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St. Mark's United Church

Believe Belong Become

Sermon for March 13, 2022

Sermon for March 13, 2022               Lent Two         “Is the welcome for Jesus?”

The teaching of Jesus for today as recorded in Luke is delightfully filled with a many hued palette of layers. Some are obvious some not so much so. It is one of those teachings that each time we read, we discover a new insight. Unlike Matthew who places this story near the end of Jesus teaching, Luke places it near the beginning. A glimpse if you will of the daily challenges Jesus will have with the leadership of the Empire and the Church. Of the concern Jesus has for the people, not just the people of Jerusalem but all people. And the image of a new way of being with God, prophesied.

We know that Herod was a ruthless leader who had little regard for people or for anything that got in the way of his ego. The Pharisees walked a fine line between holding the line on Jewish law and practice and not wanting to upset Roman rule, especially Herod’s rule. They did not like the growing support of Jesus as he constantly made them look like fools. They also knew that Herod would see Jesus as a Jewish trouble maker and by default look bad for the Synagogue. So they came to Jesus to warn him about Herod. Jesus could see their self-interest and their split allegiance so sent them back to Herod with a message that God’s plan would not be stopped.

Jesus also recognized that the people of Jerusalem were caught in the middle of ego battles and power battles that they had no control over and yet they significantly affected their daily life. And Jesus just wanted to somehow protect them.

This story can easily be placed into our context today. COVID protocols have been in place and it has been an exercise in flexibility to keep up to the changes, growing extremist movements as witnessed at borders, cities and towns, the war on Ukraine and humanitarian crises growing there and in many parts of the world, the price of gas, food and well everything, and the growing anxiety about life as we know it. Jesus is aware of all that is happening, the true intent of leaders, the wondering of church folk and our growing uneasiness about the future.

And we hear “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” The church, founded on the teachings Jesus, has been consistent and perhaps the only constant in these years. And yes I know technology has made being present difficult for some, there are many who continue to seek solace, peace and purpose in empire and principalities. And it is not working out so well.

The invitation of Jesus to follow is founded on one main and constant guiding marker: to love others. If what a church professes or its members profess does not meet this one command, then a re-evaluation of itself is in order. It does not mean that the love of God or Jesus is withheld from anyone…it means the beliefs and actions of churches must this one benchmark.

Jesus is extending the invitation to come under his love and care. It is an invitation…we have to respond. And in these days and this time of being, cared for and protected is desperately needed.

So I am going to do something you almost never hear preachers say…

Close your eyes          take three deep breaths          be still              and know        Jesus’ love

Feel the embrace of Jesus surrounding our anxious minds and beating hearts

Feel the warmth of the comforting warmth of Jesus

Breath             Three more breaths

From now on every time you are too immersed in too CBC or CTV or CNN 24-hour news channels, turn them off        close your eyes           breath              and know the embrace of Jesus.

Then we can re-engage in the world with love and kindness and be the followers of Jesus.

