Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Looking Forward to May 5, 2019 -- Easter 3 -- Kindness and Gentleness

During the Easter Season we are going to work through a series looking at the Fruits of the Spirit as Paul listed them in his letter to the Galatians. Paul listed 8 fruits (well sort of as there are 8 things listed but the word fruit is actually singular in translations that use the metaphor -- the Jerusalem Bible simply says "the Spirit brings") and we have 4 Sundays available for the series so we will look at 2 each week.  This week we look at Kindness and Generosity

Also as this is the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating Communion.

The Scripture readings for this week are:
  • Galatians 5:22-26
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
The Sermon title is Gently Growing Kindness

Early Thoughts: Be kind. Be generous. Sounds like pretty common advice doesn't it?  One of the things that came to mind as I was starting to think this morning was this song:

Yes technically the song is about being humble and kind but it seems to fit. (Lyrics here). To be fair there are lines that resonate with a number of the "fruits" we will look at over the next few weeks.

 One of the possible sermon titles for this week that I considered and discarded was the phrase "Sharing is Caring". TO me Kindness and Generosity are often two sides of one coin.  Can we truly be kind to each other if we are not also generous, if we don't give something? That something might be money or some other object that can be held in the hand (this passage from 2 Corinthians is taken fro ma section where Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to contribute to a fund he is collecting to support the Christian community in Jerusalem). It might be time. It might be something else. It isn't necessarily that 'what' that is important, it is the act of giving. I am tempted to say that to give is to be kind and that to be kind is to offer something.  While you can give without being kind (Premier Ralph Klein throwing money at people in a shelter comes to mind, though I am not sure that counted as giving) the reverse is not, to me true.

The challenge, of course is to know best how to be kind. What is the best thing to give? What is the best way to support? Don't think I will be able to fully resolve that in one sermon.

Jesus challenged/encouraged/exhorted/commanded us to love our neighbours both as we love ourselves (Matthew Mark and Luke) and as we have been loved (John). Being kind and generous of spirit is a part of that. And PAul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. I read that as saying that God prefers us to give, to be kind, to be loving not because we are commanded but because we choose to.

How will you be kind today? How will you be generous? How will you nurture kindness and generosity in your circles of the world?  Somehow I suspect the Time with the Young at HEart this week will be about Random Acts of Kindness....

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Good Friday Reflections 2019

