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Devotional March 21 2021

Psalm 95 is part of a group of psalms called “enthronement psalms” from Psalm 90-106. They were likely sung during the Jewish New Year celebrations that celebrate the enthronement of God. But they also deal with the difficult crisis of the Babylonian exile. These psalms not only sing of God’s reign but also painfully related doubts about Israel’s core beliefs in the face of upheaval. You know, it has now been over a year when the Session made the unprecedented decision to close the building- a mere five days before we were then required to close our building. Our AGM this afternoon will reflect some of those changes- we don’t have the usual group or committee reports- our budget demonstrates both hope and challenge. But one thing holds true or has remained true- and Psalm 95 reminds us of it, that God, our rock of salvation, the creator of the depths of the earth, and the heights of the mountains has remained with us, in fact, has inspired us to be creative during our time of upheaval.

Paired with Psalm 95 is Psalm 121, which is classified as a psalm of ascent, likely meant to reflect the journey pilgrims would take up to Jerusalem. Living where we do, surrounded by sea and mountains, we often forget how wondrous they really are. Although, perhaps this year, as many of you spend time outside, going for walks at Point Holmes, Goose Spit, Kye Bay, Bevan Trail, or Paradise Meadows, there are moments when we stop, take a deep breath and say, wow.  When we drive along dyke road we see the Beaufort mountain range, and are sometimes struck by their beauty- as we look to those mountains, and sometimes remember to look to God for help. And, just like God, the mountains are also something to be feared- and I don’t mean to be afraid of- rather to be held with awe. This is something Al Wedel did often- whether he was skiing on Mount Washington or hiking Mount Albert Edward. The volunteers who serve as the Mount Washington Ski Patrol know this too. Today it is my privilege to welcome Margaret Symon who is a member of the Board for the Mount Washington Ski Patrol. This is the second community organization that we are supporting this year through our Lenten Project. The Mount Washington Ski Patrol was an organization close to Al Wedel’s heart and so we want to honour his memory by supporting them.

 

Devotional March 14 2021

Today’s Gospel lesson includes one of the best known, most loved verses of the New Testament. If you ever wanted a “sound bite” that stated what most Christians believed this would be it. It is a straightforward expression of God’s love for the world and promise of eternal life. But in isolating just John 3:16 from this passage,  we tend to forget the bigger picture- the context from which this passage comes. First, this whole conversation takes place because a Pharisee named Nicodemus wants to hash out some ideas with Jesus. The conversation takes place because Nicodemus wants to learn more about Jesus and thus, more about the self-giving love of God for us. The conversation will then goes on to talk about deeds- and this is because when we hear of that famous line, “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” it is meant to be a challenge- for God so loved the world- and now it’s your turn. How do we respond to this declaration? In some ways this is how we can look at our lenten project, a time of year when we not only reflect and repent and pray but this congregation reaches out to help in love.  And that not only includes directing funds but having conversations. It has been my privilege to have conversations with members of the two organizations we are supporting through our lenten project this year.

Today it is my pleasure to welcome Lindsay Jamieson-Powell, Program Director from the Comox Valley Head Injury Society. This is one of two community organizations that we are supporting this year as part of our Lenten project. This is in part because a former member, Gordon Johnson, was heavily involved in this society and had a deep passion for the people that were served through it. We wanted to honour Gordon’s memory by supporting them.

Devotional March 7/2021 – Communion

I’m not entirely familiar with high end fashion. Sure, I know certain brand names and understand them to be out of my price range but for the most part I couldn’t recognize or discern a difference between a Klein or a Gucci. I could however, recognize the beige, black and red tartan looking pattern of Burberry. This luxury fashion company was started in 1856 and gained popularity for it’s trench coats during World War I. But in the 1970s English gangs began to use a very similar patter of beige, black and red for their own gang wear and quickly the Burberry brand began to gain a bad reputation. People were in fact banned from wearing it in pubs in parts of England.  The company hired a re-brander and although the pattern wasn’t changed, the reputation did. Through new leadership, overhauling the products to even include swimwear, and perhaps most importantly through celebrity endorsements the brand was lifted back up to luxury class. It is one of the most famous re-branding success stories within the world of business, certainly within the world of fashion. The thing with re-branding is that it takes courage, change and there’s a good chance you will alienate a few people along the way. Our friend Jason Byassee says, people don’t fear change they fear loss. You see we don’t mind change if it benefits us, but if we feel like through the process of change we’re going to loose something, then we tend to resist it. Both re-branding and change are a big part of what is happening in our Gospel reading this morning.