Sermon for March 6, 2022

Sermon for March 6, 2022 Lent One “If you are…”
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” This teaching from Luke happens immediately after the baptism of Jesus and at the beginning of his ministry. And we may wonder why this reading finds its way into our Lenten readings that lead us in the ending days and weeks of Jesus ministry.
Biblical scholar Sharon Ringe reminds us that the love of God for Jesus is as powerful at the beginning of his ministry as it is at the end. It is also the very same temptations that the followers of Jesus will face in the first century and the twenty-first century and beyond. Since there are no witnesses to this event we are given a peek into the theological mindset of Luke which is the constant interplay of love and possibility between God, Spirit, Jesus and the community.
It is also a reminder that Lent is an intentional time of preparation and a time of spiritual deepening in our practices related to our faith and the decisions we make every day of life. Our human default position is to take the path of least resistance, we, for the most part just can’t help it. But once on the path what looked like a leisurely walk became increasingly difficult.
There is a wonderful collection of guide books in NB on hiking trails, biking routes and waterfalls. They each give a degree of difficulty. How often do we look at these guides and ponder ‘it really can’t be that difficult’ and we start off to find out that we, go figure, were wrong? It is wise to note that these books were written by seasoned hikers and heeding the information is a good idea. When we drive there are signs to help us all be safe, at school, at the pool, at the gym, at the stores there are signs that aid us along the way.
Jesus was led into the wilderness, there was no guide, no map of where the hazards are and no one who had been there before. Just be in the desert as preparation time. The volumes written on this text are numerous and varied and would take speed reader years to get through them. And I’m so sure we would be any smarted at the end of it all.
This is our Lenten journey, it is not the same as Jesus 40 days in the wilderness, and my journey well look different than yours. What we are call to…is to start the journey and stick with it for 40 days. A practice that clears the collectables of our lives and leaves room for God and Jesus to speak and to lead.
For me one of my questions is; if I am Christian my response to what is happening will look and sound like…
I can assure you it is not always easy. How do I live in community that has been challenged by COVID in a way that is safe for me and others after March 14? I light of our beautiful and challenged past as settlers in Canada how do I live with those who were here? Can I pray for the people of the Ukraine and the people of Russia? Wilderness time, intentional wilderness time is to confront these questions, big and small, be tested and emerge with some degree of perspective on the inner truths that ground my responses.
The challenge is that coming face to face with these challenges come when we are least prepared. After 40 days Jesus must have been hungry so the temptation of food would be…well…tempting. And that leads to a post Easter peek. The practices of Lent are intended to be practices for life and for life. But more on that later.
Right now this day and for the duration of Lent what foundational pieces are you putting in place that will sustain you, this community of faith, the community of faith for the mission of Jesus in our world? Then we can live into the sneaky questions that begin with ‘so…you are a Christian, what about…’ and we can with assurance respond with a resounding yes to Jesus and a faithful yes to the truth that I am a follower and believer of Jesus. The path will be time of green pastures and still waters…and…times when fear grips our lives and intentions, and everything in-between.
The Jesus movement has thrived over these past 2000 years, changed, adapted, grown, changed some more and will continue to do so. That is, I believe because the answers of Jesus in the desert are modeled by all who follow…God’s will is being done, anew each day. No one generation can see the end, we are called to faithfully build and rebuild. As Christians, followers of Jesus the is the most and least we can do and be.

Sermon for February 27, 2022

Sermon for February 27, 2022 Transfiguration “Awesome”
It is true that there are some things that you just cannot un-see. Once seen and witnessed they are indelibly etched in your brain and memory.
The transfiguration for Peter, John and James was one of those moments. After they recovered from that awesome moment, they were able to speak of the events, I expect in ways that even words could not capture.
Jesus, Peter, James and John went up a mountain to pray, while praying ‘the appearance of Jesus face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus. They appeared in glory and spoke of his departure’. There they stood, this image blazed in their mind, mouth agape and unable to do anything but stare. As if that were not awesome enough a voice, not any voice but the voice of YHWH, of God saying ‘this is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him’. For some time, these disciples where awed to silence but not forever.
This event combined with all the other events in the life of Jesus leave us with no doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, Immanuel and Saviour. For Luke this text come fairly early in the ministry of Jesus. He has healed, taught, cast out demons and has just fed the five thousand and predicted his suffering and death by the leaders. This is affirmation that all the work to date has been essential and now Jesus knows the full scope of his purpose. It also provides the energy and drive for the next years of his ministry and keeps front and centre the urgency of the teachings.
Perhaps that is why the teachings are filled with saying such as; if you have ears to hear the hear, or do you still not understand. The disciples may think there is all kinds of time but Jesus knows all too well that time is limited.
What comes next is our response to that truth.
In this brief encounter we learn three essential practices to being a follower of Jesus. Pray, reflect, act…repeat.
Oh, I can do that, no worries. These practices may be a part of your daily routine or they may be ‘as needed’ or anywhere in between. Jesus is not asking us to be perfect, he is calling us to follow these practices. To integrate them into our daily lives so that intentional connection with God and Jesus informs our thoughts and actions.
We may wonder if this sitting/walking/standing in prayer and meditation is actually doing anything. I expect Peter, James and John did not expect to be praying when Jesus took them to the top of the hill. I also do not expect they thought they would witness the event of the transfiguration. But that is the nature of being a follower of Jesus, you just never know what to expect. You just never know the gentle and persuasive power of your prayer. We all called to get past our 20/21st century notion that sitting still is doing nothing and re-introduce ourselves to the truth that prayer is something and does so much more that we can imagine.
One of the hurtles to cross is that like Peter, James and John we keep quiet because we imagine all sorts of reactions. On the way down the mountain I can hear the whispers; let’s just keep this to ourselves for now, let’s not give more to the notion that we really are a bit nuts. And they did not say anything.
We encounter Jesus in many ways: in our children, in nature, in our parents, in quiet moments, in times when all around us rages…and we keep silent.
We are in transformative times, our community and world is ready to hear, in the midst of the roar of competing voices, a voice that has the capacity to transfigure. And we, the witness of the awesome Jesus remains silent.
Our well-worn default is; I do not know what to say. Very much akin to Isaiah saying ‘I do not have the words’. For Isaiah an angel touched his lips with hot coal and the words came to him. Transfiguration is the hot coals for our lips and lives that push us from silence and secrecy to giving voice to truth that can transform the world. The only voices we are hearing is from the ‘honk, honk, me, me convoy, the attitude of ‘what’s all the fuss about black lives and indigenous lives’, invasion of the Ukraine and into the very midst of that, we are given the still small voice that when rooted in the love of Jesus will be heard in every ear and heart.
Into our days, we can no longer remain silent.

