Sermons from the East End

Join Rev. Bri-anne for her first Sunday as we enter the Season of Creation, explore Jesus' instructions on how to deal with conflict, and find out about her fascination with bees (even if they kill her).

This reflection was originally offered on September 10, 2023 at the Eastminster Campus of EEURM.

Scripture: Matthew 18:15-20

Music: For the Beauty of the Earth performed by Free as a Bird (licensed from Audiio.com)

East End United Regional Minsitry is an Affirming (🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️ positive) community of faith, part of the United Church of Canada in Toronto.

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PROPER 18 (23)
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Year A

Pentecost 15A
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Creators & Guests

Host
Rev. Bri-anne Swan
Minister at East End United Regional Ministry, United Church of Canada

What is Sermons from the East End?

Your weekly feed of sermons/reflections from Rev. Bri-anne Swan and East End United Regional Ministry, an affirming (2SLGBTQIA+ positive) and progressive Christian community in Toronto, part of the United Church of Canada.

[A reminder that sermons are written primarily to be spoken and are not a “reading first” experience.]

Well, “Hi!”

Before I begin — full disclosure:

I’m not sure how one is supposed to start their very first sermon as a new minister in a brand new community because this is a complete first for me. At my last congregation, which I joined during COVID, I had already been assisting in a very part-time capacity with their online worship services so most people in the congregation knew who I was before I was called. I’d already preached for them loads of times. I didn’t really need to think about how to introduce myself to a whole new community.

So, I’m at a bit of a loss…

And, although we have entered into a season of creation…one of my favourite times of year… and we’ve had the opportunity to explore the sacredness of water throughout today’s liturgy, we also have some doozy scripture passages to wrestle with:

First, we have God’s instructions to prepare for the Passover and then we heard Marie read for us that warm and fuzzy passage about how when two or three are gathered, Jesus shows up for tea.

Except, the five verses before that aren’t really very warm and fuzzy at all. Jesus is basically dictating an instruction manual, laying out the steps for how to deal with conflict in the newly emerging community.

Now, I’m not really sure what to do with these passages, because I am sure I’ve arrived in a community that is completely and utterly devoid of any conflict whatsoever. I’m positive every congregational meeting goes smoothly and each decision made is met with enthusiastic high fives and “way to gos”....

All these words from Jesus…they’re probably just hypotheticals when it comes to East End United, right?

And so, I mean, I’m the new person here, if there is going to be conflict or tension…if there is any fault to point out…I suppose I’m the stone cast into the otherwise calm waters. So I started thinking, “it’s great that Jesus has created an instruction manual for what to do if conflict arises…but how can we stop conflict from happening in the first place?”

One of many theories on how to avoid interpersonal conflict says that if you simply understand where the other person is coming from…what their needs are and how they make decisions, so much conflict and miscommunication can be alleviated. There is a whole multi-billion dollar industry in self-help books and personality type testing theorizing that it is understanding of one another that can mitigate stress and conflict within relationships, within families, amongst partners and in the workplace.

And so, in the interest in avoiding conflict and then needing to resort to Jesus’s many time consuming steps to conflict resolution…let me just start telling you…a little about me…according to many tests I’ve taken over the years…only some of them on the Internet:

I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
I am a Type One (that’s the Reformer) within the Enneagram.
I think I took the True Colours test in high school because the guidance department bought the kit in the late 90s. I was a pretty balanced green and blue.
My love language is Acts of Service.
I’m a S in the DiSC model of personality Types
When my grade 8 teacher told me I had a Type A personality, I wanted to know why I wasn’t a Type A+.
Also…my house is Griffindor.
.
So there…now you know all about me and we don’t need to worry about any misunderstandings and conflicts in the future. Phew. Glad we got that out of the way…

Except…this assumes you know what it means when I tell you I’m a green/blue, or that you know what a sorting hat is. It’s also kind of assuming that you should take on the responsibility of knowing all about me…because I don’t know if I can keep dozens of Meyers-Briggs types or colour combinations in my head all the time…that doesn’t seem very fair to the community…

So I asked my friend, who is a psychotherapist, how folks can avoid conflict in their relationships.

