Sermon for June 21, 2020 Third after Pentecost “Tough Good News”
Of all the noteworthy sayings there are, the two that get us into trouble for not heeding are; in social and family gatherings do not talk about religion or politics and three’s a crowd.
The texts today from Romans and Matthew are challenging and force deeper than the surface of the usual niceness of our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is more than rainbows and butterfly kisses. He is challenging, can push our buttons especially our ego buttons and Jesus loves us no matter what. So let’s wade into the waters of relationship, sin and the love of Jesus.
Father Thomas Keating expressed wonderfully the well-established path to maturity both mentally and spiritually in this way: “The freedom Jesus promises involves letting go of our small self, our cultural biases, and even our fear of loss and death. Freedom is letting go of wanting more and better things; it is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others. It is even letting go of our need to know and our need to be right—which we only discover with maturity. We become ever more free as we let go of our three primary motivations: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem.”
Paul spends plenty of time teaching and preaching on sin. Much of what he says stems from his own challenges with living in right relationship with God. We tend to categorize sin into groups. Some sin is worse than another is. Over time what constituted sin changed. I define sin, if such a thing is even possible, as the actions and intentions that separate us from a full and complete relationship with God.
As Paul points out in Romans, because of our baptism we are born into a new relationship with Jesus and God. That new life places us in the path of decisions on how we behave each moment of each day. How we treat ourselves, each other and creation is a reflection on our relationship with God and Jesus. Will we be perfect? Absolutely not. Each miss-step that we recognize as such is actually a step closer to God. One of the detours we sometimes end on is about why we treat people and creation the way we do. Some believe that heaven is a reward sort of like allowance, If it do these things right or just do them then I get the reward. Jesus, I believe calls us into relationship with God and Jesus and from that place of profound love and acceptance we have the model and pattern for our relationship with all others and creation.
For example, there was a time when society believed we could treat people of colour or First Nations peoples how ever we wanted; enslaved, abused, raped, forced education. We recognize that is just wrong and not in keeping with a belief in Jesus. So we changed and are changing. Recognize our sin, make amends and work our hardest to live in right relations. It is not easy, reparation never is but it is essential if we claim Jesus as Saviour.
In Matthew Jesus talks about setting family members against one another. In a time of rigid adherence to orthodoxy and little tolerance for not towing the family or Synagogue’s idea of truth, Jesus teaches about a relationship with God first. Then all other relations will flourish. Jesus knew this was going to be challenging and that it had the potential to set family members against one another. Over the centuries, not much has changed. In our day we say, three’s a crowd’ because we know one will be left out or at least feel they are. Jesus teaches, first you and God, then everyone else. Again we have this desire or need to place family or friends before God and Jesus and our egos rebel when Jesus calls us to love God first. Loving God first enables our hearts and minds to be in better relations with family and friends. Sounds easy but living a life of faith is challenging.
Finally, Jesus embodies the love that God has always had for us and creation. It is in the context of this profound love that we can have life in abundance and love with vigor. It is not a reward; it is the benefit of knowing that we are first loved, beyond our understanding. It is in living our lives as if this matters that marks us as believers. My prayer is that our lives as individuals and as a church embody the teaching to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and body and to love others as God loves you”. A tough Good News but one essential for creation’s survival.
And Jesus extends the invitation…Follow me.
Sermon for June 7, 2020 Trinity Sunday “Conundrum”
Today is Trinity Sunday. Amen.
Shortest sermon ever! Eyes glaze over, minds drift to more exciting things like watching paint dry, thoughts of feigning a cough or seizure, well almost anything to escape the contortions of Trinity. And to make matters even more interesting the Gospel text also includes Matthew’s great commission.
So let’s rewind for a moment. Trinity Sunday or Trinity in general is meant to be perplexing and complicated and mysterious. A conundrum that we may never completely understand in a way that can be articulated but one we can know in our heart and mind.
There have been many attempts to explain the Trinity dating back to the beginnings of Christianity. To make it simpler for example, think of: an egg needs three things to be an egg, shell, yoke, white, or the wood of a tree; root wood, trunk wood and branch wood. One example comes from a family zoom call last Sunday where my great nephew was showing his Lego creation. After the showing he said it was three sets that he made into one. That got me thinking, each Lego set was unique unto itself, each set made something really neat and cool. Combining them made a whole new creation that had parts of each but the whole was different. The examples go on in a long litany of ways to explain. Steven Eason suggests it may be easier to explain the Trinity by ignoring it completely. For example, I baptize in the name of God, Amen. Well that sounds odd and incomplete. The same hold true for I baptize you in the name of Jesus, Amen or the Spirit, amen. We know there is something missing, perhaps plenty missing in each version. We have this felt sense that God is more than just Creator, or Jesus or Spirit. God is all of them and the three make the one, well…more.
It is supposed to be mystery, it is supposed to be conundrum, we are not supposed to be able to explain the mystery and yet we are called to spend a lifetime figuring it out. So yes, I can’t explain it and yes I believe it with all my being. Mystery and conundrum.
Shirley Guthrie writes “the same God who is God over us as God the Father and Creator, and God with and for us as the incarnate Word and Son, is also God in and among us as God the Holy Spirit”. When Jesus sends the disciples into the world it is with all the three attributes of God, there is no other way. Jesus sends us into the world to make disciples as our first mission. If our only mandate is to Baptize then all we have accomplished is getting people wet. That might be fun, but accomplishes nothing. Even saying the words : I Baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not a magical formula against all the ills of the world. It is an entry point to discipleship and that means you are a learner for life.
