Sermon for June 21, 2020 Third after Pentecost “Tough Good News”
Of all the noteworthy sayings there are, the two that get us into trouble for not heeding are; in social and family gatherings do not talk about religion or politics and three’s a crowd.
The texts today from Romans and Matthew are challenging and force deeper than the surface of the usual niceness of our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is more than rainbows and butterfly kisses. He is challenging, can push our buttons especially our ego buttons and Jesus loves us no matter what. So let’s wade into the waters of relationship, sin and the love of Jesus.
Father Thomas Keating expressed wonderfully the well-established path to maturity both mentally and spiritually in this way: “The freedom Jesus promises involves letting go of our small self, our cultural biases, and even our fear of loss and death. Freedom is letting go of wanting more and better things; it is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others. It is even letting go of our need to know and our need to be right—which we only discover with maturity. We become ever more free as we let go of our three primary motivations: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem.”
Paul spends plenty of time teaching and preaching on sin. Much of what he says stems from his own challenges with living in right relationship with God. We tend to categorize sin into groups. Some sin is worse than another is. Over time what constituted sin changed. I define sin, if such a thing is even possible, as the actions and intentions that separate us from a full and complete relationship with God.
As Paul points out in Romans, because of our baptism we are born into a new relationship with Jesus and God. That new life places us in the path of decisions on how we behave each moment of each day. How we treat ourselves, each other and creation is a reflection on our relationship with God and Jesus. Will we be perfect? Absolutely not. Each miss-step that we recognize as such is actually a step closer to God. One of the detours we sometimes end on is about why we treat people and creation the way we do. Some believe that heaven is a reward sort of like allowance, If it do these things right or just do them then I get the reward. Jesus, I believe calls us into relationship with God and Jesus and from that place of profound love and acceptance we have the model and pattern for our relationship with all others and creation.
For example, there was a time when society believed we could treat people of colour or First Nations peoples how ever we wanted; enslaved, abused, raped, forced education. We recognize that is just wrong and not in keeping with a belief in Jesus. So we changed and are changing. Recognize our sin, make amends and work our hardest to live in right relations. It is not easy, reparation never is but it is essential if we claim Jesus as Saviour.
In Matthew Jesus talks about setting family members against one another. In a time of rigid adherence to orthodoxy and little tolerance for not towing the family or Synagogue’s idea of truth, Jesus teaches about a relationship with God first. Then all other relations will flourish. Jesus knew this was going to be challenging and that it had the potential to set family members against one another. Over the centuries, not much has changed. In our day we say, three’s a crowd’ because we know one will be left out or at least feel they are. Jesus teaches, first you and God, then everyone else. Again we have this desire or need to place family or friends before God and Jesus and our egos rebel when Jesus calls us to love God first. Loving God first enables our hearts and minds to be in better relations with family and friends. Sounds easy but living a life of faith is challenging.
Finally, Jesus embodies the love that God has always had for us and creation. It is in the context of this profound love that we can have life in abundance and love with vigor. It is not a reward; it is the benefit of knowing that we are first loved, beyond our understanding. It is in living our lives as if this matters that marks us as believers. My prayer is that our lives as individuals and as a church embody the teaching to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and body and to love others as God loves you”. A tough Good News but one essential for creation’s survival.
And Jesus extends the invitation…Follow me.
Sermon for June 7, 2020 Trinity Sunday “Conundrum”
Today is Trinity Sunday. Amen.
Shortest sermon ever! Eyes glaze over, minds drift to more exciting things like watching paint dry, thoughts of feigning a cough or seizure, well almost anything to escape the contortions of Trinity. And to make matters even more interesting the Gospel text also includes Matthew’s great commission.
So let’s rewind for a moment. Trinity Sunday or Trinity in general is meant to be perplexing and complicated and mysterious. A conundrum that we may never completely understand in a way that can be articulated but one we can know in our heart and mind.
