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Sermon for May 24, 2020

Sermon for May 24, 2020              Ascension/Seventh of Easter

Bookends are those useful, sometimes decorative, sometimes plain devices to keep our books neat and tidy. Bookends offer the parameters to a random set of books, our favorites or a collection. Within the church year there and seasons that are set apart, defined so that we can stay on track, so to speak. From the first Sunday in Lent through Holy Week and Easter and the Sundays after Easter to Ascension, we are in that Holy prepares us for crucifixion, Resurrection and then prepares us for life without the physical presence of Jesus. The time is bookended for us and we are now at the end.

So what now?

The biblical narrative indicates the disciples are standing staring at the heavens. In awe, wonder, aghast or just waiting for Jesus to return we do not know. “Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘You from Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” That seemed to shake the disciples to action. For they now knew that Jesus would return and the promised Spirit and advocate would soon arrive.

I do not doubt the disciple’s sense of adventure, tenacity and courage. They have shown those traits since Jesus called them to follow. That following was not always easy but they always had the real presence of Jesus. Now, before their eyes, Jesus is taken to heaven and they are on their own, so to speak.

After a time, the disciples begin to share the story of Jesus, they teach, they heal, they baptize and they are astonished at the transformation of people. Not everyone believes but enough do that the group of twelve becomes hundreds, then thousands and in time a worldwide movement.

The disciples, used to the protection of Jesus are venturing out on their own. They have no idea how different life is going to be, but they know they have each other and the promised protection of the Holy Spirit. That and first-hand knowledge of Jesus is enough for them to continue. As we will hear through the season of Pentecost, they never stop being amazed. For as much as they wanted Jesus to stay, for life to stay the same, that was never part of Jesus plan. At the end of each day, the disciples would tell stories of the wonder and power and simplicity of living the truth of Jesus.

We may need the same courage as the disciples in our day as we enter a new way of being Christian and new ways to proclaim the message of radical love and justice. The beginning of the year and for New Brunswick the beginning of March propelled us into very different ways of doing ministry. It was and continues to be uncharted territory and that is scary in its uncertainty. We are, beyond the bookends. We are learning new technology, using the phone more, praying more and for me more on the phone and we are learning. What has not changed is the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.

We may wish to stand staring into the heavens wondering where Jesus went. We may desire real and lasting answers to all the questions including the COVID-19 questions. The only truth that lasts is that Jesus loves us and Jesus calls us love our neighbour. We may long for the good ole days and eventually the teens of today will also long for the good ole days. We have today, we have Jesus and we have a mission.

So now what? We can stand staring into space wondering where Jesus is…We can know that outside the tidy bookends of Lent and Easter things can and will get messy. We can put on our galoshes and play in the puddles of the messiness.  We can look around, look in the mirror and know that is where Jesus is, mess and tidiness together know this is where Jesus needs us today. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon for April 26, 2020

Sermon for April 26, 2020       Third of Easter            “The Gift of Knowing”

 

Like many worship leaders in the Maritimes and across the country we are trying to understand, pray for and support the victims and affected communities in Nova Scotia after last weeks tragic events. To add this layer of terror to the disruption of COVID-19 puts us in a delicate and tender place. One that will require the combined wisdom and patience of all. Those most deeply affected and all in Nova Scotia will be held in tender prayer in the times to come. Our Christ Candle is lit… I now light a candle in solidarity and prayer for our neighbours in Nova Scotia.

 

Over the years, I have come to realize that scripture is a place of understanding and insight for what is happening in the world, community and personal life. I am aware of the dangers of taking a document that at its newest is 2000 years old and superimposing that on the 21st century. Society, context and life are vastly different now from two or seven thousand years ago. There are however lessons and teachings that can aid our understanding of ourselves and the nature of God and Jesus.

