Devotional August 8 2021

Over a year ago, just as we were beginning to understand that this pandemic was going to affect us all in very tangible ways, not only did we experience shortages of toilet paper, but also flour and yeast. We may all laugh about it now but at the time, with so many people at home, having lost jobs or working from home, a sourdough baking craze reached most households, particularly if you lived with a millennial. I was very intrigued by this trend. Nearly everyone I knew of my age was baking bread. Journalist Emily
VanDerWerff had a theory, she wrote, “Bread baking is a thing we do in a crisis, perhaps because bread is one of the very foundations of human civilization, and perhaps because it has been marketed to us as life-giving. In the midst of quarantine, we have turned, seemingly collectively, to techniques from the past, like coaxing yeast out of the air, the
sort of sufficiently advanced technology that is indistinguishable from magic. We have learned to create something from nothing.” I warned you a couple of weeks ago that we were about to embark on a month long discussion on bread, more specifically, Jesus as bread. Jess will likely touch on this even more in the coming weeks. But my experiences over the pandemic and hearing VanDerWerff’s perspective, makes me think about Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life and bread from heaven in a new light. In some ways Jesus is “marketing” himself as life-giving as bread. It is also demonstrating that part of the foundations of human civilization is also faith.

Remember, Jesus has just fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish- setting the stage for all this bread language. Then last week we heard a short story in which Jesus walks on water and declares “I AM is with you; do not be afraid.” setting the stage for all this “I am” language. It is now the next day, presumably people are still talking about the incredible miracles that took place the day before. It also appears based on our introduction that they all just spent the night on the shore waiting to see what would
happen next. It must have been a cold night with all that wind! When it appears that Jesus and his disciples aren’t going to show up the crowd decides to go to Capernaum.

Nowadays there is a very well travelled road that goes from Tiberias to Capernaum. It takes 20 minutes to drive from one place to another. Back then, the fastest way to travel was by boat, so they get in and go.
They find Jesus and begin to ask him questions. This morning we jump over 15 verses in which Jesus kind of chastises the crowd for following him with the expectation of more free food. Jesus says, don’t look for food that perishes but for food that endures.
From the get go the crowd has trouble understanding literal versus allegorical meanings and it get’s even more complicated as they realize that some of the crowd know Jesus’ parents. How can he claim to be bread from heaven when they know he grew up in Nazareth as a carpenter’s son.

This is where our passage comes in. As modern readers we can see that the crowd has completely missed the mark but I think that’s in part because none of us grew up with Jesus. I mean, yes, many of us grew up in the church and hold to the reformed idea that Jesus is our friend and king and lives in our hearts but I mean, none of us knew the earthly
Jesus. We didn’t watch him grow from a four year old to a trouble making twelve year old. We didn’t see a young 30 something year old blossom into a wise rabbi. Imagine if one of your friend’s children or grandchildren started claiming to be from heaven rather than from their parents. It gets complicated! This crowd knew too much about Jesus’ personal life to allow his words to ring true. Ironically the crowd also seems to know too little about Jesus’ authority and ability and power despite having witnessed two pretty impressive miracles.

The crowd is presuming to know something about Jesus which sadly clouds their understanding of who Jesus really is. Biblical scholar Brian Petersen calls this “theological irony” because the crowd professes to know Jesus’ father and mother but that only reveals a total ignorance of the Father who sent Jesus. The truth is not found in knowing the human parents but rather the truth is found in knowing that Jesus has come from the Father in Heaven. The crowd’s self-assured “knowledge” blocks their ability to
know the truth. I would argue that we, certainly me, have this problem also. We have difficulty seeing beyond what we “know” to be true and therefore we are unable to see the divine truth amongst us. I know I am right about certain things which means I am no longer learning new truths about this knowledge. The crowd knows who Jesus’ parents are and therefore they cannot move beyond his earth-liness- if only they could look beyond to
discover that they are actually experiencing the divinity God- right in front of them.

Jesus doesn’t loose patience- not yet at least- because he explains that the only way to be drawn into faith is by the Father. In Greek the word means more than to be drawn, a better translation might actually be, “to be dragged”. Essentially no one comes to Jesus without the Father’s pull. It is a two way relationship. We do not sit idly by waiting for God to open our eyes but God also doesn’t wait for us to finally see the truth through
our own merit. This is challenging for us to understand because, as Petersen puts it, there is paradoxical tension in this text between the call to faith and the declaration that faith can only come from God. But this is also not a paradox that is to be unwound, it is simply the mystery of faith. God pulls at us so that we can hear and believe Jesus’ words and have faith. This bread from heaven not only nurtures our souls but also reveals our hearts to
new possibilities and with God those possibilities are endless. Like pulling yeast out of the air to create something from nothing, God pulls us towards Jesus to make us something from nothing.

Jesus presses on with this image. Jesus is indeed bread from heaven but unlike the manna that nourished their ancestors in the wilderness Jesus is LIVING bread. This is not about their ancestors but about the here and now. Our passage closes with Jesus foreshadowing what this really means. It is not the end of the conversation; the crowd will challenge, dispute, and grumble amongst themselves for a while longer as they try to
unpack what Jesus is saying. However, what we hear as the closing to this particular section is, Jesus saying “The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” While Jesus may have been speaking allegorically in reference to being the bread from heaven, here Jesus is being literal. They just don’t know it yet. Jesus is promising to give up his life for the world.
As complicated as they are Jesus words are supposed to provide nourishment.
Jesus is declaring that he, not our own understanding, is the source of our strength and faith. Jesus is stating that God pulls us, drags us, draws us to Christ. VanDerWerff said that bread is one of the very foundations of human civilization and this is likely why we turn to bread when we need comfort. It’s not the easiest thing to make, it takes time, patience and strength, but the pay off is pretty great. I would argue that there is nearly nothing more delicious than a slice of fresh baked bread. It may not be the easiest thing to
trust Jesus or understand his words. It may take time and patience on our part to see the ways in which Jesus has been raised to life. It may require us to have a strength of spirit that involves perseverance, and much like kneading dough it requires molding and pulling. Only then can we feel full, nourished by God. Like baking real bread its a bit complicated, understanding needs patience and wisdom needs strength. But the pay off, is worth it. Amen