There have been many attempts to explain the Trinity dating back to the beginnings of Christianity. To make it simpler for example, think of: an egg needs three things to be an egg, shell, yoke, white, or the wood of a tree; root wood, trunk wood and branch wood. One example comes from a family zoom call last Sunday where my great nephew was showing his Lego creation. After the showing he said it was three sets that he made into one. That got me thinking, each Lego set was unique unto itself, each set made something really neat and cool. Combining them made a whole new creation that had parts of each but the whole was different. The examples go on in a long litany of ways to explain. Steven Eason suggests it may be easier to explain the Trinity by ignoring it completely. For example, I baptize in the name of God, Amen. Well that sounds odd and incomplete. The same hold true for I baptize you in the name of Jesus, Amen or the Spirit, amen. We know there is something missing, perhaps plenty missing in each version. We have this felt sense that God is more than just Creator, or Jesus or Spirit. God is all of them and the three make the one, well…more.
It is supposed to be mystery, it is supposed to be conundrum, we are not supposed to be able to explain the mystery and yet we are called to spend a lifetime figuring it out. So yes, I can’t explain it and yes I believe it with all my being. Mystery and conundrum.
Shirley Guthrie writes “the same God who is God over us as God the Father and Creator, and God with and for us as the incarnate Word and Son, is also God in and among us as God the Holy Spirit”. When Jesus sends the disciples into the world it is with all the three attributes of God, there is no other way. Jesus sends us into the world to make disciples as our first mission. If our only mandate is to Baptize then all we have accomplished is getting people wet. That might be fun, but accomplishes nothing. Even saying the words : I Baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not a magical formula against all the ills of the world. It is an entry point to discipleship and that means you are a learner for life.
We are called into a lifetime of learning, of sharing truths and listening to the truths of others. It is about disciple making. I do not often comment of politics in preaching but let me say that I find it offensive that Mr. Trump forced peaceful protesters to the side so he could go get a photo-op with a bible. In a church he does not attend and a book his actions indicate he clearly does not believe in. The teachings of Jesus in the Bible would have witnessed the leader sitting and standing with the protesters adding his voice against the scars of racism. What would Jesus teach about Trumps behaviour, would he point to his action and say; that is discipleship? Not the Jesus I believe in.
From the time of our getting wet in Baptism to now, we have learned plenty and even learned that what we once learned is being learned again in new ways. For example we once believed that the earth was ours to use and abuse however we pleased. We have learned something different in the past years. Being a steward and caretaker of ‘garden earth’ requires that new learning. Jesus teachings are like that.
Each day is a mystery and conundrum to behold. How freeing it is to come to the realization that we can live quite gloriously not knowing the answers. So, be you, be in the world in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Go, make a difference.
Sermon for May 31, 2020 Pentecost “In the Beginning…Again”
In the beginning, there was nothing. At least as far as we humans are aware. Our solar system and galaxy a tiny point in a vast universe and it still is by the way. Into this tiny space, God breathed life with imagination and colour and diversity.
Skip ahead millions of years and here we are in the midst of Pentecost celebrations in 2020. Basking in the fresh and stirring winds of God and Jesus. The same wind and breathe that stirred in creative moments so long ago.
It seems to be our nature to look at events as new, or never happening before. Pentecost has been building for thousands of years. The breath of creation, the wind of freedom in the Exodus, the cadence of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones, the dance of birthing with Mary and Elizabeth, the forceful prose of John the Baptizer, the wind of the spirit to the disciples and the ‘they’, the rush of humanity trying to rescue itself from its own abuse and our present days of change and preparation for even more new waves of being.
Pentecost has been and will continue as our lives as people continue in the creative flow of growth. Pentecost will be with us individually as we are touched by this felt presence of God. Pentecost infiltrates our very being with energy for hope and resilience. This day weaves together all our history, the good the bad and the ugly and prepares us for today and tomorrow.
We know on a personal level how quickly our life can take a new direction or meaning. We have a deeper appreciation how in society even the global societies life can change very rapidly. The lives of the disciples in a few short years changed dramatically. Now they are wondering what next. We are wondering the same thing…what next.
