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Sermon for February 28, 2021

Sermon for February 28, 2021                    Second of Lent                  “You are Named”

It could have been a script from an episode of Saturday Night live, a 99-year-old being told he and his 90-year-old wife would have a child. It is not hard to imagine how this could get silly in a hurry. Even Abram in verse 17 ‘fell on his face and laughed”. And from inside the tent Sarai listening to all this, also laughed at the thought of bearing a child, not to mention what would need to happen to conceive this child. But God was not going to let a wee bit of laughing get in the way of a grand plan.

This covenant withAbram and Sarai is important to God as it shifts the covenant with Adam and Eve from one of property to one of family and people. One that is renewed with Noah and affirmed in Jesus and lives on in you and me.

This covenant with Abram and Sarai is confirmed by ‘naming’, as God announces the new names to be; Abraham and Sarah and then gives the promise of a child. God has never been bound by what we seem to regard as impossible.

I suspect that the capacity of the disciples to listen past “the Son of God must endure great suffering” was limited. So when Jesus got to the part “and be killed” they just could not hear anymore. The incredulity and even impossibility of what he was saying was just not possible. The anger and defensiveness welled up so fast that the part where Jesus said “and after three days’ rise again” just did not register.

Now I can fully understand the position of the disciples. If someone dear to me said someone or some group of people was going to cause them great harm even to death, I would be quick to respond with protective bravado. The point of the story is about preparation. Not with might and power and bigger guns, but with heart, soul and belief.  But then we humans have never been great with bad news.

I am prepared to cut the disciples some slack at this point, as Jesus is still early in his ministry and they as yet do not have the benefit of all the teaching, healing, casting out demons and restoring life. Jesus is also setting the stage for one of the most challenging teaching and that is; being a follower of Jesus is hard work, not for the faint of heart and will require life-long challenge. In all of this we find the cloak and mantel of Jesus’ love imbedded in us like we never imagined.

Jesus is teaching the disciples and all who follow that living into the Way of Jesus is going to be difficult, it will require us to shift from being ‘shaped by the world to be transformed by the Spirit’. There will be many times when we will need to think before we speak or act because the way we speak or act in this new way of being (translate Christian) is radically different than what we are used to. Following Jesus will require us to deny ourselves and ‘world’ held views and move toward a transformative self and world. We are at the end of a month dedicated to Black History, it has not been nor will it continue to be easy for White folk to come to terms with our shared history and moving forward it is going to be hard work to live as neighbours, equals and partners. We need to recall that God made humanity in God’s own image and called all humans ‘very good’. Perhaps the best image is that of a caterpillar and its transformation to butterfly. It is lots of necessary work, a complete change upon emerging and no going back.

For Abraham and Sarah there was no going back, Sarah did get pregnant and bear a son Isaac, Abraham did lead the people and is regarded as the one who birthed Judaism, Islam and Christianity. After being named beloved Jesus began a ministry that changed the world. We are named, chosen and redeemed for the hard and glorious work of being transformed and agents of transformation in our world. It is not a one-off kind of thing but a work that will take our lifetime.

Being a follower of Jesus means that we need to let go of our ego, the desire to do it our way or get our way. Denying self is a way of cleansing our inner self that allows space of Jesus, Spirit and God. Yes our ego may say it is a disastrous denial but the Spirit says it is a massive move toward wholeness and wholehearted living.

Jesus calls you to follow…the season of Lent is a time of preparation and decision and the next steps are entirely yours.

Sermon for February 20, 2021

Sermon for February 28, 2021                    Second of Lent                  “You are Named”

It could have been a script from an episode of Saturday Night live, a 99-year-old being told he and his 90-year-old wife would have a child. It is not hard to imagine how this could get silly in a hurry. Even Abram in verse 17 ‘fell on his face and laughed”. And from inside the tent Sarai listening to all this, also laughed at the thought of bearing a child, not to mention what would need to happen to conceive this child. But God was not going to let a wee bit of laughing get in the way of a grand plan.

This covenant withAbram and Sarai is important to God as it shifts the covenant with Adam and Eve from one of property to one of family and people. One that is renewed with Noah and affirmed in Jesus and lives on in you and me.

This covenant with Abram and Sarai is confirmed by ‘naming’, as God announces the new names to be; Abraham and Sarah and then gives the promise of a child. God has never been bound by what we seem to regard as impossible.

