Sermon for May 5, 2019 Third of Easter “Turning Points”
Directions and map reading are quickly becoming the property of antique stores and museums. Our dependence on GPS and navigational gear in cars and on phones has replaced the need for a collection of maps in our glove boxes or a trip-tic from CAA. One trait of GPS’s is that they are always looking for options. If a wrong turn is made a voice is heard; ‘re-calculating’ or turn around where possible. I have never heard a GPS say; we’ve never gone that way before or you can’t get there from here. In this helpful and by time highly annoying bit of technology there are always possibilities.
I wonder if the church learned a very long time ago the phrase ‘we’ve never done it that way before’. After the resurrection, the disciples who were fishers returned to their work. As the story goes, they fished all night and caught nothing. From the beach comes the inquiry; what did you catch, and the answer; nothing. Why don’t you cast your net on the other side? But the fishers replied; we’ve never done it that way before, we just know it won’t work. Well humour me and try it, what do you have to lose? And so they did, and you know the rest of the story.
Saul was determined if nothing else. He was an agent of the Roman Empire tasked with the seeking out and bringing to justice (interpret; bring to death) all the followers of Jesus. Did you hear the opening line of the Acts text; ‘Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. One day while Saul was on a mission to Damascus saw a great light and heard a voice that he knew to be that of Jesus asking; why do you persecute me? When Saul asks what he should do the answer is at best odd. Get up, continue to Damascus and you will be told what you must do. As Saul rose and opened his eyes, he discovered that he was blind.
I can’t get there from here in this condition laments Saul. A traveler came to his rescue and offered him aid. This is the dramatic turning point for Saul and I am sure and hopeful you know the rest of the story. The course and path of humanity resists change and turning points. Even the laws of motion and physics dictate that once an object is in motion it takes energy and external force to enable a change in direction. It is however in these moments, these turning points that we have as individuals and communities witness the greatest courage, vulnerability and growth.
Casting nets on the other side made no sense to the fishers and yet they did. A complete turn for Saul now Paul left him in a vulnerable place and had to work to establish his new identity and his new mission. In both cases, there is the presence of Jesus nudging and outright intervention to convince folk to take a change to try a new thing, to cast on the other side and to be a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus is aware of the tender place we find ourselves in when we try something new. I am sure that is why Jesus stayed on the lakeshore while they fished on the other side and met them when the catch was brought to shore, and that is why a fellow traveler and follower of Jesus, Ananias, was present to offer support along the way. Jesus constant presence, we know has not changed over the years. As St. Mark’s celebrates its 160th anniversary, we know that we are very different today than we were years ago. The essential message of love and justice remain yet how the message is proclaimed has changed.
Next week I expect we are going to hear of turning points in the life of St. Mark’s. Even though GPS was not as available then, there was the courage and conviction that there was a way forward even if re-calculating was required.
I expect that a review of your life will bear witness to many turning points. Some gentle and manageable, some sudden and unexpected, some we encouraged and some imposed by others. And all the while Jesus is there on the edge with encouragement, or right in our face as a messenger or annoyance. Turning points will take all the courage and conviction that we can gather but I am convinced that in this vulnerable place will come growth, newness and glorious new opportunities to bear witness to the love and justice, which is the message of Jesus.
Sermon for Sunday April 14, 2019 Palm Sunday “Jesus, Jesus He’s our Man…”
I suspect that you have seen and completed the puzzles that require you to find the differences in two pictures that at a glance appear the same. What’s missing or what’s added, they say there are six of them, can you find them all?
Maybe you grew up like I did, in a church where Palm Sunday was one of the most fun times in the year. It didn’t have presents like Christmas but it did have palms and it was one Sunday when we children were not only invited into the sanctuary but allowed to be a little rowdy. Who would have thought our Sunday School class would have to be told to be louder when we shouted Hosanna? So we come to Palm Sunday, perhaps with that vision in mind; we’ve heard this story. We know: Jesus, palms, crowds, hosanna. But to truly hear Luke’s version of this story, the one we read today, begin by noticing what isn’t there: no palms, no children, no hosanna. Perhaps if we notice what isn’t there and clear it away, we will be ready to see what is there. That’s our job today: see what Luke shows us, understand what God means, consider what to do about it.