I would like to focus on the what next in our faith and sprit lives. The Acts text refers to “They were all together in one place” there is not much clarity as to the ‘they’. Certainly the disciples and the women and children who have accompanied them these three years. Scholars are in some agreement that there were others as well. The ‘they’ can also refer to the community of believers wherever they gather in one place. The ‘they’ can also refer to all people. The power of the Spirit has never been bound by walls, geography or time. The influence is as real and potent today as it was in the creative process, the Pentecost of Jesus day and all moment in-between.
The vibrant ecstasy of Pentecost happens in a few moments “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…”. The work of Spirit begins first with our knowing we are filled with the Holy Spirit and then informs our intentions and actions each day. We are filled with differing gifts that benefit the mission of ministry of Jesus right where we are. Thank goodness that is the way, as there are many and varied tasks that require our attention as individuals, church and community each day. David Bender offers this insight “This narrative challenges our congregations to find the Spirit within them and to locate, claim and utilize their authentic voices, gifts and skills with which to love and serve. However, we cheapen the Spirit and her gifts if we reduce them to dwelling exclusively within the individual. This Spirit that swept through the house gifted more than those disciples at Pentecost and the disciples with whom we minister today. That Spirit has been loosed into the world and its creative and life-giving power is now the gift of families and communities, of churches and of nations. The relevant question becomes not just ‘how will I respond to these party gifts of the Spirit? But how will we respond to these gifts”.
How will I respond? Touched and immersed with Holy Spirit compels us beyond mere spectator status. It seems that Spirit stirs is us a recollection that we are God’s precious ones and that motivates us to activity.
Perhaps the words of Daniel Damon sum it all up best in the opening stanza of the he penned: “I have called you by your name, you are mine; I have gifted you and ask you know to shine. I will not abandon you; all my promises are true. You are gifted called and chosen; you are mine”.
Sermon for May 24, 2020 Ascension/Seventh of Easter
Bookends are those useful, sometimes decorative, sometimes plain devices to keep our books neat and tidy. Bookends offer the parameters to a random set of books, our favorites or a collection. Within the church year there and seasons that are set apart, defined so that we can stay on track, so to speak. From the first Sunday in Lent through Holy Week and Easter and the Sundays after Easter to Ascension, we are in that Holy prepares us for crucifixion, Resurrection and then prepares us for life without the physical presence of Jesus. The time is bookended for us and we are now at the end.
So what now?
The biblical narrative indicates the disciples are standing staring at the heavens. In awe, wonder, aghast or just waiting for Jesus to return we do not know. “Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘You from Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” That seemed to shake the disciples to action. For they now knew that Jesus would return and the promised Spirit and advocate would soon arrive.
I do not doubt the disciple’s sense of adventure, tenacity and courage. They have shown those traits since Jesus called them to follow. That following was not always easy but they always had the real presence of Jesus. Now, before their eyes, Jesus is taken to heaven and they are on their own, so to speak.
After a time, the disciples begin to share the story of Jesus, they teach, they heal, they baptize and they are astonished at the transformation of people. Not everyone believes but enough do that the group of twelve becomes hundreds, then thousands and in time a worldwide movement.
The disciples, used to the protection of Jesus are venturing out on their own. They have no idea how different life is going to be, but they know they have each other and the promised protection of the Holy Spirit. That and first-hand knowledge of Jesus is enough for them to continue. As we will hear through the season of Pentecost, they never stop being amazed. For as much as they wanted Jesus to stay, for life to stay the same, that was never part of Jesus plan. At the end of each day, the disciples would tell stories of the wonder and power and simplicity of living the truth of Jesus.
We may need the same courage as the disciples in our day as we enter a new way of being Christian and new ways to proclaim the message of radical love and justice. The beginning of the year and for New Brunswick the beginning of March propelled us into very different ways of doing ministry. It was and continues to be uncharted territory and that is scary in its uncertainty. We are, beyond the bookends. We are learning new technology, using the phone more, praying more and for me more on the phone and we are learning. What has not changed is the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.
