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

Believe, Belong, Become

Sermon for January 21, 2018

Sermon for January 21, 2018 3rd After Epiphany

This was Jonah’s second trip in so many days to Nineveh and Jonah was as convinced this time as last that these people did not or would not hear or heed the word of God. As Jonah mumbled along the roads and crescents, the strangest thing started to happen. The word proclaimed by Jonah became clear. Perhaps it was the perceived persistence of Jonah or that God does have the capacity to open ears and hearts to hear and receive we may never know. To Jonah’s surprise the people heard, they joined him in the streets, they changed their ways and Jonah, yes Jonah was changed as well.
It is always interesting to me how the same collection of words can be understood in so many ways. How the same literature can move some to tears and disgust others. Perhaps that is why communication is always our biggest challenge. In the Gospel, Mark accounts for us the call of the first disciples. Why is it that the call of Jesus was so motivating for Simon and Andrew that they left home and followed Jesus? Why is it that the call of Jesus did not resonate with Zebedee and the hired helpers and yet was so powerful to James and John?
I think the answer is quite simple. Then as now, we cannot all be and do the same thing. We cannot all be teachers or lawyers, nurses or doctors, mayors or police. We each hear the call to be something, someone different. Not everyone needed to be a disciple and Jesus knew that. So this ragtag group of folks were essential to the Good News being proclaimed, they were the ones who gathered folks from the towns and villages to hear Jesus. They, along with many others, looked after the needs of Jesus and sustained him along the way.
It is also, why Zebedee and so many others stayed behind. They heard the call differently and chose to live out that call right where they are.
As I step back and view the story of Jonah and the call of disciples, it becomes clear to me that we are strategically placed right where we are with the right skills, the right temperament, and the right attitude to accomplish the work of Jesus. Not any one is more important for it takes us all. That is both exciting and scary at the same time.
Jonah did not think Nineveh deserved to hear the word of God, God thought different. We may wonder why that person is here, God does not, for we are all essential for the work and witness in our day. Anne Lamont from Mindful Christianity says: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do”. With all ranting these days about who is allowed in and who is not, who is worthy and who is not; it behooves us to stop, step back, be silent…and wait on the word of God. Each person that comes before us carries a huge sign that says: I am God’s. It is not our task to argue with God but to be followers of God. To live out the ancient and new mission of feeding, housing, tending to, welcoming, visiting, and then we will be participants in and witness the acceptable year of God.

Sermon for Nov. 12, 2017 23rd of Pentecost

Sermon for November 12, 2017 23 After Pentecost “Old Story-New Story”
Weddings, ah weddings! They can be the best of times or the worst of times. I have conducted many that went off without a hitch and a few that well, were one occurrence after another. But in all cases the festivities after the wedding were of joy and hope. I know the anxiety for parents as they see their children wed. And the hope of couples as they take wedding vows. It is a time charged with emotion, not just the emotion when your team wins, but the emotion of a lifetime.
In Jesus’ day, weddings were grand and community events. Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding of Cana. Wedding started at the bride’s house with celebrating and feasting without the groom. At some point in the evening, the groom would arrive and there would be a grand procession to his house for the ceremony and days of celebrating. The bridesmaids and groomsmen would light the way with lanterns and torches.
Our mission and hope is to live with expectation. At the heart of our faith is the certainty that human history has a purpose and a goal and that it is moving toward eventual fulfillment and completion. We do not articulate it very well and in fact sometimes we avoid this topic because of its abuse by evangelical eschatologist’s, who sell lots of books describing the end of history in graphic and violent terms and who focus on the end times to the neglect of this time, this world. The scholars offer a caution as we read this parable and it has to do with leaping ahead and our desire to determine who is in and who is out of the kingdom of God.
To give away the punch line, the parable is about today and paying attention.
We often hear that running out of oil and some of the bridesmaids being foolish is the only message in the story. Since the groomsmen were with the groom they did not worry about when the groom was arriving, they were there so late or early did not matter. The wisdom of the parable for today is about paying attention and being present. The bridesmaids who were not at the banquet feast did not focus on the task. One or two or even five less lamps would not have made a difference. Showing up makes the difference.
The early disciples and Christians had to get used to the idea that Jesus’ return may not be in their day. They had to figure out how to live out the mission of Jesus without him and in the new truth that he was retuning sometime, and well only Jesus knows that. It is our task as well. John Buchanan writes, “the end of time is not the point here. The point is living expectantly and hopefully. Christian hope rest on trust that the God who created the world will continue the process of creation until the project is complete, and will continue to redeem and save the world by coming into it with love and grace, in Jesus Christ”.
In our day we get tired of waiting easily. And there are days when it seems that all we do is wait. I heard the comment the other day that went something like this ‘I wish Christmas would hurry up and get over’. Really? It has not even started and some are wishing it were over, like wishing away two months of their life. Waiting for Jesus is not the idle, impatient waiting that befalls us when we survey the lines at the supermarket, pick the one we think is the fastest, only learn that it is the slowest. No it is expectant waiting, it is alive waiting, it is waiting in action.
As potent as the parable is, I have some issues. Are we alone responsible for our faith life? Will Jesus find me in the dark? Can I Share? What would happen if we share? I have a knowing that Jesus will find the faithful in daylight and in the dark. I am responsible for the living out of my faith and I have an obligation to share the teachings of Jesus in a way that is inviting for others. So they can live their lives in faith.
Or, is the oil a symbol or image of our faith life? That our faith life takes constant tending to lest it flicker and go out. The richness of parable is the scope of possibility for understanding Jesus teachings. Again Jesus reminds us that faith takes practice, it takes prayer and meditation, it takes action and it takes being open to the movement toward the completion of God’s realm on earth.