I suspect that the capacity of the disciples to listen past “the Son of God must endure great suffering” was limited. So when Jesus got to the part “and be killed” they just could not hear anymore. The incredulity and even impossibility of what he was saying was just not possible. The anger and defensiveness welled up so fast that the part where Jesus said “and after three days’ rise again” just did not register.

Now I can fully understand the position of the disciples. If someone dear to me said someone or some group of people was going to cause them great harm even to death, I would be quick to respond with protective bravado. The point of the story is about preparation. Not with might and power and bigger guns, but with heart, soul and belief.  But then we humans have never been great with bad news.

I am prepared to cut the disciples some slack at this point, as Jesus is still early in his ministry and they as yet do not have the benefit of all the teaching, healing, casting out demons and restoring life. Jesus is also setting the stage for one of the most challenging teaching and that is; being a follower of Jesus is hard work, not for the faint of heart and will require life-long challenge. In all of this we find the cloak and mantel of Jesus’ love imbedded in us like we never imagined.

Jesus is teaching the disciples and all who follow that living into the Way of Jesus is going to be difficult, it will require us to shift from being ‘shaped by the world to be transformed by the Spirit’. There will be many times when we will need to think before we speak or act because the way we speak or act in this new way of being (translate Christian) is radically different than what we are used to. Following Jesus will require us to deny ourselves and ‘world’ held views and move toward a transformative self and world. We are at the end of a month dedicated to Black History, it has not been nor will it continue to be easy for White folk to come to terms with our shared history and moving forward it is going to be hard work to live as neighbours, equals and partners. We need to recall that God made humanity in God’s own image and called all humans ‘very good’. Perhaps the best image is that of a caterpillar and its transformation to butterfly. It is lots of necessary work, a complete change upon emerging and no going back.

For Abraham and Sarah there was no going back, Sarah did get pregnant and bear a son Isaac, Abraham did lead the people and is regarded as the one who birthed Judaism, Islam and Christianity. After being named beloved Jesus began a ministry that changed the world. We are named, chosen and redeemed for the hard and glorious work of being transformed and agents of transformation in our world. It is not a one-off kind of thing but a work that will take our lifetime.

Being a follower of Jesus means that we need to let go of our ego, the desire to do it our way or get our way. Denying self is a way of cleansing our inner self that allows space of Jesus, Spirit and God. Yes our ego may say it is a disastrous denial but the Spirit says it is a massive move toward wholeness and wholehearted living.

Jesus calls you to follow…the season of Lent is a time of preparation and decision and the next steps are entirely yours.

Sermon for February 21, 2021 First in Lent

Sermon for February 21, 2021                    First in Lent                        “Water”

Water, for the most part it is a substance that we just assume will be there when we turn on the tap, go canoeing or boating or go to the beach. It is the most abundant substance on earth and is the only material that can exist in solid, liquid and gas states. It can be most soothing and most destructive, calming and alarming, it gives life and can take life, water…essential, necessary, deadly and life changing.

Rodney Hunter in his commentary writes: “Jesus’ baptism has all the signs of an upheaval and reorganization of a person’s inner world, a psychological event that realigns the individual into profound attunement with that which is highest and best in his account, Jesus alone experiences the heavens torn asunder and the Spirit descending and he alone hears the extraordinary life changing words ‘You are my beloved Son’. We might suppose that this dramatic formative event may have culminated a passionate spiritual search or quest for identity of some sort, thought the text gives no hint of it and Mark would certainly have rejected such a speculation. But whatever it was that moved Jesus to respond to John’s call to repent and be baptized, when he emerged from the waters of the Jordan, he had a vision in which he acquired a unique sense of God given identity and affirmation, followed by an overwhelming sense of the power of God driving him into the wilderness for an extended period of spiritual struggle. He emerged from this in due course a new man, by all appearances, with powers and a revolutionary spiritual message.”

The arguments about the necessity of Jesus’ baptism have raged for centuries and will continue. For me this is part of the story of Jesus, an un-intentional or intended act that changed the course and pattern of Jesus life and the life of humanity since. Out of the waters into the wilderness, emerging as teacher and healer and up-ender of lives, this Jesus still has the desire to stir our complacent hearts and minds and move us in the direction of Jesus’ vision of justice and kindness for all and creation.

