Sermon June 12 2022

Elizabeth Hyndman and I would often have very interesting and long conversations on many many topics. However, the topic that she was drawn to discuss the most was the theology of the Holy Trinity.  For those of you who spent time with Elizabeth, I am sure that you too had conversations with her about the Trinity- her words are whispered throughout today’s sermon because it was impossible for me not to tackle this topic without thinking of her.  Due to her love of St. Patrick she often used the image of the shamrock. As a lover of music I would often talk of the differences between melody, harmony and rhythm. Some of us may recall the children’s story version of H2O which manages to be a gas, liquid and solid. But the truth is none of these analogies do the trinity justice- in fact many scholars much smarter than I, would actually say they do damage to theology of the trinity.  Last week we talked about how the Spirit is not always easy to explain and is better experienced then simply discussed. Well, let me tell you, if the Spirit is hard to explain, the Trinity is nearly impossible and it’s even hard to experience! I mean, the first major and probably greatest schism in church history happened over a difference of opinion over the work and flow of the trinity! And yet, today, we face a Sunday in the church calendar that invites us to spend a whole sermon talking about the Trinity.  It’s about to get messy but thankfully our scripture passages today help us, a little. 

In the Fall of 2020, at the request of Elizabeth, I led a six week Bible study on the Trinity. We used Jason Byassee’s book Trinity: The God We Don’t Know  as our launching point. In his introduction he says that, “The Trinity is the God we don’t know. And we should change that.” But to be honest, even after doing this study,  I’m still not fully convinced I understand the Trinity. Luckily Byassee also says, “We can’t understand God. A God we could understand would be an idol, one we could stuff in our back pocket, one we could dial in to do favours for us, like some kind of genie in a lamp. One thing I teach at church as a sort of responsive reading is this: I say, “If you understand it…” and they all repeat, “it is not God!”…we can’t possibly understand him. But God understands us perfectly well…This is how it is. You stretch your imagination and intellect to grasp the hem of God’s garment. And then God starts growing as a fast-multiplying zygote right underneath your ribs.” For Byassee the beauty of the Trinity, and as a result God, is that we can never fully understand it, but that should not stop us from trying or exploring the possibilities. This is clear as we hear the Gospel passage chosen for today. 

What we hear is the tale end of a five chapter dialogue that Jesus gives at the last supper. It begins in chapter 13 when Jesus washes the disciples feet and ends with a prayer that Jesus prays for his disciples in chapter 17. This section is often referred to as Jesus’ Farewell discourse. What is woven throughout this conversation is that the trinity is a manifestation of God’s love for us. So really, we complicate trying to explain the Trinity by trying to explain love but that is indeed the focus of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. It begins with a threefold commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us- the words we hear at Maundy Thursday- and ends with prayer in which Jesus asks that the divine love he is sharing can be manifested through his disciples. This speech is so heavy and deep that even Jesus acknowledges that the disciples can not bear all the words at once. Through the work and experience of the Spirit they will, in time, be able to understand what it all means.

In truth, this is a very intricate dance, and if you know your dance moves, this is not a two-step, but a waltz, a very fast waltz, 1-2-3. 1-2-3, in which love is the movement and the Trinity are the dancers and in many cases, the movements are so quick and flow with such intensity that it is often hard or impossible to differentiate between the dancers- in fact, most scholars would argue that problems arise when we try to differentiate them. Jesus is the one who speaks these words of love, words given to him by the Father through the Spirit to us and then it moves again from Jesus back to the one who sent him. I watched a complicated lecture about this in which the person try to say the dance goes from God to Jesus to us to Spirit to us to Spirit to Jesus to Spirit to Us to Father to Jesus to Spirit to Us. But I got very confused! Meda Stamper says of this dance that it is, “the eternal love flowing from the one who sends, to the sent one, to the Spirit who dwells in us in abiding love and makes us love-bearers for, in and with God who sends us out into the world to bear witness to the Trinity with our love.” 

Now, if you are still confused, and it’s ok, I am too, Jesus also admits that it is confusing. Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The use of the word “bear” here is really interesting. Most translations indeed use that word while a few modern versions might use the word “understand”. When the Greek word for “bear” is used elsewhere in the New Testament it is always in reference to a physical bearing of weight.  For example in John 19:17 while some translations say that Jesus carried his cross the correct translation would be, “he went out, bearing his own cross.” Basically, in this conversation, Jesus is saying that the knowledge of the trinity and love is so full, so heavy, so large, that we can not bear the weight of it all at once. But Jesus also reassures them saying that we’re not supposed to bear it all at once. Over time the Spirit of truth will come and guide the disciples. This is the trinity at work.  By the way, the Greek word for guide can also be translated as “way”. Meta Stamper points out, “The Spirit guides us into the truth of the way, which is not a set of instructions, but a relationship with a person who loves us.” Makes sense? Well, sort of! 

  In his letter to the Romans, Paul also picks up on this theme that the Trinity is really a love story and sometimes love is hard. Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome- people who knew what it was to suffer for their faith. While the extreme violence against Christians had likely not happened yet, they certainly experienced persecution. Hence his words that one should boast in their suffering because it produces endurance which produces character which produces hope. But one of the overarching themes in the letter to the Romans is that despite our differences in language, culture, and custom, we are united in our devotion and love to and from God. 