Jesus has been on the way to Jerusalem for a long time. Along the way, he told his friends that it would mean martyrdom, a cross, death, suffering but that they should believe as he did in God’s power to give life, in God’s love beyond life and death. Everything in the gospels says they didn’t believe him. When he first tells them, Peter himself says he didn’t believe it and argued with Jesus. James and John are arguing about the power structure of the new administration of King Jesus right up to the very end, to the point where he has to tell them to stop.
Jerusalem is on top of a small mountain, Mount Zion The road up to it is windy and switches back and forth. At Passover, people came from all over to the city, so it would have been crowded. Jesus and his disciples and followers are peasants and so are most of the people around them. They don’t have special clothes for this special time; peasants wore a sort of undergarment and a cloak. The cloak was valuable enough to pawn for a day’s food, important enough that there was a law that the pawnbroker couldn’t keep the cloak overnight. They’re often pictured marching like a military unit, lined up behind Jesus with crowds on either side but that’s a mistake. Jesus and his friends are part of a larger procession of pilgrims to the city.
Now they come to the Mount of Olives. It’s where Jesus will go after the last supper, where he will pray, where he will be arrested. There are really two processions going on here. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is everyone else, walking toward victory, marching toward worldly success.
As they move along, Jesus sends some disciples off to acquire a colt. And he gives them a coded phrase: “The Lord has need of it.” Now the word ‘Lord’ has a double meaning. It could mean the owner of the donkey but it’s also the word most often used to describe Jesus. The way he instructs them is strange: “If someone asks why you are untying it…” Just say, ‘the Lord has need of it’ In the event, when they untie the colt, it’s the owner himself who confronts them. Sometimes when this is preached, explanations are created about how Jesus had prearranged for the colt. We don’t really know, but if he had done so, why are the owners asking what they’re doing? “The Lord has need of it,” they say. Here ‘Lord’ clearly means Jesus. The owner must have faced a difficult choice. A colt is valuable. Here, he’s confronted with a choice; what would you do? “The Lord has need of it.”
What we call the Palm Procession really begins with this colt. When they bring it back, they throw their cloaks, their valuable cloaks, on it to make a saddle and it says “…they put Jesus on it. He doesn’t climb on, he doesn’t mount up, like the Spirit whooshing him off to the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, his friends put him up on that colt. Suddenly people must have looked and suddenly he’s become a symbol and suddenly he’s mocking all the pageantry of the marching Romans and soldiers, coming to Jerusalem. Coming mounted, as they are, but on a colt. People must have noticed and remembered that the prophet Zechariah had said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” [Zechariah 9:9] There are two processions here. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is everyone else, walking toward victory, marching toward worldly success. One is led by people proud of their power; one by a man rocking humbly on a colt. One is led by people determined to deal death to make power; one is led by someone who believes life can overcome death.
The crowd notices; people are inspired. They take off their cloaks and throw them down. We call it Palm Sunday but there are no palms, no branches cut from trees. The cloaks they are throwing down are for some their most valuable possession. Like the owners of the colt, they have heard, “The Lord has need of it” and give more than what they have—they give what they are. For it’s dangerous to celebrate this prophet. This is exactly the kind of demonstration those soldiers are meant to stop. Just as some Pharisees had warned Jesus that Herod was trying to kill him, now they warn him to make his followers be quiet, to stop this dangerous demonstration. Jesus simply says; it can’t be stopped: if they stop, creation itself will take up the cry.
What is it they are shouting? We all grew up shouting hosanna, which means “Save us”. I’ve led countless services over the years where we had people shout, where we waved palms, I’ve done it here. Notice the details in this account, because each account has something to say. In this one, it’s not Hosanna they shout, it’s “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” We’ve heard that, or something very much like that before, haven’t we? It’s like the lines to an old song, the kind that can drive you crazy trying to remember, or the one that just won’t leave your head. Where did we hear it? What’s the title? Who’s the singer? We heard it on Christmas Eve. Its title is the Advent, the birth, of Christ. It’s the song of the angels. We have circled back to Christmas; we have circled back to Jesus.