In the writings and reflections of Richard Rohr he points in this direction from a time when he was going through surgery. “During that time, it was not the indirectness that hit me in this passage, but the directness! My best spiritual knowing almost always occurs after the fact, in the remembering—not seen “until God has passed by.” I realized that in the moments of diagnosis, doctor’s warnings, waiting, delays, and the surgery itself, I was as fragile, scared, and insecure as anybody would be. If I could stay with the full narrative all the way into and through, only afterward could I invariably see, trust, and enjoy the wonderful works of God.”

When we first hear news, we think it will not happen to us, then it does affect us and our family and community and it is not until we have walked the fragile walk of being vulnerable and scared that we begin to witness God’s wonder, of the unfolding of creation. The world is still in the grips of a pandemic and there is no clear view of an ending. Speculation is certainly the stuff of the virtual water cooler chat or virtual Tim’s café chat but in the end, it is conjecture, we do not know. So, we are left with being in the present moment with its challenges, frustrations and opportunities. We may wonder where God is in all this but ancient and new wisdom reminds us that it is not until we have walked through the valley and look back, that it then starts to make sense and we can see the nudging and love of God with clarity.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus were astounded at the teachings of the stranger they met along the way. For seven miles, they listened to history being revealed in the present context. It was sacred obligation to offer hospitality to this stranger and I expect they wanted to hear more. At supper, the stranger broke bread and shared it with all. In that single moment, their eyes were opened and they recognized the risen Lord. In the instant of recognition, Jesus disappeared from sight and they were utterly amazed. Were not our hearts burning as he spoke along the road they exclaimed…and it all made sense.

After the experience they could see clearly the hand and working of God and they were filled with wonder. If they had tried to figure it out sooner, if they had grown weary of the journey or the speaking along the way the ending would be very different.

Our situation is in many ways similar. We know there are lessons to be learned, that we are being prepared for something new, we have a growing awareness that live is not ‘going back to normal’ and we are in the midst of transformation. We are however required to finish the journey. It is only then that the truths that we can now see dimly, will be revealed. It is at that point we can be in awe of the glory of God…again.

In my prayer and reflection time these days the image of the encounter of God and Moses keeps appearing. The scene where Moses wants to see God. God says certainly but you cannot see my face only my back. As God passes, Moses eyes are covered, and only when God passes can he see. I am reminded, gently chastised and grateful that God is always ahead of us leading the way.

We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2020

Sermon for April 12, 2020             Easter                   “From Tears to Joy”

 

Yesterday it seemed painfully obvious that the powers of empire had won, Jesus dead and buried along with his message of justice and hope. The followers of the parade of empire rejoiced and were glad that this annoying Jesus had been put to death.

That was yesterday.

Today, today as promised (even though we just could not believe) Jesus is alive. Not an apparition but the real Jesus. First to Mary then to the disciples and then to all the community and world.

Two things happened at the same time. First the rag-tag band of disciples and others in the parade of Palms a week ago, were now cheering and shouting praises in belief and glory. Second, the leaders of empire were aghast at how in three days the tides had turned and there was now,  no way to stop the influence of Jesus.

Might is replaced with compassion, swords replaced with healing and justice flows to the least and the lost. What looked and appeared to be all powerful is thwarted by the love of God as revealed in Jesus and his teachings. And we shout Hallelujah!

In our day, especially in these days we need all the words and actions of hope we can find.  I can think of no better way to respond to the global crises currently afflicting us than to follow the counsel of Medical experts and hold fast to the glory of resurrection’s hope. Now more than ever we can take solace in and live out the resurrection teaching of love, hope and forgiveness.

After resurrection the world, or at least Jesus’ world did not return to ‘normal’. It was forever transformed into something new. Jesus teachings remind us that we are constantly be renewed and transformed into something new. After COVID-19 we will not go back to normal, it just cannot happen, we and the world are changed.

This time we are in, this cocoon time is to prepare us for chrysalis yet to happen or be revealed. We have this time, to prepare. To use biblical language, we are buried and sealed in a tomb and that time seems forever, but on the third day we are reborn, we have new life. This is true for each one and for the planet.