As Byassee concludes in his book, “Love is the force with which God binds us to one another. And we cannot now understand God [The Trinity] without ungovernable signs of reconciliation, without indissoluble bonds of affection. And these three, the one who creates, the one who redeems, the one who reconciles, these three are one. Their love for one another is unfathomable. Our task in life is to become part of this company of fathomless mutual care.” 

Look, I’m not going to pretend that this clears things up. At 97 years of age Elizabeth was still questioning and exploring what the Trinity meant to her. I hope that I not only live as long but that I too continue to question and explore. That is the beauty of God, in particular, the theology of the Trinity. A God we can understand is an idol, not God. It’s hard enough explaining love- let alone the love that flows from the Trinity. Yet, what Paul points out is that through the love that is poured out from God we are made inseparable from God and one another. All the forces that cause suffering in this world try to separate us but we are inextricably linked through the Trinity. We are a part of this dance too. Amen 

Sermon June 5 2022

Have you ever been to an event or seen a movie or read a book that made you beautifully speechless? This happens to me with live music. I will sit and watch or stand and dance to a performer and be totally moved to joy or delight, sometimes even elation- but when I try to explain it to someone, words seem to evade me. So I’ll say to them, “Oh you’ve just got to experience it for yourself.” Sometimes, some things can’t be explained, they can only be experienced. I often feel this way about faith and theology- especially at Pentecost. 

We often read the Bible in hindsight. I spent all of Lent reading psalms from a Christological perspective- meaning that I read Christ between and into the lines. But the truth is that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah everyone had expected. Christ’s crucifixion was, and in many ways still is, counter-intuitive. You see, it’s hard for me to explain but as Karl Kuhn says, “The Messiah was supposed to defeat the Romans and banish their oppressive ways not fall victim to them.” This is something we still struggle to understand but it was particularly difficult for the disciples to wrap their heads around. I mean, I have trouble explaining it to people and I have two millenia of theologians backing me up, imagine what it would have been like for the disciples. But today, today, we find a resolve within the disciples that has not been seen before and it is all thanks to the empowerment and experience of the Holy Spirit. Which by the way, if you think salvation theology is a hard one to explain, try explaining the Holy Spirit. I do, however, think it is really important for us to remember that the disciples were overwhelmed by confusion and hope following the resurrection and they had no clue how to explain it to others.  Cue the Holy Spirit. 

Luke sets up the time and location. It’s Pentecost, which at the time, was likely not called Pentecost but Shavout or festival of the weeks, although the term does appear in some translations of the Old Testament. Basically, it’s a harvest festival that takes place 50 days after Passover. It was a festival in which the people gave their first fruits to God. So the time of year is important for a few reasons. One, there would have been a lot of international travellers coming to the Temple to worship God. Two, it was a festival of thanksgiving for all that God had provided. Three, people brought their first fruits, not what was leftover, to God. Think of that in the context of how we celebrate Pentecost now, a season that we traditionally call the birthday of the church. We come together to give thanks for God’s provisions and we respond. Hopefully with our very best selves not with what is leftover? I think I love Pentecost so much as a season or festival day, in part because it is one of only a few religious holidays that has not been overtaken or desecrated by hallmark cards or a secular holiday. Likely, in part because, it’s a hard one to explain.       

The disciples have gathered together- maybe in that same room they were locked in when Jesus first appeared to them and blessed them with peace- maybe not, but another impressive, less than peaceful power takes place. Suddenly there’s the sound of violent wind and divided tongues of fire appear and they are filled with the Holy Spirit and are able to speak in different languages. It’s only been four verses but a lot has happened. Actually, this is something I find really interesting about Luke. Luke spends a lot of time listing ALL the different people who where around and who heard the disciples speaking in their own language. But the details around the wind and tongues of fire is very brief.  This reminds me of Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism. Luke gives A LOT of details about Jesus’ birth and ministry but Jesus’ baptism, in which the Holy Spirit appears as a dove,  is two verses long. I wonder if Luke had trouble explaining the Holy Spirit too or if for Luke the Spirit was something that was better experienced then explained. 

The problem with experience is that, we all experience things differently. There are many times when I will tell someone, oh you’ve got to listen to this podcast or read that book, and when they do, their experience of it is completely different from mine. Luke tells us that despite the fact that everyone experienced the disciples speaking in their own languages- all were amazed and perplexed. Two very different experiences and others claimed that it was nothing but silly drunkenness.

But it is the experience of Peter, clumsy, denying, fisherman Peter, that changes the hearts of many. Peter, in his very first sermon, thanks to the empowerment of the Spirit, is able to explain what is really going on. Peter claims that prophecy is fulfilled in Pentecost. Peter, who was once incapable of even admitting he knew Jesus is made bold by the Spirit. What an experience!

Peter explains that God’s promise has been brought to fulfillment. Ok- now is when it gets really hard to explain. A future time has been made present. I’ve turned to Marion Soards again to help me with this, “In the current moment, described in the lesson as “the Last Days,” we live under the claim of God. This declaration of Peter means that the future time for which humanity has hoped, has in fact, already broken into history so that things are no longer the same.  Thus in a certain sense the past (prophetic promises), present (out-pouring of the Holy Spirit) and future (the last days) interact as a single time in the event of Pentecost.”   Make sense right?! At a very basic level I like to interpret it as God’s time does not function like our linear time. You have to experience it to understand it- and some days I get it and some days I don’t. 