In this story, it’s the people around him who move the story forward: the owner of the colt, who gives it when the Lord has need of it, the friends who make a saddle of their cloaks, because the Lord has need of them, the people who don’t even know Jesus yet, lay down their cloaks because somehow they too sense the Lord has need of them.
What are we to do about all this? Every one of us eventually faces a moment when we sense the Lord has need of something. We’ve been talking throughout Lent about covenant. Perhaps the greatest need of all, is for us simply to believe Jesus, listen to him, and build our life together around what he says instead of what we think. Who we are is God’s children; who we are is people meant to sing songs of praise like the ones around Jesus. What the Lord needs isn’t just what we have: it’s who we are. If we don’t sing the song of salvation, it’s left to the stones. God will make a way, God is making a way, and we are meant to be that way.
This is Palm Sunday and it is about a procession but there are really two processions. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is those walking toward popularity, marching toward worldly success. Which one are you marching in? The one you give when the moment comes and the Spirit ask: “The Lord has need of it.”
Sermon for March 31, 2019 Fourth of Lent “This is Us”
We are St. Mark’s.
We are a diverse, seeking, celebrating, sometimes frustrating but always faithful collection of folks. My suspicion is that no one knows all the people that make up ‘Us’. If everyone on our list who lives in the Saint John area were to come on the same Sunday we would be full. If all the people connected to St. Mark’s came on the same day then we would need to have a life video feed to the fellowship hall and classrooms and we would not invite the fire marshall.
We all have a place here and our presence is valued and necessary. Some ministries are noticeable like Suzanne our organist and choir director, the choir, the greeters and ushers, the coffee and tea makers, the bulletin maker and so on. Many ministries go mostly unnoticed and we may not even wonder how something happened. Many may not know that with the ice and rain there were some leaks in the roof, they were tended to and the water cleaned up. Ever wonder who sets the tables for fellowship? And no we do not have leprechauns living in the building.
We are connected in wonderful and by times challenging ways. When the parable of the prodigal son appeared as the lectionary reading for today, I smiled. First, the bible study group has just looked at this parable and the conversation was lively, and second it is a story of a father trying to bring peace and reconciliation to his family.
We know the story. How the younger son asked for and received more than his fair portion of his inheritance, the older son who was dutiful and even resentful and the father who had capacity for love. Families and even church families have not changed much in the last two thousand years. Some wander and by all appearances have too much fun and when they return are met, not with open arms but with critique or even scorn. Others stay out of duty or habit. And I expect both and even all groups are struggling their best to live into a growing faith.
It just seems to appear to folks in each separate group that the others, by not doing it ‘my way’ have fallen off the path, are not seeking faith or just blatantly ignoring the teaching of Jesus. But Jesus sees us differently, Jesus sees us through eyes of love and welcome. And maybe that is the learning of the parable. Rabbi Amy-Jill Levine writes “ If we hold in abeyance, at least for the moment, the rush to read repenting and forgiving into the parable, then it does something more profound than repeat well-known messages. It provokes us with simple exhortations. Recognize that the one you have lost may be right in your own household. Do whatever it takes to find the lot and then celebrate with others, both so that you can share the joy and so that the others will help prevent the recovered from ever being lost again. Don’t wait until you receive an apology; you may never get one. Don’t wait until you can muster the ability to forgive’ you may never find it. Don’t stew in your sense of being ignored, for there is nothing that can be done to retrieve the past. Instead, go have lunch . Go celebrate, and invite other to join you. If the repenting and the forgiving come later, so much the better. And if not. You sill will have done what is necessary. You will have begun a process that might lead to reconciliation. You will have opened a second chance for wholeness. Take advantage of resurrection_ it is unlikely to happen twice.”
We are gathered here today to celebrate. Celebrate who we are, who we are becoming, those who have been here and those for whom seeking has taken them on a different path. We are celebrating the fact that Jesus loves all of us all the time. That Jesus walks with us all the time. We celebrate that home is the place where we discover Jesus. And there, Jesus greets us with open arms and prepares a celebration so that all can see how precious we are.
