St. Mark's United Church

Believe Belong Become



Sermon for February 24, 2019

Sermon for February 24, 2019           7th after Epiphany        “Seventy Times Seven”

The sermon on the plain in Luke is not for the faint of heart. It should not be the first teaching for those new to Christianity. Vaugn Crowe-Tipton writes, “Congregations respond to this text in the same way my children respond to seeing cooked spinach on their plate at dinner. No matter how much I explain the nutritional value, no one around the table really wants to dig in. Even though we know enough to understand how texts can be bound by culture and time, we also know this text goes down hard, no matter when or how it is served.”

This lesson, first taught to the disciples early in the ministry of Jesus set the basic tenets of how to behave. If the disciples actually understood is a bit of a mystery. Or perhaps they were so mesmerized by Jesus they just agreed like bobble-head disciples. 2000 years later theologians and preachers are want to skip over the text or add honey so that it goes down easier. The text says, “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” And we gulp as we try to swallow this bite.

Jesus sets out right at the beginning that the path of a disciple is going to be hard, go against established convention and land all who follow in hot water. But a revolution does not happen by following the status quo. In the past 2000 years the church has struggled with a disconnect between what the Gospel calls us to do and be and what the church has actually done. Yes there have been moments of brilliance but all too often the church has acted in its best interest and not the interest of the Gospel and teachings of Jesus.

I read with interest an article in the Telegraph Journal about Mega Churches in the world. The conclusion was that these churches are more interested in popularity and entertainment than living the teachings of Jesus. That when you push past the veneer of the glossy cover there exists a shallowness and harsh exclusionism. I listen to the Roman Catholic’s conference and listen to the Pope push for justice for victims of abuse by priests and the same time hear that the church is not listening to the voice of women Nuns who were also abused. So not to exclude the United Church, we too have had our challenges with First Nations reconciliation, living into an inter-ethnic church, living with the learning of white privilege and living the hard teachings of Jesus between Sundays.

My suspicion is that I or even we are not going to change in any significant way the trajectory of this or any denominational church. That path will take years and may even require a few funerals. What I am convinced can happen is that we on a very personal level can try our level best to live out these hard teachings of Jesus between the Sundays.

While on vacation I managed to read plenty. Courage to Lead by Brené Brown offered some insight in setting values in leadership, any sort of leadership. I appreciate her writing as it comes from years of engaged research, struggle and a deep faith in God. The challenge she offered was to take time and name your core values. Name four, then place two as the guiding values for everything you are and are about. My first thought was, that will be easy, and started thinking of words that I would use. Then I read the rest of the chapter and thought oh no this is going to be harder than I thought. So after a few days of thinking and wondering I came up with four values that I tried to live and will live into more intentionally. The first two are the most important. Reverence for all creation, sincere gratitude, gentleness and sensitive integrity. They match my faith beliefs and most of the time I can remember two things. My pre-lenten challenge is for you to take time and wrestle with and discover for yourself you two vital values and live into them as you witness to your faith.

One final caution as we read this challenging teaching of Jesus and that is the tension between good works and grace. We respond to the needs around us both human and environmental because we follow the teaching of Jesus. Redemption in the free gift of grace given by God for which we are all utterly undeserving. The Gospel teaching is the best Good News we will ever encounter, it just may not be the easiest Good News.

Sermon for January 27, 2019 The First Miracle

This sermon was prepared for January 20, 2019 but due to weather worship was cancelled and I preached it on January 27.

Sermon for January 20, 2019       Second of Epiphany         “The First Miracle”

In my childhood church life, I was taught from an early age that it was a place of solemnity, prayer and quiet. When we sat down, we were to sit with eyes forward, no fidgeting, poking my sisters and certainly no laughing. The men wore three-piece suits, the women wore dresses and hats, and there was certainly an air of reverence in the church.

