St. Mark's United Church

Believe Belong Become



Sermon for August 28, 2022

Sermon for August 28, 2022  Twelfth after Pentecost          “Faith’s ladder of success”

The Hebrew’s teaching to love and care for one another and to show hospitality, echo’s an ages old truth that we just never know who we entertain when we extend hospitality. There is an ancient story about a couple who did not have much and when strangers happened by their tent they shared what little they had. As it turns out these strangers were messengers of God and indicated that Abraham and Sarah would have a child. Remember, Sarah laughed, and so would we if we were in our 80’s. Little did they know that they would be the mother and father of three major world religions.

The Hebrew text reminds us to offer hospitality to strangers, for by doing some have entertained angels without even knowing. How often have we helped at food bank, soup kitchen, breakfast program or shelter and arrived home knowing in our heart and soul that we received so much more that we gave?

The teaching goes on to encourage us who are already followers of Jesus to keep telling the stories, to share and show the value of faith to our children. To not lose heart when our efforts fall are un-listening ears and hearts, our role to is be persistent. Leave to opening of ears and hearts to God.

The Gospel teaching continues on with trying to understand the meaning of Sabbath, in Jesus day and in ours. Last week we heard the biblical challenges to Sabbath. From Genesis; on the seventh day God rested and called the day holy, in Exodus; you shall do nothing on the Sabbath and in Deuteronomy; you shall honour the Sabbath but not cease from what is essential and from extending hospitality. For centuries the leading Rabbi’s wanted strict adherence to the law as it gave them leverage over the people. The Rabbis were as ruthless with taxing as were the Romans. The only people who gained on this Holy Day were the Romans and the Rabbis and Jesus was convinced that was not what God intended.

And we hear today that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, further infuriating the ones who wanted God in a box. Jesus goes on to teach by saying when you arrive at a party do not think too highly of yourself lest you made the fool of in public. And when you have a party do not just invite those who can repay, rather invite all. Yes all, the poor, the lame, the homeless and yes even the one who dares do a healing on the Sabbath.

For today we are reminded to love and care for one another and to extend hospitality extravagantly. So when we say ‘all are welcome’ that means everyone; the found and the seeking, the young and the aged, the hockey player and figure skater, the well dressed and those in the best they have. Let me leave you with a story:

There’s an ancient story about a monastery where all the monks were old, tired and waiting to die. They’d lost their fire for the Lord and had long since ceased to really care about their fellow brothers. Although they shared the same living space, prayed together, ate together, and worked together, each monk lived in his own world with heart and mind turned inward. 2 No one came to the monastery. There were no visitors, and no new brothers. The buildings were sadly in need of repair, but the monks didn’t care. They felt it wasn’t long until there’d be no monastery at all. Everything would return to dust. Then one day, a holy man visited them. He was a monk himself. For a time he lived with the old brothers, prayed with them talked with them, worked, ate, and slept with them. He was wise and loving. The brothers turned their hearts and minds outward and listened to him. When the time came for him to leave, this holy man stood before the brothers who were bidding him farewell and wished them God’s peace. Some of the monks shook their heads sadly; there’s nothing here for us now that you’re going, they thought. But the visitor’s last words to them were: “Christ dwells in your midst.” Then he walked away. Well, the brothers were quite astonished. They looked at one another with surprise. Which one of them could be the Christ? Surely not Brother William, who never arrived at the chapel on time and never did his work either, for that matter; surely not Brother Mark, who annoyingly slurped his soup; surely not the Abbot, who was always gruff with everyone. Christ wouldn’t be late for chapel, or neglect his work, or slurp his soup, or be gruff! 3 Yet their visitor was a holy and reliable man who had spoken the truth to them the whole time he was in their company. This too must be true. One among them must be Christ! So each of the monks began to treat the other as if he were Christ, for they didn’t know who it was. They looked for ways to serve one another and were kind to one another and shared with one another. Each did his work as a gift to the Christ who was among them. Each honored his fellow monk by listening with full attention and respect. They began to overlook little things that had annoyed them about one another and began instead to see the good that was in every person. Life began to flow back into the dying community. A vitality and joy was reborn that had been lost for many years. The people of the town nearby learned that something had changed at the monastery. In curiosity they came, and in love they were received. Each was graciously welcomed and made to feel at home. Every effort was taken to care for their needs, and each monk accepted visitors as they were. Men, women, and children came to be refreshed and renewed. The brotherhood grew as men came, even from far away, to join the community. 4 All the visitors and the new brothers were treated as if they were Christ, for the wise monk had said, “One among you is Christ.”