We are St. Mark’s. A delightfully diverse and faith seeking people. And I say…Let’s celebrate us!
Sermon for March 24, 2019 Third of Lent “Active Patience”
In Luke Chapter 12 Jesus is preaching a long sermon. And near the end of it, things are a bit uncomfortable, because people are beginning to realize that being a Christian might not be as simple as they imagined. It might involve serious arguments within families: two against three, and three against two. Two weeks ago I extended to you the opportunity to invite someone to worship and I know that is uncomfortable. Last week I challenged you to think and act on your giving to the church and I expect that was uncomfortable for all of us. Today I am looking at how, in public our faith is uncomfortable.
Somebody in the crowd is feeling a bit uncomfortable about all this and they cry out to Jesus, “Yeah, but God will still punish the sinners, won’t he? You know: Like that time Pilate murdered those Galileans in the temple. I mean, if they had been real, faithful followers of God, then God would have protected them, right?”
And Jesus says, “No. Not at all. That’s not how God works. Those Galileans in the temple were no bigger sinners than any other Galileans. Just like the people that had the tower of Siloam fall on top of them. They were no more sinners, and no less sinners than anybody else.”
This is sometimes profoundly challenging to us, because we like to think— somewhere in the back of our mind— that really, if you get cancer, then probably you were doing something wrong and God is punishing you…
Well, usually we don’t quite come out and say it like that— although I have heard it. What we tend to do is say things like, “They didn’t have enough faith,” when someone doesn’t get healed after prayer. And, while I don’t think I ever thought God was punishing someone because they got sick, I always had the feeling that I wouldn’t get cancer, and I wouldn’t get sick because, after all, I was a good Christian, and God would look after me. But if you think about it, it all amounts to the same thing: God will protect those who are on God’s side. And those who are not on God’s side… the ones that God … maybe… doesn’t love as much? … … … Well, anything could happen to them.
But Jesus says, “No. That’s not how God is. Life is not like that.”
What Jesus does then, is tell the crowd, and the person who asked the question, a little parable about God and about life. It’s sneaky parable, because it sets up a trap for us. It tests how much we have let the Spirit touch our soul.
That’s because, at the beginning of the story, it makes it sound like Jesus is talking about God. It says a man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. So everyone thought: he means God… because Israel is God’s vineyard; that’s one of the traditions of the religion. And it was common to think about Israel as a fig tree planted by God.
It was also just a very common thing for any farmer to have fig trees growing in any vineyard, because you could use fig trees as a trellis for your grapes. So… maybe… Jesus was just talking about an ordinary farmer in an ordinary vineyard. We know what happens with farmers don’t we: If there’s a fig tree that you plant, and it’s been there for years, and it doesn’t do anything, then you rip it out. You give up on it. There’s no room for sentimentality. You don’t waste the ground. You put something else there instead of that unfruitful tree.
And now Luke adds a little extra trick to catch his Christian sisters and brothers: the tree has been there for three years. It’s just inviting Christians to think, “Yeah… look at that: Jesus was here for three years, trying to get Israel to repent, teaching Israel about the love of God, and Israel remained utterly without fruit. In fact, Israel was so bad, that they killed Jesus.” In fact, there’s another parable in Luke 20 where the vineyard tenants gang up and kill the son of the owner of the vineyard. So you can see everybody thinks, “Yeah—! That’s exactly what’s going on here. God is going to rip out the sinners. About time, too!”
What actually happened? Well, what happens is that the gardener says to the owner, “Hang on a minute, let me water it, let me dig around the roots and put in fertilizer and manure. Let me give it another year, and we’ll see how it goes then. And here is the test: what I’ve often heard Christians say is, “Well of course God wants to punish the wicked fruitless people, but Jesus is the kind gardener who intercedes for us sinners.”
Ummm…. if we know that God is like Jesus— you know: if you have seen me you have seen the Godr… that stuff. Well… if Jesus would come in and say to the landowner, “Don’t rip out the fig tree, then isn’t that what God would do? Isn’t that what God is like?