In the midst of our hallelujahs and rejoicing, we are preparing ourselves for what is to be revealed.  As a people of faith we know it can and will happen. My fervent prayer this Easter is for each one of you to hold to the hope that comes from believing in the one who in resurrection glory calls us by name. And may we like Mary, have our eyes opened to see Jesus, now our Saviour.

Sermon for April 5, 2020 Palm Sunday

Sermon for March 29, 2020          Lent 5                    “Minding the Gap”

The raising of Lazarus is a story filled with nooks and crannies of understanding the nature of Jesus. Some of the lessons are obvious and some are delicately tucked away so you have to go looking for them. Or leave time alone with the text to allow the scope of lessons come to you.

In my prayer and meditation time this week and as I sat with this text, what came to me was the space that is built into the story. The gaps that leave space for essential teaching, that pause that draws us into a truth and brings us to the edge of our seat with anticipation.

The story is very well know and even those who do not know the teachings of Jesus well are aware of the raising of Lazarus story. Most even know that the shortest verse in the bible is in this story ‘He wept’, and every children’s bible and picture bible has Jesus with his arms outstretched and Lazarus walks out of the grave, gray cloth strips dangling from his arms and head.

In this story the gaps prepare us for the key elements of truth that require our attention. The first gap is when Jesus hears the news of his friends illness he does not immediately go to Bethany. He waits two more day. His reason is that ‘this illness will not lead to his death’. What Jesus does for these two days is not revealed. It is a gap, a time of waiting and wondering. If the disciples are perplexed they do not show it, if they try to hurry Jesus, we just do not know.

A two-day gap. For those reading and listening in our day, instead of hurrying on to the rest of the story, maybe it is a time to stop, mind what is happening in the gap and be present to what is right before us now.

When Jesus arrived near Bethany he stopped, he did not go right to the home of Mary and Martha. Martha came to see Jesus and said if you had been here, or if there was gap between then and now my brother would be alive.  Then Martha went to get her sister Mary and she too came and said almost the same thing. Jesus, in this space outside the town of Bethany, offered the same response to the sisters, Lazarus will live. Another gap so that we the listeners will be ready for the remarkable climax of the story.

When Jesus arrives at the tomb, he asks for it to be opened. Another short gap, this time from the community of Bethany as they prepare for a stench.

And then the words we have anticipated: Lazarus, come out.

And he does. A new teaching dawns on the people of Bethany and from that tiny hamlet to the world even to our day. And we celebrate and the tears flow, not with the bitterness of grief but with the dance of gratitude.

As we attend to our days amid the COVID-19 we are being forced into a ‘gap time’. A time that is new every moment and we do not yet know the outcomes. I believe that God uses all people and time for good. It may take some time to figure out the why or how can this ever be good but we live now, as before, as a people of faith and trust.

Maybe that is the lesson for us today from the teaching of Jesus in the story of Lazarus. That in times of despair and anguish, times when we are given gap moments to be alone with ourselves, in times that seem gloomy, we have the capacity to go deep in faith and trust. We need the gap however in order to get there.

The story of the days we are in will be recorded and become part of the ongoing story of God and God’s people. How we are today, how we live with faith, trust, hospitality (even from a distance) and care may very well determine how we understand the ending.

As for me, I am leaning into the gap time and learning to trust God anew. Amen

Sermon for February 2, 2020

Sermon for February 2, 2020             Fourth of Epiphany                 “Belong”

It is a well known fact that what we say to people is what they believe about themselves. This is especially true with children. The first words of Jesus’ dad to him when he came out of the water were ‘this is my son, my love. In him I am well pleased’. The first words to the real message and core teachings of Jesus are: you are loved, you are welcome, you belong. Let these be the words people hear.

On Monday while at the gym the row of TV’s were showing the impeachment of Donald Trump, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Concentration Camps and the death of Kobe Bryant and eight others but mostly Kobe and his daughter. I was struck with the juxtaposition and the fact they were all on at the same time. The impeachment hearings is the apex of ‘I am right you are wrong’ white elite privilege, one showed the outcome of such white elite privilege and the death of Kobe how fleeting life is no matter who you are.