The story of Jesus cleansing the Temple is somewhat unique in that it is found in all four gospels. We tend to call that “multiple attestations”. What that means is that because it appears in all four Gospels, then it likely happened much in the way it is described. The one major difference between John’s version and the synoptic Gospel versions is that John places it near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. I think that this variation reflects more about the Gospel writer than the story. By the time the author wrote the Gospel the believers in Jesus, yet to be named Christians, had been cut off from the synagogue. They have begun to understand themselves as different from the Jewish community. They are beginning to realize a major change in their life as a community. We might call that re-branding.  Within this change they are challenged to find their identity and define themselves in a different way.

Jesus also makes a pretty heavy statement, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!” Understandably most listeners hear this comment and believe Jesus is referring to Herod’s Temple. They are incredulous that a building constructed over a period of forty-six years could be rebuilt in three days. It is a ridiculous notion. Jesus does not correct their misconception, but an aside in the text alerts us as readers that Jesus is alluding not to Herod’s temple but rather his body. That it is his body that will be destroyed in the crucifixion and will be built up in three days by the resurrection. The temple, the building itself,  symbolized the location and presence of God for the Jewish people. Jesus is essentially saying to the Jewish leaders that he is the presence of God. Where one looks for God, expects to find God, imagines God to be, are all at stake for this Gospel. Given that the actual temple in Jerusalem had been lying in ruins for about twenty years before the Gospel of John was written, this passage would have been especially poignant for its original audience. Imagine both how difficult and drastic that change must have been for them.

The marketplace in the Temple is also a reminder of how easy it is for a sacred ritual to take on a life of its own. We have all said at some point in our church life, “This is the way we must do it because this is the way we have always done it.” By Jesus’ day many rituals had grown to the point that there was more attention paid to precision than intention. Within the temple itself there was more attention paid to the procuring of money and animals than there was to the meaning of the sacrifices themselves. This story is a reminder that it is very easy for the trappings of success by secular standards, to spill into our Christian communities. Our idea of sacred space has drastically changed over this year. I definitely could not have ever imagined that we could feel like church without actually being IN a church- and there have been huge learning curves along the way but we’re doing it. We have re-branded how we do church. It certainly feels like the way we were doing things has been upended.  The sacrament of communion is one of our rituals. There are things that are normally said and done as part of this sacred meal. But we are learning that it is not the ritual but the intent of the practice that matters .

I hate to say it, but it means change is inevitable. It was change that put Jesus on the cross, it was the love on that cross that changed everything. Change is hard, we have lived and are living that right now. But I think God is pushing us to re-brand together, we can work at recognizing what pieces of our heritage and identity are timeless and what changes will make us a vibrant community in the future. Thanks to God’s everlasting faithfulness we’re not alone in these changes. In Jesus, God is right here, among and ever present with us even as we celebrate this sacrament from the comfort of our own homes. Amen

Devotional February 28, 2021

When one is faced with a milestone in life…say a milestone birthday, it is common to become rather reflective, even nostalgic about how they got to where they are today.

Did you know that nostalgia comes from two Greek words, algia meaning pain, like fibromyalgia and nostos which means homecoming. So nostalgia literally means homecoming pain. It used to be believed that nostalgia was a symptom of depression. But recent studies have actually shown that there are benefits to nostalgia. In Seniors nostalgia is a way of knowing that the life lived has had meaning. And fascinatingly if you are cold nostalgic feelings actually make you feel warmer. I also think in milestone moments we begin to think about our origin stories, maybe even get nostalgic about our origins. Most of us don’t have prequel movie-esque plots but we can look back and see how our  origin stories made us who we are. Today- we essentially hear the origin story of the entire Judeo-Christian faith. And you know, this story makes me nostalgic for my former Sunday school teacher, Mr. Millar, because I can remember him telling and unfolding this very story, a story about a promise, much like last week’s, but also a story about lineage, new beginnings and origins.

