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Palm Sunday sermon 2019

Sermon for Sunday April 14, 2019     Palm Sunday              “Jesus, Jesus He’s our Man…”

 

I suspect that you have seen and completed the puzzles that require you to find the differences in two pictures that at a glance appear the same. What’s missing or what’s added, they say there are six of them, can you find them all?

Maybe you grew up like I did, in a church where Palm Sunday was one of the most fun times in the year. It didn’t have presents like Christmas but it did have palms and it was one Sunday when we children were not only invited into the sanctuary but allowed to be a little rowdy. Who would have thought our Sunday School class would have to be told to be louder when we shouted Hosanna? So we come to Palm Sunday, perhaps with that vision in mind; we’ve heard this story. We know: Jesus, palms, crowds, hosanna. But to truly hear Luke’s version of this story, the one we read today, begin by noticing what isn’t there: no palms, no children, no hosanna. Perhaps if we notice what isn’t there and clear it away, we will be ready to see what is there. That’s our job today: see what Luke shows us, understand what God means, consider what to do about it.

Jesus has been on the way to Jerusalem for a long time. Along the way, he told his friends that it would mean martyrdom, a cross, death, suffering but that they should believe as he did in God’s power to give life, in God’s love beyond life and death. Everything in the gospels says they didn’t believe him. When he first tells them, Peter himself says he didn’t believe it and argued with Jesus. James and John are arguing about the power structure of the new administration of King Jesus right up to the very end, to the point where he has to tell them to stop.

Jerusalem is on top of a small mountain, Mount Zion The road up to it is windy and switches back and forth. At Passover, people came from all over to the city, so it would have been crowded. Jesus and his disciples and followers are peasants and so are most of the people around them. They don’t have special clothes for this special time; peasants wore a sort of undergarment and a cloak. The cloak was valuable enough to pawn for a day’s food, important enough that there was a law that the pawnbroker couldn’t keep the cloak overnight. They’re often pictured marching like a military unit, lined up behind Jesus with crowds on either side but that’s a mistake. Jesus and his friends are part of a larger procession of pilgrims to the city.

Now they come to the Mount of Olives. It’s where Jesus will go after the last supper, where he will pray, where he will be arrested. There are really two processions going on here. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is everyone else, walking toward victory, marching toward worldly success.

As they move along, Jesus sends some disciples off to acquire a colt. And he gives them a coded phrase: “The Lord has need of it.” Now the word ‘Lord’ has a double meaning. It could mean the owner of the donkey but it’s also the word most often used to describe Jesus. The way he instructs them is strange: “If someone asks why you are untying it…” Just say, ‘the Lord has need of it’ In the event, when they untie the colt, it’s the owner himself who confronts them. Sometimes when this is preached, explanations are created about how Jesus had prearranged for the colt. We don’t really know, but if he had done so, why are the owners asking what they’re doing? “The Lord has need of it,” they say. Here ‘Lord’ clearly means Jesus. The owner must have faced a difficult choice. A colt is valuable. Here, he’s confronted with a choice; what would you do? “The Lord has need of it.”

What we call the Palm Procession really begins with this colt. When they bring it back, they throw their cloaks, their valuable cloaks, on it to make a saddle and it says “…they put Jesus on it. He doesn’t climb on, he doesn’t mount up, like the Spirit whooshing him off to the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, his friends put him up on that colt. Suddenly people must have looked and suddenly he’s become a symbol and suddenly he’s mocking all the pageantry of the marching Romans and soldiers, coming to Jerusalem. Coming mounted, as they are, but on a colt. People must have noticed and remembered that the prophet Zechariah had said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” [Zechariah 9:9] There are two processions here. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is everyone else, walking toward victory, marching toward worldly success. One is led by people proud of their power; one by a man rocking humbly on a colt. One is led by people determined to deal death to make power; one is led by someone who believes life can overcome death.

