order to come to church with integrity, or to have faith.  But we need to be open to that other, spiritual dimension.  Because God also gave us spirits.  And, as John's gospel tells us, God gave us God's own spirit.  And at our core, we desperately need to recover a sense of the spiritual, and a love of the divine.  We need to look at the spring crocuses and the fields that are turning green, and give praise to God.  When we hold a new baby we need to marvel the miracle of God in our arms.  No matter how much we know about life
and about the world there is still something beyond, something that holds the marvel and the wonder together and calls it good.  Calls it beloved. 
        So how can we know more of that mystery?  Well, that brings us to our third core value:  We believe that we can experience God as individuals and in community.  One of the most powerful ways we experience God is through the love and presence of others.  So if we have as a core value that God loves us all unconditionally, we also have a responsibility to show one another that love in community.   As we contemplate this as a core value, we're called to
seek God's guidance to strengthen our community and allow all our actions to be informed by the loving power of God's spirit.  It's in community that we learn about loving and trust.  It's in community that we learn about loving and commitment that moves us beyond our own lives.  It's in community that we should learn about loving and doing justice.  The God who created and sustains us put that in us from the beginning.  We're born into it. 
        And it's in community that we move our faith from an intellectual kind of thing ? for those of us tempted to do so ? to a way of living and being.  Paul knew that Athens was famous for philosophers who debated religious stuff day in and day out.  That kind of religious searching has its place, but as a Christian people we need to live what we believe.   Sooner or later, we have to quit looking for confirmation of our faith, and start giving meaning to our faith.  We've got to get up from our studies and discussions and put our faith into action.  To live love.
        If we believe it's our calling to love others then our lives have
show that, whether it's taking listening to a friend who's having a rough time, or taking paint to the Unity project, or building something with Habitat for Humanity.  Our beliefs have to be more than "nice ideas."  We have to make concrete what we say we believe.  And we can't do that in a vacuum.  We can only do it with each other. 
        Jesus' words in the gospel indicate that love of God and living in the way of love are inseparable.  I don't think it's possible for us to communicate the gospel effectively if we claim a Christian faith and then act hatefully, or even indifferently, toward other people.  While acting in hateful ways can't banish the presence of God from the world it can indeed banish our knowledge of God.  So God promises us that the Spirit will be with us to teach, and guide and support us.  God promised that loving Spirit, that loving relationship, to all of us.  And one of the most powerful ways we can know the presence of God is through the loving and Spirit filled actions of others.  So we come together in community to experience the presence of God,
and in community we're given the gifts we need to carry out the ministry that God has planned for each of us. 
        So in these next few weeks, as we reflect on our core values, keep these three in mind.  We believe that God loves us unconditionally as we are.  We respect the right of each individual to define their relationship with God.  And, We believe that we can experience God as individuals and in community. 


Sources: 
Thomas G. Bandy, "Moving Off The Map"
Alex Stevenson, Grace UMC.


Core Values 4, 5 and 6
By Adam Gedies

Isaiah 56:3-8
1 Corinthians 12:4-6  
Mark 3:31-34

I have embraced that Prayer of St. Francis as my centre around which I group any other prayers when starting my day.

Yes, for me as a ?news addict? it is still a test of my will power not to take a quick peak at the newspaper and not to turn on the radio until after I have tried to re-dedicate myself as a disciple of Jesus Christ in my morning prayers.

At night time I am usually too bushed for prayer and simply sink into my bed.

However, today I have had another reason to recite this Prayer of St. Francis at the beginning of my talk about Core Values.

If you took the trouble to count, you will find 12 individual ?core values? there.

So I wish to say to all of you who with a certain ?nostalgia? long back to our original simple, but truly sparkling set of five core values that we came up with at our meeting with our District Coordinator Rev. Diane Fisher on that Saturday in March.

Yes, I also admired its brevity in particular, because I myself tend to be the very opposite, so long-winded.

Nevertheless, I ask you all now:

Please, look with a certain generosity in your heart at our final set of eight Core Values for our Holy Fellowship MCC ? remembering that our mother church United Fellowship MCC insists on nine, that Moses laid down ten core values in his Ten Commandments and St. Francis here unashamedly, but joyfully asks all of us to consider 12 core values how to live our lives in discipleship to Jesus.