To be fair, this isn’t really the origin story of Abram. The story of Abram has dominated Genesis since chapter 12. Last week we talked about how Noah’s story involves a bit of controversy. Well, let me tell you, Abram’s does too. Like the time he pretended Sarai was his sister so that she could become part of Pharaoh’s harem and Pharaoh would treat Abram well as a result, which causes Pharaoh’s house to become afflicted and they send Abram and Sarai on their way.   Also,  Abram is 99 years old at this point in the story, not exactly a spring chicken. Although,  I will point out that at this stage in Genesis we are dealing with people who live very very long lives. Abram’s father Terah lived until his was 205. So in that context, at 99, Abram is middle aged.  It’s not even the origin story of the covenant God makes with Abram. God has already declared that a covenant will be made with Abram back in chapter 15. However, in our reading we hear the terms of this covenant. That Abram shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations and that from this point forward Abram will be named Abraham. So, this is the origin story of Abraham.

I began to wonder what the significance was- why was it important that Abram get this ever so slight name change?  You know, it’s strange, for all the years I have heard this story I never once questioned the name change. It seemed like a natural step- like changing one’s name marks the beginning of a new chapter in their life. Makes sense to me. But there is actual significance to the meaning of the names. In Hebrew, Abram means exalted father. Abram is vital to the story of God and God’s people. The name Abraham means father of a multitude. As an aside, Sarai means princess while Sarah is the arabic word for joy or delight. These name changes hit at the root of who Abraham and Sarah will become in history. Their name changes foreshadow what is about to happen for the rest of their lives.

Covenants are also part of these origin stories. According to John Gibson’s commentary on Genesis, the word covenant appears 396 times in the Bible. And most often it does refer to promises given and received between God and individuals. These individuals often serve as representatives for others. In every single case of covenant making, God is the one who makes the first move. It is always God who initiates it. Reminds me of grace, that it is unwarranted- it is not because of our own doing but entirely based on God’s doing. In fact, with regards to this covenant between Abraham and God, Abraham was ready to pack it in and abandon his faith since he had no “legitimate” heir. God intervenes and makes this covenant. Now, last week, we heard the story of the very first covenant that God made- that never again would all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood- and it was marked with a rainbow. This covenant with Abraham, promises that this is the beginning of an incredible history for Abraham’s descendants and it is marked by this name change. There are numerous other covenants predominantly throughout Old Testament, as the people of Israel establish their identity as God’s people. The last covenant, is given to us by Jesus, when he says, “This cup is the new covenant poured out for you for the forgiveness of sin.” Here both the act of covenant making and grace are intertwined. This is the origin story of the church- of how we fit into this story of God and God’s people.

Later on in Genesis, in chapter 22 the covenant with Abraham will be expanded, following Abraham’s sign of deep devotion when he almost sacrifices his own son. At that moment God says, “I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven…and by your offspring shall all nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves.” Here we get a hint, that this story isn’t just about one group of people but all people. God’s blessing and grace is not limited to one nation let alone one family.

It might be prudent to suggest that we all think about our own origin stories. How is it that we have ended up, here at this time and this place. There is a slight chance that the origin story of how you ended up watching this on YouTube is because the algorithm put it in your playlist…wouldn’t that be providential.  Where does your story of a life with God begin? And then the follow up question is, how might you help someone begin their life with God? I know, it sounds a little evangelical for our Presbyterian bones but I have indeed become very reflective, even nostalgic, these last few days and in that reflecting time people who have been integral to my origin story have come to mind. People who left their mark, some did it through action and teaching while others may not even know the impact they had. But this is part of this covenant living, actively engaging with the world as one who has been blessed with grace. Amen

