St. Margaret of Scotland
Sunday June 28, 2020
Once upon time there was an old shoemaker who lived with his wife in a little cottage in the woods. One morning he awoke and told his wife, “I had an amazing dream last night. I dreamed that Jesus was coming to visit us.” His wife replied, “That’s incredible! I had the exact same dream!” And so they realized that it must be true; Jesus was going to visit them that very day. So they busied themselves, tidying and cleaning their little home. They prepared a big pot of their most delicious soup and then they sat down and waited. Sometime in the afternoon a homeless man knocked on their door. They welcomed him in, and gave him some of the soup that they have prepared. After sending him on his way again, they waited for Jesus to come. All day and they waited. Around suppertime a poor woman came to their door. It was cold and she did not have a proper coat. Nor did she have warm boots for her feet. So they clothed the old woman with a warm coat and gave her a pair of boots to keep her feet warm, and sent her on her way. And still they waited for Jesus to arrive. It was already getting dark when a child came knocking at their door, who was lost and could not find their way home. So the old Shoemaker went and helped the child find their way home. He hurried back to the cottage in the hopes that Jesus might be there when he arrived home. But he found his wife still waiting. They waited long into the night for Jesus to visit.
Once again that night they both have the same identical dream. Once again Jesus appeared to them. And they asked him why he had not come to visit them. And Jesus replied, “I did come. I came three times. The first time you fed me with delicious soup. The second time you gave me a coat to wear and warm boots for my feet. And the third time you helped me find my way home.”
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” His words echo the parable he tells about the sheep and the goats. On the judgment day at the end of time the Son of Man will say to the people on his right hand, “Now is the day you come into your heavenly reward, for when I was hungry you fed me. When I was sick or in prison you visited me. When I had no clothes you gave me something to wear. When I was a stranger you welcomed me. And the righteous will answer, “When did we see you hungry or naked or homeless or sick or a stranger?” And the Lord will say, “Whenever you did this for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”
As you know, sometimes I like to end the service with the blessing composed by Bishop Matthews many years ago, that ends with the words, “…and may we see the face of Christ in everyone we meet, and may everyone we meet see the face of Christ in us, this both now and forever more. Amen. ”
Every preacher has their favourite themes that they come back to again and again, and this has certainly been one of mine. But this was a theme for St. Margaret of Scotland Parish long before I arrived seven years ago. Part of the reason I applied to come here was my excitement at reading the words of the Parish Mission Statement: “To be a Christ-centered, mission minded community, embracing all people across the spectrum of cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, ages and class diversity, as full members of the family of God.” This is truly who we are at St. Margaret of Scotland.
I remember the Parish Council meeting several years ago, in which we were finalizing the design for our new church sign. On the spur of the moment I suggested that we should come up with a short, pithy slogan to put on the sign. And so we started to brainstorm suggestions. The idea is to toss out as many suggestions as possible, without judgment, and then sift through them later. But at about the third suggestion we stopped, and we all just looked at each other. And I said, “Are we done? I think we’re done.” Mary Tench had suggested: “Open minds and loving hearts. All are welcome.” And of course we added the rainbow flag on our sign. There was no need for debate. We remembered in that moment, this is who we are.
St. Margaret of Scotland has always been a welcoming church. And being a welcoming church is not just about how we greet newcomers on a Sunday morning, although that is of crucial importance. It is also about how we welcome new ideas and how we welcome people into leadership in our church. I think of the example of Dale Moffat who was brand-new to our congregation, and proposed a new ministry: a group to knit Prayer Shawls. Dale’s new idea was enthusiastically welcomed. And a fairly short time later the congregation welcomed Dale as one of their churchwardens. There are lots of churches who believe they are welcoming, and they may be very friendly. But sooner or later and in subtle ways newcomers get the message from the old guard, “We know what we’re doing, thank you very much, and we don’t need your ideas.” I’m glad to say, St. Margaret of Scotland has never been one of those churches. Being a genuinely welcoming congregation has long been one of this parish’s great strengths.
Seven and a half years ago you welcomed Michelle and me into the church family. Looking back, I feel I had a lot of growing to do, as a pastor and as the rector of a parish. And I feel that I have matured somewhat in my ministry over these years.
Many of the people who welcomed us back in 2012 are no longer with us. Some have died and some have moved on: Emma Organ, Larry and Kathy Naugle, Mabel Hunt, Alan Lowe, Elmer and Helen Fancy and many others. And over the course of seven years many new people have appeared, and have taken leadership in our church. I am particularly grateful for the old-timers, those who have been part of our parish family for many decades, and have graciously welcomed newcomers over the years.
In any church, although individual faces may change, the spirit and character of the place, what we might call the culture of the congregation, remains remarkably stable. In the years to come I know that St. Margaret of Scotland will continue to be the welcoming church that it has always been. And this church will continue to be the vibrant and living Body of Christ here in the North End, bringing God’s love and healing to this troubled world. So may you be blessed. Amen.