Or to rephrase: There is an angel among us.

Sermon for August 21, 2022

Sermon for August 21, 2022              Eleventh after Pentecost        “Sabbath, rest or law?”

Speaking truth in the roar of public opinion has been the realm of prophets and prophetesses since the dawn of time. A common trait is resistance to being a spokesperson for God. Jeremiah wept. Elijah ran and hid. Hosea was discouraged and fed up. Nehemiah left the comfort of his job. Moses stuttered and Jeremiah was a boy. It’s tough! Yet, there is something that can get us through. In fact, there are three things that we might want to recall this Sunday.

The first is, God did not make a mistake in calling us to this ministry. God did thorough research and examination, even before we came into being. We were made for this work. God’s promise to not abandon us never fails. We all feel inadequate to do what God asks us to do. We give God the list of reasons why selecting us is not a good idea. Nevertheless, God does not give up on us.

Second, God handles those who stand in the way of God’s work being done. God tells Jeremiah to not let them get in the way of him doing what God told him to do. To be a prophet is to stand, no matter what. Stand in fatigue. Stand in loss. Stand in the conviction that God’s voice can shake the foundations and remind the people of God’s ways.

Third, you must trust what you see. Fatigue often gives us a sense of doubt and cowardice. God asked Jeremiah and Amos the same question? “What do you see?” He asked Jeremiah thrice, “What do you see?” Jeremiah saw a branch of an almond tree, a boiling pot, and figs, some very good and some very bad. Amos saw a plumb line and a basket of fruit. Zachariah was another prophet given the same question. He saw a lampstand of gold with its bowl for oil on top of it and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts. On another occasion, he saw a flying scroll with a length of twenty cubits and its width of ten cubits.

Like those who journeyed before we often wonder what to say when it comes to God, Jesus and faith. We wonder what will happen to the church and worship and will the church continue into another generation or two. I am not a prophet or a seer into what the future might hold. I am one who delights in the teachings of Jesus, the exploration of faith and a gentle persuader to others to faith a change. To look past the mistakes of the past and even the rigid grip on orthodoxy and see what is new for our generation in the teachings of Jesus.

In the Gospel teaching, Jesus is once again in trouble. But only because there are several understandings of what is acceptable on the Sabbath. In Genesis God ends the creation story with a Holy day of rest. In Exodus we hear ‘The Lord rests from the work of creation to bless and consecrate the Sabbath, therefore the people of Israel shall not work on the Sabbath. And in Deuteronomy the Sabbath commandment commands the people of the covenant to observe the day and keep it holy in recognition of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. In this latter meaning the people take the Sabbath as an intentional time to practice Holiness and to undertake holy work.

The rigid Rabbis and church leaders stuck in rigid orthodoxy will use law and perceived rightness, with the notation that ‘the bible says so’ to keep people under control. Jesus stance and teaching is I think, to lead people to joy. Healing a woman on the Sabbath brought on the wrath of the established Rabbis and great joy to the woman and her family and community. I wonder where Jesus would be moments after this healing?

It is a reminder on this day that we have choices. Jesus teaches us to look to this day as a day set aside to practice holiness. To experience joy. To share a meal with family and friends, to witness children playing, to nestle into creation, to lend some flour or sugar to a neighbour and to know God loves you and nudges you to holiness.

Maybe it’s time for church to learn a lesson from the fitness app folks. We try to cram in all our holiness into an hour on Sunday. My fitbit app, although it does use church language like prayer and meditation, uses words like mindfulness and stillness. And what it prompts me to do is regularly throughout the day pause for a time of mindfulness. What I find delightful even joyful is that in any workplace if you were to say ‘time for three minutes of prayer’ you would be the church freak, but if you said ‘time for three minutes of mindfulness’ you would get a thumbs up and praise. So I will not tell them the two are the same. And let God do the nudging. After all God has called, redeemed and named us to be here right now, in this time and God does not make mistakes.