After this little ?lobbying?, IN MEDIAS RES as the Romans used to say,

? Into the middle of things.?

?Into the heart of the matter.?

My task today is to look a little at those three Core Values that all start with:  ?We value??.

Our committee purposely tucked them right into the ?belly? of our Core Values Set so that they are held securely in place by the strong arms of the ?We believe?? statements at the very beginning and end of our eight Core Values.

Just to uphold my gay reputation as being somewhat ? ?unpredictable?, I will now consider those three ?We value?? statements ? in reverse order.

First, Core Value # 6:   ? We value families including families of choice. ?

To me, again it is our Lord and Master Jesus who sets the example for ?families of choice? as we just heard in the gospel Reading.

At present, I cannot really speak about what it has meant for many people with a homosexual orientation to look for and find their own family of choice ? also in the very widest sense of the word ? after they have been cut off from many traditional family ties with their own blood relatives, possibly from parents, siblings and from their families, in turn.

At present, I can really only talk about myself.

I came very late in my life to my full realization of my gayness.

Of course, I had some sorts of inkling all my life, yes, there were also some troubling warning signs, but having been spared the consequences of a few instances to cross a taboo, I stopped dead-cold any further ?outside? sexual exploration as a young teenager after having been confronted. I never knew what it was with me nor did I really feel compelled to find out. Or maybe I was also ?scared? and in a sense happy that things were behind me now.

The other major reason for my contentedness: Life at home was simply ?too cosy? for me.

When I grew up in a small village in Germany, my mother was the loving focal point who kept our family of four sisters and three brothers ? and a husband ? together until we all emigrated to Canada.

If we siblings had our disagreements, I am  # 5, we all came together in our deep love for our mother whom we all worshipped because her life was our family ? through the good times and the bad times, while we were at times in various stages of more open disagreement ? for some of us rebellion? ? against our father.

So, I never really knew loneliness, but was always in touch with caring sisters and quite friendly brothers.

Loneliness only hit me after both my parents had died ? after the death of my father, my mother had chosen to move together with me for about another decade or so.

Of course, what should have made me suspicious is that I never felt the same urge that my two brothers felt to go courting and to marry, as did three of my sisters. I guess I am a little slow to comprehend things.

So I do not know yet what the ultimate consequence will be when I now ?come out? to my siblings ? but I already have come out to my parents in their graves at St. Peter?s Cemetery where they now rest.

With my siblings I have set myself the deadline at the end of this summer, to enjoy one more peaceful ?family clan gathering? and some times together at the three family cottages on a commonly owned half-acre lot in the Haliburton Highlands.

Of course, in a certain sense, many ?structures? of the traditional families ? in the widest sense, again ? will endure regardless if the parents are heterosexual or a same sex couple.

Looking at little Olivia now and then at church here, we all ? gay or straight ? share the love a parent shares with any of his or her biological or adopted children, the love of being an aunt, an uncle, in my case, also a great-uncle ? though I never really doubted that ? and the love of being a god-father or god-mother.

Forgive me now for what I wish to say next.

I have no intention to insult or to hurt anyone of you here at church today.

What I wish to say needs more to be said outside our church in the community around us.

I have tried to do just that ? though in private ? in my E-mail exchange with a London Free Press columnist in response to one of his periodic anti-homosexual columns last year.

Let me call him Bob Writer until I myself have come out to my own family.

At first, I wrote him under a pen name and I told him so.

What surprised me is that he answered back ? in a very considerate, I would say in a ?loving? manner.

Off and on, I still E-mail him with respect to his columns in the London Free Press, sometimes in support, more often to ?respectfully?, but firmly to disagree.

Yet, whether I agree with him or not, I have learned to respect his sincerity as a very conservative and orthodox Christian.

Since he laid ?bare? part of his heart to me in our E-mail exchange, I had to do likewise, by starting to give him my true full name just to let him know he was not ?talking? to a phantom, but to a real-life person.

He immediately E-mailed me back that he will keep my identity in confidence!

The point I made to him in that very first of several very long E-mail letters was:

Just as a normal heterosexual father will not think of trying to sexually molest or ?rape? any of his young daughters or any other young girl, likewise, no normal gay man will try to sexually seduce any boy in his parental care or any other boys outside in the community,

I wrote Bob ? yes, most of the time, we now E-mail each other by first name ? I wrote him, the protective parent instinct towards any children is a very strong instinct that is common to all humans and that transcends our individual orientation, be it homo- or heterosexual.