When I look back at the history of attitudes in church, the 70’s and 80’s were considerably more liberal than the latter 19th and early 20th century. That era took stoic and serious to the extreme. Yet for the past 2000 years or so we have used the same teachings of Jesus. In church today, I am constantly rethinking how we live and behave in our shared worship time. For example, a few years ago I teased you in a sort of serious way about cell phones. I said something like ‘if they beep or chirp then you owe money’ in an attempt to silence the phones. After all, there is a time and place for all things and phones ringing in church is barely tolerated. With some new understanding, I am more tolerant and even accepting. What if it is a call that a loved one is in distress or even better that you are getting a text from a child or grandchild just to say ‘thinking of you, love you’. Is this not the best place to be surrounded by care when we get distressing news or to celebrate the good news of love?

The miracle story today reminds us that it is time to unleash the fun Jesus. The Jesus that turned 150 gallons of water into the very best wine. The Jesus who said ‘I have come to give life in abundance’. The Jesus who healed, restored, welcomed and forgave thereby paving the way for abundant living. Time to let that Jesus out of the box and for the followers of Jesus to get into the habit of having a fun, abundant life and to do that in such a way that it happens all the time and not just in the confines of this or any other church building.

In his commentary on John, Robert Brearley writes “Sometimes the church has forgotten that our Lord once attended a wedding feast and said yes to gladness and joy. Prompted by his earthly mother, Jesus turned water into wine to point us to his heavenly Father, a God who loves to hear the laughter of people celebrating people. Sometimes the church has forgotten to live the joy of such revelation.”

Yes indeed, we need to take our fun selves out every now and again but like many stories of Jesus there are layers. In this case the issue is the very real issue of hospitality. The groom’s family would face unbearable shame if food and drink ran out. Mary knew this, Jesus knew this, everyone knew this. The miracle is also about hospitality. The grooms family is applauded for saving the best wine to the end. The family is happy and the community is happy. It is only a few who knew what happened that evening, and I expect that Jesus smiled.

Another layer of the story is that the guests are treated to grace and they do not even know it. There is just this expectation that the wine will not run out so there is no awareness of their role in the miracle story. How true is that in our day. We live with such expectations that we are numb to the miracles that are happening right in front of us. For the guests, I expect it takes some days for the story to break and spread and to realize that they shared in the abundant grace of a miracle.

Jesus teachings beckon us to open our eyes and ears and hearts to what is right in front of us and there witness miracle. Our 21st century challenge is that miracles have to be grand, huge super-extraordinary before our media saturated minds can take notice. Jesus points us to the ordinary, daily events and says there is the miracle. Perhaps the first miracle is that we see, witness or are part of a miracle at all. Open your eyes and ears, see and witness the miracles surrounding you, they may seem tiny or even a bit ridiculous to us but they are huge to our life loving, fun giving God.

Sermon for January 6, 2019

Sermon for January 6, 2019   Epiphany         “Following Stars, Trusting Heart”

“Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” These words in Isaiah 60 form part of the prophetic literature that speaks of the birth and ministry of Jesus.

I Isaiah’s day there was darkness on many fronts: the political leaders were more corrupt than usual, neighbours and families were growing distrustful of one another, the basic tenants of the law were being ignored and apathy was the tone of the day. Isaiah was calling on the people to not only see the light in their own day and lives but for the lives of generations to follow. The people of Israel waited and hoped for this light for about 750 years. Through it all there was a sense of hope, sometimes it was thin and hard to see and other times it was bright and followed by many.

In the fullness of time the light so longed and hoped for arrived. One of God’s great surprises is that the King of Kings, Mighty Counselor, Wonderful, Mighty God, Everlasting Father the Prince of Peace, came to earth as a baby. For all the fanfare and prophecy, the Light of the World was born just like everyone else, with all the hopes and dreams of Mary, Joseph and God nestled in swathing bands of cloth.