This text is paired with the ending of the story of Noah and the flood. There is in both a call to repentance; one declined, one accepted, an immersion in water, a re-entry to a new life and a promise of God. In the context of time one story is old and the other ancient and yet both teach similar lessons for today.

We are constantly called to renew ourselves and the expectation would be for the better. This season of Lent is an intentional time to reflect on how we arrived ‘here’, is there something more?, to find stillness that gives way for God voice to be heard in the din and roar of life and to respond to that nudging voice.

A quick look at the historical practices of Lent show that it is a time of drastic self-denial (whether it be food or habit) or cruel self-beating, all so we can suffer the same way Jesus suffered. That was in a time when church held near complete control over people. In time and with developed knowledge of the teachings of Jesus, these strict rules have eased to a move loving, self-awareness mode.  For me Lent is a time to focus on one area that I feel needs attention. I know there are many but I choose one and focus on that as best I can.  Will I be perfect…no, absolutely no but I strive to be kind to God, others, creation and myself.

In the flood and baptism stories, the image of cleansing in preparation for a new start are real and lived. As Noah and his family stepped out of the ark onto the drying land, a rainbow was the seal and covenant of a new beginning. When Jesus emerged from the baptismal waters the voice of Abba affirmed that love was the bond and covenant.

Faith is the most abundant element for a Christians life. It is the solid foundation, the fluid that gives us the possibility for flexibility and in spirit form to link us all together. It can be the most soothing and most destructive, calming and alarming, it gives life and can take life…faith…essential, necessary, deadly and life changing.

As we emerge from the waters and open our eyes, hearts and life, my hope is that we see with newness, tinged by the grace of God, that which is required of us personally and as part of the family of faith. We each have our journey, things we need to let go and things we need to gather, opportunities to explore and practices to leave behind. The assurance from the Gospel teaching is that God will show us what is necessary, we need to prepare for this journey in a wilderness time and the one to follow.

In doing so… we too will hear and hear again the voice of God that states: you are my beloved.

Sermon for February 14, 2021

Sermon for February 14, 2021           Transfiguration                        “Only Jesus”

I am constantly making notes of things I hear and read. I jot them on whatever scrap of paper is closest, though I am learning to dig out my phone and make the note there, where I confess it is easier to find and to this point has not been washed. So a few weeks ago I hear this: ‘Jesus makes us what we are not, different than what we are now’. I have pondered that simple and intensely interesting comment since I first heard it.

We have been following the life of Jesus as he begins his ministry; his baptism, temptation in the wilderness, calling the first disciples, teaching, casting out demons and healing the sick. Today we encounter Jesus in a moment of transfiguration with Moses and Elijah. A particularly poignant moment, rich with meaning and connection. One that places Jesus within the context of history and stepping into a future that will change the world.

I would like to focus on the idea that Jesus makes what we are not and how we navigate the realm of the profound and transcendent.

One of the challenges of an encounter with Jesus is that for all the world we do not look different. There has been no external make-over. We still wear the same clothes, same hairstyle, same mode of transportation. We look the same and yet we are changed. When Jesus called the first disciples who were al fishers, they walked away from the boats and nets and followed. Inside they changed, they knew it and Jesus knew it and that made all the difference. Soon and over time family and friends knew it too. They looked the same, still had the same childhood stories and yet there was a newness, a something that they were not and I suppose something that they now are. As my dad would say a certain ’je ne c’est quoi’. An, I know there is something but I cannot just put my finger on it kind of knowing.

In moments when Jesus encounters our life we are changed, perhaps we understand differently, we have a broader less ego focused view of what it means to love and be kind to all people. And that helps us shape our view of history and our attitudes toward people, all peoples, today. It is not as though we are physically changed, we will still recognize ourselves in the mirror. The difference is on the inside and our internal view, touched by the Spirit dramatically alters our exterior view. It is on tending to this interior heart, soul and mind that cracks open the places for dramatic shifts to happen.

One moment Elijah is standing there and the next he is charioted away by God. One moment Jesus is on the mountain top alone and the next accompanied by Moses and Elijah in a dazzling array of white. The disciples had a sense that they were in a holy moment but as yet did not have the capacity to be anything but who they were. They were men of action, of seeing and doing, and that is what they did. Saw this glorious event and now felt compelled to do something.

For most 21st century Christians this is the way we operate. We see something and want to do something, and I might add that is laudable. The teaching today is a nudge from Jesus to go deeper. To spend time with the moment. Not to try and understand, or solve or fix but to just be. And that is, I think the hardest work.