Devotional August 1 2021

You may not know this but I’m a big fan nature documentaries, whether it’s Blue Planet or Planet Earth or more recently A Perfect Planet, all featuring Sir David Attenborough or The Nature of Things or NatGeo, if Knowledge Network has it on you can bet I’m going to try at tune in. I find stories about God’s strange and wonderful creation super engaging. I recently watched an episode of one such show that featured the Common Basilisk, it’s a little brown lizard found in Central and South America and other than a strange protrusion on the heads of the male lizards they are generally quite unremarkable. That is, until they are being chased by a predator on water. The Common Basilisk is nicknamed the “Jesus Christ Lizard” because they are able to run on water. They have these large hind feet with scaly fringes on the sides of their toes. When on land these fringes are compressed and not used but when it senses danger it can jump into the water, flail it’s fringes against the water’s surface and lift it’s body so that it is on the surface of the water. They can run about 10-20 meters without sinking.  It is fascinating stuff and I’d totally recommend that after this service you look up Jesus Christ Lizards on youtube and watch in awe as it scampers across the water. It would be quite fitting to watch such a clip following today’s theme. What interests me is not so much the name of the lizard or it’s ability to run on water, despite the fact that walking on water is exactly what we hear Jesus does,  but the fact that this lizard only runs on water when it is afraid or feels threatened. Today we really focus in on how fear can affect our behaviour.

Usually this brief version of Jesus walking on water is included as part of last week’s reading of the feeding of the five thousand. While it seems a bit incongruous the truth is that both stories are an attempt on the part of the author of the Gospel of John to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” We heard last week that by feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish during passover that Jesus is creating a link between himself and God’s salvation. Next week we continue the theme of Jesus as the bread of heaven, a theme which continues for many weeks. This morning’s passage actually has more in common with this theme then it first appears as it too demonstrates who Jesus is. Both stories involve shocking miracles, miracles that go beyond Jesus’ traditional healing miracles and for John they are both signs that Jesus has divine power and authority.

Jesus gets in and out of the boats belonging to the disciples on a regular basis however, this story has the disciples getting into their own boats and beginning to cross the sea of Galilee without Jesus. John says something strange at the end of verse 17, “It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” John is foreshadowing right away what is about to happen. Despite the fact that the disciples are in their boats without Jesus, Jesus will show up!

It’s dark. It’s windy and they are about three or four miles from shore. Even if we are not seasoned sailors we know that this is a bad situation. There is great risk of striking something just off the shore or rolling into rocks. The disciples are scared. What could be scarier then being in a boat, in the dark, in rough waters, about 3 miles from shore? Honestly, seeing a figure, approaching the boat, walking on water. I bet that in that moment, the disciples have enough adrenaline coursing through their veins that if they jumped out of the boats they too might be able to run on water. But by showing up Jesus is transforming the disciples’ fear.

Unfortunately there is something lost in most English translations of what happens next. Both the NRSV and NIV state that as Jesus approaches the boat he declares, “It is I, do not be afraid.” This is because in English that is the sentence that makes sense. However, in Greek what Jesus actually says is, “ego eimi” which means “I am”. The story of Jesus walking on water now connects the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with all the passages regarding Jesus as the bread of heaven because Jesus will say “ego eimi” another four times in this chapter all referring to Jesus saying “I AM the bread of life or living bread or bread from heaven.” But in this moment Jesus simply says, “I Am, do not be afraid.”

Of course this may cause us to reflect on the first time the words “I AM” are uttered in reference to God in the Bible,  when Moses asks God who he shall say has sent him to Pharaoh and God responds tell him I AM has sent you.  Theologian Ginger Barfield has a hypothesis on why we need to remember that Jesus declares “I Am” to the disciples in this moment. She writes, “A simple understanding of the “I Am” statement  [is needed] in this context. It is as if one were to open the door to enter a dark room where another is present. There is fear over who is entering the room if the identity is not announced. A simple, “hello, it’s me” suffices as a voice recognition to calm the ear over who the intruder is.” Meaning that Jesus is aware that the disciples are afraid and he simply says, “I Am” as a way to say, “Hi, it’s me….God, don’t be afraid.”

In this moment Jesus recognizes that the disciples are afraid. In their fear, they need Jesus. They needed Jesus because he wasn’t with them. As Barfield says, “Their need came out of Jesus’ own absence.” Their fear was dominating how they were handling the situation, much like a few weeks ago when we heard about Jesus calming the storm by rebuking it and he then chastises the disciples for letting their fear get the best of them. This time, however, Jesus shows up to calm their fears. Jesus shows up and says, “I’m here. Stop being afraid.” Like a parent, who rushes into a child’s room while they are experiencing a nightmare. Jesus shows up, embraces them and says, I’m here. It’s ok. Don’t be afraid.

Put side by side these two signs, his feeding the five thousand and his walking on water,  show us something about Jesus. Sometimes Jesus can awaken needs and feed our souls with sustenance similar to what Jesus does with the feeding of the five thousand. But sometimes Jesus can provide us with reassurance by simply being present. Ego eimi. I AM is with you, do not be afraid. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid in some fashion of the future- it’s unknown, it’s unpredictable, it’s unclear. But then I hear Jesus’ words ego eimi, and instead of jumping up and running away I feel better prepared for the future. Jesus is active through grand miracles, sure, but also through simple presence. It might be rocky, windy, dark,  and a little turbulent at times but just by being present with us Jesus brings us to safe harbours. Amen

Devotional July 25 2021

Devotional:

I want to tell you about a little boy named Tony Hudgell. For those of you who follow news out of the UK this boy’s story might be familiar to you. Certainly many of us have heard about Tony’s hero, Captain Sir Tom Moore, the centenarian who raised over 33 million pounds for the NHS covid relief by walking the length of his garden 100 times. Sadly Moore succumbed to complications from Covid just 8 months after being knighted. But this story is about Tony. As a baby Tony required amputation of both his legs. His surgery took place at Evelina London Children’s Hospital. At five Tony is learning to walk on his prosthesis. It’s not easy but he is a determined little boy. Inspired by Captain Sir Moore, Tony decided that he would raise 500 pounds for the Children’s hospital by walking 10 km in the month of June last year, a big feat for someone just learning how to walk.  But just like with Captain Moore, Tony surpassed his goal of 500 pounds and managed to raise 1.5 million for the hospital that saved his life. At the beginning of May this year Tony decided to raise more funds for Evelina Hospital, in part in memory of his hero, and walked 100 steps unaided by crutches, another big step towards his own recovery and an incredible gift to the hospital. All because a little boy was willing to step up, do something small,  and help others in a big way. 