Sermon for July 17, 2022

Sermon for July 17, 2022       Sixth after Pentecost              “The Right Time”

Today we are gifted with two wonderful and intriguing texts that I hope cause to ponder over for the week ahead. The first from Colossians reminds us that ‘Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created’. The idea and truth that Jesus was in the beginning, has been in history, is with the unfolding of creation today and will be into the future, is for me reassuring and calls me to live my most authentic, selfless self. The Gospel teaching in Luke’s telling of Jesus visit to Mary and Martha’s home is about shattering stereotypes and choosing the right time to practice our particular gifts.

Let me begin with an edited interpretation of biblical scholar Brian McLaren’s research on the Colossians text. We are Christian because of our bold claim in believing in Jesus. The church’s purpose is the body of Jesus Christ and our, at one time unflinching but now shy proclamation of Jesus teachings.

Brian describes the seven Jesus’ he has known: Conservative Protestant: we are sinners and Jesus died for our sins, Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus: Jesus was dramatically present in our personal lives but oddly absent from concern for the justice for all, the Roman Catholic Jesus: with its focus on liturgy and Eucharist but strangely exclusive in many of its views, Eastern Orthodox Jesus with a strong focus on the Trinity and Mystery, the Liberal Protestant Jesus with a focus on social justice that grew from a personal experience of Jesus but so often forgot about Jesus on the social justice bandwagons, and the Anabaptist Jesus with a focus on peace and non-violence and standing with the poor and oppressed.

I know that many people here today have experience in other traditions and that is a good thing. All expressions of Christianity that keep the teachings of love, inclusion and justice at the core, and proclaim Jesus in a way that is inviting and accepting are good and acceptable. We know that Jesus says ‘many will come saying ‘I am the Messiah’ and yet have undesirable motives, beware of them’ and so it critically urgent that we, in prayer and meditation and action discern the will of Jesus. It is human to want my or our way to be right, but Jesus is multi-hued in texture and people respond in differing ways. That is true of each of us and for churches.

During his ministry Jesus spent many days at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were friends and the door was always open. On this particular occasion Martha was preparing food and Mary was with the others listening to Jesus. This is one occasion where Jesus is gently trying to break down well leaned notions of gender role and who does what in a home. Jesus does not berate Martha for being in the kitchen. He reminds her that there is a time for everything and at that moment the right thing to be doing was to listen to Jesus.

The right thing to do? And when to do it? Excellent questions anytime but certainly the correct question for the church as we get further into the 21st century. For some wisdom on what is the right thing to do and when to do it read Leo Tolstoy’s ‘The Three Questions’.

Right now is our time to worship. That intentionally set apart time to gather to praise, be silent, be prayerful and be grateful. Is it the only time to worship…absolutely not. There are, right times for all sorts of things that happen in our day and we make room for the unexpected along the way.

For Jesus, it is always the right time for justice, love and compassion. He teaches us that our idea of right may not be as helpful as it was a few decades ago. He teaches us the urgency to listen intently. And in that listening open ourselves to the new way that is opening before us with wonder and yes with a bit of nervousness. But that is ok. Remember earlier today when we heard ‘Jesus was the firstborn of all creation, in him all things in heaven and earth were created’? well it’s true. What we do this day and in the days to come, with love, justice and compassion, is the work of Jesus.

