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Here we are together at last.  You have been waiting for me, and I have been waiting for all of you.  Now I can begin to get to know you as we grow into being the priest and people of Holy Trinity Cathedral.  God calls us to be the Church: loving the world as the Body of Christ.  It’s not about being perfect, or identifying as religious.  For most of society, and for many within the faith, “being religious” has negative connotations. Christianity as the religious institution has perpetuated real and perceived harms that have turned off people for good reasons.  People tend to reject the Church because of what the word represents to them.  Yet the good news is that both the scriptures and our response can point to a different understanding. 


Some people say that Church is only about rules. Take the Ten Commandments for example.  This ethical framework, adopted from the Jewish faith, lays out the boundaries of what is acceptable in our relationships with God and each other.  They seem pretty black and white- except when they are not.  The scribes and elders wrote a couple more Bible books unpacking the nuances.  Prophets challenged authorities that tried to lay down the Law to suit their purposes, but those in power usually got to enforce their rules.  When Jesus taught that the law and the prophets are based on love of God and neighbour, he got a lot of pushback from those whose job it was to interpret the code of Moses to the people.  It’s easier to follow a rule and not question it than to continually have to subject our actions to examination.  But life gets complicated when there are so many things to remember.  There’s the Canon Law of the Church. Federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations govern our existence as an entity and what we do.  There are guidelines for working with vulnerable persons; bylaws for trustees of corporations; stipulations from the Canada Revenue Agency. No wonder that volunteers are intimidated and outside partners hesitate.  We get tired of trying to keep up getting it right.  Somewhere along the way, the love that holds us accountable gets lost in all the demands.  Why would individuals want to belong to something if the rules are applied unfairly or used as condemnation?  Church is not just about rules, but about meaning. 


Others attest that Church is about having the right belief.  True believers are those who sign on to a particular understanding of a creed or doctrine.  Those who fall into the category of having a question about a principle of faith risk being silenced, shunned, or politely asked to leave.  At its best, the community of faith gathers together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern what is good and true, and remains open to God’s correction and further instruction.  All too often, however, we decide something and then refuse to re-examine it in the light of our ongoing understanding of scripture, reason, and tradition.  The apostle Paul gets angry at those who have a spiritual arrogance in claiming to know the mind of God.  There is no room for further wisdom from those who have a different lived experience of how God might be operating in the world.  When those who profess the Christian way insist on one right formulation and practice of faith, we risk exclusionary, colonial attitudes.  There is room for intellect in faith, but logic or philosophy alone cannot grasp God’s plan.  What is foolishness to those who think they know best is the blurry edge of the kingdom drawing near.  God chooses us, we are reminded, not the other way around.  This doesn’t mean that the Church doesn’t or shouldn’t have doctrine.  Rather, the statements of our understanding reflect an ongoing unfolding of wisdom.  The Church is changed by the process of welcoming the other; we are shaped more fully into the Body of Christ. It is not about being perfect, but being perfected.


Finally, Church is not just an institution.  This is what people most often see from the outside.  The edifice not only of a physical building, but the corporation that has held power for many centuries. It started out as the in-corporation of the risen Jesus.  But as the years went on and communities gained in wealth and power, there was more and more to look after.  When we succumb to anxiety about survival and preservation, energy goes mostly to maintaining resources and numbers.  Jesus’ visit to the Temple in John chapter 2 reveals what he thinks about this as a strategy for religion.  He is not angry about the practice of sacrifice or the people who are coming to their holy place to give thanks and offerings.  He is not even too upset at the fact that there is a commercial venue set up in the courtyards to convert the idolatrous Roman coins into Jewish money to buy animals for offerings.  It is the dysfunctionality that outrages him.  So many barriers have been erected for people seeking to encounter God! It all grew into being to protect the people and the power in the system.  To gain access to God’s presence, you had to have enough to pay the moneychangers, who exploited their monopoly.  You had to be Jewish (and male), you had to be holy, you had to give the correct offering, you had to wait in line.  And if you were lucky, the religious authorities would pronounce their blessing.  Not exactly a great advertisement for religion. Jesus not only overturned the tables in the Temple, he used it as a symbolic prophetic act about overturning our assumptions about an institution of faith.  It is not meant to be a marketplace of transactions to perpetuate itself.  Church is a transformational entity.


So where does this bring us? Church is beyond an ethical path, or a group that demonstrates a right belief, or a place of worship, or an institution.  Although our tradition and scriptures and reason carry elements of all these, these alone do not fully define us.  We are at our core a community that holds the awareness of holy presence.  We enact it through Word and Sacrament and action.  When we gather together, we are transformed by God’s spirit, and we are sent out into the world to share good news with others.  Amongst our neighbours are those who have never encountered God’s love, and those who have been hurt by their previous experiences of religion that have been less than loving.  How many in our culture see who we are through the lens of rules, or righteous belief, or institutional barrier?  We, as the people of Holy Trinity Cathedral, have a calling to change that by what we pray and say and do.


As we welcome, we will still need rules that keep us in good relationship with God and each other.  We will still need theology informing our lives.  And we will still need structures as we live out our corporate being in the midst of the world.  We have big decisions to make.  May we be mindful of the loving purpose that has guided us this far, which far outstrips our human wisdom.


God has brought us together to rebuild the Church.  I am humbled and challenged by the magnitude of what we have before us.  A firm foundation has been laid by the saints of this Cathedral, up to the present moment.  I am grateful to them for their labour, and am ready to jump into to continue the work.  May our faith rest on the foolish power of God in Christ Jesus.  Amen.