I would argue that the feeding of the five thousand is one of the most familiar stories in the New Testament. This is in part because it is one of the few stories that is told in all for Gospels. What makes John’s version stand out is two-fold.   First, it is a very clear attempt at answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” In the introduction it says that a large crowd kept following Jesus because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Meaning, that people were very curious about Jesus’ gifts and ministry and they wanted to learn or experience more. Second, in John’s version this story sets the stage for a very lengthy section on Jesus as the bread of heaven. Seriously, this starts us on a month long look at this theme of bread and Jesus. I suspect that the lectionary collaborators chose to focus on this section during the summer because they expect people to be away, both preachers and parishioners, so for about five weeks the theme is the same to make sure that no one misses the point. Don’t worry, I’ve mixed things up a bit to make it a little more interesting this year. Next week we will hear a short interlude between the feeding of the five thousand and further bread imagery but we will find out that this interlude is answering the same question of “who is Jesus?” John uses these stories to answer that very question and in answering the question takes a deep dive into the image of Jesus as the bread of life. 

Learning who Jesus is does not come all at once, but we catch glimpses of it as this story unfolds. The introduction is only four verses but it hints at what is to come. Verses one to three describe the scene. Jesus has just defended himself against naysayers. He leaves to go to the other side of the lake, this time it appears not in a boat but on foot, and following behind him is a large crowd because they have seen Jesus perform signs. John often refers to Jesus’ miracles as signs. This is because, for John, these miracles are not just showing off Jesus’ power and authority but rather proof of Jesus’ divinity. For the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus is usually portrayed as a man, a very special gifted man, but a man. Whereas John really holds onto the divinity of Jesus. 

The next verse in the introduction, verse four, tells us the time of year and while it seems like an irrelevant detail it again speaks majorly to who Jesus is. John places this passage at the time of the Passover. As a result it links this meal on the Galilean hillside with the story of the Exodus, with the story of God saving the people from slavery and providing for both their physical and spiritual needs in part through Manna, miraculous bread from heaven. This tiny detail about the time of year is actually at the heart of the entire chapter. For the next 68 verses we will hear how Jesus not only nourishes but redeems, saves the people of God, much like the people of God were saved in the Exodus.

Another detail that makes John’s version stand out from the others is that when Jesus sees this large crowd Jesus is the one who asks, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” John claims that Jesus is the one asking the questions as a way to test Philip because in truth, Jesus already knows what he’s about to do.  In our Gospel story Philip answers that it would take an enormous amount of money to buy bread to feed all these people. Philip relates it to cost and thus establishes the mind-set of scarcity. It would cost way too much to feed these people so let’s not even try! I’m sure you can think of times in which the church has functioned on a scarcity model.

Andrew pipes in mentioning that a boy has brought with him a small supply of food but that such a small amount is worthless among so many people. This small boy’s offering is just a drop in a bucket- there’s no way it can make a difference! I’ve often wondered, did this boy offer up his loaves and fishes? Did this little boy step up, and hope that what little he had to offer would help others in a big way? How many of us look at a situation and say, it will cost too much, it will take too much time, it will be too much work, so we might as well not even try. Yet Jesus takes this small amount and nourishes the people, literally. The crowd was looking for a sign and they got one! Jesus fills their stomachs and their hunger. And all it took was something small and seemingly insignificant to make a big impact. 

Next week we will hear how a little bit of fear can affect an entire situation but today we hear that a little bit of effort and hope can change an entire situation. Too often I measure need, quantify my inadequate resources or gifts and resign to hopelessness.  Yet, I hear stories like Tony’s a five year old twice amputee who is re-learning how to walk and manages to raise funds, major funds, for a good cause and I realize that I have nothing about which to be hopeless. Jesus is standing on the shore amongst all of that need and hunger, with nothing but a few loaves of bread and a couple small fish, demonstrating that when we work with God, we have to expect the unexpected and trust that it will work out. Trust that small acts will show big results. We have to take what little we do have, funds, talents, efforts and step up because through the divinity of Jesus we have been redeemed, our small efforts may seem tiny in comparison but big things can happen when God feeds our souls.  Amen

Devotional July 11

Devotion: 

My husband Mike likes to ask people on their birthdays, what is your favourite childhood birthday memory? It’s amazing to see people’s faces light up as they recount stories about a surprising gift, or a hilarious party or a meaningful tradition. We all seem to have birthday memories that make us smile.  Mine, by the way, is that every year, even into adulthood, my mom would make an angel food money cake, wrapping dimes, quarters and eventually loonies and twoonies in cellophane and tucking them into the cake before it was iced. That is my favourite birthday memory. I don’t think today’s scripture passage is anyone’s favourite birthday party story but it is probably one of the most well known birthday stories in the Bible. It has been the subject of incredible art, infamous operas, an Oscar Wilde play and a prime example of how perverse, vile and salacious Herod II’s kingdom really was. Trust me, I thought long and hard about picking a different scripture passage. This is a shared service, after all, surely I could preach on something a little more “lite”, but then, that’s what makes the discipline of preaching the lectionary so important to me. We encounter and tackle uncomfortable stories.

Many scholars point to this passage as the end of innocence for Jesus’ ministry. 

Personally I think that the end of innocence happened the minute Jesus called fishermen on the sea of Galilee. Jesus was a disruptor, a boundary crosser, a whistle blower, and an agitator as well as a rebel. There was nothing “innocent” about his ministry. Jesus not only calmed storms and called out demons but pointed to the ways in which religion and society had strayed from their relationship with God. And Jesus garnered quite a reputation. We know this from the opening line of our text. King Herod had heard of Jesus because his name had become known. But that doesn’t make this passage any easier to preach!

Mark does some strange things by including this story. It needs to be treated as an interlude between two stories about Jesus.  What perhaps we forget is that this interlude, between Jesus sending out his disciples two by two (which is described just before our passage) and the feeding of the five thousand (which happens immediately after)  is actually a story about an event from the past.  It harkens back to Mark 1:14 when, without any further words, Mark states, “Now after John was arrested…” For six chapters readers have been left hanging, wondering what happened to John, it just so happens that Jesus’ ministry was deep in development, so many of us forgot that the early prophet has been in limbo. Now, Mark uses this gruesome story to fill in the details. Mark also uses this story to foreshadow the disciples’ and Jesus’ future in ministry. 

