St. Michael's Finnish Ev. Lutheran Church/ Pyhän Mikaelin Kirkko is currently going through a time of change. The Rev. Dr. Matthew Anderson (in the picture) served us for 11 wonderful years, but he had to leave our congregation to be able to pursue other adventures in his life. At the moment, we have an interim pastor as well as a consulting pastor, who take care of us!

The interim pastor for St. Michael's church is The Rev. Elina Salonen from St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran church in Ottawa. Please contact us to get in touch with her. Generally, she is available for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other life situations when you may need spiritual support.

Our Sunday services are generally led by Pastor Matthew Schulz.

We are very blessed to be in such good hands of two pastors.

Matthew Anderson's last sermon at the joint service for St. Michael's Finnish and St. John's Estonian congregations

Baptism of our Lord C

St. Michael’s Finnish Lutheran & St John’s Estonian, Montreal (final service)

Rev. Matthew Anderson

January 13,  2018                    Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:15-22                

Surprising Goodbyes

 

Speak to us Lord, through your Word and by your Spirit. We ask it in Jesus' name.  AMEN.

       

     There’s no way I could have known what was coming. I remember a Finnish church council meeting, maybe ten years ago, this time of year. I was winter cycling, and I had to ride up the mountain along Avenue des Pins against a January wind, and then down that windy hill to 1500 Penfield. It was brutal. When I arrived I was covered in snow and ice. As I stood there dripping and defrosting I don’t think the Finns knew what to think of me. Their strange English pastor.

            Or the first time I stood in this worship space, this Estonian church, was for a Reformation service. It was an October evening so long ago now – I think 1986 - I can hardly believe it. I remember very clearly the warmth, and the seats. “This would be a wonderful church space to be working in,” I remember saying to Pastor Dyck, who was young and new then too. No idea that one day I’d be standing right here. Feeling no longer a stranger, but a friend.

            Now when all the people were baptized, writes Luke, then Jesus also was baptized. When he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased”.

            Most of us don’t get the voice from heaven. But believe it or not, no matter what we believe or how we practice, with all of our differences, you and I are the same as Jesus. On this “Baptism of our Lord” Sunday, every single one of us is whispered to by name, by our Creator. That whispering voice says “you too are beloved, with whom God is well pleased.” All the time.

            The problem is, we get that voice. But we don’t get any actual plan. So none of us really knows what’s coming any more than I did, when I first encountered your two congregations. There’s no Marie Kondo’s “The Magic Art of a Future as a Montreal Estonian or Finn.” I don’t believe even Jesus knew exactly what was coming. That’s a bit heretical maybe. But think of it. If we really truly believe that Jesus was like us in every way, then he had to be at least a bit ignorant. That’s just being human.

            You Finns and you Estonians have no idea what’s coming next. We can have our brainstorming sessions, which the Finns did yesterday. We can set directions. We can get the help of Synod, which will be necessary in the coming months. You can have really fine, committed leadership, which both congregations have. You can have a building with great bones, on the one side, and on the other a pile of money in the bank that would be the envy of any community. But that still doesn’t give certainty.

            But now, says the LORD who created you, , and who formed you: do not fear.

            We try to make it complicated. But there’s really only a couple major things Scripture says. One is: you are loved and special and chosen - so don’t be jerks to each other. And the other is: despite not knowing what’s next, don’t be afraid. There will be trials. Of that we can be certain. Immediately after he was baptized, Jesus was driven out into the wilderness. If even Jesus wasn’t spared, why should we be? Life will be tough. But listen again to the first reading: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned. It doesn’t say you won’t pass through waters or have to ford rivers. Only that when you do, you’re not alone.

            Do NOT fear. Why not? Because you have an identity. The surprising Lord of all watches over you. Who could have predicted, ten years ago, that the Finns would be out of that falling-down building on Penfield and doing some extraordinary things here in NDG? It took a lot, to give up what we knew, for something we didn’t. To be honest, before we congratulate ourselves, we only did it with some stubborn leadership from Heli, and when our backs were against the wall –that leaning, stone wall I remember Ismo measuring every few months to see how much more it was toppling over.

            But what a God-given gift came to the Finns when finally, we had no choice! It took LOSING everything to gain so much. That should be a lesson about taking a chance with God. And the same is true of St John’s. Who could have predicted, ten years ago, that the Estonians, about whom I remember old Pr Laaneots saying he was the baby, would still be here now and would have this new lease on life that came from another congregation moving in? How did that happen? Some would say chance. I’d say: by grace.

            And I’m betting it’s like that personally too. Think of the times in your life, as there have been in mine, when you didn’t know what was coming next. When maybe it didn’t seem there was a lot of hope. But then, from some unexpected corner, our lives are affected in ways we could never have predicted. And we look back and where at the time we could only see hopelessness, now we can see love and guidance. Because you are precious in my sight, it says in Isaiah, and honoured, I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.

            That’s why God tells us not to be afraid. Not because it’s easy. But because it’s only by risking ourselves that we grow into whatever we should be next. Finns and Estonians – especially you folks–know that. The peculiar nature of an Estonian congregation, or a Finnish congregation, is that you’ve already risked. That’s the story of your arrival. You took a chance. You’re here.

            So it’s not a bad thing we can’t predict what comes next. Some of you Finns may remember when, years ago, I brought in two Inuit throat-singers. I’d planned and tried very hard to be thoughtful about doing something representing the north. Throat-singing will be a strange but beautiful spiritual exercise for our Mission Sunday. An amazing spiritual practice.

            Then one of the two Northern women who were so kindly helping us took me aside. “You DO know, pastor,” she said to me, “that throat-singing isn’t spiritual?” It was about three minutes before the start of the service. I was already in my robes. “Uh, actually,” I said, “I DIDN’T.” “Oh yes,” this woman went on, “throat singing is a game. We hold each other’s arms as if we’re about to hug and then the whole point is to look in each other’s eyes and to sing back and forth until one of us breaks out laughing!”

            By that point, we were committed. We started the service and they did the throat-singing. And even though it was a game, and I could see that after she’d explained it, it was still one of the most beautiful and, for me, spiritual moments I’d had in that church.

            There’s no way I could have known what was coming. That incident is a lot like my being a pastor here overall. About Estonians and Finns I’ve been wrong more often than I’ve been right. For the first few months I couldn’t even tell which names were feminine and which were masculine. I still get things wrong. But the point is: God has blessed me anyway, through you, and you through me.

            So here we are again. I’m leaving, and once more there will be changes. We do not know the future. But in the middle of that uncertainty, we have a blessing. Because we have the same words as Jesus, the words of this Sunday: you are my beloved. My special ones. With you I am well pleased. We don’t know what’s coming. But we know whose we are, and how much we’re loved. And that’s really, all we EVER need to know. So I say goodbye in the original Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word: God be with you. May that be a blessing for all of us.

 

 

AMEN

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