Have you ever witnessed a stunning rainbow? At first it is just…awe, then the voice says, yeah that happens because the sunlight refracts through water particles in atmosphere causing a spectrum of colour as an arc in the sky…and the moment of awe is gone. Does it matter that sunrise and sunset are completely inaccurate descriptions of what happens, we just enjoy and are in awe of the moment. I do not wish to discredit good science but there are times when we just need to be present to a moment…not try to fix it or explain it away.

Barbara Holmes writes about worship in predominantly Black churches, but I think the Spirit works in all worship: “In this ordinary Sunday service, something has happened and we are changed. The worldly resistance to transcendence that we wore into the sanctuary has cracked open, and the contemplative moment carries us toward the very source of our being. In the midst of worship, an imperceptible shift occurred that moved the worshipping community from intentional liturgical action to transcendent indwelling. There is no way to describe this shift other than to say that “something happened.” During this sacred time, the perpetual restlessness of the human heart was stilled and transformed into abiding presence. Time shimmered and paused, slowing its relentless pace, and the order of worship no longer took precedence for those enthralled by a joy unspeakable. 

This is the contemplative moment, the recognition that each and every member of the congregation shares the same angst over the troubles of the world and the need for reunion. . .. Those who listen know the Holy Spirit is in control.” 

My prayer on this Transfiguration Sunday, this Valentines Day that you discover in ordinary moments the extraordinary and then come to a deeper knowing that…God is.

Sermon for February 7, 2021

Sermon for February 7, 2021       Fifth after Epiphany        “Work and Prayer”

In the Hymn ‘Worship the Lord’ 401 in Voices United the second verse says: “Praying and training that we be a blessing, and by our handiwork daily confessing: we are committed to serving humanity, worship and work must be one!” Worship and work must be one. In the scope of the teachings of Jesus this very concept is revealed over and over again. For Jesus in particular and the disciples generally, this essential shift from work to prayer to work is critical.

For a more complete view of this way of life you would need to read and understand the entirety of scripture, more than I can do in an acceptable amount of sermon time. The pairing of the Mark and Isaiah 40 text is delightful. For in Isaiah we are given one view of what it means to be attentive to God; ‘but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength’. At a first reading, I expect we have an understanding of what is being asked. The people of Israel are in exile, they do not know it yet but they are about to be freed and begin preparations for a 1200km journey back to Jerusalem.

The text on waiting is about preparation, for in waiting you will run and not be weary, walk and not faint and be raised up as on eagle’s wings. For the people it would be a harbinger of good news. The delight is in the word ‘wait’ or in Hebrew ‘quvah’ which has a literal and figurative meaning.

The literal meaning of the word is “to bind together like a cord.” or, “the twisting or winding of a strand of cord or rope.”Picture in your mind the process of making a rope by twisting or weaving (binding) thin threads together to form the rope. The more strands that are twisted or woven together in a rope, the greater is its strength.

So too with peoples, communities and nations. No one individual does all the work. A rope like a community, finds strength from all the strands/people working together.

The literal definition of “quvah” implies strength through numbers. The more strands in your rope, the greater is its strength. Just as a rope’s strength comes from being made of many strands, so our strength comes through being united in the common mission of Jesus.

The figurative definition of the word “quvah” is “to wait (as we would normally understand), to look for with eager expectation.”The figurative meaning of “quvah” conveys eager anticipation and expectation. It is the same type of waiting that children do on Christmas morning while waiting for mom and dad to get out of bed so they can open their presents.

These images are also seen in the Gospel text. Jesus cannot succeed without being intimately bound to God. To wait on God or to have their lives wound together and be stronger and that happens in prayer. Jesus’ mission would not take hold unless he surrounded himself with a community of disciples and friends. We see this interplay throughout scripture as Jesus works and then finds solitude to pray. And as Jesus teaches, sends the disciples to work and binds the community in common prayer.

As we survey our current context we discover that the same sway between worship/prayer and work/mission are intimately linked. All work and no pray makes us dull and lackluster, all pray and no work renders us essentially invisible.

As we ‘wait’ on God we learn the valuable lesson that each of us is essential. We may have ego-held views of who is and who is not important, Jesus will help with that. We are all vital. I think that is why, in the teaching today, Jesus chose to heal Peter’s mother in law. One who would have been viewed as least, received the gift of healing (watch episode 8 of The Chosen to see a beautiful visual of this scene).