Sermon for February 20, 2022

Sermon for February 20, 2022           Seventh of Epiphany              “A New Way of Being”

In Luke we have the ‘sermon on the plain’, similar to and differing from Matthew’s ‘sermon on the mount’ offering the reader a broader view of the nature and wonder of Jesus. Luke reminds us that the coming of the Christ into the world makes a difference. In fact, the in-breaking of God into human history makes all the difference in the way we respond to other people.

Luke begins his account of Jesus’ life with the most complete telling of the birth of Jesus and the events leading up to that birth. Elizabeth and Zacharias, Mary and Joseph are excited to share the story of the pending births of their children. One the herald and one the Christ. Even with the backdrop of Roman Imperial rule that was oppressive and harsh, a baby is born and with that birth God is with us. Luke wants us to know that birth is a world and life changing event.

Memory and story are vital to our lived experience as individuals, family and groups. That is why we share stories and share pictures. I remember that…is a powerful beginning to where we are today. Luke wants us to remember and take seriously that God really came to us, that God uses people, events, history and vision to fulfill the purposes of God for humanity and creation. That memory was never intended to fade to the recesses of nostalgia. That Jesus that was born in a manger, the memory that is embedded into our memory from countless pageants, was never intended to remain there.

The question is; what about our lives now? Does the Jesus born is us make a difference in how we live with justice and compassion? To focus our attention and intention Jesus takes what we know as ‘the golden rule’ do unto others as you would have them do to you, and adds a twist. Jesus says yes to that…and ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and to respond always with compassion and kindness’. And our response might just be…how?

And Jesus says: be merciful, be kind, do not pass judgement and forgive. And again we may ask…how? How do we move from the natural instinct to match blow for blow and word for word? How do live our lives responding with grace and kindness, instead of reacting with words or actions that seek to answer hurt with more hurt?

For thousands of years the mantra was eye for an eye, hurt for hurt, mean word for mean word. In Jesus we hear ‘you have heard it said and eye for an eye, but I tell you and offer you a new way of being, love your neighbour and love your enemy, do not retaliate force with force, meanness with meanness, harsh word with harsh word.

Remember the birth of Jesus and the hope that surrounded that event? Thirty years later the full manifestation of that birth began to take shape, about three year later hate and entrenched belief were met with resurrection and from that moment on we have been trying our best to live into the single value of loving our neighbour and enemy. It is not a call to grit our teeth and make a resolution to be nicer even to those who are not nice to us. The call of Jesus as expressed in Luke is to live in a way contrary to our human nature, a way that is possible only as we live with a new power born from above.