From that backdrop I look at the words of Micah and the Beatitudes in Matthew. The context of Micah is that the people and the religious leaders are arguing about what God wants them to do? The conversation ranges from strict adherence to the Moses Code and the law of the Prophets to something less strict and more open to interpretation.

It could easily be argued that the same is happening today. Not only in religion but in politics and community as well.

The Beatitudes is an extension of God’s desire for us to belong to community. It is inherent in Micah and Matthew that the vision of belonging is both deeply personal and community based. Let me go back to the TV shows mentioned earlier. What is happening, most pointedly in the USA is the sharp drawing of lines about the nature of community. You are in or out. You are democrat or republican. There is little in-between and the division is sharp. Listening to a pod-cast from the On Being series, Krista Tippett interviewed Brene Brown. She said that the base of human nature is to be in community. The two examples she gave were the hurricane that ripped through Houston and Texas. The response team did not ask political or religious affiliation, they just said we are here to help and they did. The other was when the Houston Astros won the world series. The whole city was unified and belonged. She went on to explain the differences between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in is when you do something to show you fit in, buy the right clothes, root for the correct team, have the latest cell phone or keep ahead of the gossip curve. Belonging on the other hand is all about a community and their capacity to welcome you. You can have the right clothes, look like you fit in and not belong. Belonging is the individuals in a community saying and meaning you belong. She goes on to say that belonging is a deeply spiritual experience as it reaches to the core of who we are and the core of the person being invited to belong. Jesus shows this belonging in a story. He is walking along the road and folks are lining up to see him. Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus, he was trying hard but could not so he climbed a tree. Jesus stopped and said, Zacchaeus you belong to me, let’s get something to eat.

At St. Mark’s we hold as one of our core vision components: belong. That is not just a word, it is a constant action. It is about what we say and how we say it, it is about accompaniment with the guest, visitor and the ones who just come to the door, it is how we genuinely extent the invitation to belong, just as you are and not as we wish you were. That is the hard work of loving kindness and living the beatitudes.

The coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others remind us that life is fleeting for all, the super-star and the homeless. The underlying truth that is seldom mentioned is the very human condition to live with justice, kindness and mercy. As a personal code and a community endeavor.

The coverage of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps was moving and stirred me to the core of my being. One of the survivors reflected on Ellie Weisel’s wisdom that from the ash heap of the concentration camps there is an Eleventh Commandment and that is: we will not tolerate indifference. Justice and Kindness here mingle and dance in the quest to not tolerate indifference. All sorts of injustice happen as the ‘in-group’ fortify indifference. Child poverty, segregation of immigrant children from parents, racial profiling, segregation and yes concentration camps. Indifference is the birthplace of injustice and cannot ever be tolerated.

Belong, a simple word, easy to say and easy to be indifferent to. At St. Mark’s as we live out the mission of Jesus to love one another, it is a call of welcome in word and action. We cannot ever be indifferent to our mandate to all, to belong.

Sermon for Nov 25 2018

Sermon for November 25, 2018                     Reign of Christ                        “Truth”

The teaching of Jesus in the Gospel today is “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” I am not sure that Jesus was aware of the can of worms that would be opened as future generations struggled with unravelling the meaning of truth.

In 1925, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Pius XI, instituted the Feast of Christ the King.  He was responding to the rise of fascism and felt that Christians were also succumbing to an increasing secularism in the world.  Over time, most mainline churches, who follow the lectionary, began to observe this Sunday in some fashion. In the United Church we call it the Reign of Christ Sunday. And it is the last Sunday in the liturgical year.

Of course, we have no choice but to live in the “real world” (we have to go to school, have jobs, buy groceries, heat our homes, clothe ourselves and our children, find a way to get around and to communicate with  others and all of those things )  but the question remains: whose values really govern our lives?  What are our priorities?  Are we governed by the values of materialism, consumerism, elitism, militarism, sexism, racism, and the other “isms” that vie for our loyalty?  Or are we governed by the Good News of Jesus.