Before we get the details of this strange and frankly disturbing birthday party Mark tells the readers what others thought about Jesus. Word is spreading fast about his radical teaching and healing. People are baffled by Jesus and thus they try to explain Jesus by explaining who he might be, some say John the baptist, raised from the dead (the first indication that John has died), others say Elijah while others still think he is a new prophet like the prophets of old. We will hear similar words in Mark 8 when Jesus asks the disciples, “who do people say I am”, and then, “who do you say that I am?” Peter then confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and thanks to these short words in Mark 6 we now understand how profound Peter’s statement is. Jesus’ work is so outside the “normal” actions of religious leaders that people had trouble placing who he really was. We have had to adapt to “new normals” a lot in the last year and a half. At times it has been confusing, baffling, or bewildering. I have heard numerous theories that try to explain or rationalize what we have been through. But just like how people had trouble explaining Jesus and so claimed he was John raised from the dead or Elijah or a new prophet, sometimes by seeking explanations we miss the truth. 

The truth is that John’s fate foreshadows Jesus’ fate. It stands to reason that if John was arrested for his words against the people in power, then Jesus will be too. If John was beheaded based on fear or a whim, then Jesus’ life is in danger too. Herodias, Herod’s sister-in-law and now wife, feared John because John wasn’t afraid to speak out against their marriage. John wasn’t afraid to speak out against the corruption and hedonism found within Herod’s kingdom. And please remember, this is Herod II, the son of the Herod who had all boys under the age of 2 murdered due to his own fear about Jesus’ birth.  Because John wasn’t afraid, that made Herodias afraid of John. Fear can make us do irrational things. Fear can make us hold grudges. Fear resulted in John’s beheading, and fear is what put Jesus on the cross. 

To be fair, not that I want to be fair to Herod, but Herod wasn’t really “afraid” of John. Herod’s original intent was to just keep John locked up. Verse 20 has a fabulous line, “Herod was greatly perplexed” by John. Like the others who are perplexed by Jesus’ teachings and abilities, Herod is perplexed by John’s words. But this perplexity is not necessarily fear but more bewilderment because Herod likes listening to John. Again, I suspect that many people, despite being baffled by Jesus’ actions and words, still liked listening to him.  I think that the church can be a really baffling place. I have had many conversations with friends and strangers who say that they don’t want to come to church because they don’t know the rules, they don’t want to stand when they should be sitting or kneeling when they should be standing. They are baffled by our rituals. That has been one of the grace-filled gifts of this pandemic that people can just tune in without being worried about whether they are doing the right thing or not.

If I could pick a word for this week’s passage it would be “perplexing” because I find the whole passage perplexing. The people were perplexed by Jesus, Herod is perplexed by John and Herod is perplexed again when his neice/step-daughter asks for the head of John on a platter. Herod’s actions foreshadow Pilates’ reaction to the crowd asking for Jesus’ crucifixion. Herod wishes to “satisfy” his stepdaughter’s request just as Pilate, who washes his hands of the crucifixion, wishes to satisfy the crowd and orders Jesus’ death. This whole story is baffling but it is also setting us up with the knowledge that Jesus will go through a similarly horrendous and baffling event. And yet, out of that confusion, bewilderment, perplexity comes the story of the resurrection. God works through perplexing and baffling situations to expose the truth. 

This is a birthday party that no one will forget but it is part of a greater story of grace and renewal and discipleship. John and Jesus spoke truth to power and that put them in precarious situations that perplexed people. But God broken through all the confusion and bewilderment to reveal grace, truth, love, and salvation. I’m still perplexed by a lot of things God does but instead of responding with fear it is important that we open ourselves up to that race, truth, love and salvation! Amen

Devotional June 13

I’ve shared many times how I attempt to be a gardener. I openly admit that I am a great accidental gardener. Whenever I garden with intent and expectation it is a big flop. I end up with a really low yield. But if I just randomly plant without much expectation or hope things blossom. And of course I have great success with volunteer plants that pop up due to my neglect in dead heading the previous year’s growth. I don’t even know how I ended up with strawberry plants, parsley, or dill in my backyard garden. It appears that the minute I try to plan a harvest, reading all the books of companion plants and seed spacing those plants fail…majorly! I suspect that this has something to do with how I build up expectations. I expect plants that I’ve planned out to do well while I don’t expect plants I haven’t planned to succeed. Expectations can be like that, plans can be like that, life can be like that. 

Today Jesus delivers two brief parables about growth to describe the kingdom of God. We know that Jesus liked to use parables as teaching tools. It says so, at the end of our passage. Mark is clear that there are numerous other parables that Jesus shared that the author did not record. Not only that, Mark states that sometimes Jesus didn’t explain the intricacies or lessons of the parables except to his disciples in private. This fact, that we don’t always get explanations, used to really irk me. But I’m currently reading a textbook in preparation for a summer course I will be taking entitled “The Surprising Wisdom of the Parables” and author Amy-Jill Levine says, “The Gospel writers, in their wisdom, left most of the parables as open narratives in order to invite us into engagement with them. Each reader will hear a distinct message and may find that the same parable leaves multiple impressions over time…Reducing parables to a single meaning destroys their aesthetic as well as ethical potential. ” Levine also argues that one of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables is because they helped with auditory memory. We remember a good story far better than an intriguing lecture. Jesus used the parables so that people would remember his preaching. Something for a contemporary preacher to think about!

In the first parable Jesus compares the kingdom of God to seed being scatter on the ground that sprouts and grows while the gardener is asleep. I can appreciate this kind of gardening. I don’t know how my volunteer strawberry plants got in my garden but I’m currently reaping the benefit. To my knowledge, I had nothing to do with those plants getting to where they are now. That speaks a lot to my understanding of grace. There is nothing I have done to deserve the grace of God- in fact, if anything, I don’t deserve it, yet it is still offered. Yes, the gardener scatters the seed but the gardener does not have control over the growth. Yet, the gardener will be the one who gets to enjoy the harvest. There is really a sense of lack of control when it comes to the kingdom. We don’t control it, God does.

As much as I like to be in control of all aspects of my life- I have to acknowledge that there is much I do not have control over. The farmer scatters the seed but it is not the farmer who makes it grow, the farmer doesn’t even fully understand how it grows. Sure, we have a lot of wisdom and knowledge, science and experience that can teach us how something can grow but ultimately we are not in control. Jesus is stating that when it comes to the kingdom of God, the power and nature and will of God, we are not in control. Since God is the one who is in control of the kingdom then there is also mystery to it’s growth.