For Luke, faith in Jesus is far more than giving cognitive assent to doctrines. Faith is a way of life, a way that is contrary to our own inclinations to answer hurt for hurt. Will we always get it right? Absolutely not but that does not mean we abandon faith. If this COVID time has taught us anything it is that fact and truth may look the same but vary greatly in interpretation. That we need to cling fiercely to Jesus teaching to love others, even our enemy. And when I see God’s or Jesus’ name used to justify or defend protests that are rooted in extremism, it is up to me to speak truth with compassion. Jesus calls us to a new and radical way of being and in Canada these last three weeks, some have missed the mark. What is encouraging is that many, actually most have been patient, impatiently patient but the most have been faithful. What is interesting is that if kind faithfulness sold papers or garnered media hits, the story would look much different.

In the midst of all that is good and kind and generous in the world may I and we abandon focusing on the fringe and cast our gaze to the people and places that are love. Cast our attention to the people and places that enhance our lives. And be and become a people blessed by Jesus to be a blessing to one other.

Sermon for February 13, 2022

Sermon for February 13, 2022           Sixth of Epiphany       “Choices that Challenge”

I was intrigued while reading the text from Jeremiah this week. It seems that this ancient prophet could easily step into our day and offer wisdom and direction. But first, let’s go back almost 3000 years to the time of Jeremiah. Years before the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians Jeremiah foretold that it was going to happen and yet the people dismissed him. As the Temple was being destroyed and the people taken captive or forced to flee to Egypt, Jeremiah implores them to remain faithful to God, to be as the tree planted by the river, that will not fade and where roots are planted deep, who will bring them back to restore the Temple. The words to those who are planning to give up or lose faith, are harsh from Jeremiah ‘cursed are those who trust in mere mortals…whose hearts turn away from God. They shall be like a shrub in the desert and shall not see when relief comes’.

In our day we are not going to be destroyed by the Babylonians but there are forces at work, and always have been, that are trying to crush the message of Jesus and God. For us today, COVID has given focus to those voices and many are fleeing from the teaching of Jesus. I am no expert on COVID but I do know that 20 years ago while I sat on the Bio-ethics committee for what was then Region 3 health authority, the infectious disease specialists where warning us of an impending epidemic and to be prepared. From my perspective today, that warning was mostly ignored. It can easily be argued that a pandemic is not really the same as the Temple being destroyed and a whole nation being displaced. Another truth that is more challenging is that Christians are no longer the dominant religious sector. The point is how we practice our faith in the face of challenging times, recognizing that we are now the remnant and in the face of pending disaster.

Many in Jeremiah’s day just walked away to leave a remnant few to rebuild the Temple. If census information is accurate and certainly our lived reality is that many have simply abandoned faith or treat it as a ‘when I need it’ sort of lifestyle, and COVID has just amplified and give excuse to, the exodus from church life or at least has made worship very accessible and engagement somewhat fractured.

We are the remnant few on whom the task of setting a new foundation for the church of the next generations falls. We may doubt our energy for the task but we are not being asked to do all the work, that will take generations. We are asked to be faithful to what we can do today. With our energy, our strength and our faithfulness. One of the traits of a people in exile is that they have been through the agonizing task of identifying what is of highest value and discarding the rest. After all, we can only carry so much. Jeremiah indicates that what is of highest value is our faithfulness.

Jesus follows that up with a series of blessings. Blessed are you poor now, you who hunger now, you who weep now and when people hate and refile you now. Unlike the beatitudes in Matthew, these words are spoken to just the disciples and closest followers. Those original few from which the teaching of Jesus spread. It was meant to encourage these first followers that in the face of discouragement and even anger, that there is blessing in the work and witness.

This is paralleled by woes. Woe to you who are rich, full, laughing and speak ill of you. For they will be like those in Jeremiah’s day who turn from God, from the truth and are like a shrub in the desert, parched and dried up.

This is not about pointing fingers at others and passing judgement. It is about recognizing the we all have the capacity to live in both areas, and we often do. It is about recognizing that Jesus continually calls us to faithfulness, not perfectness, but faithfulness. How then can we adopt a posture of blessing as a people, even a remnant people striving to be faithful in our day?

