One Sermon in 150+ Vancouver Churches on June 11

Mark Glanville is one of the organizers of the June 11 preaching event in Vancouver

by Mark Glanville

The same sermon theme will be preached in over 150 Vancouver churches on Sunday June 11.

Our theme: welcoming the stranger. I feel giddy with anticipation as I type! This is a response to what can sometimes be a fear-based political climate,  that breeds suspicion of outsiders. It is also a response to the isolation that many Vancouverites feel, daily. Together, we are sending a unified message to the city, a vision of the kingdom: the radical welcome of God, in Christ.

The idea for One City, One Message came initially from City Councillor Andrea Reimer at the Vancouver City Summit, a city-wide consultation of pastors interested in pursuing together the wellbeing of their neighbourhoods and the city.

The theme of welcoming the stranger is timely: survey-based research by the Vancouver Foundation shows that Vancouverites are experiencing a crisis of social isolation, a corrosion of care that results in a silo mentality. Our lives are bounded by ethnicity, culture, language, income, age, and geography. Isolation is experienced across Canada, not only in Vancouver. Maclean’s magazine reflected that a ‘good’ neighbor is experienced as someone who doesn’t bother you, either by disrupting your enjoyment of your home or by threatening your property value (August 2014).

This is timely, too, as we are living in a period of unprecedented global displacement, where over 65 million people around the world have been forced from home. The murder of six people in the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec mosque is a tragic symbol of the human toll of fear-based politics. Many thoughtful Christians are also concerned that their church is not more diverse. Others wonder why their church doesn’t embrace vulnerable people in their neighborhood.

Intuitively, we know that Christ’s way is different.

To illustrate this difference, a good friend of mine arranged to visit Jean Vanier. When my friend arrived, Jean Vanier didn’t greet him with words. Instead, Vanier took my friend’s hand. The two strangers held hands as they walked some distance to a room in which they were to share in conversation.

This experience of walking hand-in-hand with a stranger reminded my friend of the deep human connection that the gospel invites us into. This story recalls the event of Jesus’ healing the leper. You may remember the phrase: filled with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched the man (Mark 1:41). Jesus didn’t have to touch this man, he could have healed him with a word. But, Jesus wanted to touch him. Jesus was so deeply human, so full of life, of love, of kinship, of skin, of longing, of touch, of community.

Oh, to be communities that reek of this kinship-connection, especially for the sake of those who are without kin and without home. But, where to start? Scripture teaches us that radical welcome doesn’t come out of thin air; it begins with gratitude for God’s gifts. A First Nations leader once said, “Human beings are like my pigs. They eat the apples, but they never look up to see where the apples have fallen from.”

In her book Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy, a Catholic nun and an advocate for refugees, tells the story of a period in her life where she found it difficult to be grateful. God jolted her out of her dissatisfaction through a refugee family who was staying with her in her house. A young girl in the family was peering out of Mary’s kitchen window. The girl saw the garage through the window. She asked, “Who lives there?” Mary’s world suddenly inverted as she recognized that someone could live there—a number of people in fact. As Mary answered, “The car,” her world was opened up to the abundance, even overabundance, that she had been gifted with.

‘Welcoming the stranger’ takes us to the very heart of Christian identity and mission. Our shared initiative, One City, One Message, takes seriously that we are a people called to announce the good news that in Christ, crucified and risen, God is at last reconciling all of the creation—forgiving sin, reconciling humanity to God, and reconciling humanity with one another. But, it’s not too helpful just to say it. This good news will only be believed when it is embodied by a community that is living it. Through our shared life, lived gratefully before the Lord, others too will come to know the radical welcome of God, in Christ. #IWasAStranger

Mark Glanville is pastor of Grandview Calvary Baptist Church in Vancouver and professor of Old Testament at  Missional Training Center, Phoenix. Subscribe to Faith Today and be engaged with news, trends and Christians from coast to coast.

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