I quoted Bob Writer part of my own personal Code of Conduct that I put into writing when I fully came out to myself:

? I pledge that I will respect as sacred

the privacy of body, mind and soul of every fellow human.

I pledge that I will not use violence

against any fellow human ?

except when to stop or prevent violence,

done by a human on another human. ?

This is my pledge and I pray that God?s spirit will always be with me  - to keep it!

So, really we all should be capable to get along with each other regardless what our individual sexual orientation is.

Yet, we cannot always expect that!

Sometimes we have to make a decision ? a choice just as Jesus did when his own traditional family, his mother and his siblings did not understand him, could not agree with him.

Of course, their argument was from a non-sexual perspective:

? You are out of your mind! ?

Yet, that is the very same answer many of you already encountered from your traditional families you were born into:

? You are nuts ? You are sick!

You will be living in sin ? under God?s damnation ?

if you insist on living ? and enjoying ? an intimate homosexual relationship.

Jesus has set here a clear example for us.

When you are rejected from your traditional family because of what you believe in, then you must ?choose? your new family who share with you your values, your beliefs.

Yes, I am still very hopeful that my six siblings will not break their bond with me ? that we still continue to love each other as brothers and sisters.

Yet, in my heart I also know that many of them, if they wish to stay true to their own beliefs, really cannot support my choice to live out my homosexual orientation ?in a healthy, consensual manner? as br Andrew has stressed in our core values discussions.

Regardless, if those siblings will be able to come half-way ?that genes have pre-disposed me to homosexuality?, for them my homosexuality will at least remain a ?sickness? that could also possibly ?flare? into pedophile behaviour if not treated somehow or if not repressed by a conscious decision not to practice a homosexual life style.

For them, their beliefs will cloud their rational judgement that sexual or violent physical child abuse is much more prevalent in heterosexual families than in same-sex family units.

That?s where ?family of choice? comes in:

? in the immediate sense, also to bring up children where desired as same-sex parents like our little Olivia, or as a homosexual single-parent,

? but, also in the widest sense of the phrase:

  So I am looking at Holy Fellowship Metropolitan Community Church as my ?church family of choice?, that is, once we learn to accept each other as similarly committed disciples of Jesus Christ even if we may differ in our doctrinal beliefs.

If I may add one last personal thought about family.

In Core Value # 2 we affirm the right of each individual to define their relationship with God.

To me this implies likewise that we may also look at Jesus in many different personal senses as individuals.

Here, the incredible ?radical? outbursts by Jesus against family as such:

(Luke 14,26)

? If you are not ready to hate your mother and your father . . .

in direct contradiction to the Fifth Commandment: Honour your father and mother . . .,

? If you are not ready to hate your mother and your father . . . then you cannot be my disciple! ?

The ?heartless? rejoinder of Jesus to those paying their last respects to a loved one:

? Let the dead bury the dead! ?

All this to me is also an echo of the pain that Jesus as a fellow human felt the pain of rejection from his very own traditional family.

So, be forewarned!

There may not always be a happy ending for all of us in our relationship as homosexual people to our families of origin.

But we all can take comfort that we are here in very good company ? that Jesus Christ has also been there, Jesus has shared the same pain.

Yet, Jesus also gave us another example to ponder.

He did not die bitter on the cross. Rather at the very end he came to rejoice a little, to reaffirm his traditional family bond again  as well as reconciling it with his family of choice when he so lovingly looked at his mother ? and at the disciple ?whom he loved,

?Dear woman, here is your son?

?Here is your mother?

Now, just to show all of you here that I can also be very brief, I will move very quickly through the other two Core Values.

Core Value # 5: ? We value cultural and sexual diversity as gifts from our Creator. ?

Isn?t it amazing that the prophet Isaiah had already such a clear understanding that irrespective of our sexual nature or cultural or racial background, God has a place with a very warm welcome prepared for all of us?

To me this Core Value is an essential affirmation that we homosexual people are also a part of God?s creation ? that was meant to be good!