Sermon for June 26, 2022

Sermon for June 26, 2022 Third After Pentecost/Anniversary “Roots and Wings”
It was with a personal commitment to faith, a zeal for proclaiming the teachings of Jesus and a long term vision that the first Methodist circuit was established in Fairville, Lancaster and surrounding areas. Our roots are in that fiery personal passion and devotion to Jesus and our wings enable us to soar by the desire to be the people of God in our time.
In his outgoing remarks as Moderator of the church Richard Bott comments: “For the longest time, probably my entire ministry or longer, the message I have heard in the church is that The United Church of Canada is dying. That’s been the narrative. My sense of call was not necessarily to be moderator. My sense of call was to stand in front of the General Council of the The United Church of Canada and say, ’this narrative is a false narrative, and we need to stop repeating it,’ if we are truly living our call as community, then what our future is doesn’t actually mater. What we’re doing matter, how we’re living matter, that whose sense of being integral. When I said what I said to the General Council, I had accomplished what I felt I had been called to do. The fact that that resonated with the General Council for whatever reason, and they asked me to be in this role, was a continuation of that call. My task has been to challenge a narrative of death and to talk about who we are as people now and who we are called to be as people living the ministry into the future.”
As we celebrate this year, not only St. Marks but most other celebrations, the overwhelming theme is…Finally! After almost three years of COVID which seemed like so much longer, we can do events in person, choosing to wear a mask or not, and even tempting a handshake or hug. These years have put on hold much of we and I hold dear in ministry, have caused us to react quickly and innovatively and have proven that we can change and adapt and thrive. It is my hope and prayer that we do not return to the restrictive COVID measures and that we can move from a place of reacting to protocols and restricting what we do, to a place of enthusiastic planning for the days and months to come.
It would I think, be a mistake to hold on to a belief that things will go back to the way they were in 1859 or 1959 or even 2009. We are on a path of continually discerning the path forward. In no way does that diminish the lessons from history but it does require us to use all the tools that worked before and the advantages that are available in the 21st century. It has always been hard work and it has always been filled with joy and faith. And the path forward will continue to be filled with work and joy, worship and wonder.
I quoted Richard Bott because I like the image he offers. If we say often enough that we are dying, we are declining, that we need start planning a funeral then that becomes our influencer. So we need to change the narrative and plan and live and worship like who we are and what we do matters to us, our community and to God. The Board has started to plan like this and it is much easier if you offer your gifts for the ongoing success of St. Marks. For God sees us and has held us carefully these past few years. Now God is challenging us to see where the opportunities are, how we can shift to the adventures that await. We have proven to ourselves that we can be creative, responsive and dynamic and that truth will move us to great and faithful ministries in the months to come.
God promise to Elisha continues even today, that if we are aware, if we keep our eyes and hearts wide open we will be granted the wisdom to lead. And with that promise we continue to be faithful servants of God’s people, proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ love to all.
Our history which is a continuation of God’s history gives us strong roots and solid foundation. God’s wisdom upon us, our faithfulness and the Spirit’s imaginative creativity gives us wings to soar beyond what even we thought possible. So no, the United Church is not dying and a definite no St. Marks is not dying. So this is my invitation to be part of a committed, energetic life enhancing ministry that has much to accomplish.

Sermon for May 29, 2022

Sermon for May 29, 2022 Seventh of Easter “Images of Compassion”
“As you, God, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” This prayer of Jesus is offered to give encouragement to generations that will follow the teachings of Jesus even though they did not know him. In this post Easter prayer, Jesus deep desire is for those who follow to know the closeness of a shared faith and relationship with each other as Jesus has with God and Spirit.
The companion teaching in Acts offers a glimpse into what Jesus is praying for. Paul and Silas come across a slave girl who is possessed by an unclean spirit. That spirit is making money for the owner of the slave. Paul and Silas command the spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to leave her and the unclean spirit does. You would think this would be cause for celebration that a life has been restored but the owners think otherwise.
It is worthy to note that this act of compassion was offered to a slave girl. One who had no status, no standing and was considered in her day, as being less than a neighbourhood dog. Compassion in this case and in every case is not given or withheld by status or personhood. Compassion is how we treat all people and perhaps especially those most different from ourselves. It is also of note that the text does not indicate what happened to the girl but only the reaction of her owners.
Following Jesus is believing that we are named, redeemed and chosen to be agents of compassion and love in our world. Following denotes motion and action in every moment. The actions of compassion in our sphere.
Like Paul and Silas, it may take some time to act but act we must. And in that acting there may be unintended consequences. Paul and Silas had no idea the owners of the girl would react the way they did not did they expect to end up in jail. Living into compassion will have consequences, intended and unintended, it does not mean we stop. For Paul and Silas it opened an unusual door for more compassion and a larger door for welcoming new believers.
In my opinion there are few truly inspiring speakers in the world. But there are more than 7 billion people who have the capacity to act with compassion and change lives for good. Actions speak in the absence of words. That was true for Paul and Silas and it is true for each one of us.
As the jailer was about to kill himself for not fulfilling his duties, Paul stopped him and showed him that they had not escaped as the others had. So moved by this compassion that the jailer and his entire family were baptized that very night.
As has always been the case, not everyone will respond to compassion with gratitude. We cannot predict the outcome for others. Our choice in being a follower of Jesus is to decide to act with compassion and love. In an age of growing individualism, of I have the right to…and no one is going to tell me what to do, it just may be more important to spend time with the prayer of Jesus in the text today that asks us to be deeply aware of our connection to God and Jesus, to let the love of God seep into our very core and be the ones to demonstrate compassion and love in all we do.
The prelude to ‘be in the world making disciples and baptizing in the name of Jesus’ is acting from a place of compassion and love.