When I clicked on the right buttons to get the computer to get me the meaning of truth, I got: Truth is disambiguation. And now I am so much more enlightened! So I looked further.

Truth is a concept most often used to mean in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal.

Biblical inerrancy, as formulated in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy“, is the doctrine that the Protestant Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching”; or, at least, that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”. Various interpretations have been applied, depending on the tradition. According to some interpretations of the doctrine, all of the Bible is without error, i.e., is to be taken as true, no matter what the issue. Other interpretations hold that the Bible is always true on important matters of faith, while other interpretations hold that the Bible is true but must be specifically interpreted in the context of the languageculture and time that relevant passages were written.

When Jesus speaks of truth in this context he is speaking to Pilate and pointing out to him that his idea of truth differs from God’s idea of truth. That Pilate’s idea of community is vastly different that the community of Jesus. It is into this environment that Jesus is challenging Pilate and lifting up this teaching for all people.

It is at this moment that we leave the world of empirical data and evidence and move into the place of heart, soul and grace. It is an area that most in the western world are fidgety and uncomfortable. Jesus calls us past the facts and into our hearts. He says to Pilate, you have all this wealth and power, armies and resources and yet they are meaningless to me for they will perish and be dust and rust. My realm was, is and always will be of the spirit and soul and not subject to your idea of power nor will it return to rust and dust.

As we attempt to understand Jesus with the rule of law or even good governance, we will fail. If we insist on understanding Jesus and the realm of Jesus with fact and data, we will fail. It will require of us a leap of faith. That leap that gets us out of our heads and into our heart and spirit. And that for a cyber, fact driven people is a challenge. Though we were born as true spirit, it was taught out of us and replaced with fact and fact has become our default position. Being in our spirit and heart place takes attention and time and work and most challenging of all, a suspension of fact and an acceptance of grace. It is there that we hear the truth of the teachings of Jesus. It is there that our hearts are touched with compassion and passion. It is there where allow ourselves to live with our hearts in the realm of Jesus, and our lives in the world, ever striving to live out the prayer: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

Sermon for Nov 18 2018

Sermon for November 18, 2018                  26th after Pentecost        “Into Your Heart”

You are forgiven.

I could easily end there for that is the only thing you need to hear from the texts today. You know me better than that I am sure. The author of Hebrews wants in no uncertain terms for readers to know that what Christ has done in his death on the cross is a ‘once and for all’ act that frees us from our sin and the need to offer any sort of sacrifice. It opens the door to a new way of community and personal life that is organized by love and respect. It is an invitation to live wholeheartedly in the spirit and love of Jesus.

This is not an ‘oh that’s nice sort of sentiment’. This is a live changing event that we so often struggle to grasp. Imagine the first followers of Jesus after his death. No more are they concerned about sending the best of what they had as a sacrifice. Imagine not having to take the time and expense to travel to the High Priest and confess and then give the subscribed penance. Jesus willingness to be crucified for our forgiveness was and is beyond our comprehension. Our old patterns of living and being are broken, and not broken so they can be fixed again, broken, smashed destroyed beyond repair. We are in a new way of being that is light and love and forgiving.

I can remember thinking that when my children both went to school I would have so much free time. That was not true. I hear over and over again how much time there may be when retirement comes. And yet I hear constantly from folks who are retired that they are so busy they could not imagine working too. Hebrew’s is thinking ahead of us when we think that we will not have to gather in church. The direction is; ‘do not neglect to meet together in community’ and there provoke one another to love and do good deeds.

Do not neglect to meet together as a community. It is a truth that humans need and even crave to be gathered together in community. This is a gentle reminder to gather and actively wait on the acceptable year of the Lord. This gathering happened on the Sabbath day, the day God directed we rest. For the past 50 years there have been a steady erosion of the Sabbath day or any idea that we need Sabbath. With technology, travel, work in a global context we are all, from infant to senior, on the go 24/7. We were led to believe that was good, it was progress, it was innovative and progressive. And yet we are more disconnected from each other now than any other time in history. Gathering cannot and I do not think ever will be as simple as a happy face emoticon. What I find interesting is that corporations that are now seen as progressive and supportive of life work balance are insisting that work cell phones be left at work. That there are days in a week for self and family. And in the back of our minds we hear the teaching to gather as community so that we can provoke one another to love and good deeds.