In Stephen Bauman’s commentary on Matthew, he writes “From Matthew’s point of view, the three magi were authentic spiritual seekers. Even though their methodology was stargazing, they discovered a remarkable truth that transcended their immediate context and led them into alien territory. In a surprising location for from home, they found what they had been searching for in the birth of a child to a young peasant woman. We live in a time of great spiritual agitation; our culture is rife with seekers of every sort, who attempt to make their way to the most fulfilling destination as they respond to deep interior longing. Many follow or dabble in myriad spiritual approaches, including ancient esoteric traditions like astrology and psychic phenomenon, as well as amalgams of Eastern practices and Western science. Every variety of religious expression is as available as a click of a mouse or a meeting with one’s next-door Neighbour. The church has often condemned or ridiculed these alternative spiritual means and their practitioners, yet in this famous story of the magi’s trek to Bethlehem, Matthew takes a different measure of the integrity of their purpose. Indeed, even Jewish scholars are summoned to confirm the potential in the magi’s quest. From Matthew’s perspective, these foreign exotics are better informed about the nature of this child than most inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

It is important for Christians to remember that the entire birth narratives of Jesus come from the Jewish Midrash tradition. That is the stories of God’s encounters with the Hebrew people. No one in the story comes from the Christian tradition, so all involved come from his or her own experience to marvel at what has happened, what God has done. The Magi story can serve as a cautionary story that enables Christians to be open and available to conversations with seekers and even non-believers. It has been the practice of the church for centuries to slam the door on any who do not subscribe to its particular code of doctrine. Looking back at our history we wince with shame…and yet in our 21st century way continue the practice.

The magi were greeted with hospitality by Mary and Joseph, so much so that they heeded the caution and soon packed their bags and went to Egypt. As those who are seeking come into our midst may we follow that same example and welcome with open arms and hearts. For Christians, the greatest commandment is to love one another. As that is our mission we will be more concerned about hearts and souls and less concerned about fitting into our prescribed box. We are, or let me say, I am a seeker and I cherish the companionship of other seekers along the way. Sometimes my head is star-gazing and sometimes my heart leads the way. No matter, concern and love for God, others and self is the guiding light.

In our day it seems that darkness of leaders of nations is the norm. From walls, to wars, to aggression, to armament challenges, the divide between rich and everyone else and a protectionism that seems to be flourishing, it can be said that we are living in a dark time. The words of the Prophet Isaiah and the power of the teachings of Jesus do give us hope for brighter days to come. It is up to us, so Arise shine for the light shines and we are called to reflect and refract that light so its radiance will fill all with astonishment.

Sermon for January 13, 2019

Sermon for January 13, 2019 Baptism of Jesus        “A New Beginning”

Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday and we’ll come to the baptism of Jesus, but before we get there, I want to spend a moment listening to the Word of the Lord Isaiah offers. It’s direct, it’s clear. But now, Thus says the LORD, the one who created you, O Jacob, the one who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

I am going to invite you to turn your imagination on to full setting, go back to the year 3BCE. The news is rife with stories of a Messiah. Even though many have made the claim, they turned out to be false. The stories grandparents tell of an amazing birth in Bethlehem are now part of the lore of the ages. Stories continue to grow and speculation is, that John the Baptizer is the one. He seems to fit the bill, weird dresser, crazy diet, seems to have little respect for leaders especially the temple leaders and he has a compelling message.

On this day 2022 years ago, John makes it clear that he is not the one. In Luke there is no discourse between John and Jesus, there is no reference to untying sandals, not even a reference to the action of Baptism. Just: “when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” That’s it. For as verbose as Luke can be, he uses an economy of words in this pivotal episode in the life of Jesus.

For Luke, God once again announces the beginning ministry of Jesus. It is God that ends the speculation about who the Messiah is, it is God that begins the ministry of Jesus with a prayer. Luke has a way of writing that invites the sinner into holiness. It starts with the Baptism of Jesus. He was in line, with all the other ‘filled with expectation and questions’ and in turn was baptized by John. For both John and Jesus, and indeed for all who follow, this moment marks a new beginning.

Since the time of Jesus, the church has tried to be the faithful interpreter of the teachings of Jesus. At any point along the way we have been both really good and really dreadful in this task. 28 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the USA faced with a president that wants to build it again in a new location. It does not appear to me that this is in line with the teachings of Jesus. When Scott Brison was elected to the house of commons, who he is and how he lives were considered immoral. Today, his family is another that loves each other and strives to be good community members and good citizens of Canada. Our ancestors made Treaty’s with First Nation’s Peoples that were from our perspective more in our interest than in First Nations. We continue to be challenged to figure out how to live into right relations and it is highlighted when issues of economy come up. All this to say that as followers of Jesus, our day is as challenging as all the ones before and most likely the generations to follow will be challenged with the teachings of Jesus.