We also wait with expectation that there is newness emerging each day, not only for each one but also for the community, the church and the world. The key I believe is to Wait on God, with both figurative and literal meanings dancing together in beautiful rhythm. And so I end where I started, “Praying and training that we be a blessing, and by our handiwork daily confessing: we are committed to serving humanity, worship and work must be one!”

Sermon for January 24, 2021

Sermon for January 24, 2021       Third of Epiphany             “Follow Me”

I suspect that we surprise ourselves by times at what catches our attention, what causes us to cry or laugh, or what prompts us to reach out to a friend or stranger. In each of these experiences what we are left with is the overwhelming sense that some force just beyond our comprehension is at work and we are grateful.

In the teaching from Jonah we hear of the second encounter of Jonah with the people of Nineveh.  As a bit of backstory, Nineveh was part of the Assyrian Empire and though the idea of God was not unfamiliar it was certainly not the mainstay of family, community or political thought. The city was in turmoil in every conceivable way; the Young King Shalmanesser IV had died, there was a famine as a result of floods and earthquakes, many Tribal leaders tried to form a government and there was general miss-trust in leadership and mayhem amongst the people.

It is no secret that Jonah nor many others liked Nineveh and held preconceived notions of what the people were like. Everyone knew that when you said ‘they’re from Nineveh’ that was enough to arouse suspicion. Into this Jonah was called. God wanted him there and when Jonah tried to run away, or sail away, he was swallowed by a great fish and deposited quite unceremoniously on the shores of Nineveh. Despite his sure belief that no one would listen to him…the people did “from the least to the greatest” and when the King heard he ordered that every person clothe themselves is sackcloth and fast and repent, also no beast would work. All the city stopped and in those moments God’s spirit had an opening to work on the hearts of all the people. And God smiled and relented on the punishment intended.

I often wondered what it might have been like to be Simon, Andrew, James and John on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that day when Jesus came by. In the video series on the life and times of Jesus ‘The Chosen’ there is a scene where Simon, Andrew, James, John and Zebedee have fished all night and caught nothing, in the morning Jesus is at the shore and askes Simon to cast his net one more time, when the nets are full to the point of breaking Jesus says to Simon; follow me. He asks the same to Andrew, James and John. And they follow. Then James and John turn to their father Zebedee as if to ask permission and he says; the Messiah we have prayer for our whole lives has chosen you to follow and you are worried about what I will say to your mother when you are late for supper! Go…follow.

Toward the end of the last century of the era before Jesus and in the first century of this current era there was growing chatter and expectation that the Messiah would soon arrive. There had been no conversations or directives from God to the prophets or prophetess’ for about 500 years…so every time someone came proclaiming to be the Messiah expectation ramped up a little bit more. Until Jesus. News of his birth and the families escape to Egypt had been, for the most part, forgotten but expectation remained high.

Jesus arrived, heralded by John the Baptizer, preaching a message of justice, peace and tolerance. Not exactly what the people were expecting but then God is always about the unexpected. There just seemed to be a knowing in the hearts of the people that led the first disciples to just follow and the leaders of the day to be…well…concerned. Ever since Jesus has been afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

That all leads to our time in the 21st century. What are we expecting that would cause us to follow? Is there still a message, a mission, an agenda? Well I think there is and it is one that is renewed in each time and place. For each person to discern for themselves.

I did not watch the inauguration on Wednesday but I did see the event later in the day. Apart from delight in a change of leadership and temperament in the USA there was a young poet, Amanda Gorman who just may have been the highlight of the event. If you have not seen her recite her poem, I strongly recommend you do. In part she says:

 “In this truth in this faith we trust For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us This is the era of just redemption We feared at its inception We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter To offer hope and laughter to ourselves So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be… For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it”

We have been gifted this time, only this time, for we can reflect with nostalgia on the past or gaze with longing eyes to a future but they are exercises that inhibit our ability to focus our attention on the now. Even in our day, our today, there is light, for me that light is Jesus. The first disciples were brave enough to follow. Is there still something to captivate your attention and energy in the mission of Jesus? Are we brave enough to see it and more than that to be it. I know with certainty the answer is a resounding yes and the influence of Jesus is as poignant today as it was 2000 years ago. And so again Jesus says: follow me…

Sermon for January 3, 2021

Sermon for January 3, 2021         Epiphany                             “Another Way”

One refrain I grew up with was; ‘if at first you do not succeed, try and try again’. For the most part sage advice so long as you keep learning. For we know by now the counsel of Einstein who defined ‘insanity as doing something over and over the same way and expecting different results’. There are ways and there are other ways.