The crowd notices; people are inspired. They take off their cloaks and throw them down. We call it Palm Sunday but there are no palms, no branches cut from trees. The cloaks they are throwing down are for some their most valuable possession. Like the owners of the colt, they have heard, “The Lord has need of it” and give more than what they have—they give what they are. For it’s dangerous to celebrate this prophet. This is exactly the kind of demonstration those soldiers are meant to stop. Just as some Pharisees had warned Jesus that Herod was trying to kill him, now they warn him to make his followers be quiet, to stop this dangerous demonstration. Jesus simply says; it can’t be stopped: if they stop, creation itself will take up the cry.

What is it they are shouting? We all grew up shouting hosanna, which means “Save us”. I’ve led countless services over the years where we had people shout, where we waved palms, I’ve done it here.    Notice the details in this account, because each account has something to say. In this one, it’s not Hosanna they shout, it’s “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” We’ve heard that, or something very much like that before, haven’t we? It’s like the lines to an old song, the kind that can drive you crazy trying to remember, or the one that just won’t leave your head. Where did we hear it? What’s the title? Who’s the singer? We heard it on Christmas Eve. Its title is the Advent, the birth, of Christ. It’s the song of the angels. We have circled back to Christmas; we have circled back to Jesus.

In this story, it’s the people around him who move the story forward: the owner of the colt, who gives it when the Lord has need of it, the friends who make a saddle of their cloaks, because the Lord has need of them, the people who don’t even know Jesus yet, lay down their cloaks because somehow they too sense the Lord has need of them.

What are we to do about all this? Every one of us eventually faces a moment when we sense the Lord has need of something. We’ve been talking throughout Lent about covenant. Perhaps the greatest need of all, is for us simply to believe Jesus, listen to him, and build our life together around what he says instead of what we think. Who we are is God’s children; who we are is people meant to sing songs of praise like the ones around Jesus. What the Lord needs isn’t just what we have: it’s who we are. If we don’t sing the song of salvation, it’s left to the stones. God will make a way, God is making a way, and we are meant to be that way.

This is Palm Sunday and it is about a procession but there are really two processions. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is those walking toward popularity, marching toward worldly success. Which one are you marching in? The one you give when the moment comes and the Spirit ask: “The Lord has need of it.”

 

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.

Sermon for September 2, 2018

Sermon for September 2, 2018                   15 after Pentecost           “Not Letting Go”

When Nelson Mandela was a young man, he was determined to change the course of South African politics and the oppression of Apartheid. The correct way, at the time, was to meet force with force. For many years that was the way. One day he was arrested and sent to prison and there he was for 27 years. There he learned a new way and learned to let go of the former way. After he was released, he started a peaceful movement to heal his homeland. It was in that letting go of conviction that force must be met with force, that life was restored for himself, his nation and set an example for the world.

Jesus spent 30 of his 33 years living and working in and around Nazareth most likely as a carpenter. Biblical historians believe he was content with his life and community. One day he let all that go as he headed toward Jerusalem and the Jordon River. It was in the letting go that brought forth the teachings and wisdom of Jesus that inspires and informs even today.

The Gospel teaching today is about clinging to the past at the risk of not living today. At issue in not the washing of hands but the setting aside of justice seeking and tending to the marginalized. The Elders had fallen into the belief that if they followed the rules and rituals then they were being faithful. What was slowly lost was compassion for the people. They became guardians of the rule and not caretakers of the mind, body or spirit. The simple message of Jesus for us today is; what are we hanging on to so tightly that abundant life alludes us and those around us? And it’s companion; what is it that we need to let go of to make way for truly spirit filled living?

Jesus reminds us today that following rules is important but tending to the hearts of people is more important. Now I like rules mostly when I am driving. For example when folks come in the lower parking lot, or when people stop while making a right hand turn from Westmoreland to Lock Lomond. At the end of the day though I get to where I am going.

St. Mark’s has rules or at least practices that make sense to some and not so much to others. Jesus reminds us that it is the human connection that is vital and important, not that I miss a hymn or mess up the order of worship. If our practice hinders me or another from fully participating in the life of our church then it is our perception of rules and practices that need challenging.

This is Labour Day weekend, a time to remember the long history of labour and the work that is emerging. Even there things changed, from workers being not more than slaves to the wealthy owners and aristocrats to workers having a place of esteem and worth. There was change and hearts and minds had to change, some easily some not so much so. It is important that we give the early champions of labour their due and continue to seek ways to make the relationship between labour and management advantageous to all.