That may lead to ‘whatever’ of defeatist kind of group think but being faithful does not equate with being right. Or more properly being right forever. We would, for example, have a very hard time in the 21st century living the moral and social code of say 1910. We look back and say…really. And at the same time remember that it worked in that time. We cannot drag into our day the 1970’s. What worked then worked then and most likely will not work today. So we at best can say thank you to our ancestors, learn from their lives and with faith for today live the teaching of Jesus to messengers of justice and love in our day.

As the sun greeted us this morning, as it does each day, we are blessed with a new beginning. Like the baptism story my we begin with a prayer, may we gaze at our self and see deep beauty in what we see (we are after all created in the image and likeness of God), may we recall our baptismal or confirmation vows where we will trust the Spirit and may we seek out opportunities to be the people of God.

As the sun greeted the church this morning, as it does each day, may we begin with a prayer. May we be reminded that like Jesus we are in a line of folks desperate to start new by the waters of baptism. May we with word, action and heart greet friend, stranger and traveler with welcome. In all the noise that distracts us I trust the moment of quiet, utter quiet in the waters of baptism will clear our ears, minds and hearts that we can with purpose and determination live into faith and live out the teaching of Jesus.

Sermon for Dec 30, 2018

Sermon for December 30, 2018                  First After Christmas       “Looking in all Directions”


Even if you cannot imagine it, it is the last Sunday of 2018 and tomorrow is the last day of the year. John Lennon wrote a beautiful song “another year over and what have you done?” I expect that will be our pondering for the next few days. That and wondering, dreaming and planning what we would like the New Year to hold for us.


For today I would like to link to stories that focus us in the same direction. In the Biblical story we are in the days of prophecy fulfilled and prophecy not quite yet fulfilled. Yes, Jesus is born but the whole story is not complete. I know the lectionary folks jump around a bit this week as today we hear about Jesus in the Temple and next week Jesus is a baby again. Such is the mysterious nature of the lectionary and I do not have an explanation.


Humans are by nature not very patient. After thousands of years of waiting the people of Israel wanted results, like right now. The birth of Jesus is the opening of prophecy fulfilled. Since the full scope of the prophecy is still not fulfilled, we find ourselves living into the ancient and unfolding story of God.

I was thrilled to see TNB’s version of C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” I also watched the movie and re-read parts of the book. The stories of Narnia are rich with biblical meaning (quite intentional on Lewis’ part) and I find the Narnia story can bring a contemporary and storied look at the God story.


In Narnia the world is frozen until the coming of the prophecy – when two “”Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve” arrive, Aslan will come again; spring comes, life awakens, love lives again.


The Christmas narrative shows Mary’s song as a prophecy about God’s action in the world, bringing hope to life. And Zechariah also prophesies – “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before God to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”


Jesus was referred to as God’s son – but did you know he was also referred to as a child of Adam? He was sometimes called a ‘second Adam’. So a “son of Adam” is born, who will set the world right – who will bring a message of peace, hope, joy and love.


The Narnians too have suffered long – the White Witch with her magic cast their world into perpetual winter. Father Christmas had not been seen for many years, nor had Christmas been celebrated. Nor any great feasting together. Nevertheless, the children sit down at table with the beavers to a feast of good healthy food which nourishes and strengthens them. With the coming of the ‘Sons of Adam’ and ‘Daughters of Eve’ – children of Creation, Father Christmas appears and provides a great feast for a family of woodland creatures. Complete with a huge plum pudding, and wine.

Jesus sat with his friends and feasted. He took bread and broke it, wine and blessed it and shared all that he had. The feast became a great feast and even now 2000 years later we are living in the love of that feast.


These two meals are remembrances and celebrations of times past, living fully in the present, and looking forward to a new life to come.