God was really good at pointing this out to the people. Those in the garden were one way and when they shared the fruit from the tree of knowledge they were another way. The people were OK with God when things were going their way but when the going got tough they abandoned God and lived another way, without God.

In the series The Chosen, Jesus heals Mary from the demons that torment her and she says over and over that she was one way and now she is another. When Jesus met Simon and Andrew after they fished unsuccessfully for a night, Jesus suggested they fish another way by casting their nets on the other side and we know how that turned out. Then called them to be fishers but not for fish.

When the Magi arrived to see Jesus, they honoured him with gifts and went home by another route. Shortly after that Mary and Joseph were cautioned to leave, not for home just yet but home via another way, after a stay in Egypt.

In our day we continue to wonder why it is so strange to be and do things another way. With Jesus, another way is the norm. No matter how you come to Jesus, you will be another way. You will look like you but you will be another way because you are filled with the Spirit of justice and love. And you see all people and creation in another way.

Epiphany really means an ‘Aha’ moment. Other synonyms would include: vision, revelation, insight, discovery, enlightenment or flash idea. From the Christmas story in the bible it is marked by the Magi arriving to see ‘King Jesus’ only to have an aha moment upon discovering Jesus as an infant. They did not question that this infant was not the purpose of their travels or that this infant was not going to be the recipient of the gifts. With knowledge and trust they believed, offered reverence and gifts and went their way. Oh and did you get the part where they returned home by another way?

If we have learned nothing else this year, we know with certainty that Epiphany is not limited to one single day but can happen on any day at any time. The whole Christian story can fall into the same motif. Some have Christmas moments in August, some Easter moments in November and some moments of transfiguration in January.  We have grown accustomed to having one day for each event but there is another way. As it has always been, God is not interested in the boxes we create to define God or Jesus or Spirit. With God there is always another way.

I and we have learned plenty in this past year marked by COVID-19, new ways of worship, new technologies, reviving old technologies like gardening and sewing and reading, new appreciation for family and friends, renewed interest in our planet, appreciating all workers and an awareness that yes I can and yes we can, for no matter what colour, gender, race, creed or origin, we are…together.

As this new year unfolds may we hold dearly to the traditions and customs that bind us together and at the same time be open to…another way.

Sermon for December 13, 2020

Sermon for December 13, 2020                    Advent 3          “Sent From God”

The prophecy of Isaiah and John the Baptizer point to the one who is called Jesus. Isaiah’s prophecy was interpreted within the context of harsh military leadership. Justice and judgement are viewed differently based on your circumstances. It is little wonder there was and continues to be so much diversity of thought on what Isaiah was really trying to proclaim.

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; …For I the Lord love justice” The words between these phrases point to the direction the new kingdom will take, one where there is equity, the poor are tended to and given opportunity, the sick are healed and the oppressors brought low. But in the time of Isaiah all that was heard was ‘I the Lord love justice’ and that was interpreted to mean the justice of the ruling class, and that was really do it my way or suffer the consequences.

Some fashion of the mindset has continued for thousands of years and each generation and each faith group claims to some degree ‘rightness’ at the expense of all others. I am convinced that neither Isaiah or John the Baptizer imagined how their prophecy would be manipulated.

John pointed to the one who would redeem and fulfill the waiting for the Messiah. , ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” ’, as the prophet Isaiah said. The church leadership of the day was entrenched in power and in lockstep with Roman rule and they were in no hurry to share that power or give up any societal or political power.

Who are you? Is a question that we continually grapple with as we grow in understanding of God, Jesus and Spirit. It seems that our voice is crying in the wilderness and we liken it to the philosophical question: if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it does it make a sound?

It very much feels that we are in a wilderness place this year. The focus has been on, and rightly so, to flattening the curve and finding a vaccine. The voices are also encouraging attention to our inner landscape and the voices that nudge us toward joy. This third Sunday in Advent is one of Joy, to remind us that in the preparations for Christmas in our homes, communities, churches and hearts, there are to be moments of joy. Joy comes in many forms for everyone of us; from all the lights working when they are plugged in, your child learning a new skill, a sunrise or sunset, crashing waves, a look from your partner or a simple flickering of a candle.