For me there are a few actions that I see as vital. I remain hopeful, hopeful that God will reveal a path forward. That the interaction of God with the people will not fade into an inglorious sunset, but it will renew and bring life as it always has. That may happen in my lifetime or it may not. I know my hope is rooted in a God who is faithful over the span of generations. I will surround myself with people and places that nourish my soul and who live in hopeful expectation. I will nourish in the best I can, the remnant so that we can be well in mind, body and spirit, so we will be able to withstand the pressures and be ready for God’s call to action. And I will not rush God’s timeline. This time can be viewed as fallow time, restorative time, desert time or wilderness time. The truth that God leads is challenging for leaders.

As God has done so many time in the span of history, God will restore the ‘temple’, the people and creation, and we will be as the vibrant tree rooted by the life-giving stream. Hope, faithfulness and trust in God are our moment by moment choices as we live as a remnant people.

Sermon for February 6, 2022

Sermon for February 6, 2022             Fifth After Epiphany                “Cast your Net”

Do you remember the time…?

The people of Corinth have just heard the text on love, we all know it well, ‘love is patient love is kind…these three abide, faith, hope and love but the greatest is love’. Now the people are wondering just when the Messiah will return. They are anxious for his promised return to bring about a new way of being in the world…as if his first appearance was not enough. The people are restless and drifting and losing interest. And Paul says remember when you first encountered Jesus? Remember how that felt? Remember the promises you made to Him and to yourself?

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…but when is he coming back? The answer from Jesus is ‘no one knows the day or the hour’ but the first generations of followers after Jesus resurrection held to the firm conviction that it would be during their lifetime. From our view we know that Jesus has not returned, and yet we wait, impatiently maybe but we wait.

Do you remember the time when you knew for sure that Jesus was going to make a difference in your life? For some it was dramatic and is etched into their minds forever. For others it was a slow realization that Jesus was important, a knowing that the teaching of Jesus was and are a foundation for life. No matter the how, what I am asking of you today is to remember. It might have been confirmation or baptism, a conversation or a moment in nature, but remember.

For me it was a slow steady realization of the importance of Jesus and his teaching. I most likely drove my family and Sunday school teacher’s crazy with all the questions and wonderings. I was involved in the church but did not consider ministry. St. Mary’s opened my eyes to the realm of urban planning and economics and it was not until half way through my last semester that the call to ministry became clear. The rest is a long story for another day.

To be sure we are part of a ‘larger than us’ story and our part is vital, even essential as believers actively wait for Jesus to come again. This waiting and working is hard work, made more challenging as we try to live faithfully into the teaching of Jesus in our 21st century context.

Take Simon for example. He was in tax debt to Rome and payment time was approaching. Being late on paying Rome was not good and the outcomes are all bad. So after fishing all day, Simon when out and fished all night. From sundown to sunup Simon fished. Casting his net, hauling it in, casting it again and hauling it in…and each time empty. Over and over…all night. I can only imagine his fatigue and sense of foreboding loss as he headed back to shore. And there a stranger meets him and tells him to cast one more time. What Simon really thought is not recorded but after some time and to if nothing else get rid of this pest, Simon casts his net one more time, this time on the other side of the boat.

From our limited vantage point it may seem that we are not accomplishing very much. With the influence of churches in decline, people moving away from religion or not being a part of religion like their parents or grandparents, with community and social good being displaced with ‘my rights’ and the lingering effects of COVID, it is little wonder that we are exhausted and want to give in to apathy. When someone comes along and says ‘do it this way’ we are understandably annoyed. I would argue that most of the time we ignore and continue on, but sometimes, out of weariness or an attitude of ‘if I do this will you leave me alone’, we do what, for all intents and purposes seems like a futile act.

All of a sudden Simons boat was tipping due to the large catch in the net, help arrived and two boats were filled to overflowing with fish. Simon’s response was ‘turn from me, I am a sinful man’ to which Jesus replied ‘come follow me and you to Andrew and James and John, come follow me’ I will open your eyes to wonder and joy in God. No more will your life be ‘same thing over and over’ I will show you a new way of being.

