West Point Grey United Church
Oct 29, 2023


Deuteronomy 34:1-12

I have chosen the topic of “Transition”. We have heard about the transition the Israelites had when Moses died and they entered the Promised Land. On this Reformation Sunday I will talk about the transition brought about by Martin Luther and I will talk about the transitions here at West Point Grey United Church. 

Moses is dead! We learn this from the passage in Deuteronomy that Beth just read. Moses died at the age of 120 years. He had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt when they were being chased by the Pharaoh’s army. He was following God’s directions to the Promised Land. This group of people, we are not told how many, lived in the wilderness for forty years surviving on manna, water and God’s presence. Moses and God had an extraordinary friendship.

What a journey this was for Moses and Joshua. Both leaders and the people learned so much along the way. Can you imagine the strength of the faith in God and Moses that these people had? After forty years they arrive at the entrance to the Promised Land. Moses dies before they can enter. He has, with God’s help, prepared Joshua for this transition. The people mourn Moses for thirty days and then they embark on a new journey with their new leader. They reflect on the events of the journey that they have been on with Moses. They have left much behind, but now they will have a new identity in a new land. They will put their trust in a new leader in a new land.

From Moses, we can learn: to trust in God; the importance of regular prayer; and most importantly endurance and recognition of God’s gifts and graces. 

This would have been a major transition for these people!

We now will transition to another transition. On the church calendar today is recognized as Reformation Sunday. Martin Luther, a German priest, was unhappy with the teachings of the Roman Orthodox Church. He disputed the claim that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money or indulgences. He is said to have nailed his “95 Theses” to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 in order to challenge several of the teachings of the Catholic Church at the time. He felt the heart of the gospel truth was in Romans 3:19-28. All people fell short in their relationship with God, but God offers forgiveness of sins though Jesus Christ. We are justified, or put right with God, by the gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

While Luther’s act was unquestionably important and his critique led to the formation of what we now know as the Lutheran Church, he was not the only church reformer in the 1500’s. Some of those Reformers remained within what would become known as the Roman Catholic Church others found the initiatives led to a split from the established church and the formation of new denominations. I have summarized the story as it is a long one. Suffice it to say there have been many transitions in the history of the church. Our United Church of Canada was formed from three denominations in 1926. 

Bringing the topic of transitions closer to home, we at West Point Grey United Church have been through so many transitions: new leaders; new programs; new demographics. I will speak of some of the transitions I have lived through since my arrival in 1976. At this time there was a large congregation with few children. The children of these congregants had moved on to University and other cities. The congregation was primarily Caucasian. As time went on younger families attended with their children and again there was a larger number of children and a fairly vibrant Sunday School. There were established groups operating at the time: Couples’ Club; Men’s Breakfast group; United Church Women’s Groups; a quilting group; and Quest, a group that met pre-worship to discuss topics of interest.

In the late 1990’s the children that had been in Sunday School were graduating from High School and drifting away. There were short-running youth groups at the time. There were many deaths of long-standing members and the pews became less populated. The congregation changed when businesses started opening on Sunday and children’s sports teams began Sunday morning games. Vancouver also offers many secular options such as skiing, sailing, hiking and biking. People were drifting away from Sunday morning attendance at church.

New groups arose. Janis Terrien and Cheryl Black started The Lunch Club which ran for twenty three years, serving seniors a hot lunch along with interesting programs. A weekly evening meal was served to about sixty people at a group called Out of the Cold. This ran for eleven years. We had a Woman’s Breakfast Group.

Over the years there have been so many transitions here at West Point Grey United.

Now we are a smaller, multicultural, inclusive congregation. Our diligent, hard-working Search committee has found us a new leader in Daniel Martin. We hope that we can work with Daniel to lead us into a new future. 

While we may not be vocal about the many transitions in our lives, the emotions are always present. We are always on the threshold of something new. Something is always ending. Change is our constant. 

While the people of Israel are saying good-bye to Moses, they are preparing to say hello to their new leader, Joshua. For some it may be too soon, for others not soon enough.

In the Christian story, death is no stranger to our people. Everything and everyone dies. Too often we struggle with knowing when something has come to an end of its own time and letting it go. We need space to share these tender, honest, and celebratory stories of life and death. What if we considered times of transition as merely “in-between” times? What if we recognized transitions as especially strategic and noteworthy occasions where God choses to make himself known? Can we keep the faith of our fathers?  Amen

Hymn: Faith of our Fathers

Now on this All Saint’s Sunday let us remember those who have gone before us by lighting candles to remember them. I will light candles for those who have died since last All Saints Sunday and then I invite you to come forward to light a candle for those you wish to remember. (For those on Zoom you can say the name and we will light the candle)

Barbara Upton, Berta Grady, John Wood, Marilyn Laird, Norma Hunter, Pat Brydon, Yvonne Meyer.

After the candles have been lit: 

We thank you for all the saints remembered and forgotten, for those dear souls most precious to us. We give thanks for those who have gone before us. May they have eternal rest. Let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all departed rest in peace. Amen