All this being said the essential truth of Jesus to love one another, to do justice and show mercy is not debatable how we go about that may change over time but to do it does not. If the great teachings of Jesus to the Christian church and the world are melted down to “whatever feels right at the time”, then we are in grave danger of extinction. As we move into a time of planning and visioning at St. Mark’s we are committed to holding to the core teaching of Jesus and at the same time inviting ourselves to let go of those things that no longer serve us well. This summer, Kathy and I saw the movie “Winnie the Pooh”. There is great wisdom that come from that wee bear. There is a scene where Pooh is sitting on a log contemplating what to do and he says: “well, I suppose if I’m to go somewhere I’ll have to leave where I’m at”. Indeed, if we are to get somewhere we have to let go of some practices, words, rules that no longer serve our vision. We say thanks to the ways they have served us well in the past, let them go and then live into new and even scary ways of being, that will in time have to change again. The teaching of Jesus to love one another especially those that do not love you is what we cling to. How we do that has, has to and will change. Pooh’s wisdom is both spatial and spiritual, for we will have to leave where we are to get where Jesus is calling.

July 1, 2018 Sermon

Sermon for July 1, 2018                  Sixth of Pentecost           “If Only I Could…”

The two healing stories in Mark’s Gospel are woven together for hope, impact, challenge and faith. At first reading they show the mercy and awareness of Jesus and his desire for healing, wellness and life. As the layers are peeled back we are exposed to even greater learnings and insights.

The first story tells of a man of privilege and place in society and church. Jairus represents order, status quo, the ‘true’ faith, and yet here he is talking with Jesus about his daughter. The love for his daughter outweighs any disturbance to his faith beliefs. On his way, Jairus is informed that his daughter has died so why bother Jesus further. Jesus continues to their home and takes Jairus, his wife and the disciples into the little girl’s room. Taking her by the hand, he says: Talitha cum which means ‘little girl get up’. She got up, they were amazed, Jesus asked them to tell no one and to get her something to eat. Hope is deepened and life is restored.

The second healing tells of a women hemorrhaging for twelve years. An outcast, unclean and unwanted, she had gone from doctor to doctor and spent all she had. She was in the crowd as Jesus was travelling to Jarius’ house and only wanted to touch the cloak of Jesus. As soon as she did, she was healed. Jesus felt the healing power flow through him and asked ‘who touched me?’ the woman confessed to touching him and Jesus reply is ‘your faith has made you well’.

For as much as two are healed in this story, many are not. I have sat with and prayed with many families for healing. In my whole career, healing has happened once. All the other times I have conducted a celebration of life, cared for grieving families, and loved ones. In Jesus day and ours some are healed and some are not, it just is and I do not think there is any real explanation and it is certainly not because one had more faith than another did.

The characters in the stories could not be more different. Jarius the man of privilege and named, and an outcast woman, un-named. The common factor is that they both seek out Jesus. Seeking Jesus is what started the journey, surprise is how it ended. How true is that still today.

The man is privileged and has position, the woman has for the past 12 years been bleeding her life force, all her spirit and energy gone. He approaches Jesus from a perspective of power, the woman from the position of outcast. Jesus treats them with the same dignity and respect. Beverly ZInck-Sawyer comments: “ Both victims of illness are female and ritually unclean, one as a result of death and one as a result of hemorrhage; both represent the significance of the number twelve in Jewish tradition (the twelve years of hemorrhage and the twelve year old girl); and both are regarded as daughters (the little girl being Jairus’s daughter and the woman is addressed by Jesus as Daughter). An act of touch restores both women to new life even as those surrounding them lack understanding.”

The question then and now is who has access to Jesus? I know the easy answer is everyone but is that really true. If Jesus were invited to Saint John who do you think would be the first invited? Then the next and the next and then the last. Would we get an invite. I raise this to get us thinking about status and privilege. Let me be clear that if Jesus came to Saint John, I think he would be with the poor and displaced and would outright reject the invitation to a ‘black tie’ event at the convention centre. And if Jesus came to town what lengths would we go to get a glimpse of him or to touch the hem of his garment.