But that is the beauty of the power of the Spirit as displayed at Pentecost. You see, what we don’t hear in our reading is that as people heard Peter’s sermon, whether they understood it all or not, they were “cut to the heart” and asked what they should do. The disciples said repent- meaning turn your life around from one experience to something completely new- and be baptized so that this gift of understanding via the spirit can be yours too. They also said, this isn’t just about you but about your children and all who are far away, everyone whom our Lord God calls.” And you know how many people were moved to follow the disciples and the good news of the Gospel that day? Three thousand. I can’t explain it- but that is what was experienced! 

Forty years ago, when the church was already in decline, church researchers provided the following statistic about why most people started attending church, 2% by Advertisement, 6% by Pastoral Invitation, 6% by organized campaign and 86% by invitation of a friend or relative. Certainly updated research is require, especially in an age where now about 1/3 of congregations are worshipping online, however, I think the rough estimate remains true the vast majority of attendees show up because someone has invited them. Because, let’s be honest, church is sometimes a hard thing to explain but often a great thing to experience.  

Speaking of church, and it’s birthday, one of the most striking moments in the Pentecost story is that moment when the disciples begin to speak in various languages about God’s deeds of power. I’m not going to debate the logistics or theology or what speaking in tongues really means, what is so important to me about this moment is that the Spirit was ensuring that no one was left out. The Spirit was indiscriminate with  who heard these words. Men, women, young, old, Egyptians, Jews, Mesopotamians, slave or free. According to the Lord’s message to Joel as experienced at Pentecost any division that normally separates us is overturned by the Spirit. There are no barriers to the experience of God’s power. Historically, even today, the church, in our division has created barriers- sometimes using sound theology, sometimes so that we can control the message. But the spirit, can not be contained, and we have no control over who gets to experience it. 

Today is an opportunity to take stock over how we as a Church function- but today is also the first day of the 2022 General Assembly. They are meeting for the second time, virtually. There will be challenges but it is important for us to remember that the Spirit stirs within us, and within others. Be bold- it might be a hard one to explain but a great thing to experience. Amen 

Sermon May 29 2022

Living as we do near the Cascadia subduction zone, an area where the North American and Juan de Fuca tectonic plates meet, we are all familiar with the possibility of a “Big One” shaking the earth beneath us. Scientists estimate there is a one in five chance that BC will experience a major earthquake in the next 50 years. Reading that statistic certainly made me take stock of how much fresh water, canned goods and propane we have easily on hand. I read a recent report that said that the Juan de Fuca plate is trying to slide underneath the North American one but it has become stuck, locked by friction and the pressure is building on the fault line. As I read this,  I definitely felt the urgency to practise my drop, cover and hold on technique.  They say that the more you practice it the more likely you are to remember to it in a panic. Drop, cover and hold on! Three easy steps to keep yourself safe in an earthquake. I wonder, if Paul and Silas did that as the walls of their prison cell began to shake and crumble around them. And speaking of three easy steps, the ministry that Luke describes in Philippi are three powerful perspectives of the gospel. Perfect for a three point sermon! Which you know I rarely do!

Luke structure’s Paul’s mission in Philippi into three different events featuring three different people who experience the gospel in three very different ways. We actually heard the first of the three perspectives last week when Paul encounters Lydia. A little recap; following their arrival in Philippi, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke look for like minded people so that they can worship God and tell them about Jesus. They find that many of the women gather for prayer by a river outside the city gates. As Paul is preaching and Lydia is listening, the Lord opens her heart and she wishes to be baptized, along with her whole household. For Lydia the conversion experience is one of persuasion and acceptance. She is moved, through the Spirit, by Paul’s words and wishes to be baptized. One perspective on the power of the Gospel. 

Today’s passage begins at the second perspective and it is rather different from the first! Unlike the pleasant encounter with Lydia, the encounter with the enslaved girl begins with a confrontation. In this story, as they are going to the place of prayer, presumably the same place where they met Lydia, Paul and Silas encounter an enslaved girl whose owners make a great deal of money off of her ability to tell the future. Now, an interesting tone is that Luke does not seem to deny that this girl has a special ability, the problem is, that she has been turned into a slave and made to make money off of her ability.  She is also encumbered by her ability- as she doesn’t seem able to turn it off- she walks with Paul and Silas for days shouting at them that they are “slaves to the Most High God.”There is a real juxtaposition between the kind of slavery this girl has been bonded into and the kind of slavery this girl claims that Paul and Silas have chosen to live. It is a commentary on the kind of servitude we wish to live, be a slave to the state system or to the Most High God. From the perspective of this girl, she is doubly oppressed- she is possessed by both her owners and the spirit of divination. 

I will admit that I get a chuckle out of the fact that this girl is released from her oppression because eventually Paul is annoyed. For several days this nameless girl follows the men around shouting at and about them. And what she says is true, they are indeed servants of the Most High God, but despite this Paul finds her shouting exasperating. Out of frustration Paul commands the spirit to leave the girl and immediately it does. This perspective on the power of the Gospel has nothing to do with conversion. In fact, it is vastly different from other miracle stories because those miracles tend to take place to convince people of the healing power of God. This miracle, seems to happen by accident. I suppose that is how powerful the Gospel is, sometimes it is spread not because of us but in spite of us. 

The difficult part of this story is that after she is healed we don’t know what happened to the girl. For many, the point of the story is not about her but about how the Spirit of God has been let loose on Greece. But I wish we could go deeper with her. This slave girl’s economic roots and the violence she has experienced as a result are explicit. She is seen as nothing more than a money maker for her owners, not a person. In fact, even Paul doesn’t see her as a person but more of a nuisance. Perhaps Paul humanizes her when he exorcises her. By the way, this is the first exorcism in Acts. Perhaps this girl should be a lesson for us, that there are definitely times when we struggle to figure out where people fit into the story of the Gospel, especially if they are people whose chains have been broken. How do we welcome people whose experience of the Gospel is more like that of the slave girl than Lydia’s? 