Aslan – meaning King. The King to come – who wipes away the tears from every eye, who rights the wrongs, and brings Life back to Creation. Aslan’s power grows as he returns to the land he created. But Aslan does not, and indeed cannot do it alone. The return of balance in Creation is because of the commitment of the humans, and the creatures. None of them could make it happen alone – it had to be a joint cooperative effort.


Likewise, the birth of Jesus came not just because of the power of the Spirit, but because of the commitment of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, perhaps an innkeeper, and some ordinary shepherds. They too were waiting, and when the time came they became part of the story, even if they weren’t quite sure what they were doing or what was coming.


The whole of these stories – both Narnia and the Christmas story held together- by hope, and by love. For both the Narnia stories and the Christmas story are tales about love – love of others, love of friends, love of family – unconditional love, with no strings attached. That’s what we celebrate all the time.


As we look back and gaze ahead, how are we engaged in the unfolding story. Are we prolonging winter in our hearts and others hearts? Are we being the messengers of Jesus? Are we holding up the active tenants of hope, peace, joy and love? I will leave you with the wisdom of John Lennon:


“So this is Christmas And what have you done Another year over And a new one just begun And so this is Christmas I hope you have fun The near and the dear one The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas And a happy new year Let’s hope it’s a good one Without any fear

And so this is Christmas For weak and for strong For rich and the poor ones The world is so wrong And so happy Christmas For black and for white For yellow and red one
Let’s stop all the fight

A very Merry Christmas And a happy new year Let’s hope it’s a good one Without any fear

And so this is Christmas And what have we done Another year over A new one just begun And so happy Christmas We hope you have fun The near and the dear one The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas And a happy new year Let’s hope it’s a good one Without any fear”


Sermon for December 9, 2018

Sermon for December 9, 2018     Advent 2              “Preparing the Way”

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. This text from Luke harkens back to the time of Malachi the prophet who lived and write about 500 years before Jesus. Malachi’s prophesy is: ‘I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple’.

And the people say…What!?

Elie Weisel the contemporary Jewish writer recalls a childhood story. When he was a boy, his mother would greet him every day when he returned from school. Every day she would ask him the same question. She did not ask, what did your do today? Or whom did you talk to today? Or even what did you learn today? She would ask, Did you have a good question today?

Malachi asks some good questions, how has God loved us? Has not one God created us? Where is the God of Justice? How shall we return to God? In fact, Malachi poses twenty-two questions in just fifty-five verses. The Gospel poses a further question: what is required for forgiveness?

It is I think in the exploration of these questions that we continue our Advent preparations. It is the churning about of these questions that the truth become believable. Jesus is not out there or over there; it’s in you—it’s here and now and everywhere. The journey is to move beyond yourself and recognize that what’s true in you is true in all others too. Jesus permeates all creation including us. We are all the image and likeness of God!

I do not think that the posing of good questions or even the seeking the answers was intended to keep us from fulfilling the primary mission of Jesus which I believe is to love one another. For the past 2000 years the church and Christians have wasted time arguing the wording and not living into the mission. For all of Paul’s meandering words he did get much right. ‘there is only Christ, he is everything and he is in everything’ (Col 3:11). God is everything and God is in everything.

Isaiah 40 and Luke 3 both have the statement: ‘and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’. Richard Rohr’s comment on this is: “You and I are living here in this ever-expanding universe. You and I are a part of Jesus without any choice on our part. We just are, whether we like it or not. It’s nothing we have to consciously believe. It’s first of all announcing an objective truth. But if we consciously take this mystery as our worldview, it will create immense joy and peace. It gives us significance and a sense of belonging as part of God’s Great Work. We are no longer alienated from God, others, or the universe. Everything belongs. And it is pure, undeserved gift from the very beginning. Participating in Jesus allows each of us to know that “I don’t matter at all, and yet I matter intensely—at the same time!” That’s the ultimate therapeutic healing.”

In Malachi’s time and ours, it is not our prerogative to debate the importance of the scriptures, it is as Malachi points out to live into righteousness. Like a refiner’s fire and fullers soap God will purify our hearts and souls and minds until we act, speak and live with righteousness. When our words, actions, and intentions align with those of Jesus, then we have the capacity to begin and begin again. For we are never really quite finished as long as we breath on this earthly orb.