Thanks to Christine?s mediation on this Core Value as well on the one just discussed, we have now also consciously and officially extended our welcome to people with other cultural backgrounds like our Native North American Indians ? a concern so dear to the heart of our brother Ron.

My last Core Value to consider is # 4:

? We value the gifts of God in each person and in our community! ?

This core value originates from one of our smaller discussion groups in the April 14 after-church Input Meeting:

? We value the giftedness of God in each and everyone of us. ?

With some apprehension, our committee chose to render this beautiful, poetic version into a, perhaps, more concrete language that would be readily understood by anyone out there on the streets.

So, this core value is meant to celebrate the rich diversity of gifts with which God has blessed us individually and as a community.

This core value is also meant to remind us to remain humble.

Yes, all that anyone is called to do, is to make the very best of what God has gifted us with!

On the other hand, to those of us with extraordinary talents, say, like a Mozart or an Albert Einstein:

Yes, we all rejoice with you ? but you, the very talented ones, have no reason to look down on the rest of us as less valuable.

Because, in the end, you can work as hard as you like, to compose the music like a Mozart, to think out the way the physical universe behaves like Albert Einstein or Jim Hawkins,

it will never be of our own making, it will simply ? and very joyfully be another though very extraordinary gift from God.

Regardless, what our individual talents are, we all should remain humble as the recipients of such gifts from Our Creator ? and endeavour to always use them in the spirit and image of  Our  First  God  Parent.

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians weaves different kinds of gifts into one garment together with different kinds of service and different kinds of working  - but the same God works all of them in all humans.

Our brother Andrew gave us a similar pre-view of things to come, in his two-part workshop on the life and ministry of St. Francis that gifts and service and workings go together!

Our Core Ministries will be a living expression of our Core values!

In conclusion, I would like to say on behalf of the Core Values Committee.

In contrast to those very oldest Core Values in the Bible, The Ten Commandments, that Moses presented to his Hebrew people,

Our Core Values of our Holy Fellowship Metropolitan Community Church are not chiselled into stone, but can be adapted anytime in wording or be replaced by more appropriate ones when the congregation feels the need for it.

May God?s spirit guide uswhen we make our decision in adopting those eight Core Values.

Thank You,

Amen.

Adam

HFMCC, London, Ontario                                                                                12 May 2002

 


 

Core Values 7 and 8

By Rev. Deana Dudley

 

Out Into the World: Core Values 7 & 8
        As I guess most of y'all know by now, today I'm concluding our series of sermons on Holy Fellowship's proposed Core Values, with a reflection on Core Values 7 and 8, No. 7, "Following the example of Jesus Christ, we are called to live our faith actively in the world," and No. 8, "We believe in social justice and equality for all."    First of all, I want to thank again all of the folks on the Core Values Committee, who did so much work on this project, and helped us discern what the shared values were that we really hold at our core. 
        And, just to clarify what we're doing, in case anyone has missed it, in the tradition of one of the most important covenants that people enter into ? MARRIAGE ? we are essentially reading these core values in the same way that"banns of marriage" would be read, over the course of three weeks, and this is the last week.  And the reason for doing it that way was that these values really are, essentially, like the vows that we take when we enter into an important relationship, in this case, our relationship with one
another as Holy Fellowship MCC, and, most importantly, with God.   So after we finish reading them and reflecting on them, if, in the view of the church, there is no serious objection, then these will be our core values, and we'll formally adopt them in a ceremony during our worship service on June 2nd. 
This, then, is that final reading, our proclamation of the values we hold at our core: 

1.  We believe that God loves us unconditionally as we are.
2.  We respect the right of each individual to define their relationship with God.
3.  We believe that we can experience God as individuals and in community.
4.  We value the gift of God in each person and in our community.
5.  We value cultural and sexual diversity as gifts from our Creator.
6.  We value families including families of choice.
7.  Following the example of Jesus Christ, we are called to live our faith
actively in the world.
8.  We believe in social justice and equality for all.

        I'm dealing with the last two today, and I'm going to look at them in reverse order, number 8 first.  


        Core Value # 8  We value social justice for all people.