What we do know is that the girl’s owners are very angry and their actions create a bridge between the second and third perspectives on the power of the Gospel. Paul and Silas are seized and dragged into the marketplace and charged with disturbing the city, in part because they are Jews, meaning foreigners, who have customs and that are different from that of Rome’s. What the city officials do not know at this stage is that while they are Jews, they happen to also be Roman citizens, a very unique position for them to be in.  This requires a bit of a side bar- Paul and the others are outsiders, they look different, they dress different, they worship a different God- this is what lands them in jail not the exorcism. I’m not a gambler, but I would wager a bet, that Paul knows what it is like to be treated differently because he is a visible minority.  What is interesting is that Paul released this girl from her slavery- at least being a slave to the spirit of divination, if not literally a slave to her owners- and it is this freedom miracle that lands Paul in jail. However, by ending up in jail we hear of the third and final Gospel perspective in Philippi.  

The image of Paul and Silas singing songs and praying well into the night should create a beautiful metaphor for us of the power of worship to shake the foundations of despair. While I’ve never spent time in prison, I’ve been in a dark place where only worship could pull me out. But here we have literal shaking. It is so violent that the doors fly open and miraculously everyone’s chains are unfastened. Even more miraculously is that Paul manages to convince all the prisoners to remain in the jail, despite now having total freedom. Dramatically just as the jailer is about to take his own life Paul calls out that they are all accounted for. Here we have the third powerful perspective of the Gospel- the guard trembles in front of Paul and Silas and he can not help but be prompted to seek salvation. Unlike Lydia’s story who sought baptism after hearing Paul’s words, the jailer seeks baptism after experiencing a miracle. Like Lydia, the jailer is moved to hospitality following his baptism. 

Luke’s record of events in Philippi helps us to see the various ways in which the gospel was spread around Greece. An important reminder that the gospel spreads in a variety of ways. We have the story of God-fearing Lydia, the confrontation between God and spiritual powers which reflects the conflict between the disciples and the political powers, and the incredible conversion of someone who prior to meeting Paul knew nothing of God. Note the one similarity in all three stories, that the disciples are mere vessels for the message but it is God who does all the work. It is the Lord who opens Lydia’s heart, the spirit oppressing the girl is cast out in the name of Jesus and it is one mighty earthquake that shakes the jailer into belief, three powerful perspectives, in three powerful stories, personified in three different people. 

There are three steps one should take in the event of an earthquake, drop, take cover and hold on. Like Paul and Silas perhaps we should drop the burdens of this world and trust God’s power to make us disciples, take cover under the love and leading of the Holy Spirit and hold on- hold on to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its manifestations- and be ready for when God shakes things up. Amen 

May 22 2022

When I lived in Toronto I lived close to Kensington Market, a bohemianesque part of the downtown butted right next to Chinatown. In Kensington Market there was a little corner shop that was a combination candy store and cafe. Nearly every Saturday I would walk to this shop and order a tea and then sit in the sun porch and people watch. I always ordered the same tea, a fruit tea of dried pineapple, apple and hibiscus. To this day, if you put that tea in front of me I am transported to warm spring Saturdays in Toronto. However, it was the name of the tea that pulled me into a completely different direction. The tea was called Bella Coola. It was not until I graduated from Knox College and I was looking into the various provinces to see if I felt called somewhere that I discovered Bella Coola was a place on the central coast of BC. Immediately I wanted to go there- but seeing as there was no Presbyterian church there it didn’t seem like the right place to settle.  My dream of visiting Bella Coola took 16 years but it was  realized this past summer- and it was everything I had hoped for and more, beautiful landscapes, rich history and wonderful people. The 10 hour ferry journey was well worth it, despite the rough sea start.  I even managed to pick up some Bella Coola tea while there.  It’s funny to think of the things that inspire us to go on a journey, for me in this case, it started with tea but one could argue that the tea inspired a vision. I’m not quite comparing my desire to travel to Bella Coola with Paul’s vision to go to Macedonia but it is the tenuous link.  All sorts of things can inspire us to go on a trip- but a journey of faith and mission usually does require something more than a cup of tea. 

Paul’s journey to Macedonia begins with a call through a vision, while visions were often seen as a part of how God communicated, it is particularly true for Paul. After all, Paul would not have transitioned to Paul had it not been for a vision. Paul was acutely in tune with his visions and they inspired a lot of ministry. The perhaps unfortunate thing is that visions these days are treated with suspicion or some argue that they have disappeared from our spiritual experiences all together. I cannot claim to have had a full on road to Damascus style vision or a dream that is so vivid it inspires me to pick up everything and travel across the sea, but I did move across the country for a calling and I think inspiration is indeed a vision of sorts and I know many of you have been inspired in all kinds of ways. I don’t think we need to have focused visions in order to hear a calling by God. Truly, what inspired you to be here today? Or watch this service? Could it be called a vision?The metaphor of a journey is a perfect one for faith but the story in Acts turns metaphor into plain speech, at least metaphorically. 