7 Words From the Cross

Word #1 Luke 23:33-35
Our first word, sometimes called the word of forgiveness. AS Jesus is hung on the cross, as he is being mocked and the soldiers divide up his few possessions as they would the spoils of war, he offers a word (a prayer?) of forgiveness for those who have abused and murdered him. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.
But they do know what they are doing, don’t they? Depends how you look at it. Because we sometimes think we know what we are doing when something else is happening too. The leaders and the soldiers know that they are trying to keep the Roman Peace by disposing of a troublemaker. Jesus suggests that unknowingly they are doing something else. For centuries that thing they are being forgiven for, because they don’t know they are doing it, is the murder of the Messiah, the execution of the Son of God.
Forgiveness is a big part of how we are brought back to be at-one with God and with each other. Sometimes that forgiveness is when we know what we did. Sometimes it is when we don’t know how we screwed up. At the time of his death Jesus continues to remind us of the power of forgiveness. He continues to model what it means to forgive when it is not easy. When do we need to hear the words “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and know that we are a part of ‘them’? When do we help put people on crosses, when do we mock those who have been offered up?
God of grace and mercy. Today we remember that we all fall short of who we could be. Today we remember that we all need to forgive and to be forgiven. Open our hearts to your grace. Open our hearts to your mercy. Help us admit our failings, help us hear when we didn’t know what we were doing. We pray in the name of Jesus, who shows us that we are forgiven. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #2 Luke 23:39-43
A 2nd word, one of salvation. Following close on the word of forgiveness comes the promise of paradise. Crucified beside Jesus are two “criminals”, maybe common thieves but likely brigands or rebels. One of them joins with the crowd, the other has mercy in his heart. Maybe this speaks to why they got themselves where they are? Was the first in it for himself while the 2nd had loftier ideals?
At any rate the honesty of repentance, of naming the truth seems to be a part of salvation. Can we only truly embrace the Kingdom of God when we are willing to acknowledge who and where we are? Only then can we open ourselves to the grace and mercy of God, only then can we, as they say, throw ourselves on the mercy of the court.
The Kingdom of God is among us, Jesus said. The Kingdom of God is open to us. But we have to open ourselves first.
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. We echo the ancient words. We throw ourselves on God’s mercy as we open our hearts to the reality of God’s Reign. Or we want to at least. God help us to be that vulnerable and honest. In a world where we are told that anything goes to get what we want, help us know when that is wrong. Help us be able to accept our consequences. And then help us know that we are welcome in the Kingdom after all. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #3 John 19:25-27
What is life without relationship? Our relationships are, hopefully, the places where we find support and comfort. We all need people who will care for us, we all need family. Sometimes family is by birth, sometimes it is by choice. In this 3rd word, sometimes called the word of relationship, we are reminded of the importance of family.
This word also reminds us to always watch out for those we love. I suspect many of us would become a little bit self-absorbed were we hanging on that cross. But Jesus sees people in pain, people in need of love and acts on it. Maybe Jesus’ mother and the Beloved Disciple would have made that connection on their own. Maybe not. Jesus leaves nothing up to chance.
When do we need someone to step in as adoptive family and ease our pain? When do we need to adopt someone? Jesus calls us to care for and love each other. Whose pain can we share in our world today? Where can we build relationship?
God who loves us as a parent, we give thanks for the loving healthy relationships in our lives. Help us know when we need to open our hearts and welcome another in. Help us know when we need to allow ourselves to be welcomed in. God who calls us to live in relationship, may we be ready ad willing to share the joy and sorrow, the triumph and defeat of life with the people around us. Help us God to treat as family, everyone whose lie we share. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #4 Mark 15:33-35
Have you ever felt totally alone? It is not a pleasant feeling. And in the end it doesn’t really matter if you are really as alone as you feel, being told that you are not alone may do nothing to change the feeling. Sometimes emotion trumps logic.
Over the centuries people have struggled with this word of abandonment. Surely Jesus could not have really felt abandoned by God, even at this hour of despair! Surely Jesus always knew himself help in God’s love! Surely Jesus, being God, could not possibly be abandoned by God!
At the same time Christian theology has always held that Jesus is fully divine AND fully human (even if Christian theology has never been able to make that statement make logical sense). To be human is to know those times when you feel alone. Jesus has seen most of his friends run away, as he had predicted. Jesus has been tried and convicted. Jesus is dying an agonizing death Feeling abandoned by everyone, even God, makes sense to me.
We are not alone, we live in God’s world...in life in death, in life beyond death God is with us. We are not alone” Our United Church Creed reminds us of a great truth. But there are still times when God’s people feel abandoned. Looking at the world there are lots of times when it makes more sense that God has gone away, than to say God is still there and yet all this horror still exists. WE can tell our selves that all of creation is in God ad that God is always with us but have trouble seeing the evidence this is true. And emotion can trump logic, heart can trump brain. Do we have the courage to name the depth of feeling that comes with being abandoned?