        Interestingly, BOTH of these core values talk about HOW WE LIVE.  And when we reflect on claiming and affirming these as our core values, the most important question we have to ask it, "Do we really live this way?  Do we really live these values?"  Because that's what it means when we say these are our core values.
        Do we really value social justice for all people?  What are the ways in which we show this?  What's the proof that this is a core value of ours?  Do we support of others in the struggle for justice?   Do we really seek justice for ALL, or just justice for some?  Justice for who?  Is this a value that people can see in the activities of this church?  How about in the daily lives of the people who call this church home? 
        Well, I think they can.  As I look around this congregation, I see folks who I know put time and energy and sometimes blood, sweat and tears, into working for justice for groups and for individuals.  And as a congregation ? and this is a shameful plug ? Holy Fellowship has a tradition of giving an award, the Rainbow Justice Award to an individual, group or organization which exemplifies the pursuit of justice for all gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transgendered and other sexually diverse individuals.   And you know what we have claimed as one of the main criteria for this award?  That it goes to ? and I quote ? "An individual, group or organization for whom justice is not an event, but a lifestyle."  A lifestyle.  THAT'S what it means to have justice as a core value.
        And there's another way that we embody the value of justice, and I suspect it's one we don't think of right off the bat.  But think about this ? Our very existence as a church, as a denomination with a ministry by and for and through gay, lesbian, bi, trans and straight people together, IS a powerful act of social justice.  It's our proclamation that we know we're not second class citizens in God's view, and we won't be treated that way by the church.  It's our commitment that NO ONE be treated as a second class citizen
in the church.  When we first began this process of discerning our core values, many of us shared our stories about how we ended up here, why we're here, and there was a nearly unanimous affirmation that we eventually came to realize that God loves us just as we are, and when we took that good news into our hearts, we knew that we could not let the church push us around.  They could push us out of THEIR congregations, but they couldn't push us out of GOD'S arms.
        And God's been offering this good news to people for thousands of years, throughout our biblical heritage.  I want us to look first at some words, some "core values" if you will, that the prophet Micah wrote a couple of thousand years ago.  The verse that Connie read from the prophet Micah, "[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does your God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your
God?"  Three core values for the ancient Hebrew people who worshipped Yahweh.  And they were, in fact, ways of living.  How do we live that way?
        Well, to do justice, while it requires action, is not about any
single deed.   The Hebrew word for justice there, "mishpat," is more about God's order for the world.  It's about how the world ought to work.  And it implies working for the weak and powerless; standing with those exploited by others; actively resisting injustice; seeking to treat others with the goodness which God has shown you. "Doing justice" means imitating God!  And it's not a laundry list of tasks but a way of being in the world, a difficult, challenging, holy way of being in the world, and a longing to be that way.
        Now, the prophet Micah tells us that we are likewise to love
kindness!  The King James version of the Bible says, "to love mercy."  Neither of those translations really embraces all of what the Hebrew word, "hesed" means, but the King James may come a little closer.  Anyhow, translated either way, kindness or mercy, you might think it means something altogether different from justice.  Not so!
        The Hebrew word used there, "hesed" can hardly be translated into a single English word.  I had a Hebrew professor who encouraged us to look at it as a kind of "covenant faithfulness" which is, in fact, related to justice.  It's the compassion of a God who kept to the covenant with the people, even though the people didn't keep the covenant.  A God who was constantly loving tenderly; constantly coming to the rescue of the poor, the
outcast, the alien, the slave, the powerless; constantly giving love that is faithful, sustaining, enduring.   That was a faithfulness motivated by love, not duty.  Something beyond mere kindness, and moving on towards GOD'S justice.  Showing kindness by acting with justice and mercy.
        And the third admonition: Go humbly with your God.  The Hebrew word here implies not only lowly, but attentively, carefully... in awe of God's goodness, God's presence and power.  Go humbly.  In a recent and extensive study of great leadership by Jim Collins, in the top leaders, HUMILITY was found to be the singlemost differentiating characteristic.  Those who exhibited the greatest leadership were those who were unpretentious about their positions of power, those who don't "lord it over" people, those who
understand the basic equality and common dignity of all people.  Those who, in a word, acted justly towards those whom they lead.
        So that's the core that God required, in Micah's understanding.  Let it be our core too.  If it is, I think we won't have any trouble with that other core value, ? # 7 Following the example of Jesus Christ, we are called to live our faith actively in the world.