How often do we say ‘if only’ and then leap into the next task.

Time to stop. Stop the ‘what if’ and come to the full realization that Jesus is here. Jesus is in you, Jesus is in me, Jesus is where ever two are gathered in his name. That is a powerful presence. I watched a wonderful face-book video where a teacher was teaching value of self and others. He asked the students to pair up, look the other in the eye and tell the other a truth. Then he asked them to look each other in the eye and say ‘I see me in you’. Barriers clattered to the floor like confetti at a wedding. There were tears and hugs as it began to dawn on these youngsters that they are connected at a heart and spirit level and not by status, looks, colour, or clothes.

In the Gospel story, both Jairus and the woman seek out Jesus from their own place in society. Jesus responds to both with love and compassion and both are not only healed but made well. Mind, body, spirit and heart are brought into alignment with the love of God.

This image of healing and wellness has added a layer to what makes a family of faith, a church, worship vital. Michael Lindvall offers this thought, which I agree with. “We are, in fact, shaped and made human in relationship to other persons. Our relationships: in the church, in friendships and in marriage, are not just something extra added on to life for distractions and entertainment, as if we would be complete human beings in individual isolation. Relationship, ‘touch’ if you will, makes us human and whole. As the contemporary Scottish philosopher John Macmurray on phrase it, ‘I need you in order to be myself’.”

For me and I hope for us, all this starts because we started seeking Jesus and have never stopped. Amen.

June 24, 2018 Sermon

Sermon for June 24, 2018              Fifth of Pentecost            “Who Then is This?”

In the Gospel story of Jesus calming the waters, we have Jesus wanting to get some rest after a busy day. His disciples get into a boat with Jesus and head to a quiet spot on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  A storm suddenly rocks the boat. They wake Jesus and ask; do you not care that we are about to perish? Jesus calms the waters and asks the disciples why they were afraid. Then disciples are terrified (some versions say ‘awed’) and say to themselves; who then is this.

When I step back and take a longer look at this story there are some interesting bits that emerge. I know that at least three of the disciples are fishers and fished the Sea of Galilee. I expect that most of the disciples are familiar with fishing on the Sea. Jesus grew up in Nazareth a town nestled in the valley with no Sea, so in our language a ‘landlubber’. So when the Sea whips into a frenzy, as it is known to do, Jesus sleeps and the experienced fishers are fearing for their lives.

When they wake Jesus, he calms the storm and wonders aloud why the disciples are afraid. It is at this point that the disciples are terrified.

Another interesting aspect is that all the waters were calmed so all the boats and people in them were suddenly in calm waters. Jesus then is the teacher for all who come near his influence and the Saviour for those who listen and are inspired by His teaching. Jesus did not calm the waters just around his little boat but for the whole sea. We are not privy to the comments on the other boats but I am sure there was speculation going on as to what exactly happened. I also suspect that when the disciples landed they spread the news of what Jesus had done.

I think that image is vital and essential to understanding Jesus but is only part of the truth of this story.

At least three of the disciples are seasoned fishers, they were afraid for their lives, and so it goes that the others would also have a heightened level of fear. All the while Jesus is sleeping in the back of the boat. In our personal and church life, there are often times when we are afraid. That our world is rocked. In some of these moments, we have the capacity to draw on a strength we did not know we had and that is a great personal learning. In the case of the disciples, they did not gather to devise a strategy; they did not try to solve the problem of the wind and waves. They woke up Jesus. Jesus calmed the wind and waves and the anxiety of the disciples.

There are times when all our cleverness and ability do not solve the problem or our problem. It is in these moments that we, like the disciples, turn to Jesus. Jesus then has the capacity to, in love, offer perspective to the problem, to calm the stormy seas, or make the calm seas stormy. And we are thankful that Jesus is our Saviour.

The part of the story that I find fascinating is at the end. It is after the calming of the storm that the disciples are terrified/awed and exclaim: who then is this! That even the wind and waves obey. Did you get that? After the wind and waves, the anxiety of the disciples is calmed, then they are terrified. It is perhaps the most poignant moment of insight and understanding for the disciples, that they now know their lives have and will be, forever changed.