Devotional February 21 2021

I know I have told you parts of this story before- but I have since learned a few other facts about it and I want to share them with you.  In 1939 Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg were working on a musical score for an upcoming movie. Five minutes into the movie the main character fails to get her Aunt, Uncle and the farm hands to listen to an unpleasant story involving her beloved dog. Her Aunt replies in annoyance, “Dorothy, find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble.” Which prompts Dorothy to break out into a song about leaving the black and white dull world of Kansas.  This song was originally cut from the movie because it “slowed it down” but Judy Garland’s vocal coach convinced the movie producers to keep it in since Ms. Garland had been working so hard to sing it. And a good thing too because Over The Rainbow  was ranked the number one song of the 20th century by the Recording Industry Association of America.  But here is what I have learned since. Arlen, whose name was originally Hyman Arluck was the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants and his father was a Chazzan- a musician trained to sing the Scriptures and prayers- like a cantor in some Christian traditions. Yip Harburg’s real name was Isidore Hochberg and his parents were yiddish- speaking Orthodox Jews from Russia. Both men had a very firm sense of the immigrant experience. The song Over The Rainbow has come to symbolize the feelings that many Jews would have had as they struggled in Europe and then struggled as immigrants in new worlds. They hoped that some day they could overcome this struggle and fly to a place full of promise and comfort. I also suspect that given their religious upbringing both men knew our scripture passage very well, they knew that a rainbow was indeed a sign of promise and hope. A sign of God’s covenant that goodness and peace would preside over all the earth. But this is just one short part in the very complicated story of Noah.

Since Sunday School many of us have heard the story or sung the songs. That Noah built this incredible ark, that rains started coming and that the animals came 2×2, you got your green alligators and long neck geese kinda songs. After 40 days the crow and then dove are released and eventually evidence of land is found. We tend to think that the story of the rainbow is a beautiful conclusion to this story- and in someways it is- God does indeed make a promise that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood. But the Sunday school lessons never go beyond this. They don’t tell us that Noah had a drinking problem or that Noah curses his son Ham and his descendants into slavery. And it is that line that many white nationalists still use to claim that God not only supports but demands racism.  While the rainbow is a symbol of God’s covenant and hope, the story derails very quickly afterwards and it appears that the use of a flood as a reset button- didn’t really work. The wickedness of humankind, which is the language God uses early in Genesis to determine that a flood was necessary,  rears it’s ugly head soon after God makes a covenant never again to harm humanity.

The thing about covenants is that they are a two way commitment. God promises this so long as we do or don’t do that. This is why we need to mark Lent- a season that is not about giving up something you shouldn’t be doing or eating in the first place, but a season to acknowledge that we aren’t very good at holding up our end of the covenant. The sole role of the prophets was to point out where leaders and communities were either upholding or undermining the covenant. For us, Jesus on the cross is the final covenant- the promise that God’s grace and salvation is for all. All the earth is reconciled to God once and for all. The problem is that we still struggle to create a world where  dreams really do come true and storm clouds are far away and trouble melts like lemon drops.

Along with hearts, rainbows as a sign of appreciation and hope have appeared in many a window over these nearly 12 months. They represent signs of hope that all is not lost and healing will come- we can see it on the horizon. The rainbow is used as a sign of inclusion and welcome. It is a symbol of peace. And so it should be a symbol for all of these things. There is an incredible beauty to a rainbow, especially when it is normally preceded by dark clouds and pounding rain. The problem is that rainbows vanish quickly and we then go about our daily routines and back to our bad habits. I know this sounds pessimistic.  So I turned to work by, Rev Marjory McPherson who reminds us what the symbol of the rainbow really is, “The rainbow is set in the sky after the flood, not as a sign for humanity but as a reminder for God, in order that when God sees it, God will remember not to let the flood water destroy life again. So it is not primarily a reminder for us, but rather a sign that reassures us that God remembers us, remembers that even though we will go wrong, that the waters will not again overwhelm the earth for God can see the rainbow.”

This anthropomorphizing of God doesn’t totally sit with me- but I do appreciate this idea that God needs reminding- like writing something down on a sticky note and pasting it where God will see it. After all the passage does say, “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant.”  The idea that the rainbow is to reassure us not remind us is helpful. We have faced a pandemic head on. We acknowledge that there is suffering beyond our comprehension in this world. But we can be reassured that God is suffering with us- and you know why, because God went to the cross for us.