As we reach the ending of this liturgical year, it may be interesting to set intentions for the next year. I know you are familiar with this task as most do it in January and call it new years resolutions. I heard this week that a problem with church attendance is that other activities have moved into Sunday morning. When I step back and peek, and I am doing this as we are in the midst of a strategic planning process, I discover that while other activities have moved into Sunday the church has remained resolute in claiming the only time to worship is Sunday morning. The teaching of God and Jesus is: remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, it is a day of rest. The church for the past 2000 years has understood Sabbath and worship are connected and only on that day. A new liturgical year intention may be to consider that worship is appropriate on any of the days of the week.

It is clear in the text from Hebrews that God has carved love into our heart, and remembrance in our minds. With every beat of our heart the love of God courses through our bodies. With every synapse of our brain the memory of God is present. This leads me to believe that it is really hard to escape God, for God is embedded in our very being. Further each breath we take is a time of honouring God, each word we utter, each thought we think, all our being infused with God. Is it any wonder that the primary teaching of Jesus is to love, to be kind, to speak generously and act humbly? For Jesus, his followers are followers each moment of each day.

In a world that has become cruel, in Christianity that has become judgmental,  in communities that are insular and protective, Jesus gift of life, opens the door to a new way of community and personal life that is organized by love and respect. It is an invitation to live wholeheartedly in the spirit and love of Jesus.

Sermon for September 23, 2018

Sermon for September 23, 2018                 18th after Pentecost        “What are you Talking About?”

 

I was listening to a speech given by Steve Jobs this week and part of the message was that we need to trust that the dots will connect. He did not graduate from university but in his words, he dropped out and then dropped in on classes he liked. He and Steve Wozniak started building computers in the garage and then founded Apple, Jobs was fired and started an animation company that became Pixar, had cancer and was cured, back to Apple then more cancer. In the moment, he could not see that dropping out of university and dropping into a calligraphy class would lead to fonts and type faces and make the words we type have pizazz. He could not see how the dots connected until he looked back on his life and could see that his success was linked to his perceived failure and both were connected and essential.

‘The Son of God is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again’. In the moment the disciples just could not get their head or their heart to understand what Jesus was saying. So they did what people have been doing for thousands of years…change the topic. They started arguing as boys have done for the same about of time, who’s better, faster, stronger, smarter etc. It seems that when the spiritual alludes us we pick up the mundane.

This past Wednesday the Board agreed to launch a strategic planning process. Not all the details are worked out, but the general principles are in place with an openness to flexibility and to the leading of the Spirit. It seems to me in that journey we will need to work on our ‘why’. Why is St. Mark’s a great place to be? That to me means we will have to get our heart and soul engaged. It also means that we will listen to the ‘elders’ who know that failure does not always mean failure. It may mean you are currently just going in an unhealthy way. It will mean being patient with newbies who are filled with ideas that may not have worked before but now just might. And it will mean depending on Jesus and Spirit that even in dark places light can shine, that in impossibility there is the joyful unexpected and that as we look back to plan ahead we can be assured that like before we will make mistakes and like before new doors are opened.

So let me have a go at my why.

I believe that living a life that takes me past my comfort zones is exhilarating; I believe that being socially unconventional is a powerful mechanism for social change. I believe that walking this path with others is way more fun and life giving than when walked alone. St. Mark’s believes this to be so. I invite you to walk into this adventure. It will mean that you just might be last, the wisdom of children is honoured, that giving is the best way to live with abundance and that in surrender comes truly wholehearted living.

And by the way, St. Mark’s has the terrific worship, programs and a mindset to be all this and more. And yes, we are a Christian church.