This is where the little trap snaps shut on us in this parable. Because, actually, the gardener in this world is God. It’s us… who rip out the fig trees. It’s us… who say to people, “You’re not good enough; you haven’t done well enough; you haven’t borne fruit; you’re not like us; you’re Muslim or First Nation or Syrian so we’re ripping you out. We’re going to shove you in jail; we’re going to cut off your benefits; we are rejecting you.”
God is the gardener, and God says, “No, let me look after this person. Let me nurture this person. Let me love this person, and lavish even more attention and love upon them. And then we’ll see what happens.”
If we have been paying any attention to our faith… if we have been letting God touch us at all, we realize that God gives us much, much more than a single year. God doesn’t give us just one more year: we are a long-lived species, three score years and ten. It’s common for people to live well into their 90’s, and beyond. And all the time, the gardener is lavishing love upon us, if we would only look and listen.
If we’ve been paying any attention to our faith, and letting the spirit move in our hearts, we’ve begun to realize something else: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Not even death. So, even after death, even if we’ve remained a fruitless fig tree, God does not give up on us.
‘Us’ is the church so God is not giving up their either. We can withhold our time, talents and treasure, we can keep our hearts locked safely away but God will continue to care for us, nudge us to growth, shake our roots even add manure for good measure. God will not give up even when we do, so maybe it’s time to stop arguing the argument that we know we cannot ever win and turn our whole selves to God. We just might be amazed at how the Spirit will work in you and me and us.
Sermon for March 17, 2019 Second of Lent “Nourishment”
“Surely I say to you, your house will be left desolate.” When you hear ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ you will discover that you have waited too long to seek the protection of Jesus and God.
To be nourished by the teaching of Jesus actually, at least in my mind, is to know the teaching and to live into them each day. The harsh words of Jesus that I opened with, are directed to those who know Jesus and yet choose to not pay attention.
Last week I looked briefly at saying yes and no, and your homework of when are you a blessing and when are you blessed. Today I would like to take a glimpse into how we go about using what we have been given. And yes, just to be clear at the outset, that is money and resources. Stewardship is really all about caring for, managing and using something that is not yours, but which you have been given for a time. It’s yours to look after and use on behalf of its rightful owner. A good steward always manages what they have been given as a response to the one who owns it and who have given it to them. And that includes our time and resources.
One day, two people from the same congregations were having coffee and talking about church stuff: you know, the regular chitter chatter. Finally, one says to the other, you know I’ve gone to worship for 30 years now and in that time I have heard like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the ministers are wasting theirs by their giving sermons at all. Well, the other person thought for a moment and then replied, you know, I’ve been married for 30 years. In that time, my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. Bur for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this, they all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to worship for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!
According to Graham Standish, a Presbyterian minister in the USA, worship must provide ‘a tangible sense that Christ is in their midst, an encounter and experience of God’. Worship is not just a show we attend on those Sunday mornings when we have time. Worship is not a spectator sport. Worship is not something that can only occur in this building and this space. Worship does not even require the traditional trappings of minister, organist, and choir: hymnbook and bulletin. ‘In worship, as we sing songs, listen to the messages, read through scripture, and pray together, we can experience that precious love of God that is for each of us, and in that love discover a sense of belonging and perhaps even purpose for our own lives…worship takes us into the heart of God’.
Worship like stewardship, is about our response to God; who God is and what God does. As part of our worship today we heard the psalmist proclaim: ‘God is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?’ and ‘I believe that I shall see God’s goodness in the land of the living.’ There is a response that is often used at Conference and especially youth forum: God is good…all the time, All the time…God is good. So whether we are in worship or the space between worship God is with us. All that happens is our response to God’s goodness
In our faith community, our community and world no one person can do everything. That is why we are called to share that which has been given to us. So that all may be benefit from the vast resources of the planet and it’s people. The budget committee is asking that you consider a cup of coffee a week more than you do now, that is about $2, at least at MacDonald’s for the not seniors coffee. That will maintain our budget. To take on the challenge of the deficit the increase will need to be much more. I do not nor does the budget committee tell you what to give. What you give is your response to a loving and generous God. Before you decide on your giving, stop to pray…discern if you are giving only from the excess or from your heart of generosity. Then respond as the council of God directs.