We have begun the season of Lent. At our Ash Wednesday meditation I said that this is a time to prepare ourselves for the paschal mystery. This preparation for Easter starts with acknowledging our need for repentance. We have to acknowledge that the story doesn’t end with the rainbow- we have to uphold our end of the covenant. We also acknowledge the forgiveness proclaimed in and through the gospel of Jesus Christ so that immigrants are not marginalized, so that little girls don’t need to dream about a place beyond their black and white world, so that all of creation can be reassured that God is with us, whether we have faced a terrible storm and can see the rainbow on the horizon, are still wandering in the wilderness or looking into an empty tomb. Amen

Devotional February 14, 2021

I’m going to be honest and say that the only thing I like about Valentine’s Day is those chalky candy hearts with words on them. The sayings are inconsequential, I actually like the flavour of those hearts. Normally, I’m one of those people who doesn’t need to mark this day as anything special. But I thought I would do some research. Did you know that there are actually three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus. My favourite legend is about a priest name Valentine during the third century in Rome. The Emperor at the time outlawed marriage because only single men could be soldiers and the Roman empire needed to bulk up their army. Valentine rebelled by continuing to perform marriages in secret and paid with his life for those actions. But the other Valentines also have mystery and legends surrounding their martyrdom. If that’s not confusing enough, the reason for Valentine’s Day being in February is also unknown. Some believe, as with most Saint’s days, that Feb. 14th commemorates the burial day of one of the saint Valentines. Other scholars believe that the date was chosen in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan festival of Lupercalia, much like Dec. 25 was the festival of Saturnalia. Lupercalia was a festival that celebrated Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture or a fertility god.  Part of that festival involved single women putting their name in a big urn and the single men drawing names from the urn. The couple would be paired up for a year and surprisingly many of those matches ended in marriage.  Exchange words of affection or handwritten letters on Valentine’s day took place as early as the 1700s. In 1840 the first cards were mass produced by Esther Howland. Even today Valentine’s day is the second largest card-selling holiday- second only to Christmas. Fascinating stuff right- but it also just makes me even more cynical about the holiday- as some made up holiday by the big greeting card business. Luckily, this year, we have another great feast day to celebrate- and one that I find far more interesting. Today is Transfiguration Sunday!

Ok, I know, it doesn’t have the same ring but the Gospel story today really helps us understand why this is a special day in our church calendar.  While we make a bigger deal over Valentine’s day than the Transfiguration- this story is indicating some very important details about Jesus- not only who Jesus is but his link to the entire story of God and God’s people.

Jesus invites Peter, James and John to accompany him up the mountain, to be a part, to be by themselves. When they get to the top, Jesus is transfigured, that is , his appearance is altered. In this moment of change Elijah and Moses appear on the scene. All of a sudden as the light begins to blind the disciples, a cloud overshadows everything and a voice says “this is my son, listen to him!” When the disciples pull themselves together its only Jesus who is standing with them.

The transfiguration of Jesus is a strange story in the Bible. It is a very different kind of epiphany. In part because there is significance to the presence of Moses and Elijah that reveals who Jesus is. They are the two greatest prophets within the Hebrew tradition. They had a very special, even intimate, relationship with God. The Jewish tradition believes that these two prophets were so closely linked to God that they avoided death, both going directly to heaven. Having them show up demonstrates that there are similarities between these prophets and Jesus. They all worked to help the people of God remain faithful despite the fact that the people were being drawn into idolatrous behaviour. All of them laboured to keep the people of God hopeful even as the people suffered under oppression and totalitarian leadership. This is good company for Jesus to be in. Of course what differentiates the prophets from Jesus is that the voice of God announces that Jesus is God’s son.

I think it is also important to note that this takes place on a mountain. If we think back to the story of Moses and the Exodus, every time God wanted to speak to Moses, Moses had to climb up to great heights.  We could go back further when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son on a mountaintop. Or go back even further to the ark finding rest on a mountaintop. Throughout scripture mountains not only hold a place of reverence but are places where big changes with God happen.

In his commentary, Dr. Mark Calder actually suggests that preachers compare the mountaintop experience of the transfiguration with the elation that lovers, especially new lovers, feel and how we want to capture that feeling forever. In many ways he’s right because as soon as the transfiguration takes place, on that mountaintop, Peter is so elated that he acknowledges the privilege it is to be there at that moment by stating, “it is good for us to be here”. He then clearly wants to capture that moment, that feeling, and hold onto it for ever when he says, “let us make three dwellings.” But in an instant a cloud overshadows the events and from it a voice repeats what was said at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him!”