Our passage begins with Paul’s vision- it sets up why Paul ends up by a river in Philippi. What we don’t hear in our reading is the preceding text that describes a bunch of false starts in Asia minor. Yet, I think it is important for us to realize that Paul had a few failed missions too, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his calling, eventually he is drawn to Macedonia. Yet it is intriguing that this small band of missionaries Paul, Silas and Timothy, despite not having any successful missions yet, travel across the Aegean Sea into Macedonia. Sometimes we think that our callings and missions need a lot of growth or finances or resources to be called a success but that does not appear to be the case for Paul- at least not yet. 

I do want to pause for a moment so that we acknowledge something very special that happens in this section of the Book of Acts. If we were to read the beginning of this section at verse six it begins, “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia”. Like all of the book up until now it is written in the third person. But something very special happens following Paul’s vision because verse ten says, “being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the goodness”. The author, who we know as Luke, switches to first person. He becomes one of these missionaries. I could spend a whole sermon on that transition alone but just briefly I think it is one of the most beautiful aspects of the story. Luke, started researching Jesus soon after stories of his resurrection began to spread. He writes of his research to a person or group named Theophilus, Lover of God, and in the process of writing down his sequel to the Gospel he becomes part of the story- he becomes a missionary and we are privy to that moment in this slight change in language. Perhaps our own journeys in faith are just as subtle as that change in language- it does not have to be some incredible vision, it can be, but sometimes it is just something that grows over time and suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the story.  

They, Paul, Silas, Timothy and the author,  end up in Phillipi, in part because it was the leading city in the region.  It was also a Roman colony, a settlement established for veteran Roman soldiers.  Normally Paul would have gone straight to the local synagogue to meet with like minded people. However, remember, this is a Roman Colony. A synagogue is only allowed to be established if there are a minimum of 10 Jewish men- and there are clearly not 10 in this town. But after being in Philippi a few days, on the sabbath it is important for these missionaries to find a place of prayer. Clearly there is a place, outside the gate by the river where women gather to pray. These men begin to talk with the women that have gathered and Lydia is quite attentive in her listening. I think it is very important for us to hear the following line, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” Lydia’s conversion happened first and foremost as a divine act which then inspired her human response. She probably didn’t know the kind of inspiration she would receive when she went down to the river to pray that day. She probably had not envisioned that she would be inspired to invite a  a bunch of male travellers who would be stay with her for a day or two or many. Yet, she was inspired to be baptized right there and then and to prevail upon them that they stay with her. 

We never know what is going to inspire us or give us a vision or motivate us on a journey, particularly the journey of faith. Marion Soards has this great line in her commentary about this passage, she writes, “Paul’s vision to cross over the Aegean Sea into Macedonia was hardly a stained-glass experience that came to him fresh and clean on Sunday morning. Instead, it was a vision painted through a long sequence of failures that took him to the geographical edge of what he had first intended. Had he not stayed with his failures there would have been no vision.” Perhaps we feel as though our success as a congregation hinges on growing our numbers but maybe it is our small failures that will help us to grow. I would also argue that we have no idea how one inspiration will journey toward another. 

In Jesus’ final night with his disciples he promised them the gift of the Spirit, an advocate to speak for and through them when they hit failures. The gulf between God and people, Creator and created is bridged and we have the abiding presence of the Spirit to guide us. The role of the Spirit is to inspire, affirm, and challenge so that we take the gospel with us wherever we go. Having just come back from a little road trip that was inspired by an article I read once in a local magazine. And preceding that, having taken a course of transitional ministry, I am thinking hard about our journey towards this congregation’s future. There is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit is with us- but we need to tap into what God is calling us to be and do in this time and place. We need to be inspired to act. Sometimes this means we are inspired to go on a literal journey, sometimes this means that we find ourselves wrapped up in the midst of a story, sometimes that means the Lord opens up our hearts, and sometimes it means that we have to fail a few times to find success but it always includes the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. What inspires you, and your journey of faith today? Amen