First and foremost, she said, is not causing harm to another person, either intentionally or unintentionally. Seems pretty straight forward… The 10 commandments can basically be summed up with “don’t hurt people or steal their stuff”.
“But how can we go through life guaranteeing we’ll never hurt anybody’s feelings or, even inadvertently, cause them hurt?”

“That’s just it,” she said. “You can’t. We can’t. We can never avoid conflict entirely…”

And so I guess I’m left basically where I stated…

Speaking of things that hurt us…a little bit of a tangent here…

This is more of a fun fact about me: I have a severe allergy to bees and strawberries. If you’re worried you may forget, don’t worry, because the shed out back has just been beautifully painted by a lovely group of teenage artists with a gigantic bee and an equally massive strawberry…

In fact, bees have been a bit of a theme for me this summer. At the end of June, I came to this campus to meet Pino and Victor so they could show me my new office. After a full tour of this church I finally got to check out Room C17. Then Pino explained that one of the reasons they chose C17 as my office was because you can walk out the window and onto the roof…which is where they were going to start keeping bees. Lots of bees. In hives. Outside my window.

I didn’t need to say a single thing…my face did the talking for me. We started coming up with plans for screens, and a tiny sign that said, “Bees, please keep out.” But in the meantime I went back to Jubilee United Church and told my colleagues about the plans for a rooftop apiary…and we all had a good laugh.

But last Sunday, as my former congregation sent me off to join East End, they presented me with this:

It’s a bee veil…signed by everybody who was present last Sunday in the sanctuary. There are a lot of “stay safes” and bad bee puns, you know like… just BEE yourself…I felt…so seen. So valued…and I’ve felt the same thing here as well, because as far as I know, I am now no longer set to become neighbour to a bee colony.

It’s actually really unfortunate having an anaphylactic allergy to creatures as extraordinary as bees. I love bees. I’m fascinated by them… how they communicate with one another through scent and dance and sound. I love how they each know exactly what their role is. I love that although we call the fertile female Queen, she really isn’t the one calling the shots at all. But mostly, I’m intrigued by bees’ complete and total commitment to the survival and welfare of the hive. Bees do not have an ego…no sense of their individual needs separate from the community.

This is such a common theme in nature…sure, a lion and a gazelle aren’t likely to be friends…but there is always a sense of the greater whole. Humans are the only piece of creation that throws off the balance, who put our own needs before that of all other species, who take from the earth without giving much thought to what it might need in return. We as a species are in conflict, not only with one another, but with the planet as well. God is not only concerned with us, but all of creation, creatures great and small, flowering plants, flowing rivers…nature is already reconciled to God.

Which I suppose is why we’re the ones who need Jesus’ instruction manual. I think…I think I might have gotten this all wrong. Jesus isn’t just talking about how to deal with conflict or to prevent conflict from happening. Because we are human. Because we are fallible. And sometimes…sometimes conflict is actually healthy. However, I think Jesus’ point here is that when there is conflict, that reconciliation is always the ultimate goal…that being reconciled to one another is the most important thing in community. Even when Jesus says, “If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Because how did Jesus treat Gentiles and Tax collectors?? He continually invited them back into community…invites US back into reconciled community, over and over again.

I know Susan and Julian have been asking each of you to write me a letter, so that I can get to know you. I’ve invited folks to ask me questions so that you can get to know me as well...beyond what Myers-Briggs has to say. This is not an exercise in trying to fend off conflict, but a way for us to sink into being community together intentionally and authentically.

I am really very glad to be your minister.

I am so very blessed that you are now my community.

I look forward to all the ministry that is to come for us, reconciled together and with God.

Amen.