        Now, there's a reason I treated these core values in reverse of the order in which they've been presented.  And in doing so, I want to invite you to read them in whatever order they make the most sense to you, however they have the most meaning for you, however you need to in order to live them out in your life.  And for me, this is how they make the most sense, to end with this one:  Following the example of Jesus Christ, we are called to live our faith actively in the world.  For me, that one exists kind of as both the foundation and the fulfillment of all the others.  Because THIS one, for me, is the REASON we do all of the others.  We do ALL these things to follow the example of Jesus Christ. 
        Following the example of Jesus Christ, we are called to do what Jesus did.  And Jesus loved unconditionally ? so we live out the value that God loves us unconditionally as we are.  Jesus taught people many, many, MANY ways to know God, so we respect the right of each individual to define their relationship with God.  Jesus showed us how to experience God as individuals and in community, so when we declare this table to be open, we are following the example of Jesus Christ..... I think you get the idea, right?  It's
BECAUSE of Jesus Christ, we're moved to try to live out these values.  It's not an easy calling, but it's ours, and we'll try.
        There's a book called Biography as Theology  that tells of a number of exemplary lives, lives which embody the truth of the Micah passage, lives which follow the example and calling of Jesus Christ.   The title, Biography as Theology means that these are people who lived out their core theological values, like we're trying to do.  People who consistently displayed the life of Christ in sacrificial devotion to God in the service of others.  And one of the people in the book is a guy named Clarence Jordan, who was one of the founders of the Koinonia farm community, which was a commune started in south Georgia started in 1942, based on New Testament principles.  And one of the unique things about the Koinonia commune for its time ? and especially for its place, South Georgia ? was that it wasn't segregated.   Pretty much everything else in South Georgia at that time WAS, so the Koinonia farm ? where folks of all colours could be taught productive farming and
simultaneously develop a community based on the life and principles of Jesus ? was pretty radical.
        Now, you might imagine what the surrounding community thought of this.  Trouble was brewing from the start, and by the fifties, there were bombings, shootings, arson, beatings, legal harassments.  It's an incredible story, and I won't go into all of the details, which are fascinating, but the gem I want to share with you relates to Clarence Jordan approaching his brother Robert, who was a lawyer, for some desperately needed legal help for the Koinonia farm.  His brother, who later became a Georgia state senator,
said he couldn't help.  He might lose his job, his house, everything he had.  And Clarence tried to persuade him by pointing out that what they were really trying to do was follow the teachings of Jesus.  And Robert's answer was "I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point."   And Clarence replied, "Could that point by any chance be...  the cross?"  "That's right," says Robert. "I follow him to the cross, but not ON the cross.  I'm not getting myself crucified."  So Clarence replied, "Then I don't believe you're a disciple of Jesus'.  I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to and tell them you're an admirer of Jesus, not a disciple."  "Well, now," said Robert, "if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn't have a church, would we?"  And "The question is," Clarence said, "DO you have a church?"  
        Do we have a church here?  Only if we are disciples of Jesus Christ at the core.  Only if we live out our faith actively in the world.  To be admirers on the sidelines isn't enough.  I think we are so longing to rise to this challenge.  That's what it means to live our faith actively in the world.  To take on the challenge of living out these values. 
        Why do we do this?  If as individuals and as a church, we are
faithful to these core values, then I think we can expect to experience some exciting new things.  First:  we will grow in Discipleship ?  In a non-committal world, we will commit ourselves, and our resources, generously to an ultimate purpose larger than ourselves  ? God's love for the world in Jesus Christ.   Second: we will experience a deeper Spirituality ? the deepest kind of relationship in Christ ? with self, with others, with God, as well as with the whole of creation.  Third: we will build an authentic
Christian Community ? In a high tech world, we will live as a high touch community where we minister to one another in an atmosphere of acceptance, honesty, vulnerability and real, right relationships.   Finally: we will know our true worth ? In an impersonal world, we will discover the significance to our lives that comes when we "accept the acceptance of God" as human beings
of infinite value and precious worth.  
        Now....  I guess the question is, after all of this.... are these our
Core Values?.... If so, can I have an AMEN?!?!!


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Actively Living Our Faith in the World

Holy Fellowship Metropolitan Community Church
388 Dundas St., Unit 305,
London, Ontario N6B 1V7
PH: 519-645-0744