We may wish to stand staring into the heavens wondering where Jesus went. We may desire real and lasting answers to all the questions including the COVID-19 questions. The only truth that lasts is that Jesus loves us and Jesus calls us love our neighbour. We may long for the good ole days and eventually the teens of today will also long for the good ole days. We have today, we have Jesus and we have a mission.
So now what? We can stand staring into space wondering where Jesus is…We can know that outside the tidy bookends of Lent and Easter things can and will get messy. We can put on our galoshes and play in the puddles of the messiness. We can look around, look in the mirror and know that is where Jesus is, mess and tidiness together know this is where Jesus needs us today. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Sermon for April 26, 2020 Third of Easter “The Gift of Knowing”
Like many worship leaders in the Maritimes and across the country we are trying to understand, pray for and support the victims and affected communities in Nova Scotia after last weeks tragic events. To add this layer of terror to the disruption of COVID-19 puts us in a delicate and tender place. One that will require the combined wisdom and patience of all. Those most deeply affected and all in Nova Scotia will be held in tender prayer in the times to come. Our Christ Candle is lit… I now light a candle in solidarity and prayer for our neighbours in Nova Scotia.
Over the years, I have come to realize that scripture is a place of understanding and insight for what is happening in the world, community and personal life. I am aware of the dangers of taking a document that at its newest is 2000 years old and superimposing that on the 21st century. Society, context and life are vastly different now from two or seven thousand years ago. There are however lessons and teachings that can aid our understanding of ourselves and the nature of God and Jesus.
In the writings and reflections of Richard Rohr he points in this direction from a time when he was going through surgery. “During that time, it was not the indirectness that hit me in this passage, but the directness! My best spiritual knowing almost always occurs after the fact, in the remembering—not seen “until God has passed by.” I realized that in the moments of diagnosis, doctor’s warnings, waiting, delays, and the surgery itself, I was as fragile, scared, and insecure as anybody would be. If I could stay with the full narrative all the way into and through, only afterward could I invariably see, trust, and enjoy the wonderful works of God.”
When we first hear news, we think it will not happen to us, then it does affect us and our family and community and it is not until we have walked the fragile walk of being vulnerable and scared that we begin to witness God’s wonder, of the unfolding of creation. The world is still in the grips of a pandemic and there is no clear view of an ending. Speculation is certainly the stuff of the virtual water cooler chat or virtual Tim’s café chat but in the end, it is conjecture, we do not know. So, we are left with being in the present moment with its challenges, frustrations and opportunities. We may wonder where God is in all this but ancient and new wisdom reminds us that it is not until we have walked through the valley and look back, that it then starts to make sense and we can see the nudging and love of God with clarity.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus were astounded at the teachings of the stranger they met along the way. For seven miles, they listened to history being revealed in the present context. It was sacred obligation to offer hospitality to this stranger and I expect they wanted to hear more. At supper, the stranger broke bread and shared it with all. In that single moment, their eyes were opened and they recognized the risen Lord. In the instant of recognition, Jesus disappeared from sight and they were utterly amazed. Were not our hearts burning as he spoke along the road they exclaimed…and it all made sense.
After the experience they could see clearly the hand and working of God and they were filled with wonder. If they had tried to figure it out sooner, if they had grown weary of the journey or the speaking along the way the ending would be very different.
Our situation is in many ways similar. We know there are lessons to be learned, that we are being prepared for something new, we have a growing awareness that live is not ‘going back to normal’ and we are in the midst of transformation. We are however required to finish the journey. It is only then that the truths that we can now see dimly, will be revealed. It is at that point we can be in awe of the glory of God…again.
In my prayer and reflection time these days the image of the encounter of God and Moses keeps appearing. The scene where Moses wants to see God. God says certainly but you cannot see my face only my back. As God passes, Moses eyes are covered, and only when God passes can he see. I am reminded, gently chastised and grateful that God is always ahead of us leading the way.
We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.