Sermon May 22 2022

When I lived in Toronto I lived close to Kensington Market, a bohemianesque part of the downtown butted right next to Chinatown. In Kensington Market there was a little corner shop that was a combination candy store and cafe. Nearly every Saturday I would walk to this shop and order a tea and then sit in the sun porch and people watch. I always
ordered the same tea, a fruit tea of dried pineapple, apple and hibiscus. To this day, if you put that tea in front of me I am transported to warm spring Saturdays in Toronto. However, it was the name of the tea that pulled me into a completely different direction. The tea was called Bella Coola. It was not until I graduated from Knox College and I was looking into the various provinces to see if I felt called somewhere that I discovered Bella Coola was a place on the central coast of BC. Immediately I wanted to go there- but seeing as there was no Presbyterian church there it didn’t seem like the right place to settle. My dream of visiting Bella Coola took 16 years but it was realized this past summer- and it was everything I had hoped for and more, beautiful landscapes, rich history and wonderful people. The 10 hour ferry journey was well worth it, despite the rough sea start. I even
managed to pick up some Bella Coola tea while there. It’s funny to think of the things that inspire us to go on a journey, for me in this case, it started with tea but one could argue that the tea inspired a vision. I’m not quite comparing my desire to travel to Bella Coola with Paul’s vision to go to Macedonia but it is the tenuous link. All sorts of things can inspire
us to go on a trip- but a journey of faith and mission usually does require something more than a cup of tea.
Paul’s journey to Macedonia begins with a call through a vision, while visions were often seen as a part of how God communicated, it is particularly true for Paul. After all, Paul would not have transitioned to Paul had it not been for a vision. Paul was acutely in tune with his visions and they inspired a lot of ministry. The perhaps unfortunate thing is
that visions these days are treated with suspicion or some argue that they have disappeared from our spiritual experiences all together. I cannot claim to have had a full on road to Damascus style vision or a dream that is so vivid it inspires me to pick up everything and travel across the sea, but I did move across the country for a calling and I think inspiration is indeed a vision of sorts and I know many of you have been inspired in all kinds of ways.
I don’t think we need to have focused visions in order to hear a calling by God. Truly, what inspired you to be here today? Or watch this service? Could it be called a vision?The metaphor of a journey is a perfect one for faith but the story in Acts turns metaphor into plain speech, at least metaphorically.
Our passage begins with Paul’s vision- it sets up why Paul ends up by a river in Philippi. What we don’t hear in our reading is the preceding text that describes a bunch of false starts in Asia minor. Yet, I think it is important for us to realize that Paul had a few failed missions too, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his calling, eventually he is drawn to Macedonia. Yet it is intriguing that this small band of missionaries Paul, Silas and Timothy, despite not having any successful missions yet, travel across the Aegean Sea
into Macedonia. Sometimes we think that our callings and missions need a lot of growth or finances or resources to be called a success but that does not appear to be the case for Paul at least not yet.
I do want to pause for a moment so that we acknowledge something very special that happens in this section of the Book of Acts. If we were to read the beginning of this section at verse six it begins, “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia”. Like all of the book up until now it is written in the third person. But something very special happens following Paul’s vision because verse ten says, “being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the goodness”. The author, who we know as Luke, switches to first
person. He becomes one of these missionaries. I could spend a whole sermon on that transition alone but just briefly I think it is one of the most beautiful aspects of the story.
Luke, started researching Jesus soon after stories of his resurrection began to spread. He writes of his research to a person or group named Theophilus, Lover of God, and in the process of writing down his sequel to the Gospel he becomes part of the story- he becomes a missionary and we are privy to that moment in this slight change in language. Perhaps our own journeys in faith are just as subtle as that change in language- it does not have to
be some incredible vision, it can be, but sometimes it is just something that grows over time and suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the story.
They, Paul, Silas, Timothy and the author, end up in Phillipi, in part because it was the leading city in the region. It was also a Roman colony, a settlement established for veteran Roman soldiers. Normally Paul would have gone straight to the local synagogue to meet with like minded people. However, remember, this is a Roman Colony. A synagogue is only allowed to be established if there are a minimum of 10 Jewish men- and there are clearly not 10 in this town. But after being in Philippi a few days, on the sabbath it is important for these missionaries to find a place of prayer. Clearly there is a place, outside the gate by the river where women gather to pray. These men begin to talk with the women that have gathered and Lydia is quite attentive in her listening. I think it is very important for us to hear the following line, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to
what was said by Paul.” Lydia’s conversion happened first and foremost as a divine act  which then inspired her human response. She probably didn’t know the kind of inspiration she would receive when she went down to the river to pray that day. She probably had not envisioned that she would be inspired to invite a a bunch of male travellers who would be stay with her for a day or two or many. Yet, she was inspired to be baptized right there  and then and to prevail upon them that they stay with her.
We never know what is going to inspire us or give us a vision or motivate us on a journey, particularly the journey of faith. Marion Soards has this great line in her commentary about this passage, she writes, “Paul’s vision to cross over the Aegean Sea into Macedonia was hardly a stained-glass experience that came to him fresh and clean on Sunday morning. Instead, it was a vision painted through a long sequence of failures that took him to the geographical edge of what he had first intended. Had he not stayed with his  failures there would have been no vision.” Perhaps we feel as though our success as a congregation hinges on growing our numbers but maybe it is our small failures that will help us to grow. I would also argue that we have no idea how one inspiration will journey toward another.
In Jesus’ final night with his disciples he promised them the gift of the Spirit, an advocate to speak for and through them when they hit failures. The gulf between God and people, Creator and created is bridged and we have the abiding presence of the Spirit to guide us. The role of the Spirit is to inspire, affirm, and challenge so that we take the gospel with us wherever we go. Having just come back from a little road trip that was inspired by an article I read once in a local magazine. And preceding that, having taken a
course of transitional ministry, I am thinking hard about our journey towards this congregation’s future. There is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit is with us- but we need to tap into what God is calling us to be and do in this time and place. We need to be inspired to act. Sometimes this means we are inspired to go on a literal journey, sometimes this means that we find ourselves wrapped up in the midst of a story, sometimes that
means the Lord opens up our hearts, and sometimes it means that we have to fail a few times to find success but it always includes the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. What inspires you, and your journey of faith today? Amen

Sermon May 22 2022

When I lived in Toronto I lived close to Kensington Market, a bohemianesque part of the downtown butted right next to Chinatown. In Kensington Market there was a little corner shop that was a combination candy store and cafe. Nearly every Saturday I would walk to this shop and order a tea and then sit in the sun porch and people watch. I always ordered the same tea, a fruit tea of dried pineapple, apple and hibiscus. To this day, if you put that tea in front of me I am transported to warm spring Saturdays in Toronto. However, it was the name of the tea that pulled me into a completely different direction. The tea was called Bella Coola. It was not until I graduated from Knox College and I was looking into the various provinces to see if I felt called somewhere that I discovered Bella Coola was a place on the central coast of BC. Immediately I wanted to go there- but seeing as there was no Presbyterian church there it didn’t seem like the right place to settle.  My dream of visiting Bella Coola took 16 years but it was  realized this past summer- and it was everything I had hoped for and more, beautiful landscapes, rich history and wonderful people. The 10 hour ferry journey was well worth it, despite the rough sea start.  I even managed to pick up some Bella Coola tea while there.  It’s funny to think of the things that inspire us to go on a journey, for me in this case, it started with tea but one could argue that the tea inspired a vision. I’m not quite comparing my desire to travel to Bella Coola with Paul’s vision to go to Macedonia but it is the tenuous link.  All sorts of things can inspire us to go on a trip- but a journey of faith and mission usually does require something more than a cup of tea. 