 

What the disciples did not know until the resurrection was all the crazy stuff Jesus talked about before his death was absolutely true. What we do not know until we have the humility to try is that it is still true. If you want the best seat, sit in the back of the bus. If you want abundance, give. If you want life, give yours to others. It is when we get older that it all starts to make sense, not just because we might be getting closer to the time when we will meet our maker but because we have seen it happen in our lives. And once we get a taste of it we want more of this truly wholehearted abundant life.

What are you talking about is the question of Jesus to the disciples? It is the same question we are asked. If our answer is me, me, me or how can I arrange the deck chairs so that I will survive, or how can I be perceived as great and wonderful, then like the disciples we sink in our self-imposed separation from God. We cannot serve God and ourselves. Not going to happen in any reality. We eventually learn that extravagant living comes from giving ourselves to God.

Why St. Mark’s…we are on an adventure. Each day is new and exciting. We are opening ourselves to the wonder and grace of Jesus who started the journey. What are we talking about? The crazy idea of Jesus that we can truly be loving.

Sermon for September 16, 2018

Sermon for Sunday September 16, 2018                 17th After Pentecost       “Who Is Jesus?”

Welcome back, I am overjoyed with glee that you are here. You complete us with your presence and live in the paradox that we will never be fully complete as there is always one more to welcome.

I did a quick check on welcome and it is a greeting, usually in a glad and friendly way, salutation, relief, it seems to always be used in a happy or outrageously delighted sort of way. So when I say welcome, it matches our introit that exclaims: come in, you are part of the family.

I also took a look at ‘back’ and depending on context it can be many things; as a noun, you back from shoulders to hips, as an adverb; toward the rear, the opposite direction, as a verb; to give financial, material or moral support to and as an adjective; at the back of something like the backyard.

I did the word search to try to figure out why we add back to welcome, when maybe just welcome would do. But the phrase does make sense because it acknowledges a return, a joyous return. So with wholehearted joy I say welcome back.

Now that we are mostly here we can learn a bit more about Jesus. Jesus; powerful and weak, demands we speak and be silent, healer and destroyer, human and divine, son, brother, Messiah and one who was is and always will be only about love. In the Gospel today Jesus beckons us to take up your cross and follow. Jesus did not say take up my cross, he is challenging us to discern our gifts and growing edges and from that tangled mess of life, take up your cross.

I was driving to the hospital on Wed and saw a man carrying a cross and I wondered why? I did not stop and ask so I do not have an answer. If he is showing that he is suffering like Jesus as an act of faith then I would suggest that he has misunderstood what Jesus is asking. If it is a personal journey like the 40 days in the wilderness or a pilgrimage, or seeking Sabbath time, or dessert time then I would say he is on a right track.

For years before Jesus’ death, the cross was a sign of oppression, a tool to keep the masses in line, a mechanism to silence the people with fear and it worked for the Empire of the day. When this pesky, disturbing Jesus was ordered to the cross the leaders of the Empire were convinced that, like before, it would silence and oppress. With resurrection, the cross lost all of its prior power. With Jesus, the cross is a sign of revolutionary love. It is a sign of love, so when Jesus says pick up your cross, it is about you discerning how you are best going to love. Not just love but revolutionary love for yourself and for every single person you meet. That is the hard work of being a follower of Jesus. Jesus did not call us to be a people who must suffer, self-inflicted or otherwise. He calls us to follow and to love.

I welcome you with extravagant joy and eagerness because I know that Jesus has work to do that requires you. Requires you to stoop down, pick up your way of love cross and rise to unimagined heights of fulfilled life. Jesus knew that love would lead to belonging and belonging would lead to worthiness and that would lead to increased capacity to love. That is the simple message. That is how I imagine church in its best self. A place where every word and action are motivated by love and that most elusive endeavor to serve leads to you craving to belong, for it lifts up your worthiness.

We are on the move. Not to a new local but a move that will see all welcomed with revolutionary hospitality, where all our words are life giving, where our actions holler Spirit and where the least will guide. Welcome back is also welcome to the journey. I am glad you are here.

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