I am used to doing things the same way, it is comfortable and I expect the same is true for you. But what if we followed through on that crazy idea from the newcomer? What if we did try things differently? I know it would push my edges and yours too. And if we did would our nets be filled and our call from Jesus affirmed?

What I do know is that if Simon did not cast his net on the other side the story would have ended very differently. In this age of COVID weariness and mind numbing social media the time is right for Jesus to place in our midst that crazy idea that we for sure won’t work…or will it.

Sermon for January 30, 2022

Sermon for January 30, 2022            Fourth after Epiphany             “But Lord, I am only…”

Say what? Did I hear you correctly? Say that again. I can imagine the scene as it unfolds in the town of Nazareth. Jesus is home and everyone has heard the wonders and miracles that he has done in Capernaum. Everything is arranged just so, everyone is anticipating great things, certainly greater that what was done before, after all this is his home town, we are his people, he will certainly treat us better. So with wide eyes they hand Jesus the scroll of Isaiah and he reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And they all smiled with wonder and amazement.

Then Jesus says “today this has been fulfilled in your hearing” and the response is ‘say what?’

The people of Jesus day and people today and all in between share similar traits when it comes to many topics…we like them at arm’s length. Religion is great so long as I do not have to be engaged. I will name myself as Christian on the census form but please do not ask me how that makes a difference, please don’t ask me to understand the teachings and please do not inconvenience my life by asking me to take part in a community of faith. In Jesus day the action was considerably harsher, to show their displeasure they unceremoniously ushered Jesus out of town to the edge of a cliff in order to silence him, but Jesus escaped, left town and the folks returned to their normal life. Thankful that Jesus was gone and hopeful he would not return. How quickly Jesus went from hero to zero.

Looking back about 600 years we find the young boy Jeremiah. God says to young Jeremiah, I formed you, to redeemed you, I named and called you and I choose you to be the one who leads the people. But I am only a boy, I cannot do what you ask. To which God replies, I know but I will give you the proper words to speak and people will listen, they may not always like what I ask you to say, but you will speak my words and the people will come to listen, even in new ways. In Jeremiah’s day the task sounds harsh ‘to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’. In our day it might sound like; to study and advise, to implement and assess, to equip and enable.

As we grow in faith I suspect we have moments when we feel nudged to action and at almost the same time our brain kicks in ands says ‘you are only…you can’t do that’. Well the bible is filled with people who overcame the I cant’s or I’m too…only to discover that…yes I can. This capacity to override the negative is leaned and practiced and for most it does not come easy. One of the greatest voices of our day (at least I think so) is Barbara Streisand, she has near depilating stage fright and yet she says; yes I can and she does. Another example is one of my favorite authors Brené Brown, as an introvert she has to work hard to be speak in large crowds, it is out of her comfort zone and she too says; yes I can.

Our first response to God or to the nudges that propel us to act might be: But God, I am too…but if we give into that thinking, what is your church, community or county missing? What are you missing. What I am here to remind you of is that God created you in God’s own likeness, Jesus redeemed, called and chose you for this very moment. You have the voice, skill and capacity to respond affirmatively to God. So go for it, just do it and see what your idea can do or where it will lead. Oh, and by the way, many will try to dissuade you. Take that as a sign you are on the right track.

It is time to move our ‘But Lord I am only…’ from resistance and excuse to, but Lord I am only…and by all that is holy, count me in. May we, touched by God’s hand move from reticence and reluctance to vibrant possibility and revival. For God…I am only created in your image, and that is enough.

Sermon for January 23, 2022

Sermon for January 23, 2022 Third after Epiphany               “So all can understand”

8:3 Ezra read from the scroll of the law of Moses, facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 8:5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.

4:15 Jesus began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 4:16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

8:6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 8:8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

4:17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Jesus. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

8:9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 8:10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

4:20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 4:21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is interesting to hear these to texts read side by side and even more interesting to witness the response of the hearers. Separated in time by about 500 years, one group is so moved by the word and their awareness that they have not followed the word so carefully, are moved to tears and weeping. The leaders and teachers of the day direct the people to celebrate that the word of God touched their hearts and because of that, the day is holy. The teaching is to not just celebrate with family but to share with those who have nothing. In that simple act, God’s joy will be theirs and be their strength.

