St. Mark's United Church

Believe Belong Become



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. 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.

Sermon for November 22, 2020

Sermon for November 22, 2020                    Reign of Christ                        “Of Your Faith”

It is not Survivor or a scavenger hunt. Just because you get to the alter, wave your hands in the air proclaiming your sinfulness and have someone smack you on the forehead and declare that you are saved, does not mean you are.

The journey of faith is intensely personal and deeply communal and is rooted only in the love that God through Jesus has for each one. Any church, including this one or even the United Church, that declares they are the one and only true faith and hold the only real path to salvation are proclaiming a lie. No mortal being can make the assertion that you are saved. That is entrusted to God.

Perhaps a refresh on the teaching from Ephesians is timely; “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

This is the Reign of Christ Sunday and marks the last Sunday in the liturgical year. Next week we begin Advent and our journey to Bethlehem. For today we celebrate that Jesus is an ever present presence in our lives and we shout our praise. Well as much as allowed in these COVID-19 times.

Coming to the place of having faith in Jesus is not the end and we can move onto something else or rest on our laurels. Each day of faith is a new beginning, a new opportunity to seek insights and teachings and ways to be the faithful within our sphere of influence. And for each person it will be different. Some sing, some are farmers, some bake, some teach some deliver, some heal, some clean, some aide and some pray. On any given day we may have the capacity for one or two or more activities based on the nudging of our faith, and some days all we can manage is quiet and prayer. And Jesus says ’it is enough’.

What we do not boast of, is our rightness, our absolute certainty that my way is the only way. The Reign of Christ is a celebration of all the ways and paths that people come to faith, that people come to acknowledge Jesus is Lord, saviour, teacher and friend.

John Cole in his commentary on this text offers this insight: “Note this important shift, in verse 12 he begins by speaking of ‘we, who were the first to set our hope in Christ’. Then in verse 15 he says, ’I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus’ when he sets up his prayer. In this, he is both acknowledging our ultimate hope in Christ and reminding believers that we have not yet completed our task. The prayer is not a victory dance for those who have arrived but a clarion call to live a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called, to exhibit the body of Christ as God’s called people…Here is evidence that salvation does not involve joining the club of the saved but is, rather, an invitation to a role in Christ’s ongoing work of salvation and reconciliation, as the dividing walls continue to fall. The reign of Christ has granted him dominion over all cosmic powers and control that extends into the coming age.”

And that brings me right back to the beginning of the teaching, ‘I have heard of your faith in Jesus’. You, you gathered here this day, you are the ones entrusted with the message and mission of Jesus. That work is not complete. And whether you are new to faith or older, whether you come to faith from hitting the bottom or the gentle nurture of family, you, yes you are called, named and chosen to be the ones working toward the outpouring of love, compassion and redemption right where you are.

Jesus has heard of your faith and is well pleased.

Sermon for November 15, 2020

Sermon for November 15, 2020        24th after Pentecost    “A Precious Gift”

Remembering that the best things in life aren’t things, I am going to look at gifts from the perspective of two very different texts.

I chose the Judges text because it introduces us to Deborah. Deborah ranks among the most famous women of the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament. Not only known for her wisdom, but Deborah was also known for her courage. She is the only woman of the Hebrew Bible who gained renown on her own merit, not because of her relationship to a man.

She was truly remarkable: a judge, a military strategist, a poet, and a prophet. Deborah was only one of four women designated as a prophet in the Hebrew Bible, and as such, she was said to transmit the word and the will of God. Although Deborah wasn’t a priestess who offered sacrifices, she did lead public worship services. Apart from this brief insight into her life we know little about her. Even the mention of her husband is suspect for Lappidoth can also mean torch bearer which became her emblem, but we just do not know for sure.

For women more than 3000 years ago and even today Deborah is a role model and a precious gift to all people.

The Gospel teaching places the stewards and the call to care in the same place. As we step back and view the complete story we see that receiving and giving are a linked aspect of our faith. Hiding and withholding are aspects of our ego and not part of God’s greater plan for the people or the world.

For the past weeks I have using the wording of Jesus that says: ‘you are named, called and chosen, you are mine’, to remind you that in these days especially you are noticed by God. For God has given each of you a gift, each gift is specially chosen for you and your abilities. I am thankful that every person has a differing gift.

The teaching is about how we use that gift. Do we keep it to our self, considering it too precious to be shared? Do we only bring it out on special occasions? Or do we nurture and use the gift with glorious abandon.

One of the gifts we all have in some measure is the gift of song. During these COVID-19 days in worship our voices are silenced. We do however have the gift of song from others. What has not been silenced is our gratitude. Whether applause for the hearing or hands waving for the hearing impaired, this gift of gratitude does not spread the virus.

From my vantage point at St. Mark’s is see and witness your care, compassion, generosity and spirit in full view for the benefit of others and in fulfilling our Christ give ministry. And I am humbled.   As we move into the Advent and Christmas season we will be asked again to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to check in on the sick and challenged, to offer hospitality to the traveler and in doing this, proclaim the year of the Lord. I will not be surprised by the sharing of our gifts as we reach out to others. And I will clap and shout silently as generosity is witnessed.

Sermon for November 1, 2020

Sermon for November 1, 2020                      All Saints Day The Saints Among Us

But now thus says the Lord, God who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43.1)

To know in the deepest part of your knowing that you are called, chosen and redeemed elevates you to the status of ‘saint among us’. But the often asked question is how do I know? The easy answer is; you will know in your heart.