Together we are about the witness of Jesus in this place. With our prayer, our gifts of time, talent and resources, St. Mark’s will sustain its place as a relevant and spirit filled sanctuary of hope and hospitality.
Sermon for March 10, 2019 First in Lent “In the Wilderness”
In the next weeks I am going to explore the themes of Lent, the opportunities of stewardship and the delight of working toward a common goal. This may be a bit ambitious but I am sure that together we can move forward. As I turned my calendar to March, there is a picture of a wire footbridge spanning a large chasm. It reminds me of the nature of goals and in print are the words ‘you must keep your mind on the objective, not on the obstacle’.
Our Gospel lesson today is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. As the story unfolds Jesus has fasted for forty days and is then confronted by the devil who challenges him to turn rock into bread, that all glory and authority will be granted in Jesus bow to the devil and the claim that the angels will save him if he threw himself off the spire. Even famished, Jesus had his eye firmly fixed on the goal, which is to love and trust God. This time of preparatory fasting gave Jesus the insight and sight to know when something or someone around him was not of God.
This is what Jesus did to prepare for his ministry; it is not what we have to do. Fasting for forty days is in all likelihood not a good plan. The message is to prepare, not too fast for forty days. Preparation and living a Christian live is a practice, with practice comes insight, with insight comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the knowledge that in this life we can never complete the practice.
As those who follow Jesus, each of us, constantly get to choose ‘no’ or ‘yes’. Will I do this or will I to that? How will I use the time resources I have be given? That’s a stewardship and discipleship question.
Actually, that is THE stewardship and discipleship question. As people of faith, we believe that all we have, from mismatched socks to our very lives. Comes from God. God generously shares and gives to us, because God loves us. And not just us, but everyone. Every living being on the planet and beyond the planet. That is how expansive God’s love is.
It is up to each of us then to decide how we are going to use whatever God has given us. God knows us pretty well. So God has given us some guidelines, assistance, and yes, even some rules to help us make good decisions about how we are going to use all this that God gave us. It is not that God doesn’t trust us, but let’s just say our track record for using what God has given us hasn’t been exactly stellar. There is the story of Abram and Sari where God says go where I tell you and I will bless you and make you a great nation. All Abram and Sari have to do is follow God and they get it all. The catch is to follow, use all they have to bless God and lean into God’s leading and all around will experience the blessings of God.
God’s call to follow and be a blessing was not a one time thing. It is still true today. I want you to recall a time when you were blessed……. And now I want you to recall a time you were a blessing. Being part of this family of faith is a blessing.
Now for my not so rhetorical question: why is it that we keep our faith and St. Mark’s such a secret?
I know there are time when we want to speak to others about St. Mark’s and yet somehow we keep silent. Nowhere in scripture or the teachings of Jesus is there the directive to be silent about your faith or your church. There was no school yard pinky-swear to keep a secret. To use the Gospel language, I challenge you to speak the Good News and the good news of St. Mark’s especially when the “devil” implores you to be silent. I challenge you to not only speak but to invite someone or somebodies to join you in worship for any and all Sunday’s but especially March 31 when we will have a celebration Sunday and lunch. St. Mark’s seems to be the best-kept secret in town and that condition stops now. No longer will we be the church tucked in behind Barnhill School, we will be the place to be, to worship, to learn and to reach out in Saint John. Yes, we are planning to enhance our social media presence but our best presence is you. You speaking and inviting and living out the teaching of God and Jesus to follow and be a blessing. I assure you there will be a chorus of voices saying ‘you don’t really have to do that’ or ‘someone else will do that’ or ‘that will be embarrassing’, the sound of that voice is the one saying ‘be small, be silent, success is too costly’. That is the voice of obstacle and to that Jesus says ‘get behind me satin’. Keep your heart, mind, soul and eye on the objective. For us right now that is: alive with the Spirit, relevant and a place where all belong and are welcome.