Sermon for May 1, 2022

Sermon for May 1, 2022        Third of Easter            “The Place Jesus Interrupts Us”

The number of sermons that have been and will be preached on the texts for Acts and John are more numerous than the stars in the heavens or the sand on all the beaches and deserts. The conversion of Saul to Paul in Acts and the shared breakfast on the sea shore in John are profound insights into the heart of God and Jesus.

Saul was on a mission to gather up and bring to justice, Roman justice followers of Jesus. Along the way he encounters Jesus, becomes blind and is led to Damascus. There he is entirely dependent on others. The part of the story that moves me these days is Ananias. He is a disciple and hears God’s voice directing him to go minister to Saul. Of all the people he was called on to minister to, Saul was not one of them. All the followers hated Saul and worked hard to avoid him, now Ananias was being asked to go and minister to him! It is a tribute to his dedication and commitment to Jesus that he listened, heeded and went to Saul. Laying his hands on him, he was healed and became a tireless disciple and follower of Jesus and his teachings.

The Gospel teaching is of some of the disciples fishing, they see Jesus on shore and head toward him. Peter, is frustrated with the slow progress so leaps from the boat and swims. When they all arrive, Jesus asks how the fishing was? Not so good came the reply. Cast your net on the other side. After doing so the nets are full. Then breakfast is prepared and teaching continues.

In these texts are years of sermons. For today I remind myself that Jesus meets us on the roads we travel, at our places of work or leisure, and there disrupts our lives, or maybe it is a nudge away from complacency and routine.

Paul needs some blindness to be able to see, Ananias needs to get over his well held prejudices to minister to Saul/Paul. The disciples do not seem so amazed at a net full of fish and are reminded that they are to offer food to others not force feed people. And for us it is a reminder that we offer ourselves, our work, our presence, our gifts to others, and the hardest part of all…make space for God to enter, allow the Spirit to fill the spaces that we are tempted to force feed.

In our 21st century need to get it all, all at once, to multi task our way to something less than even mediocre and to believe if I work harder, longer that success will happen (whatever that is). We forget that God is here. So instead of a gentle nudge there is a full on road block that stops us and after the flash of anger, there is the realization that we were in imminent danger to ourselves and others.

Where are the places and times when God has stopped you, changed your path or your mind? We are in many ways like the first followers of Jesus who needed constant reminders to change our mindset or our way of being. Jesus did not interrupt the lives of the first followers so they could have a three year break and travel around doing cool stuff and they going back to the way it was. Jesus interrupted their lives forever, they were not going back to the way it was before. The revolution of changing hearts for good, was beginning and with resurrection was set on a path that would last for generations, to our day and beyond.

The interruptions were not intended for us to be in an even bigger rush once we were around them. They are intended to get our attention and then set us on a new path. Where to now? Jesus has a plan, you are part of that plan, and much to the chagrin of the GPS genie, it is for us a leap of faith. Did you notice that the disciples were not surprised at the nets full of fish?

