St. Mark's United Church, Saint John, NB

Believe, Belong, Become



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.

Sermon for September 23, 2018

Sermon for September 23, 2018                 18th after Pentecost        “What are you Talking About?”


I was listening to a speech given by Steve Jobs this week and part of the message was that we need to trust that the dots will connect. He did not graduate from university but in his words, he dropped out and then dropped in on classes he liked. He and Steve Wozniak started building computers in the garage and then founded Apple, Jobs was fired and started an animation company that became Pixar, had cancer and was cured, back to Apple then more cancer. In the moment, he could not see that dropping out of university and dropping into a calligraphy class would lead to fonts and type faces and make the words we type have pizazz. He could not see how the dots connected until he looked back on his life and could see that his success was linked to his perceived failure and both were connected and essential.

‘The Son of God is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again’. In the moment the disciples just could not get their head or their heart to understand what Jesus was saying. So they did what people have been doing for thousands of years…change the topic. They started arguing as boys have done for the same about of time, who’s better, faster, stronger, smarter etc. It seems that when the spiritual alludes us we pick up the mundane.

This past Wednesday the Board agreed to launch a strategic planning process. Not all the details are worked out, but the general principles are in place with an openness to flexibility and to the leading of the Spirit. It seems to me in that journey we will need to work on our ‘why’. Why is St. Mark’s a great place to be? That to me means we will have to get our heart and soul engaged. It also means that we will listen to the ‘elders’ who know that failure does not always mean failure. It may mean you are currently just going in an unhealthy way. It will mean being patient with newbies who are filled with ideas that may not have worked before but now just might. And it will mean depending on Jesus and Spirit that even in dark places light can shine, that in impossibility there is the joyful unexpected and that as we look back to plan ahead we can be assured that like before we will make mistakes and like before new doors are opened.

So let me have a go at my why.

I believe that living a life that takes me past my comfort zones is exhilarating; I believe that being socially unconventional is a powerful mechanism for social change. I believe that walking this path with others is way more fun and life giving than when walked alone. St. Mark’s believes this to be so. I invite you to walk into this adventure. It will mean that you just might be last, the wisdom of children is honoured, that giving is the best way to live with abundance and that in surrender comes truly wholehearted living.

And by the way, St. Mark’s has the terrific worship, programs and a mindset to be all this and more. And yes, we are a Christian church.


What the disciples did not know until the resurrection was all the crazy stuff Jesus talked about before his death was absolutely true. What we do not know until we have the humility to try is that it is still true. If you want the best seat, sit in the back of the bus. If you want abundance, give. If you want life, give yours to others. It is when we get older that it all starts to make sense, not just because we might be getting closer to the time when we will meet our maker but because we have seen it happen in our lives. And once we get a taste of it we want more of this truly wholehearted abundant life.

What are you talking about is the question of Jesus to the disciples? It is the same question we are asked. If our answer is me, me, me or how can I arrange the deck chairs so that I will survive, or how can I be perceived as great and wonderful, then like the disciples we sink in our self-imposed separation from God. We cannot serve God and ourselves. Not going to happen in any reality. We eventually learn that extravagant living comes from giving ourselves to God.

Why St. Mark’s…we are on an adventure. Each day is new and exciting. We are opening ourselves to the wonder and grace of Jesus who started the journey. What are we talking about? The crazy idea of Jesus that we can truly be loving.

Sermon for September 16, 2018

Sermon for Sunday September 16, 2018                 17th After Pentecost       “Who Is Jesus?”

Welcome back, I am overjoyed with glee that you are here. You complete us with your presence and live in the paradox that we will never be fully complete as there is always one more to welcome.

I did a quick check on welcome and it is a greeting, usually in a glad and friendly way, salutation, relief, it seems to always be used in a happy or outrageously delighted sort of way. So when I say welcome, it matches our introit that exclaims: come in, you are part of the family.

I also took a look at ‘back’ and depending on context it can be many things; as a noun, you back from shoulders to hips, as an adverb; toward the rear, the opposite direction, as a verb; to give financial, material or moral support to and as an adjective; at the back of something like the backyard.

I did the word search to try to figure out why we add back to welcome, when maybe just welcome would do. But the phrase does make sense because it acknowledges a return, a joyous return. So with wholehearted joy I say welcome back.

Now that we are mostly here we can learn a bit more about Jesus. Jesus; powerful and weak, demands we speak and be silent, healer and destroyer, human and divine, son, brother, Messiah and one who was is and always will be only about love. In the Gospel today Jesus beckons us to take up your cross and follow. Jesus did not say take up my cross, he is challenging us to discern our gifts and growing edges and from that tangled mess of life, take up your cross.

I was driving to the hospital on Wed and saw a man carrying a cross and I wondered why? I did not stop and ask so I do not have an answer. If he is showing that he is suffering like Jesus as an act of faith then I would suggest that he has misunderstood what Jesus is asking. If it is a personal journey like the 40 days in the wilderness or a pilgrimage, or seeking Sabbath time, or dessert time then I would say he is on a right track.

For years before Jesus’ death, the cross was a sign of oppression, a tool to keep the masses in line, a mechanism to silence the people with fear and it worked for the Empire of the day. When this pesky, disturbing Jesus was ordered to the cross the leaders of the Empire were convinced that, like before, it would silence and oppress. With resurrection, the cross lost all of its prior power. With Jesus, the cross is a sign of revolutionary love. It is a sign of love, so when Jesus says pick up your cross, it is about you discerning how you are best going to love. Not just love but revolutionary love for yourself and for every single person you meet. That is the hard work of being a follower of Jesus. Jesus did not call us to be a people who must suffer, self-inflicted or otherwise. He calls us to follow and to love.

I welcome you with extravagant joy and eagerness because I know that Jesus has work to do that requires you. Requires you to stoop down, pick up your way of love cross and rise to unimagined heights of fulfilled life. Jesus knew that love would lead to belonging and belonging would lead to worthiness and that would lead to increased capacity to love. That is the simple message. That is how I imagine church in its best self. A place where every word and action are motivated by love and that most elusive endeavor to serve leads to you craving to belong, for it lifts up your worthiness.

We are on the move. Not to a new local but a move that will see all welcomed with revolutionary hospitality, where all our words are life giving, where our actions holler Spirit and where the least will guide. Welcome back is also welcome to the journey. I am glad you are here.

Sermon for September 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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