Jesus then builds on this theme of growth with a follow up parable that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed- a small seed that becomes the greatest of all shrubs. First of all, a mustard seed isn’t all that small nor is a mustard plant, all that great of a shrub, and mustard is my least favourite condiment. As a kid I hated it so much that I would tell people I was allergic. But there is wisdom in this parable as well and for all the times I have read and studied this parable, for the first time I realized it’s not just about the seed that grows into a shrub. The parable ends with, “so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” I couldn’t believe it, as an amateur birder, how could I have never thought about the symbolism of the birds in this parable. Levine points out that when commentators do focus on the birds, the modern take is to connect the birds to gentile nations. If God’s kingdom is symbolized as a small seed that grows into large shrub and the birds represent all the people who will flock to the kingdom, than God’s kingdom includes an array of birds! Or, another take is that the birds also represent the kingdom, because in most translations it is not “birds of the air” as we heard it in the NRSV but rather “birds of heaven” that make their nests in the shade. Levine says, “[This parable is about] the ability of God’s creatures- feathered or flesh- to survive, to make do with whatever is available.”

These two parables insist that the full manifestation of the reign of God will blossom gradually, unavoidably, unexpectedly, in all kinds of conditions, culminating in a state of completion. Jesus is stating that growth is inevitable. That no matter how scattered we humans become in our actions and distractions, the growing conditions will be ripe for God’s kingdom to come. We can plant all kinds of seeds and we may never know or come to realize what growth happened in our lifetime but we can be assured that God’s kingdom will come. I can bet that many of the saints of old, the people who influenced the church and us, had no idea that we would be providing ministry on line. Both parables teach me that we should never be daunted by the small things, never ashamed of modest beginnings, not be discouraged when things seem to be taking a long time to grow- because we are not the ones who control the final destiny or the ultimate growth.

It is our job to scatter that seed but also to reap the harvest. We must see where the soil is ready for growth AND we must not be afraid to take our sickles and harvest when things are ready. Otherwise, we run the risk of having the fruit spoil. Ok- maybe these growth and plant metaphors are getting out of hand so I will say it bluntly. If we have funds or land or resources or ministries that are ready to be harvested- ready to be used to benefit the kingdom of God or manifest the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, then it is our imperative to harvest those things. Building up funds for a rainy day serves no one. Only having our ministries available to inner circles is not reaping the harvest. Having a property that is underused is misuse of the harvest. It is true that we do not know what growth will take place, that’s out of our control, but we can have the confidence that God is in control. And whether our expectations of growth are met or not, whether we planned the planting perfectly or discover volunteer plants in places we didn’t expect, the growth of the kingdom happens, gradually, unavoidably, unexpectedly, in all kinds of growing conditions. Amen 

Devotional June 6 Communion

Last November, Canadian actor Michael J. Fox was interviewed by People magazine. It is not often that I am drawn to these kinds of interviews but the fact that I grew up watching Fox on Family Ties and in the Back-to-the-Future movie franchise made me pause to read the headline. Then the highlighted quote, “My gratitude is deeper now, from having gotten through the darkest times” got me hooked on reading the rest of the article. At the young age of 29 Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. In this interview, however, he discussed how a tumour was developing on his spine and he needed surgery which would render him temporarily paralysed. Over a four month period he learned to walk again- but he was still unstable. He fell and badly broke his arm. He said, “I was leaning against the wall in my kitchen, waiting for the ambulance to come, and I felt like, ‘This is as low as it gets for me.’ It was when I questioned everything. Like, ‘I can’t put a shiny face on this. There’s no bright side to this, no upside. This is just all regret and pain.’ “The interview was due to the fact that he released his 4th memoir entitled, “No Time Like The Future: An Optimist considers mortality.” Fox turns 60 this month and despite his failing body, optimism helped him have hope. He says, “Optimism is sustained when you keep coming back to gratitude, and what follows from that is acceptance. Accepting that this thing has happened, and you accept it for what it is…Then see how much the rest of your life you have to thrive in, and then you can move on.” I am so moved by the fact that Fox could be angry that his body is falling a part and yet he turns to optimism, gratitude and acceptance instead. I have trouble doing that with my minor aches and pains. I don’t know if Fox is a man of faith. But his experiences and wisdom can help us in understanding the message underlying Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians.  

To say that our passage this morning from Paul is only about failing bodies does not give it the power it is due. However, when Paul says, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” I could help but think about the various conversations I have had with so many of you about ageing. About how our bodies and minds don’t always do what we want them to do. About how we can have genuine frustrations and emotional pain because our bodies are changing. And Paul’s words can give us hope when he says, “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure!” In this I find the optimism when it comes to failing bodies. 

But as I mentioned this passage isn’t limited to Paul’s feelings about physical bodies. Really, the entire passage speaks to Paul’s confidence in the power of God. I’ve noted before that the church in Corinth was a troublesome church. Paul’s letters talk of not only external pressures but internal disagreements that risked splits within the church. The church was often influenced by the Greco-Roman culture that surrounded it and Paul was constantly trying to bring them back from the secular or the profane to the sacred and the holy. I actually think that the modern church could likely identify best with the church in Corinth. And as our denomination begins to meet for General Assembly, to discuss the possibility of full inclusive of our LGBTQ+ members I acknowledge that our denomination is risking a split that could decimate us. But no matter how troublesome the church in Corinth was through these letters we are provided with an abundance of blessings because their troubles, inspired some of Paul’s best work. We would do well as a denomination to return to his words of wisdom.  Wisdom which rests assured in God’s eternal power!

So whether it is referring to our frail bodies or our frail denomination Paul is saying, that our suffering should not deter us from testifying to God’s power. And Paul knows a thing or two about suffering. In fact, at the beginning of this letter Paul says that he experienced some affliction in Asia (2Corinth 1:8). He says that he was so utterly, unbearably crushed that he despaired of life itself. Later on in the book Paul will recount beatings, shipwrecks, and other near death experiences.  So we know that Paul has endured some dark moments since he last wrote this congregation. Underlying all of this is the faith that Paul has in his calling and confidence in God. It is this certitude that gives Paul strength, and likely optimism, to face hardships. But it is also Paul’s certitude that all of these hardships are only slight momentary afflictions compared to the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. 

At the beginning of the pandemic one of the mantras shared was, “This is not forever but this is for now.” At the time, most of us definitely thought that the “for now” time frame would be only a couple of weeks or months- but we now know it’s longer than that. Yet, we all still have hope, and the science backs us up on this, that it is not forever. Paul’s words help us do something with this anticipation that our current circumstances are not forever. Paul starts this passage by saying we believe and we speak. None of our current restrictions prevents us from doing these things. We believe in a power over our lives that is greater than a pandemic. Note that I am NOT saying this means we compromise the health of others because we believe that our rights have greater power rather, because we believe in a greater power we speak to the hope that is found in life, eternal life, with Jesus Christ. We speak to hope.