Sermon for April 24, 2022

Sermon for April 24, 2022      Second of Easter                    “It is good to ask questions”

There was a delightful cartoon posted to a clergy site I go to from time to time. The scene is some of the disciples sitting in a circle and one is ranting that Jesus is dead and that dead is dead. Then there is a pause..and the text continues…he’s standing behind me isn’t he? It is good to ask questions just ask Mattea Roach. Or in the opening of the Divinci Code Dr. Langdon says “a picture tells a thousand words but which words”, the right questions make all the difference.

Resurrection was and continues to be one of the great challenges to our fact driven culture. It does not make intuitive sense, it goes against all we know of the cycle of life, and yet we believe with all our heart and every fiber of our being that Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus lives again and forever. It is why it is called the mystery of faith and that mystery manages to sustain us in spite of its illogical nature.

Thomas, who was not present when Jesus appeared the first time and who some challenges believing the other disciples is our hero for today. He was brave enough to ask questions that lead to belief. And we continue to ask questions. And we have all sorts of questions: the biggest may be why does God allow bad things to happen? The challenge is that question can apply equally within and outside the church. Perhaps the first one I might ask is why did God allow the church to be taken over by politicians? This grassroots revolution Jesus started was about a new way of being and seeing, ourselves, others and creation. And yet from the time of Constantine Christianity has been a political tool to oppress. And it still happens and you need look in Plaster Rock or the American south to discover the ugly side of Christianity.

Why did the Crusades happen? Why have women been denied status? Why do we plunder creation? Why do wars happen? Why do children die? Why can’t I win the lottery? And on and on it goes as we struggle to fit God into our own image of who and what God should be.

It is good to ask questions and these are good ones but not the ones I am going to tackle today. Maybe someday with a coffee or tea.

The question I would like to explore is: is the resurrection of Jesus about my external life or my internal life? Jesus never said follow me and I will make you rich, popular, skinny, smart, successful and so on. And yet we have, over the centuries shifted the message to mean just that. What Jesus said was more likely to say is: follow me and you will continually give to the poor and needy, follow me and you will be wise stewards of creation, follow me and you will likely be last and least, follow me and you embrace meekness, kindness, mercy, a thirst for righteousness, pureness of heart, a peacemaker and one who is ridiculed.

The resurrection of Jesus is not to anoint rulers and rules that pit one against another, it was not about one gender or race or colour being better than the other. Resurrection is a wide open invitation to cultivate the inner landscape of your own life with the tools of justice, equality, genuineness and meekness. And from that place be a citizen in your community and world.

The kingdom, kin-dom, realm of God is not about conservative, NDP, liberal, republican, democrat, sultan or Czar, they are human constructs and will come to an end. The realm of God is beyond where we are now or as Jesus said ‘not of this world’ and it is to that realm that resurrection invites you. Our task is about tending our own inner selves so that can spill into our outer selves.

Maybe like the comic I referred to at the beginning says, before we start asking why gender or First Nations apology or climate change or my church is better than yours…we might be well served to pause and say…Jesus is standing behind me isn’t he?

Sermon for April 17, 2022 Easter

Sermon for April 17, 2022 Easter “Teacher”
Prepared with the spices and ointments to prepare the body of Jesus for burial, Mary made her way to the tomb. This was not going to be a good day, for the powers of Empire killed her friend. She was still angry that no one came to his aide, not even the disciples. It broke her heart that it was a few women, close to Jesus, that now were responsible to this task. And yet she would and they would because they loved Jesus.
From the conversation of concern with a ‘gardener’ to the shocked realization that this supposed gardener is Jesus, Mary’s heart and mind must have been in a tsunami of emotions. Of all the things that Mary could have said, what is recorded is ‘Teacher’. You will never convince me that Mary kept a stiff upper lip, or was pan-faced or stoic when Rabbouni crossed her lips. Rather it was uttered with the joy filled, and unexpected shock of seeing her dear friend alive. Imagine here if you will (with no apologies for the comparison) a Jewish mama who had no filters when it came to public displays of emotion. I can hear the shrieks of delight, the gasps, the hands to face and heart and most of all the impulse to grab Jesus into a vise like hug. And I expect it was all Jesus could do to persuade her from this hug.
This scene is I hope, more prolonged than scripture gives it credit, but after some time Jesus asks her to go and tell the others. The others heard the shriek that pierced the locked windows and doors and by the time Mary arrived there the others were unlocking the doors to go and see if she was alright.
I have seen the Lord…He is alive.
These word reverberate through the centuries even to our ears. Jesus is alive is not a subdued comment, it is not an ‘Oh and by the way’ sort of notation. These are the words that state in no uncertain terms that God and Jesus silence Empire, give voice to our silence and confound the skeptics.
All of a sudden we know what Jesus means when he says ‘the stones will shout’, and all creations shouts glory and hallelujah so that all will hear.
And we gather here, we gather where you are, bound by the glory of Spirit to celebrate this feast. I can assure you it is not a feast of sacrifice, it is a feast of love, a feast that gathers us together and a feast that sends us forth. No longer are we silent and ashamed for we have in us the love of God that transforms us and through us our neighbour.
And Jesus says: ‘go and tell others’.

