Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Congregational Change: Sermon, First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2013

Preparing for the First Sunday of Advent, I was inspired by Derek Penwell's thoughts about congregational transformation and being a Chicago Cubs fan. He writes eloquently about the lack of shortcuts, and the need for time and patience, and more time, in turning around a congregational culture.

This is what Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In the days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
will be the highest of the mountains.
It will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of Jacob’s God
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths.”
Instruction will come from Zion;
the LORD’s word from Jerusalem.
God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
Come, house of Jacob,
let’s walk by the LORD’s light.
Isaiah 2:1-5, Common English Bible

“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

“The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

“The Son of Man’s arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.”
Matthew 24:36-44, The Message Bible

At the meeting I attended in Toronto last week there were two people there from Edmonton, and they were saying that the City of Edmonton is talking about changing its slogan, “City of Champions.” Because there hasn’t been a championship in Edmonton for a while. The Eskimos haven’t been in the Grey Cup since they beat the Alouettes in 2005, and they’re now second last in the CFL. The Oilers have gone 22 seasons without winning a Stanley Cup, and in the NHL only the Buffalo Sabres have a worse record right now.

Now, we were talking about this in Toronto, which hasn’t been a championship city lately in any sport other than the Argos winning the Grey Cup last year. Think about the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are second only to Montreal in the number of Stanley Cups, but they haven’t won for 46 years, the longest championship drought in NHL history. In fact, until this spring they went seven seasons without being in the playoffs at all. The Leafs had a strong start to this season, but are now at the point where they didn’t manage to get a single shot on net in the third period and overtime of the Pittsburgh game on Wednesday.

And there are always plans to fix the Leafs. There will be a new general manager and hockey development staff, and there will be warnings that the rebuilding process will take time and fans need to be patient. And then the Leafs have yet another losing season, and fans start screaming. They want things turned around right away, most often through a quick fix like changing up the lines, or trading to get Roberto Luongo in goal, or firing the coach.

And, you know, when we grapple with questions about the church in the Seaway Valley, we can be like Leaf fans, or Habs fans or Senators fans for that matter. When membership and finances are headed south, we recognize that something needs to be done. But, just like the impatient fans who are phoning in to sports radio, we usually focus on quick fixes. People say that if the minister only wore jeans and a plaid shirt like the pastor in that church they visited, or there were songs with actions, new people would stream in. The old standby in sports is to fire the coach, and in the church it’s getting a new minister.

What we forget is that real change, whether in sports or in the church, takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try any of these new things. We need to. But we can’t see them as easy solutions that will turn everything around instantly, and then abandon them for something else if we don’t see immediate results. There aren't any shortcuts. We have to work, and wait.

Our experience tells us this, for we have been going through change for a long time in the Seaway Valley. And this season of Advent tells us this. If you have been coming to church for a few years, you have heard the Scripture readings in Advent talk about “waiting for the coming day of God,” “we wait for new heavens and a new earth,” and “be on your guard,” “stay alert at all times,” “keep awake.” Today we had Jesus saying “be vigilant.” This Advent season is about living in a society that is shouting at us to buy, and spend, and expect instant success – and in the middle of this frenzy, slowing down, waiting, watching, hoping, praying, and listening for Christ to enter our world and our lives to make all things new. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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