For the Dali Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu it was collaborating on a book for their 80th birthday on Joy. A look at their lives and the joy moments for each of them and a nudge to people of the world to be on the lookout for moments of joy in life. Moments that can shout louder than chaos and crises of any generation. For Mary it was the realization that she could accept with grace and humility the gift of Jesus as she proclaims ‘my soul magnifies the lord’. For each one of us it is coming to terms with the truth that God calls each of us to accept the gift we have and are… for the benefit of all.

So often we neglect or hide from the truth… that we are called, chosen and redeemed. That we all have a role to offer in the move toward a more peaceable world. Being open to joy and accepting that from others we meet,  may very well place all of us in frame of mind and spirit to receive jo. It is also good to remember that when God’s angel appeared to Joseph, Mary, Zacchaeus, and the shepherds the first response was fear, and the second joy.

So..here we are at the right time and place, strategically placed to be messengers of joy. How great is that, humm.

Sermon for Dec. 6, 2020

Sermon for December 6, 2020          Second of Advent       “Speak Tenderly”

This week we have the intersection of speaking tenderly and a voice shouting in the wilderness. In my musings about the texts from Isaiah and Mark I am left with the distinct feeling that these are exactly the correct voices for us to hear at this time.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem says Isaiah for her years of anguish are coming to an end. The people can relax and not live in fear. Hope and peace will be the language heard in the land. I can imagine how soothing that proclamation must have been for the people. For a people that lived in a constant state of being held captive and being free these words of solace in a time of upheaval would have been welcome.

In our day, thousands of years later we too are comforted by the words that open the possibility of a new time following this year of upheaval and worry and stress. The tender words of ‘a vaccine is coming’ offer that glimmer of hope into what has seems like a long year of fog and storm and disarray. We are beginning to hold out hope that this year will not be repeated. We may even be thinking of how we will retell the stories of this year to the generations yet unborn.

At the very same time the people hear the prophet proclaim with shout and fanfare ‘make straight the highway for our God’ This voice seems to come out on nowhere and yet seems everywhere. Its meaning does not have an attached operational plan that can be held up with certainty. It is the way of the human condition that we crave detailed plans in the midst of crises. Little did the people of Isaiah’s time know that the wait for the revelation of the plan was going to take thousands of years. And yet they held with fierce tenacity, to that hope for the Messiah.

We have lived for more than 2000 years knowing with certainty that the promise is fulfilled. That the Messiah was born and continues to have impact for our lives and our world. So we may wonder what: “make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together” means for our day?

I am beginning to understand that image is as varied as are the people who believe in Jesus. For some it is an economic level playing field, for others it keeping the status quo, for some it is holding on to status or standing for others it is breaking a glass ceiling, for some it is land justice and for some it means holding onto land, for some it is climate for others extracting resources and the list goes on and on.

For me, at least for these days, the image is a nudge or even a sudden wake up call to live with equity and good intention to make correct the ways that our ancestors treated neighbours. We could argue that it was never right or biblical to miss-treat others. Each generation believes they are more enlightened than the past ones and corrections are made. In our day it is the work of gender equality, recognizing the scope of gender identity and working at setting aside stereotypes and prejudices about people. It is also the hard work of sustaining our home –planet earth- so that this creation remains as a habitat for all living creatures and fauna.

It is also about our internal landscape. The tending to our spirit and soul, working to set aside assumptions and stereotypes that impede our potential and that of others. It is the understanding the teachings of Jesus for our day and being a herald of and not an impediment to the Glory of God being revealed.

The image is an apt one as some will need to be lifted up and others brought low and all learn respect for each other and God. Making the way straight is not a call to sameness it is a call to human and earth justice that will herald the Messiah, in our case for the second time. Speaking tenderly is the language of heart and spirit that is more powerful at sway than a crashing cymbal or noisy gong. It is the voice that influences the heart and that allows the heart to speak to the brain and mind to try new routes and methods.

We cannot idle in this intersection for long. The voice of Isaiah and of John the Baptizer are a call to action, to get on with the work enabling the teachings of the Messiah to work for all. As we move ever closer to the arrival of the Messiah may we, with tender zeal be the ones who are beacons of hope and peace for another.

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