God in whom we live and move and have our being, there are days. Days when we feel alone, lost, left behind. On those days move in our souls, stir the fire of hope in our bellies, remind us of the great truth—that we are never alone. Even when the world does terrible things, even when we can not hear your voice, we trust that you would never truly abandon us. It just feels that way, and we need you to know it. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #5 John 19:28-29
Words 4 and 5 have moved us into the agony of the cross. First that word of emotional distress. Now this word of physical distress. John tells us that Jesus says this to fulfil Scripture. I tend to think that after a few hours in the Palestinian sun Jesus likely was thirsty (part of that fully human thing).
On a metaphorical level I think Jesus has been thirsty for a long time. Furthermore I think Jesus wants us to be thirsty too. Thirsty for the wine of justice, thirsty for the water of righteousness. Sadly I think that too often we settle for sour wine. Too often we think sour wine is all we have to give.
Every year I spend some of my time around Good Friday considering the crosses in our world. Whenever we accept those crosses as “the way things need to be” I think we settle for sour wine, a fluid that does not really satisfy at all. Maybe we should demand the good wine, the fresh water that heals and satisfies, maybe we should look to see what we have to offer to those who hunger and thirst for justice, peace, righteousness – for the Kingdom. In John Jesus begins his ministry in the town of Cana at a wedding where the wine has run out. At that point his mother pushes him to do something about it and solve the thirst problem. Now it is Jesus who is thirsty. What will we do? What will we offer?
God who first moved over the waters of creation called forth life, we thirst for the water of life. We pray both that you will slake our thirst and, at the same time keep us thirsting for the good wine, for the fresh water. In a world where “good enough” is often seen as the standard push us to work for the better. In a world where so many hunger and thirst push us to work to see them fed in body and in soul, as we live into the Kingdom of abundant love. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #6 John 19:30-34
Counter-intuitively this penultimate word is called a word of Triumph. Triumph, as Jesus says it is finished and gives up his spirit. Does that make sense? Then again this day of a dark ad terrible story is called Good Friday, which also seems a bit counter-intuitive.
Where is the triumphant note in the last breath of Jesus? Some suggest that a better translation is in fact “it is competed” or “it is accomplished”. Do those other verbs say something different? They are all verbs of ending, but the latter two may lead us to that note of triumph.
Finished” could just mean an end, but ‘completed’ or ‘accomplished’ suggest work that has been done. There is a strong theological tradition that the work which is completed is the sacrificial death for the forgiveness of sins. This is certainly a possible reading of Scripture. I also think a reading is that the work of Jesus’ life is now finished/completed/accomplished. Jesus has done what ho could to proclaim and bring on the Kingdom of God. The next steps are not his. They may be God’s, they may be those Jesus taught and led, but he has done his part.
Still the only triumph I find in this part of the story, especially if I put myself in the context of not knowing the “rest of the story”, is the triumph of the powers and principalities. The powers that actively work against the Reign of God have won. They have stopped the revolution. “It is Finished” could also be “well we tried, but now we’re toast...”. I wonder what those standing on that hillside understood it to mean?
God of beginnings and endings, what is finished today? You call us to resist the powers and principalities but so often they seem stronger, better organized, better supported. So often they draw us in and we give in to the easier path they offer. What is accomplished on this day? As we move forward as people of faith help us to see the possibility of victory and not give in to defeat. Help us play our part in the growing of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #7 Luke 23:44-46
Our final word. Luke’s version of the dying words of Christ. Tradition seems to view it as the counter to word 4. The abandonment expressed in Eloi Eloi Lama Sabacthani is now reversed as Jesus dies with words of trust that God is present “”into your hands I commend my spirit”. If Jesus was abandoned by God they are now reunited.
Is it a sign of hope?
Is it a sign of surrender?
Is it a sign of trust?
Is it all 3?
On this Good Friday we have listened as Jesus dies on the cross. We have heard his words as shared by the Gospel writers. Now we come to the end. Just as Jesus was confident in the loving presence of God throughout the story to this point he dies in that same confidence. I see hope and trust there. Where God is present there is hope – even if it is really hard to see. As it stands now the sinfulness of the world seems to have won. All those things that work against God’s Reign are powerful. That is as true today as it was in the 1st century. It is dangerous to upset the system, to challenge the “way things are”. But sometimes tat is were God leads us. May we have the confidence and trust of Jesus when we challenge the powers, when we are consumed with passion for the kingdom. God is in that activity.
God of the cross, God present at the end, God who awakes passion in us, we come to the end of today’s story. It brings us sorrow. It makes us wonder what it was all worth. But still you are here. Still you are here. Keep us filled with passion for the Kingdom when the way is hard. Keep us looking toward Jesus when our confidence fails. Give us the courage to risk a cross of our own, and we we have given it our all may we still have trust in you ad your Reign. We pray in the name of the one who hangs on the cross. Jesus of Nazareth. Amen