Paul’s journey to Macedonia begins with a call through a vision, while visions were often seen as a part of how God communicated, it is particularly true for Paul. After all, Paul would not have transitioned to Paul had it not been for a vision. Paul was acutely in tune with his visions and they inspired a lot of ministry. The perhaps unfortunate thing is that visions these days are treated with suspicion or some argue that they have disappeared from our spiritual experiences all together. I cannot claim to have had a full on road to Damascus style vision or a dream that is so vivid it inspires me to pick up everything and travel across the sea, but I did move across the country for a calling and I think inspiration is indeed a vision of sorts and I know many of you have been inspired in all kinds of ways. I don’t think we need to have focused visions in order to hear a calling by God. Truly, what inspired you to be here today? Or watch this service? Could it be called a vision?The metaphor of a journey is a perfect one for faith but the story in Acts turns metaphor into plain speech, at least metaphorically. 

Our passage begins with Paul’s vision- it sets up why Paul ends up by a river in Philippi. What we don’t hear in our reading is the preceding text that describes a bunch of false starts in Asia minor. Yet, I think it is important for us to realize that Paul had a few failed missions too, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his calling, eventually he is drawn to Macedonia. Yet it is intriguing that this small band of missionaries Paul, Silas and Timothy, despite not having any successful missions yet, travel across the Aegean Sea into Macedonia. Sometimes we think that our callings and missions need a lot of growth or finances or resources to be called a success but that does not appear to be the case for Paul- at least not yet. 

I do want to pause for a moment so that we acknowledge something very special that happens in this section of the Book of Acts. If we were to read the beginning of this section at verse six it begins, “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia”. Like all of the book up until now it is written in the third person. But something very special happens following Paul’s vision because verse ten says, “being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the goodness”. The author, who we know as Luke, switches to first person. He becomes one of these missionaries. I could spend a whole sermon on that transition alone but just briefly I think it is one of the most beautiful aspects of the story. Luke, started researching Jesus soon after stories of his resurrection began to spread. He writes of his research to a person or group named Theophilus, Lover of God, and in the process of writing down his sequel to the Gospel he becomes part of the story- he becomes a missionary and we are privy to that moment in this slight change in language. Perhaps our own journeys in faith are just as subtle as that change in language- it does not have to be some incredible vision, it can be, but sometimes it is just something that grows over time and suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the story.  

They, Paul, Silas, Timothy and the author,  end up in Phillipi, in part because it was the leading city in the region.  It was also a Roman colony, a settlement established for veteran Roman soldiers.  Normally Paul would have gone straight to the local synagogue to meet with like minded people. However, remember, this is a Roman Colony. A synagogue is only allowed to be established if there are a minimum of 10 Jewish men- and there are clearly not 10 in this town. But after being in Philippi a few days, on the sabbath it is important for these missionaries to find a place of prayer. Clearly there is a place, outside the gate by the river where women gather to pray. These men begin to talk with the women that have gathered and Lydia is quite attentive in her listening. I think it is very important for us to hear the following line, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” Lydia’s conversion happened first and foremost as a divine act which then inspired her human response. She probably didn’t know the kind of inspiration she would receive when she went down to the river to pray that day. She probably had not envisioned that she would be inspired to invite a  a bunch of male travellers who would be stay with her for a day or two or many. Yet, she was inspired to be baptized right there and then and to prevail upon them that they stay with her. 

We never know what is going to inspire us or give us a vision or motivate us on a journey, particularly the journey of faith. Marion Soards has this great line in her commentary about this passage, she writes, “Paul’s vision to cross over the Aegean Sea into Macedonia was hardly a stained-glass experience that came to him fresh and clean on Sunday morning. Instead, it was a vision painted through a long sequence of failures that took him to the geographical edge of what he had first intended. Had he not stayed with his failures there would have been no vision.” Perhaps we feel as though our success as a congregation hinges on growing our numbers but maybe it is our small failures that will help us to grow. I would also argue that we have no idea how one inspiration will journey toward another. 

In Jesus’ final night with his disciples he promised them the gift of the Spirit, an advocate to speak for and through them when they hit failures. The gulf between God and people, Creator and created is bridged and we have the abiding presence of the Spirit to guide us. The role of the Spirit is to inspire, affirm, and challenge so that we take the gospel with us wherever we go. Having just come back from a little road trip that was inspired by an article I read once in a local magazine. And preceding that, having taken a course of transitional ministry, I am thinking hard about our journey towards this congregation’s future. There is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit is with us- but we need to tap into what God is calling us to be and do in this time and place. We need to be inspired to act. Sometimes this means we are inspired to go on a literal journey, sometimes this means that we find ourselves wrapped up in the midst of a story, sometimes that means the Lord opens up our hearts, and sometimes it means that we have to fail a few times to find success but it always includes the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. What inspires you, and your journey of faith today? Amen

May 15 2022

Erica Farrell preaching

Call to Worship (based on psalm 148)
Praise God, all people!
Praise the Lord, all creation!
Whales doing backflips in the air,
squid and octopi dancing on the ocean floor;
giant redwoods stretching to the sky,
tomato vines cuddling around a stake.
Mountains blocking the sunrise,
moles tunneling through our front lawns;
5-year-olds sitting in a story-time circle,
grandparents singing ‘their song.’
Redbuds decorating our backyard,
grass growing faster than our children;
seals getting a suntan on the rocks,
teenagers knotted together at church.
Praise the Lord, all creation!
Praise God, all people!