New Testament professor, Carla Works actually touches on how this hope is manifested in Paul’s life. She writes, “For Paul, hope is worth allowing oneself to be exposed to hardship in order to proclaim the good news of God’s acts of redemption…Paul can express hope in the midst of adversity…The Spirit’s very presence is his assurance that God is at work creating life and redeeming creation.”

Paul is asking the church in Corinth, and conversely asking us, to think it terms of God’s heavenly realm. Paul refers to an earthly tent versus the building from God, human creation versus God’s creation. And I believe this is what we need to do, focus ourselves on God’s creative power. However, I will also say, that if we are unkind, or intentionally destructive to this earthly tent then what makes us think we are entitled to God’s heavenly building. So, a focus on God’s creative power does not mean ignoring the suffering or need around us. What it does mean is that we speak to the hope found in the salvation story. 

Through communion both our physical bodies and spiritual selves our nourished so that we can speak and believe in the good news of God’s creative power of life over death. Whether it is our bodies or our institutions, or both,  that are experiencing frailty we must refocus ourselves on the optimism found in hope. God is absolutely at work in our mortality so that eternal glory may be made known. Amen

May 30 2021

Trinity Sunday. Haven’t we covered that already? This week we will join our guest preacher, Jessica Foy, as she reflects on the three persons of the Trinity: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. We’ll talk about their relationship to/with one another, us, and those we meet.

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.”

Blessings, Jessica

Devotional May 23 2021

Pentecost is my favourite season in the church. Yes, of course I love the
anticipation and excitement of Advent and Christmas and I always feel deeply moved by the meditation time that Lent and Easter allow but honestly Pentecost is my favourite. This is likely based on the fact that in Sunday school this was the time of year when we could be playful with our lessons. Often we were given pinwheels and told that, just like how we
can’t see our breath we can’t see the holy spirit but it is clearly making the pinwheel turn. I will never forget the year we had a full on birthday party for the church with cake, hats and party games. Or one year we took red tissue paper and half the class danced around pretending to be flames resting on the rest of the class. As an adult this passage often elicits a little chuckle when it comes to the part where the disciples are accused of being
drunk and Peter’s response is, “they can’t be drunk because it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning.” I find Pentecost to be a playful story and most of you know me well enough to know that I like to have fun. There is also a familiarity to this passage that is both a blessing and a curse. It is one of the few passages in the entire Bible that is the same every year no matter what rotation we are on in the lectionary. Which can definitely make it the
hardest Sunday to preach because you hear the same passage every year. But this year, that playfulness of Pentecost was overshadowed by the fact that we are still enduring a pandemic. Throughout this passage it talks about how people were gathering together.
How on earth can a passage like that speak to us in our current context? But then I realized, perhaps our current context can help us see something new in this oft familiar passage.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Ok, so the first line doesn’t appear to totally help in this manner. Except that, while it says they were gathered in one place, this place doesn’t seem to be very specific. It doesn’t say, they were gathered in a grand cathedral or a country church- those aspects of Christianity didn’t exist yet. The Holy Spirit, burst on the scene without the need for a dedicated building, it
just showed up where the disciples were. Within the first line of this passage we realize that after over a year of not being able to come together to worship in our church building we can still be the church because the Spirit doesn’t need a specific building to come alive.
The location in this passage is incidental. In fact, it is important to note that as the Spirit gave them the power to speech they clearly left the “one place” where they were gathered and went outside evangelizing to the astonished crowd. And I know, crowds are a bad idea too.
The next line says, “and suddenly from heaven”. While the book of Acts was
written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke we feel as if this part could have been written by Mark with all this immediate and sudden language. But this also tells me that the Spirit doesn’t need to be awaken exactly at 10:30am on Sunday morning. The spirit shows up, when the spirit shows up. So, some of you are watching this on a different day- that doesn’t mean that the worship has any less value. Some of us, like me, need the
discipline of timing to ensure that we make space for worship but the spirit can flow at any time.
It really is the Spirit who is on display for the bulk of this passage. I think this is another reason why this is a favourite season. Rightfully so we spend a lot of time unpacking the words and actions of Jesus. As one who studied Hebrew I like to delve into the Old Testament and the expression of God that is found there but at Pentecost we really get to know this strange aspect of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit is a calm, quiet nudge, but in this story it is a violent wind with tongues of fire, that empowers
the disciples to speak words they could not speak just week’s ago. The Spirit brings hope to the otherwise troubled and scared disciples. The Spirit helps the disciples harness the courage to speak up. The Spirit inspires renewal.
We are exhausted by covid. We are worried about a still unknown future. We are troubled by some of the things this pandemic has exposed like inequality and chasms in our health care. The disciples were tired, concerned, and anxious too, when suddenly they are given
the ability to be bold through the renewing Spirit. There are things about this covid time that we will want to harness. We have learned a lot about worship and ministry and technology and community. Renewal in a lot of ways is afoot.
The spirit’s renewal is also universal. The passage lists a whole bunch of places that most of us don’t know how to pronounce properly. But the reason it lists a multitude of places is because the Spirit wants to ensure that no one is left out. This is a message for people all over the known world from Jews to proselytes, Cretans to Arabs. I will point out
that the festival of Pentecost existed pre-Christian church. Within Judaism it is the festival of Shavouth, a festival that celebrates the harvest- it is a big thanksgiving festival. We have renamed it Pentecost because it happens 50, “Pente” days after Easter. But this is  why so many people were in Jerusalem. They were there to give thanks for the harvest, to
give thanks for the physical nourishment they have received. Little did they know that their spirits would be nourished as well.
Then it is Peter’s words that demonstrate just how expansive this message really is. A reminder that fifty-two days earlier, not even two months, Peter did not have the courage to admit he knew Jesus let alone followed him. Peter went away sulking and ashamed. One commentary says, “The Spirit had emboldened him to fulfil the potential which Jesus had always recognized in him. Are we letting the Spirit embolden us to fulfil
the potential to which we are called both as individuals and as the church?” Are we letting the Spirit help us to fulfil our potential as individuals and as the church? The follow up question in my mind is, if we aren’t, what is holding us back? Are we continuing to live huddled together in one place because we are afraid of what the renewal might bring? Are we perplexed because it is still a mystery to us? Are we worried that we’re going to appear
drunk?
Peter than quotes from Joel which does demonstrate the indiscriminate nature of the Holy Spirit. The young will see visions, the old will dream dreams (and let’s be clear when we are talking dreams we aren’t talking flights of fancy but bold visions), slaves and free, men and women, will receive the gift of the Spirit. There are no societal barriers that
the Spirit can not break. There is an inclusivity to the spirit that no one can deny. If a denying fisherman can become the rock upon which the church is built then any and all of us can harness the playful power of the spirit.