When placed side by side, believing in Jesus, and heeding his call to be about mission I have a feeling that we are most terrified about the latter. For the first we may have a sense that we will get our hands dirty and our hearts opened but for the latter we have no doubt. That terrifies us, at least it should for we come face to face with knowing that Jesus places in our hands the wellbeing of our neighbours and creation.

I wondered what constitutes a community of faith this week. Here is where I am at with my ever-evolving understanding; we are a group of individuals whose lives have and are being transformed by the glorious love of Jesus. We gather so that our unique skills and gifts can be combined for greater benefit to the mission of Jesus. We gather so that we can be encouraged by each other’s transformation and come to the humble realization that our lives are being transformed.  Like the disciples, we have work to do individually or in small groups, and we have work that requires us all.

It is after Jesus touches our heart with love that we are awed or terrified. Like the first disciples, we follow Jesus and there is no thought of turning back. The ending of the United Church’s Statement of faith rings clearer with sharper focus in light of this story: we are not alone, we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God.

Sermon for June 17, 2018 the fourth of Pentecost

Sermon for June 17, 2018      4th after Pentecost       “Little Things Mean A Lot”

I tell you the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, it is tiny and apparently insignificant but when planted grows to be a bush large enough for birds to nest.

Parables being parables have many meanings. The truth remains consistent but time and context add insight and new understanding. Jesus told the parable to help the people understand that the Kingdom of heaven is not what they expect. The kingdom is found in small, seemingly insignificant moments and things, yes like a mustard seed. It brings to focus the teachings of Jesus: the first shall be last, the least shall be the greatest, two mites are more than that given from excess, a seed must die to live, I must die so that all might live and have eternal life. This teaching was new, difficult and hard to imagine then and it is no easier now.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the Princess and the pea, or the grain of sand in the oyster. Perhaps you have been walking and had an annoying rock in your shoe or sandal? When you finally stop to shake it out, you are amazed that the annoying bit was not much bigger than a grain of sand, where you thought a small boulder would fall out. Little things matter. But let’s not just assume that they are there to annoy. Little things matter to make life richer , more meaningful and beautiful. Have you smiled at someone, have you bought a coffee for someone or someone did the same for you, did you get a call or email, did someone pick up the change you dropped and returned it. Has someone done some small thing that meant the world to you? Have you done the same?

Kathy reminded me of a story titled ‘Two Coffees’ where a young man in line buys the coffee for the man behind him in line. It seemed like no big deal but the older man was deeply appreciative. Some months later, they happened to be in the same place at the same time. The older man stopped the younger and recounted the story. He said he was going to see his wife in the hospital where she was being treated for cancer and the outlook was grim. He was feeling depressed and angry. You bought a coffee and in that instant my spirits were lifted and hope shined through. Thank you he said. The younger man was moved to tears that a random meeting and a $2 coffee would mean so much.

Jesus reminds us in this parable that we are the small thing for another.

The story does not end there. For Jesus is telling the parable as biography. I am the mustard seed and to grow into something grander I must die so that I can be more. A hard lesson for the first followers and for us in the 21st century. Jesus says repeatedly that I will die and rise again on the third day, the temple will be destroyed and I will rebuild it in three days. Jesus is the mustard seed that dies so that all might have life and life in abundance.

We are living in an age of staggering ‘me first’ and ultra-protectionism and if I have learned anything from history, those two false beliefs held together as a truth are dangerous and destructive. Through the ages, people have believed that Jews were evil, blacks were an abomination to God, that women were not persons under the law, that those who are LGBTQ are to be outcast and that Muslims are terrorists. These are false truths proclaimed as true so that some can be perceived as better. The first and best teaching of Jesus is: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, love yourself and love others. Jesus died so that we might come to a better understanding of this truth.

The message of Jesus might seem like a small thing in the world as it is now. I believe that God will not let the seed of love die in the ground in the 21st century. I believe that God has planted that small seed in all of us who believe Jesus is Saviour and it will, through our small actions cause the calloused hearts and closed minds to be opened.

I would like to share one of my favorite poems with you again. Dawna Markova is the author.

“I will not die an unlived life, I will not not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance, to live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom. And that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit”

 

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