Prayer of Confession:

Who are we to get in your way, Holy God?  We put people into neat, little boxes, but you rip them open, so folks can dance in your joy. We imprison others with our unmet expectations, and you set them free with a Word. We build walls around those we don’t know, and you tear them down, so they can run wild in the kingdom.
     Who are we to get in your way, especially in the way of your forgiveness offered to all! Give us your vision that sees everyone as equal – forgiven, graced, loved – even as we seek to follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Sermon May 15 2022

Scriptures:
Psalm 148
Acts 11: 1-18

Call to Worship (based on psalm 148)
Praise God, all people!
Praise the Lord, all creation!
Whales doing backflips in the air,
squid and octopi dancing on the ocean floor;
giant redwoods stretching to the sky,
tomato vines cuddling around a stake.
Mountains blocking the sunrise,
moles tunneling through our front lawns;
5-year-olds sitting in a story-time circle,
grandparents singing ‘their song.’
Redbuds decorating our backyard,
grass growing faster than our children;
seals getting a suntan on the rocks,
teenagers knotted together at church.
Praise the Lord, all creation!
Praise God, all people!

Prayer of Confession:

Who are we to get in your way, Holy God?  We put people into neat, little boxes, but you rip them open, so folks can dance in your joy. We imprison others with our unmet expectations, and you set them free with a Word. We build walls around those we don’t know, and you tear them down, so they can run wild in the kingdom.
     Who are we to get in your way, especially in the way of your forgiveness offered to all! Give us your vision that sees everyone as equal – forgiven, graced, loved – even as we seek to follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May 8 2022

Thank you to Erica Farrell for preaching as Rev. Jenn was away on holiday
Responsive Call to Worship
Welcoming God, you invite us to come into our special sacred space
to gather together with God, and to join in our shared worship of God.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I have received all I ever needed in the past.

Generous God, you guide us to meet together in prayer and praise
and as we gather with God – we are rested and quietly restored in God.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need now – at this moment.

Hospitable God, you have prepared for us here, a great feast of blessings—
as we meet together with God, and share in fellowship and thanksgiving.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I will ever need – for all time. Amen.
 
Responsive Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Gracious God, you care for me; I need nothing more.
Hear the cry of those who are hungry;
hungry for justice, and dignity, hungry for freedom, and love.
You lead me into a haven of peace and rest.
Hear the cry of those who are alone;
those who grieve a relationship broken by death or human failing,
those who live in the isolation of a hospital room, a prison cell,
a frail body, a confused mind.
You breath new life into me and lead me in new ways.
God whose breath is life itself,
we pray for a just and caring use of your creation;
a fair sharing of its abundance, an ethical searching of its mysteries.

You are with me, and comfort me,
even when the darkness of the world looms large.
We pray for those who seek the truth;
those who cannot speak, and those who cannot be heard,
that the light of your Word
may shine in the darkness which overshadows their lives
In the face of those who trouble me
you provide for me, and pour out your blessings.
Hear the cry of those trampled by racial or religious intolerance,
disoriented by homelessness, defeated by unemployment;
God of justice and compassion you are with me always
and have promised to sustain me all my life.
Enlarge our vision of life, and make us bold in our hope,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
let our cry come to you;

May 8 2022

Responsive Call to Worship
Welcoming God, you invite us to come into our special sacred space
to gather together with God, and to join in our shared worship of God.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I have received all I ever needed in the past.

Generous God, you guide us to meet together in prayer and praise
and as we gather with God – we are rested and quietly restored in God.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need now – at this moment.

Hospitable God, you have prepared for us here, a great feast of blessings—
as we meet together with God, and share in fellowship and thanksgiving.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I will ever need – for all time. Amen.
Responsive Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Gracious God, you care for me; I need nothing more.
Hear the cry of those who are hungry;
hungry for justice, and dignity, hungry for freedom, and love.
You lead me into a haven of peace and rest.
Hear the cry of those who are alone;
those who grieve a relationship broken by death or human failing,
those who live in the isolation of a hospital room, a prison cell,
a frail body, a confused mind.
You breath new life into me and lead me in new ways.
God whose breath is life itself,
we pray for a just and caring use of your creation;
a fair sharing of its abundance, an ethical searching of its mysteries.
You are with me, and comfort me,
even when the darkness of the world looms large.
We pray for those who seek the truth;
those who cannot speak, and those who cannot be heard,
that the light of your Word
may shine in the darkness which overshadows their lives
In the face of those who trouble me
you provide for me, and pour out your blessings.
Hear the cry of those trampled by racial or religious intolerance,
disoriented by homelessness, defeated by unemployment;
God of justice and compassion you are with me always
and have promised to sustain me all my life.
Enlarge our vision of life, and make us bold in our hope,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
let our cry come to you;