Monday, April 15, 2019

Looking Forward to April 21, 2019 -- Easter Sunday

This week we reach the pinnacle of the Christian year as we walk with some women to the tomb of their murdered friend only to find something amazing.

This year we will hear the empty tomb story as told in Luke 24:2-12.

The Sermon title is Dawn

Early Thoughts: It is a story we hear every year. It is the story at the heart of Christian faith. Every year when I read it I try to imagine what it must have been like to not know the story. What would it be like to be a part of that rag-tag group of disciples who are sure that the great journey has come to a sudden catastrophic end? "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

Just  before this the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee have stayed at the cross to the bitter end. It was they who knew where the burial had taken place because they were the only members of the group who had stayed around log enough to see it happen. Now, after Sabbath has been observed, they come to properly honour the one they followed, the one they loved. The text tells us that it is early dawn, but I often wonder if that is only a meteorological comment.  At this point have the first rays of dawn been able to to pierce the shadow of death that lies on their hearts? Are they still deep down in the valley? I suspect so, it is only logical that this is true.

Then suddenly dawn breaks through. They find an empty tomb, which must at first have confused and horrified and terrified them. Only then does the great surprise get shared. "He is not here, but has risen". I now envision the excitement (and confusion and probably still a bit of fear) as they rush back to the rest of the group to share this news. The first evangelists, the first witnesses to God's great act of Resurrection are these few women who had the courage to stay at the cross, to watch the burial, and then to go out early in the morning. Without these women would Easter have happened?

It is telling that at first the men do not believe dawn has come. Luke tells us they consider it an idle tale. After all it made no sense. Who could believe it? But eventually they each come to see those beams of light breaking through the darkness. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

I often think that Easter suffers because we know the story so well. I think because we know the whole cycle we lose the effect of dawn breaking. And that is to our detriment, because we really need to see dawn break. There are many things that lead us into the valley of shadow. What brrings us back into the light of dawn?

Where do you need the promise of resurrection and life in your world? What shadows does dawn's early light need to chase away?

Life Wins -- A Newspaper Piece.

It was a crisp spring morning. Some of us gathered in the parking lot of the Roman Catholic church, another group gathered at the United Church across the river. Both groups walked down the hill to meet at the bridge and greet each other by shouting: “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!” before all going to the community hall for coffee. So it was that people from a variety of churches celebrated the victory of life over death together. 

Every year, on the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the Christian story invites us to consider the primal battle between life and death. Which will win? On Friday we gather and tell a story of betrayal trial, conviction and torturous execution. We watch as the body of the one we call Messiah is taken from the cross and laid in a stone tomb. Can this be the end?

SPOILER ALERT! There is more to come. Life wins. Just when it looks like the powers of death have had the victory Life Wins!! And in that victory lies our hope and our promise. Life will always win. As Right Rev Dr. Richard Bott, Moderator of the United Church, says in his Easter video message: “the resurrection of Christ says, “No. Death has no dominion”. Life wins, in the end life will win.

This, to me, is the heart of the Gospel. The heart of the work of Jesus is not done on the cross with his death but in his life. The heart of Jesus’ ministry is in the teaching and healing he does before the cross and in God’s powerful word of life after the cross. In Jesus God invites us to share in the life of the Reign of God, life that confronts and conquers the forces of death in the world.

It can be hard to believe that life could possibly win. After all death-dealing seems so prevalent in the world. We live in a time when racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia are used to divide us, to declare some as less worthy than others – and death wins again. We live in a world where everyday somebody on this planet lives with the threat of bomb blast or gunfire or violent unrest – and death wins again. We live in a world where we as a species most often choose the easy familiar way of comfort even when we know that our current patterns of life risk making the planet unlivable for our children and our neighbours – and death threatens to have the last laugh. But we believe that life will yet win. Easter tells us that life will win. How will we react?