I know people who have had a real experience of Jesus standing before them call them to a course of action. I know people who opened their heart and allowed Jesus in, I know people who came to Jesus kicking and screaming after years of resisting, I know people who just by the way they live open themselves to God and all sorts in-between. For me the journey to Jesus was a slow steady one nurtured by many. The assurance of faith is a gift of my mother and the curiosity of faith a gift from my father. There have been many saints who have and continue to nurture and nudge my faith. Two that stand out are; Eric Fullerton a minister from my childhood and Gordon Cann who was my minister while I was pursuing my call and is my mentor.

It seems to me that there are a variety of styles of saints in our lives. Before I get too far ahead of myself different denominations have differing views on saints. Some traditions name saints because of their work and demonstrated miracles, others do not believe in naming saints and others name people because of their extraordinary ministry in challenging times. Desmond Tutu or Martin Luther King Jr. will never be named as saints but their steadfastness to God in times of extreme danger has caused their life’s work to be a beacon of faith and hope to many.

So it is on all saint’s day that we hear the words of Revelation that says: After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

The invitation is for all to be part of the Jesus movement. Some are on board right away and without hesitation, for others it takes some time and some will never get there. What I know for sure is that I am not the evaluator of who is in or not. That role remains solely with Jesus, thanks be.

As part of the invitation Jesus offers a welcome that is completely inclusive: are you poor, do you mourn, are you meek, do you hunger and thirst, are you merciful, and you pure, are you a peacemaker, are you persecuted, are you ridiculed and left out? There are many pathways that lead to Jesus, as many as there are people. And these simple beatitudes begin to make sense as we experience Jesus calling us by name. Logic, reason, principle or formula will not unlock the wonder of Jesus, your heart does. Then faith will enter and unlock your all, for the ministry of Jesus.

In the word of the hymn penned by Daniel Charles Damon our heart hears:

“I have called you by your name, you are mine; I have gifted you and ask you now to shine.

I will not abandon you; all my promises are true. You are gifted, called, and chosen; you are mine.

I have given you a name, it is mine; I have given you my Spirit as a sign. With my wonder in your soul, make my wounded children whole; go and tell my precious people they are mine. You are gifted, called, and chosen; you are mine.”

Sermon for October 25, 2020

Sermon for October 25, 2020      Twenty-first after Pentecost      Living into the Greatest Commandment

I believe it true, that one on the universal constants is; change happens. Sometimes it is dramatic and by times it is generational. Change is one of the few things that stays the same. Looking back over the expanse of time of the Hebrew people as recorded in the First Testament we see with clarity that many things changed. From the Garden of Eden to the promised land, from leader to leader, from understanding of Yahweh, and even God was moved to change an action from time to time.

From the span of one person’s life the change was not obvious and so we often hear that leaders and even God are stubborn and unmoving. As the people of Israel arrived at the edge of the promised land the only constant in the collective memory was travelling. Being a settled and stationary people was a distant memory told in story about days long ago.

In the Exodus reading the people of the day experience a dramatic change. We hear of the death of Moses; the only leader these people have ever known. They stand gazing at the Promised Land and a new leader is named in the person of Joshua.

In the reading today, which is essentially the same as last week’s reading but this time in Matthew not Luke. We hear that change is about to happen. The people are standing on the edge of the promised land (so to speak) and there is fear.

The teaching for today begins with the failure of the Sadducees to silence Jesus so the Pharisees have a go at it. They ask; what is the greatest command in the law? Those last three words are important for the Pharisees and Sadducees held to the firm belief that the law was God and God was the law, there was no separation of the two.

Jesus’ answer ushers in a seismic shift/change in the understanding of God. “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”

Yeah…correct answer, bravo you got it right…and just as the applause started Jesus said “and there is a second…”you shall love your neighbour as yourself”. This is when the Pharisees’ mouths flutter like guppies, they look at one another and stutter for words. In this moment the rigid, stoic boxed in God of their world is broken open. All of a sudden God is about heart and love and others. All of a sudden the sterile certainty of God is messy and available and unpredictable.

Now before we get too puffed up, we have positions to unlearn before we can live into the hard work of loving God and neighbour. At some point long ago white folk decided that people of colour were commodity, for work and enslavement. When Europeans bumped into North America or Turtle Island they thought that those here were not worthy. In Canada, religious educators forced the people of the land into schools so that they could become more ‘white’ and educated and well more like them. It can be argued in limited fashion that this was done with the best of intentions but that falls flat very quickly. In our day, we know better, we know all people are created in the image and likeness of God, that all people have value, that creation is worth being cared for and even saved. And yet there is a staggeringly large proportion of folks who are unwilling to learn this truth about the nature of God.

God spent thousands of years travelling with the people of Israel, then God relented and allowed King Solomon to build a temple but never imagined that the people would put God inside and lock the door. Since then God has been trying to convince us that that did not work, even to the point of sending Jesus to show us that God was not in that box. And still we are most comfortable with ‘God in a Box’ so that we can define and limit God according to our ego and version.

There are many teachings that unbind God and chasten us to let God out of the box and to actually seal and lock the doors once God is out. But for now listen to these two pivotal and expansive teachings of Jesus; God loves us so much that God sent the Messiah/Jesus to break open our restrictive understanding of God, and Love God with all your heart, mind, body and spirit and extend that love to your neighbour. Our fear of what happens next is over-compensated for by the extreme love of God. It seems to me that when we break free of our strictly and tightly held idea of God…then we are able to begin living into the Greatest teaching of God and Jesus.

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