This is such a rich example of what the church should be- not stuck in one place- physically or spiritually, not restricted to who can participate or not, not cowering at injustices. This is a church that allows themselves to be emboldened through the Spirit.
That preaches hope and seeks renewal. Look, I get it, I am not always up for the challenges that the Spirit places in front of me. I have had my fair share of temper tantrums. Trust me, there are lots of times when I don’t know what I’m doing. But I need the playfulness of Pentecost to help me find my voice, to have the energy to be bold, to see where the the spirit is blowing. And that’s when the fun begins! Amen

Devotional May 16 2021 ~ Ascension

In 1967 prolific song writer Jimmy Webb was inspired to write a song when his friend William F Williams flew a promotional hot air balloon for the radio station KMEN. The plan was for this song to used in a documentary about hot air ballooning but the documentary never came to fruition. Over that year a couple groups recorded versions of the song but when it was arranged and recorded by the 5th Dimension the song took flight. It swept the 1968 Grammy’s  taking record of the year, song of the year, best contemporary song of the year and 3 others.  Now I’m going to be honest and say that listening to the song now it sounds a bit dated. According to wikipedia it is a prime example of “sunshine pop” music, a genre of music popular with tv jingles. I’m also going to be honest and say that the first time I heard the song I definitely thought it was a veiled reference to drug use but further exploration revealed that it is literally a song about hot air ballooning. If you know the song, and I know for a fact that there are some of you out there who know this song,  be warned, I’m about to butcher it. “Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon/Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon/  We could float among the stars together, you and I. For we can flllllllyyyyyy. Up, up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon.” I pity all of you who are watching this right now. But the thing is, this song, which is entitled, “Up, up and Away” has been in my head on repeat since I cracked open the Bible to this version of the Ascension. Jesus does this wild “superhero” move and floats up, up and away- but not in a beautiful balloon.  And let’s be clear, Jesus does NOT float away never to be involved in the life of his disciples again, rather Jesus’ ascension forges a deep connection between Christ and church forever.

So how did we get here?  The first five verses of the Acts of the Apostles helps set the tone. It is traditionally understood that the author of Acts is also the author of Luke, partly because the writing style is similar but mostly because both Luke and Acts are addressed to Theophilus. Now it is possible that Theophilus was a real person who commissioned the writing of Luke and Acts. But the name means “lover” or “beloved of God”. So I like to think that these texts were written as an open letter to anyone willing to expand on their relationship with God. As it says in the opening verses Acts is a transitions from “all that Jesus did and taught” to the life and ministry of the disciples, now called Apostles. This suggests that Jesus’ work continues in and through the apostles’ actions. We also get a hint at what is to come, that the Holy Spirit will baptize them with the gift of preaching, proclamation and prophecy. Essentially they will be gifted with some of the skill and power of Jesus. So, while these first five verses seem to just simply a brief re-cap of what we read in Luke it really is a clear link between Jesus and the apostles. Make no mistake that Jesus’ ministry is alive and well through them.

Verses 6 through 11 then narrates this strange story of the ascension. Within the lectionary we can call this “Ascension Sunday” but it is important to note that the ascension happened 40 days after Easter- which means that it was actually celebrated on May 13th this year. More liturgical churches would have marked that day with a service and many of you from Continental Europe may even remember that Ascension Day was marked with a holiday. For some reason, unlike Lent we tend not to mark the 40 days between Easter and the Ascension with much importance. Yet, they would have been an interesting 40 days for the disciples who got to spend 40 days with Jesus, likely sequestered somewhere in Jerusalem just talking about all that had taken place and why. What an incredible opportunity.

Eventually, the disciples decide that there is one last question that needs to be answered and they approach Jesus together, after all there is solidarity in numbers.  And I think the question is quite legitimate since Jesus has been talking about the Kingdom for 40 days but they still do not know when all this will take place. They ask, “is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” essentially, they want to know when this glorious kingdom of God will become a reality on earth. But Jesus tells them that they are not privy to God’s knowledge of these things. But not to be discouraged by this fact because instead of knowledge they will be gifted with power via the Holy Spirit. And through the Holy Spirit they will be transformed from passive participants to active witnesses.

As soon as Jesus promises the arrival of the Spirit- which we know will come just 10 days later- Jesus is lifted up and a cloud takes him out of their sight. Jesus doesn’t even seem to say, “goodbye”. No wonder the disciples are left gazing up toward heaven. I would be too! It appears that Jesus has gone up, up and away.  But why? Well, quite simply put there was a precedence. If you can recall back to the transfiguration when Jesus and a few disciples go up a mountain and there Jesus is transfigured into dazzling white and two other guys appear on the scene, Elijah and Moses. If you know the story of Elijah then you know that as a great prophet after he transferred his authority and power to Elisha he ascends in a whirlwind into heaven! Here the link between the prophets of old and Jesus is clearly being made. On top of that, throughout the book of Exodus when Moses would be deep in conversation with God it often appeared to others in the form of clouds.  Within the Old Testament clouds are a display of God’s presence. Jesus going up in a cloud means that God is present.  Jesus’ ascension also makes the link between Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel Chap 7 of “one like a human being coming with clouds of heaven.”

But I can empathize with the disciples. They are just getting comfortable with the idea that Jesus is back in their life when once again he is taken away and at such a key transition in their ministry. This is a new chapter in their lives, a new beginning. New beginnings, new chapters, transitions can be really exciting but they can also be terrifying. Theologian Gilberto Ruiz points out, “Transitions can initiate new beginnings in the aftermath of trauma. The disciples have just undergone a whirlwind of events, from the crucifixion of their leader to their experiences with him as resurrected Lord, and now they await a new phase of relating to him not in body but through the Holy Spirit.” We are on the cusp of a transition- a post-pandemic world, and I’m going to be honest and say, I’m nervous.  I have had numerous conversations with colleagues who feel the same. We just don’t know what church will look like. But thankfully Vancouver School of Theology principal Richard Topping had some advice for us. He said, “God raised Jesus to raise the world to life…the active agent in interpreting scripture or breaking bread is not primarily us but Jesus is the principal agent. .John Calvin said, “Wherever the Word is preached in the power of the holy spirit and bread and wine shared in obedience to Christ renewal can break out at any moment.”” These comments brought us some relief in knowing that no matter what the post-covid church looks like, so long as the focus is on Christ, things will happen! I also think this is why our New Beginnings building project is so exciting. Yes, its a change and transition but it is going to be a new phase in the way we engage with our neighbours.