Ezra read from the scroll from early morning to mid-day, they stood and listened and received teaching, they understood and committed to changing their hearts, then they partied for the joy of God having been restored to their lives.

Let that sink in for a bit…

Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written; ”the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”  …today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.

We could argue that this or the past two years are definitely not the year or years of the Lord’s favour. Or is it? Are we just focused on the overwhelming story of COVID (and I know that it has impacted all our lives)? Let me go back to the raising of Willy O’Ree’s jersey in Boston last week. In the bio it indicated that after a puck to the eye left him blind in one eye, he was told that because he could not see properly he would not play hockey. His response ‘I am going to focus on what I can see, not what I cannot’.

The Gospel is Good News, for Christians we live out that good news when we are about the little, and large acts of kindness, the little and large deeds of generosity, not so much for our ego but because our Saviour has invited us into the wonder of: the year of the Lord’s favour.

The image from Nehemiah was to get past our lament of not being perfect followers and work toward getting to the place where we can celebrate God and Jesus, breaking bread in family and inviting community and neighbour to share and join the following. By God’s grace this year will be one of God’s favour.

Sermon for January 2, 2022

Sermon for January 2, 2022  Epiphany         “What can I bring Him?”

What are your New Year Resolutions? That has been the question of the past week. So we are now into day two of the new year…and how are you doing so far? What I have noticed this year is not so much a desire to make a new year’s resolution but a wish that things would go back to normal or at least something that might resemble normal. It seems that COVID has plenty more to say before we can contemplate that new normal we dream of!

A look at the Epiphany story may offer some insight for our present days. There was not much that was normal about the birth and events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The arrival of the Magi was just another of a litany of ‘not normal’ events. The Magi did not waver from their knowing that the star would lead them to a king. The fact they encounter a baby in a cattle shed did not seem to faze them. That they brought gifts for an adult king also did not deter them from their belief. And true to form, they heeded the counsel of angels and returned home via another route. Is it any wonder that Mary pondered and treasured these things in her heart! And I wonder what she might have said if she had spoken out loud?

The angel messengers again spoke to Mary and Joseph and they fled to Egypt for about a decade. From the get go there was nothing normal, nothing that was familiar and everything was about being attentive to the voice of God… And we wonder if normal will ever return!

As I reflect back on all the changes we have had to make as a church family I wonder if, as an unintended consequence, God is nudging us out of our comfortable pews? Now let me back up a bit to the time of Jesus. Almost everything Jesus did and said was outside the Temple. It is not that Temple and worship were not important to Jesus but he did see a rigidness there, factions holding tightly to one orthodoxy or another, little communicating and when change was hinted a return to severe interpretation of the law. In that setting there was no room for the breath of fresh air Jesus was offering in his teachings. So at weddings, on a hillside in Galilee, in orchards, the outskirts of town and places that ‘respectable’ people would not be seen, Jesus performed miracles, feed the people, offered hope and changed hearts.

Churches around the world have been forced to think of ministry without a building and we are making it work. Ministry is happening intentionally when we show up (physically distanced of course), when we call neighbours, deliver food, pray and are the un-noticed miracle of someone’s day.

In person worship is not going to vanish but I think it will become more a retelling of how we have made a difference in our community, a hearing of the teachings that sustain us and a place of support and care for the gathered community. It will become a place where we explore how God’s spirit nudges ours and how we can nurture our spiritual growth.

So what can I bring to the virtual table? Bring open hearts and minds, bring all the ministries you do each day, bring what you think is your little bit and see what Jesus can do. I read this week that a butterfly cannot see its own wings, it must be told they are beautiful and then believe. So let me say to you, in case you cannot see…you are beautiful. Like the disciples we may think a few fish and loaves of bread are meagre offering but we are not called to feed the 5000, we are called to offer what we have to Jesus.

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