Sermon for April 10, 2022

Sermon for April 10, 2022      Palm Sunday              “Not what I Expected”

Living with Jesus for the past three years, the first followers knew to expect the unexpected. The past few weeks where filled with surprises and the disciples where having a hard time keeping up. A lifetime of learning and knowing about life, people, temple, government, healing and God were being unraveled and the re-knitting was slow.

Lepers are healed, the kin-dom of God will come in God’s time, teaching about justice, job and ego, children, being rich, self-ego, Jesus and his death, Zacchaeus the tax collector believes, investing others money just to touch the highlights. All these teachings were new, difficult to comprehend and at the same time so, so life giving.

It would be a huge leap to think the disciples had a complete re-orientation of life values and social norms. They slid into family/neighbourhood of origin mindset on a regular basis. And we should not be so surprised that they did.

Palm Sunday or the parade of palms is a good example. The religious belief held that the Messiah would come as a mighty warrior who would overthrow the Empire, and not just overthrow but crush into the ground. Song of Hannah in Isaiah states: “The Lord shall shatter the adversaries who arose to do evil to His people; He shall blast them with a loud noise issuing from heaven. The Lord shall exact punishment from [the proverbial northern enemy] Gog and from the marauding armies of the nations who come with him from the ends of the earth. He shall give strength to His king and shall make great the kingdom of His Messiah.”

The Neofiti targum (a contemporary document to Isaiah) is even more explicit about messianic violence: “How beautiful is king Messiah who is to arise from among those of the house of Judah. He girds his loins and goes forth to battle against those that hate him; and he kills kings and rulers, and makes the mountains red from the blood of their slain and makes the valleys white from the fat of their warriors. His garments are rolled in blood; he is like a presser of grapes.”

Then the Chosen people would rise up and truly and fully occupy and thrive in the land flowing with milk and honey.

And here the Messiah is to ride into Jerusalem, the seat of power of Empire and all the teaching of a new way, love your enemy, be kind and just, forgive and heal are overshadowed by the learned image of a Messiah who would crush the enemy.

A donkey, you want to charge the Empire on a donkey…are you nuts. And Jesus smiles and reminds the disciples that he is about a new way of being, a new way of understanding God, a new way of loving. From a critic’s point of view, this would have been voted the worst float in the parade, the worst float in any parade ever. But there was something, a spirit moving that day that spilled into all the days since.

Here we are a fifth of the way through the 21st century. Christianity is a global movement with all sorts of colour and hue. On our worst days each claiming to be the only true way and on our best an openness to the variety of Christian expressions. On Palm Sunday we each, and each denomination brings its baggage about how Jesus will or should change the world. My suspicion is that each would be surprised at what Jesus would do. Living beyond our well entrenched ideas of ‘what should be’ to what is Jesus calling us to or who is Jesus calling us to be will fall firmly into the category of ‘I was not expecting that’.

I have a feeling that if Christianity or the Christian movement going forward does not fall into the unexpected category of ‘you are going to change the world/hearts on a donkey…are you nuts?’ then maybe just maybe we have some re-imagining in our future. For the teaching of Palm Sunday and Holy Week to be life giving into the rest of century and beyond then we will have to get used to expecting different.

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