Sermon for November 5, 2017

Sermon for November 5, 2017 Remembrance Sunday “No Longer Unaware”
When Nicholas was in Middle school he came home all excited about a book the English teacher had suggested. It was the Hobbit and he was thrilled to tell me the adventures of these smallish people. I was excited too as I had had the stories and thoroughly enjoyed them. So when I told him I had the book, actually the 50th anniversary edition, he was perplexed and thrilled.
Perplexed because he thought they were new stories and thrilled because no one else had the 50th anniversary edition and that we could talk about the same books. If you know the stories great. It is about the Hobbits of the Shire. Their town is one of joy and energy and hope. It is the place where they are restored and renewed. And no Hobbit can imagine leaving. Until one day one of the Hobbits does leave and is thrust in worlds he never could imagine in his wildest dreams. No matter where the journey led, there was always the Shire that was the anchor, the place he could go back to, even in his mind, and find joy and peace and hope.
There was a time when home and community and church were the places that nourished me and brought hope and joy. But then, as I was encouraged to do, I left. At first I did not go far but then I ventured further and further. And each time I arrived hope there was hope and joy but it was different.
This St. Mark’s is a safe place and a place of hope and joy. And as I said a few weeks ago it is a place where we are filled to overflowing with hope and joy so that we might be able to be about the work Jesus has invited us into and give all the hope and joy away. But each time we leave we learn more about the need, the ways of the world, the demands placed on us as people of faith and the tugs to just abandon faith and join the ranks of the social or the blissfully unaware.
Each time we spend a week in the world, we discover that the language of our parents and grandparents is not working so good. Even the ways of being church that worked so well in the 60’s and 70’s do not resonate and are sort of like a clanging gong in the ears of many.
Jesus talks about the Pharisees. They were in the history of the Hebrew people the ‘freedom fighter separatists’ the ones who could see the need for change and did change the way the people viewed and knew God. But after a while they became mainstream and were just a bunch of older men retelling the stories of the good ole days. Jesus implores us to listen but also to move past what they do. Listen to the lessons they teach but please, please do not do what they do. Just sitting around telling by gone tales does nothing for the kingdom right now.
We leave here so that we might experience the world, to learn the language, to discover the need and bring that back so that what we offer is relevant and spoken in a way that makes sense. I have a sense that Jesus knew the challenge and the need to be great. So there is this caution: when you the church feel that you are right and great and above all…then you will be least and you will be inconsequential. The message and root place of hope, joy and peace do not change, they ground us and keep us focused on Jesus. What changes is our awareness of the world in which we live and the ever changing language we need to learn to share the message so that it can be heard in new and fresh ways for others and most importantly for ourselves.

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