What difference does it make to be invited into God’s Reign where life wins, where death has no dominion? Well in Scripture we meet a variety of people who experience the presence of the Risen Christ and they are no longer the same. I think particularly of Peter, the rough fisherman who, once having experienced Easter, becomes the leader of a movement that would take him to Rome, heart of the Empire, to proclaim the Good News he found in Jesus Christ. Or I think of Saul of Damascus, full of zeal for the persecution of the followers of Jesus, who had his own Easter moment and became the foremost apostle to the Gentiles, spreading the Word of Life around the eastern Mediterranean. When God’s word of life that shatters the dominion of death enters our lives we are called to be agents of life.

When the Word of Life pronounced at that first Easter enters our hearts we are called to be changed. The Word of Life pushes us to help make changes in the wider world, to push for that world where life, and that in abundance, is made available to all. As people who have met the Risen Christ we have a calling to fight against all those things I listed earlier that help death win. As people who have heard the Good News of Easter we have to have hope that this fight will be victorious, because we know that life wins, that death no longer has dominion.

Jesus was all about the Reign or Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is a kingdom of life. The powers of the world often work against the kingdom of life. Sometimes we might lose hope. But the story of Jesus ends not with an agonizing death on the cross but with the words “he is not here, he has been raised”. Life wins. Resurrection happens and life wins. The world will never be the same because life wins. We can never be the same because we have met the Risen Christ.

Christ is Risen. Alleluia. Happy Easter.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Looking Ahead to April 14, 2019 -- Palm Sunday

This Sunday we start the final journey to Cross and Tomb as we remember the story of Jesus heading into Jerusalem.

The Scripture reading for this week is Luke 19:28-48

The Sermon title is And So It Begins

Early Thoughts: Holy Week is a week of contrasts. We go from the high excitement of the entry to the city to the darkness and despair of a cross on a hill to the promise shining with the Dawn of a new week and a new age.

And it all begins this Sunday.

When we read the story we see the hints of the shadow that is to come. Luke makes it clear that there are some in the crowd who are less than impressed with this display.[In their book The Last Week Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that this was not a spontaneous celebration but a carefully planned piece of street theater.] There is a threat in this display. The objectors know it and Jesus knows it.  When you are proclaiming a new way of being in the world there is a very strong chance that the "power and principalities" will strike back.

Then of course Jesus makes it plain that he is striking out against the way things are happening when the first thing he does after entering the city is cause trouble.

A new age is nigh.  The world is being reborn and renewed. That is never a safe or smooth or easy process.

So it begins....

Monday, April 1, 2019

Looking Forward to April 7, 2019 -- Lent 5 -- Communion

This week we conclude our series looking at Practices of the Church with a look at Communion (or the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper).

The Scripture reading for this week is Mark 14:22-26
We will also reading chapter 9 from the Didache, one of the writings of the Early Church.

The Sermon title is The Table of Faith

Early Thoughts: A simple ceremonial meal.  A bit of bread, a bit of juice. What does it mean? Why do we do it?

One short answer is "because we always have". Another short answer is "because Jesus told us to". As far as we can tell gathering at the table to remember the story where Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it saying "this is my body, broken for you" and takes a cup, blesses it and shares it saying "this is my blood, whenever you do this remember me". One of the earliest attestations we have to this practice is in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). The Didache, from which we are hearing this week is an early piece (late 1st century, early 2nd century) of teaching for the early church and includes instructions on how to celebrate the central meal of faith. Christians have been gathering around table since the first Easter.

But that only seems to be part of the answer.  After all, many of us consider "because we always have" to be a problematic answer when asked why we are doing something. At the very least we want to look at whether we should still be doing the activity, does it still have meaning and purpose?

Over the centuries there have been many discussions about this Sacrament. People have debated how it should be celebrated, who should be welcomed to the table, who should preside at the table, how often it should happen, and what does it mean. More recent debates have included what kind of bread to use in a world where we are so much more aware of food allergies/sensitivities/intolerances. It is somewhat ironic that if planning an ecumenical worship it is much much easier to NOT have communion because of the various understandings that are out there.

SO what does communion mean to you?
What happens when we gather together at the table of faith?
ANd if breaking bread together is so integral to Christian faith what does that mean about the potluck dinner?