Last week, a good friend of mine said, “For me, back to school always had a “start the New Year” feeling more than January does.” I thought about this and I have to agree with him.
September is the start of a new season, one in which we celebrate the brilliance and glory of the autumn colours and prepare to face the onslaught of another winter just around the corner.
September is the time for students to start a new school year. And, for those who have been on vacation over the summer, we notice a distinct change in the pace of work and life. Sports and hobby groups begin again. New projects begin at work. And it is canning and pickling season, especially at our house.
For us at Orleans United Church, September brings the beginning of the new church school year, the restarting of committees and council, and the fresh new look of our sanctuary.
Yes, this is a time for new beginnings. A time when we enthusiastically look ahead and glimpse into the future of what could be.
But new beginnings also bring new challenges, new obstacles to conquer, new paths to follow. I am sure that John and Tania as well as Phillip and Katie already know this well. Children have a way of changing our lives and starting us down new paths that can be challenging. There is the feeding and caring, diaper changes, the late nights and early mornings, the crying and restlessness.
But then you are blessed – daily by that bundle of joy with the little smiles, the hugs and the loving gaze.
As a community of faith, Orleans United Church has also been invited to new beginnings. In 1985, when Liz and I first arrived in Orleans, we were looking for a new church home. We happened to visit a group of believers that were meeting in a high school gym. It was a young and vibrant congregation that invited us to become members.
When we arrived, there was discussion on the building a permanent home for Orleans United Church. It was an invitation to a new path and, of course, new challenges. I remember the community pulling together and literally raising the roof on our new home. And, that final walk down Orleans Boulevard to our new home was the culmination of that journey.
And since that time, we have been invited to embark on several new beginnings; searching for and engaging new clergy and staff, reaching out to the community as a beacon of support and hope, opening our doors to other denominations and faith groups, providing a safe and welcoming place for vulnerable individuals, and discerning key decisions on social issues such as same-sex marriage and right relations with First Nations.
And once again, we have taken on another new beginning. With the retirement of Glen and after thoughtful and prayerful discussion, we have invited Reverend Caroline Penhale to be our spiritual guide. As we begin this new phase in our journey, we look ahead to the possibilities. At the same time, we need to be mindful of the challenges that lie ahead. But I am confident, after observing this church family for over 30 years, that we are ready and willing to conquer any challenge that come before us. I also believe that we as a community will receive unexpected blessings as we travel together with Caroline and Molly and Suzanne.
As individuals, we too are invited to new beginnings. They can be invitations that are dramatic in nature. They can be quiet and subtle. They can be invitations that linger for a while as we either try to ignore them or we ponder whether to accept them.
43 years ago last month, my wife’s girlfriend, Sharon, asked her to the Matron of Honour at her wedding to a young Armor Corps officer, Gary. Mind you, Sharon also was the Maid of Honour at our wedding earlier in the same year. The ceremony was held at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Petawawa in August 1973. I did not know Gary well before then – in fact, no one wanted to associate with a Military Police officer – so I was seated in a pew watching the wedding unfold. I did not remember much about that service. The reason was not that I was not interested, it was because something very meaningful happened to me while I sat there. As the ceremony began, I found myself in a state of utter silence. As I looked to the figure of Christ on the cross, I had an overwhelming sense of a presence that I had never felt before. I realized at that point that I was invited to measure my life and my commitment to my faith. It was like a new beginning.
While this moment was unmistakably a turning point in my faith journey, I can honestly report that the path was not always straight and true. But, whenever I would find myself off-track, the image of that experience 43 years ago returns with a clarity that is as if I just experienced it. 43 years later, ironically, I was asked to lead the service at that church. I told this story to the congregation to let them know that their unintended outreach changed me.
In our scripture reading this morning, Paul writes to Timothy, probably a new church leader, about Paul’s new beginning as a follower of Christ.
Paul tells Timothy that Christ invited him to a new beginning. His invitation would become an example of Christ’s grace and forgiveness. Paul’s message to those who would listen is that a sinner such as he could be forgiven. His belief in Christ comes not from the rhetoric of the church but from first-hand personal experience.
In his new beginning, Paul tells Timothy that his call was from Christ to let all that, no matter who you are or what you have done, you will be forgiven. By including Christ in your life, listening for his invitation, you will become stronger in your faith and be better able to make a difference in the lives of others.
But this invitation also has challenges. In Paul’s case, it meant facing the same persecution as he was so willing to do in his former life.
His reward was the blessings he received as he travelled to different communities of faith and the joy in helping them on their faith journeys. Despite incarceration, he continued to answer Christ’s call by writing to the different groups he had visited. These letters were inspiring and thoughtful that spoke to the fledging following of Christ in the first century. For us, our blessing is that these letters speak to us today, here in Orleans.
While the letter to Timothy is short in comparison to other letters Paul had written, it does remind us that we are not alone.
The testimony of Paul tells us that, even though we may not be without sin, we are loved by Christ.
In accepting the forgiveness of Christ, we are opening ourselves to new beginnings in our own lives. With Christ’s spirit alive in us, we are ready for new invitations and new challenges.
As we prepare to accept our new beginning, let us do so in the knowledge that we do so because we are loved. Let us be reminded that God is with us as we face the challenges ahead. Let us be comforted that we will receive God’s blessings as we continue on our journey.
To paraphrase John’s letter to Timothy, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”
Let us now sing Hymn 266, “AMAZING GRACE”