We are called into a lifetime of learning, of sharing truths and listening to the truths of others. It is about disciple making. I do not often comment of politics in preaching but let me say that I find it offensive that Mr. Trump forced peaceful protesters to the side so he could go get a photo-op with a bible. In a church he does not attend and a book his actions indicate he clearly does not believe in. The teachings of Jesus in the Bible would have witnessed the leader sitting and standing with the protesters adding his voice against the scars of racism. What would Jesus teach about Trumps behaviour, would he point to his action and say; that is discipleship? Not the Jesus I believe in.
From the time of our getting wet in Baptism to now, we have learned plenty and even learned that what we once learned is being learned again in new ways. For example we once believed that the earth was ours to use and abuse however we pleased. We have learned something different in the past years. Being a steward and caretaker of ‘garden earth’ requires that new learning. Jesus teachings are like that.
Each day is a mystery and conundrum to behold. How freeing it is to come to the realization that we can live quite gloriously not knowing the answers. So, be you, be in the world in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Go, make a difference.
Young Families and Youth Ministries Position at St. Mark’s United Church
This is a full time position (40 hours per week) and is for a three-year term (renewable).
This is a program position and is congregational accountable. It is open to: Lay, Ordained or Commissioned applicants
St. Mark’s United Church is located in the residential area known as Greendale in Saint John West NB. Our history dates back 160 years and has its roots in the Methodist Society. From the first gatherings in homes and re-purposed barns to the first structures on Church Ave. Through several fires and rebuilding, St. Mark’s current building is at 50 Dexter Dr. and was dedicated in 1960. The congregation is vibrant and dedicated to the mission of Jesus and hospitality.
St. Mark’s United Church is currently seeking a leader for its Young Families and Youth Ministries. The full time role is open to Ordained, Commissioned or lay candidates. This person will be a key member of the ministerial team, which encourages the development and fulfillment of the congregation’s mission and vision. They will work in a collegial and supportive team ministry with the Lead Minister, the Minister of Music, the Office Administrator and the Caretaker. This ministry role offers an opportunity to support a vibrant faith community that has a reputation for being warm, welcoming and inclusive.
The Young Families Youth Ministry position is a new position and the successful candidate will have the opportunity to build the ministry from the ground up. The primary focus of this position is to provide developmental focused leadership for a ministry of spiritual formation, community development, programs and outreach with Young Families and Youth at St. Mark’s United Church. The program will be shaped and delivered in close collaboration with the other members of the ministry team, with the overall spirit of creating a truly welcoming experience for new members and established members of the congregation.
The key responsibilities for this role include:
Developing and growing a vibrant Young Families and Youth Ministry program
Helping young families and youth explore their beliefs and nurture faith life.
Would collaborate with the Sunday school leader in the coordination of Sunday school, registration, events and retreats for children.
Would work collaboratively with the lead minister in the development and leadership of Confirmation program.
Develop and coordinating the delivery and evolution of programming to engage young families and youth.
Assisting with worship planning and specifically looking for ways to engage and involve children and youth in worship, to create interactive and experiential worship experiences that draw in young families and youth.
Providing emergent pastoral care for the congregation in times of need – including participation in funerals and related family support – working in tandem with other members of the ministry team.
Establishing and fostering connections with families and inspiring continued, new, or renewed presence and participation in the life and work of St. Mark’s.
Engaging families in the social justice awareness and action in the community.
This position reports to the Unified Board monthly. This may be in person or by written report.
While this position assumes leadership for these responsibilities, this individual will be most successful through the effective training and engagement of volunteers. The Family Ministries Leader will work collaboratively with all members of the ministry team to ensure that St. Mark’s United is a welcoming and inclusive community, where newcomers are warmly welcomed and engaged.
The ideal candidate for this role will possess many of the following qualities:
A proven track record of designing and implementing effective programs to engage young families and youth in their Christian faith journey.
A collegial approach, adept and willing to work as a collaborative member of a highly effective ministry team.
Well-organized, able to operate independently within a cooperative team ministry.
An inspirational and approachable role model with enthusiasm, curiosity, a good sense of humour, and most of all a passion for their faith.
An awareness of the current and evolving use of technology tools to enhance, promote and raise awareness of Young Families and Youth Ministries at St. Mark’s
An ability to model inclusivity, and encourage the full diversity of our community to be expressed and empowered.
To lead worship when the Lead Minister is on vacation or continuing education.
Committed to lifelong learning.
The successful candidate will be a baptized person and has experience in this area of ministry. While some theological education is desirable, formal accreditation is not required. The successful candidate may have training in a different area of expertise. Most important is a passion for ministry with Young Families and Youth.
The racial justice and boundaries courses for ministry in the United Church are required.
Remuneration will be accordance to General Council guidelines and reflect the experience and qualifications of the successful candidate.
This position focuses on Young Families and Youth. In a normal forty-hour workweek, 25 hours will be spent on Young Families, 10 hours on youth program development and implementation and 5 hours on administration.
Please send resumes to: firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Mark’s website: www.stmarksunited.ca
St. Mark’s Inclusion Statement
We the people of St. Mark’s United Church strive to be a community where all people are welcome regardless of age, gender, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, differing abilities, ethnic background or economic circumstances.
All persons are welcome to take part in every aspect of church life including: membership, participation, leadership, Sacraments (Baptism and Communion), Rites (Marriage and Confirmation) and pastoral care for life passages. We celebrate the richness that diversity brings to our church even as it challenges us. We pray for God’s Spirit to guide us as we work for reconciliation and justice for all persons in both church and society.
Approved by the congregation on February 19, 2017