While it appears that the physical presence of Jesus has gone up, up and away, the presence of Christ abounds through the life and work of the church. The disciples were the first ones to experience this hope in the very real and living presence of Jesus.  It is why the two men in white robes ask them “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Basically they are asking them, “what are you going to do now that Jesus has commissioned you to be his witnesses? This isn’t a time to just stand around looking up. This is a new beginning!” We now carry this torch of hope and renewal in a time of transition. Amen

Devotional May 9 2021 Mother’s Day

Devotional:

One of the many things I miss as we continue to live in the shadow of a pandemic is singing together. Don’t get me wrong I still belt out songs on the regular whether I know the words or tune or not. But it has been awhile since I sang with others. My Mom has sung in choirs for most of her life and on this Mother’s day I think of all the songs she has sung in churches as I grew up. I always like trying to pick out her voice from all the others during an anthem.  I’m so thankful that with the choir program we are using to record our hymns that I get to sing with her. I am sure that many of you who sing in choirs know what I mean when I say I miss singing together.  One of the songs that I often sang with others was the hymn Abide with Me  by Henry Francis Lyte. It’s one of those fairly well known classic hymns that carries with it both a hint of melancholy and assurance. I mean truly, the words are filled with sadness and pain but also the knowledge that through our deepest darkness God abides with us. I would argue that one of the reasons why this is a classic hymn is because it mimics some of those heartfelt laments found in the Psalms. “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.” The author and Anglican minister, Rev. Lyte, suffered poor health most of his life and at age 54 he developed tuberculosis and died. But for 27 years prior to his death he would often read or sing Abide With Me to parishioners who were enduring hardship or death. It was a sort of personal prayer that he would share. It was sung publicly for the first time at Rev. Lyte’s funeral. The hymn is loosely based on Luke 24:29 when Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and they ask Jesus to stay with them or abide with them. But I could not help hearing that song as I encountered the gospel passage for this morning.

This is a continuation of last week’s passage and part of a greater piece called Jesus’ Farewell discourse. It is a large section in John that takes place on the night of the last supper. In our text Jesus transitions from the image of the vine that we heard last week and is expanding the meaning of love and abiding that he hinted at earlier in the passage. Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments. You will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Last week we compared grafting with abiding but this week we look at what “to abide” really means.

Truthfully, the word abide is perhaps one of those slightly archaic church words that most of us don’t use in common speech. It’s like the words bestow or exalt or liturgy- we all have a vague understanding of what the word means because we’ve grown up with them but if you’re new to the church the words seem old fashioned or strange or completely unknown. To me, abide is one of those words.

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the passage doesn’t use the word “abide” but instead says, “make yourself at home in my love.” And that’s not a bad understanding of the word abide but is that all that the word means? To make yourself at home. I mean, when I “make myself at home” it usually means that I dismiss any formal social etiquette. It means I take my shoes off and put my feet up and relax. To abide certainly means to get comfortable and cozy in God’s love but it doesn’t mean get lazy or complacent. What does it mean to abide in love?

The Greek word for abide is meno and it means “to remain” or “to stay”. For example, much earlier in John when Jesus is just starting to gather the disciples, two of them ask Jesus “where are you staying?” and the word they use is meno. To abide, to remain or to stay; or it can mean to reside or to occupy or to live. Imagine instead of abide Jesus said, “as the Father has loved me, so I have love you; occupy in my love.” It draws on some of that radical language of the Occupy Movement.

If we understand the word abide in that way then we need to move on to the question what does it mean to abide in Christ’s love? Theologian Emily Askew points out that, “Love in this passage is not a psychological state, nor is it anywhere described as an internal quality. Love is an action—a really difficult action. The definition of love here is a radical willingness to die—not for your child or spouse, but for a fellow follower of Christ.” To occupy Jesus’ love is not for the faint of heart, its not even for the romantic heart.  To live Jesus’ love is not for the passive heart, despite the fact that the heart is an involuntary muscle. To reside in Jesus’ love is a continuous process in which those branches we referred to last week bear fruit. Here Jesus ties his previous statement of being the vine and we the branches with this image of abiding in love.

Abide also means to remain stable or in a fixed state much like an interwoven vine of grapes. I think this is why Jesus attaches this abiding imagery to the vine and branches metaphor because to abide is a calling. A calling that keeps us connected and dependent on one another. Or more precisely we are connected to God through Christ but in order for this connection to have meaning, it must be reciprocal and that is manifested through our dependence upon each other. Jesus explains this by redefining his relationship with his disciples as his friends. If we are going to abide, or occupy, or reside, or live in Christ’s love it must be displayed through friendship.

Jesus unpacks this language of abiding by saying, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” The disciples are no longer servants or even students of Jesus’ teaching but friends with Jesus. This of course pulled me into another well known classic hymn, “What a Friend we Have in Jesus” which was written by Joseph Scriven who also suffered much in his life including the death of his fiance the day before they were to be married, estrangement from his family over religious difference, and his own severe illness. He wrote the poem while he was living in Bewdley, Ontario near Port Hope after he received word that his mother was ill. He wrote it in a letter to her to try and bring her comfort despite their fractured relationship. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.”

The Gospel passage finishes with Jesus stating, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” To abide in Jesus’ love means friendship. I know this is oversimplifying a very complicated theology, I know I am running the risk of sentimentalizing something very deep, but just think, if every person you encountered, you encountered as a friend, not a stranger, what that would do to the world. I know some of you well enough to know that some of you can strike up a conversation with anyone and in that brief moment a friendship develops even if you never end up knowing their name. I know some of you well enough to know that you are more like me, you keep your guard up and don’t want to engage in conversations. So, I know that for some of us this idea of seeing everyone as your friend is a lot harder to do! But to abide, to occupy, to live in Jesus’ love means a manifested friendship. Because no matter how fast the eventide falls, no matter how deep the darkness gets, no matter how helpless we become, God abides- occupies, resides, lives- with us. Amen