The voice of one calling in the wilderness is still heard in the land of Saint John, New Brunswick, prepare the way of the Lord. This is not the time to be idle, to wait for ‘someone else’ to get the work done. This is our time of preparation. The work of justice is not complete. Our hearts and souls are not ready for Jesus’ return. We are in that time we thought we had lots of time to prepare for, Advent and Christmas. In July it seemed we had lots of time, now we are half way through Advent and Christmas is two week away and time is not on our side anymore. So too with preparing our hearts. The thought that we have lots of time is an illusion. And so again we listen differently to the ancient prophet ‘prepare the way of the Lord’.

Sermon for Dec 2 2018

Sermon for December 2, 2018     Advent 1                              “Longing for Hope”

We begin a new journey and a new liturgical year with the first Sunday in Advent. Like many I am drawn to the nostalgic, the longing for days that from this perspective seem oh so simple and uncomplicated. Jeremiah in his short teaching today nudges us to hope. Not the hope that I want the latest gadget or toy for Christmas but the longing for God’s justice and mercy. A longing for fierceness of spirit and tenderness of heart.

In Bible study this week, we had interesting conversation on the arc of God’s plan. The discussion stemmed from the question; do you think God is going to let humans thwart the plan for the earth or the universe? I am thankful for the wonderful minds and biblical adeptness of the folks in this study for they bring a wisdom and knowing to the study of our sacred text. Through all the stories of scripture, we could not find one example where God completely forgot about the people. And we moved that conversation to our present context where it seems unlikely that, even though others seem to have taken over Christmas and go to great lengths to call it something else, even though churches are being emptied and there are a remnant few remaining, God is not going to leave us wandering for much longer.

I am not talking about a second coming. I am leaning toward a new reformation, a new way of expressing our relationship with God. I suspect that the way we have grown accustomed to church will remain for some time. Like the church has done before will continue doing it will change. Into what, we will have to live into that!

While driving to Halifax on Friday we listened to a podcast from the “on Being” series where Christian Wiman was being interviewed. He grew up evangelical fundamentalist in the US south, left religion and in his 30’s returned to a mainline protestant church. His comment was, I like the energy and full integration of faith and life of the evangelical tradition and I like to openness of the protestant tradition. I just wish they could meet in the middle. I had the sense that he appreciated the welcome to all of his current church and missed or wished that the protestant church (that’s us) would embrace the energy of faith in all aspects of life of his childhood evangelical church. My longing in hope for the church is that we might from time to time, be a bit more revved up about our faith and our mission.

The advantage of the prophets is they had the capacity to see a longer view of future and God’s plan than the rest of folks. Jeremiah is speaking just after the people of Israel are returning from exile. They ask; now what? Jeremiah responds in faith and prophesy indicating that the promise will be fulfilled and the leadership of David will be restored.

My pondering is, how is that at all relevant now? My incomplete answer goes something like this: it is a call to hope and action, it is a call to pay attention to the details that each day requires and to gaze toward tomorrow. And for the believers in both views to trust one another and know that all are essential. Let me explain, my comfort zone, my happy place is in planning and dreaming and exploring possibilities. I love being there, so strategic planning is exciting for me. I also live and work in my less comfortable place, doing the details of each moment and each day. I love people who love doing that, making sure that all the little details are tended to, making sure what I call the ‘pretty’ is tended to. I think we all spend time in both realms and that we have a preference. What the prophet challenges us to live into is both the lived reality of God this day and not being so stuck that we cannot see any other way.

The challenge of Christian people all the time and in Advent is to live into our faith and live out our faith in the world as it is right now.  As we prepare as the biblical narrative does to welcome a foreigner into our hearts, may we hope and pray that we may do the same for the foreigner neighbour in our midst. My hope for St. Mark’s people is that we not be shy about our God and our Jesus. That we find ways to share the story in ways that welcome and engage. And,  above all in this week that we hope with a deep longing for the miracle to be, and we will have the sight and heart to know we are living in the miracle of God.

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.

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