Not only is this Valentine’s day, not only is it Transfiguration Sunday but the season of epiphany comes to an end today.  Now that Jesus’ identity and purpose has been revealed and established we can begin the long journey to the cross through the season of Lent- a journey that will turn us toward the incredible story of God’s love for us. Honestly, the story of the transfiguration is a story about love too. The transfiguration of Jesus is not the end of God’s transfiguring ways. Transfiguration often refers to a physical change- and so it may not be a familiar word, but words like transformation or alteration could work too. Through Jesus, love, which can sometimes seem trite, is not expressed in chocolates and cards but in devotion to purpose and relationship. God seeks a loving relationship with us through Jesus Christ.  That’s incredible.  And then God says, now you get down from the mountain and do likewise, by loving others. Amen

Devotional February 7, 2021

This week I was struck by Laurent Duvernary-Tardif’s story, some of you may know it, I only learned of it this week. Last year Laurent had just won the Super Bowl playing offensive guard for the Kansas City Chiefs. He also happens to be from Montreal where he studied medicine at McGill University. When the pandemic hit, he heard the pleas of the Quebec government and  he decided that during the off season he would work as an orderly in a long-term care facility in Montreal. Then in July, he decided to opt out of the 2020 NFL season so that he could continue to fight the pandemic and in the fall he began to take classes at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. I wonder, as he watches his teammates prepare for another Superbowl match up today whether he has any regrets. But in an interview this week he said, “Of course I miss football….five years from now, I’m going to be able to look at 2020 and be like, “Alright, I followed my conviction and I made a move that I’m going to be proud of.” In my humble opinion Laurent not only followed his conviction but is fulfilling a pretty special calling- one that he may not have discovered had it not been for a pandemic.

You might be wondering where I am going with this, but this morning’s Gospel lesson is all about fulfilling your calling in the face of illness- more importantly, that when faced with the inability to fulfil one’s calling, Jesus is the only one who can provide healing and restoration. Last week’s reading and this week’s reading actually occurred on the same day. You might recall last week that the focus was on Jesus’ authority wrapped in a story about healing a man with an unclean spirit. This week’s story actually shifts us to Jesus’ healing powers wrapped in a story about a woman’s calling.

The passage begins, “as soon as they had left the synagogue”. Remember Mark loves the word “immediately” and this is another time it comes up. Immediately after leaving the synagogue they head to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew, where Simon Peter’s mother-in-law has been gripped by a fever. We have to realize that in the ancient world a fever was a fatal situation in most cases and one that they didn’t really understand. In fact most fevers were treated as if they were demonic possessions. A fever was often a symptom of a much more serious condition that often lead to death. The original readers would have understood that the prognosis for this mom-in-law was not good. The household immediately tells Jesus about the situation. He takes her by the hand, lifts her up and immediately the fever leaves her and she begins to serve them.

In our NRSV version we hear the term “lifted her up” but a lot of other translations use the phrase “raised her up” and I think that the second phrase lends itself to a much deeper meaning. She is raised up, much like Jesus will be later on in the Gospel. Mark uses this turn of phrase more than once to describe the healing miracles of Jesus- because in being raised their is a sense of a new strength or new energy. It is through this new energy that people can fulfil their calling. Just as immediately as Simon Peter’s Mother-in-law is healed she is also able to serve.

Now, I have always struggled with that part of the story- that as soon as she is well again she begins to serve them, like, common on, let her rest! But theologian Sarah Henrich helped me understand something about her service. Sarah writes, “The verb “to serve” used here is diakoneo, the same verb Jesus uses to describe the essence of his own ministry later on in Mark. It is “to serve” rather than “to be served” that characterizes the Christ of God. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is the first character in Mark’s gospel who exemplifies true discipleship.” Meaning, that this woman is fulfilling her calling, not because it is her role in the household but because she wants to be of service. In fact, in Mark, it is only women and Jesus who use this verb- the male disciples never seem to quite get it.

Once I understood that this woman was fulfilling her calling as a disciple I was drawn into what holds us back from our callings. We can certainly think of literal illness. When cold, fever, cancer holds us back from doing what we are called to do. Illness at any time, but especially in the ancient world, carried a heavy social cost. When a person was ill they could not longer earn a living and would thus loose status in the community.

Perhaps, after our own experiences with Covid-19,  we understand this more than ever. Illness can make us feel cut off from our community and calling.

But what if we think of this figuratively. What “illnesses” are holding us back? Fear? Shame? Idolatry? Uncertainty?Those things can make us feel cut off from our community and calling too. But  Jesus heals and restores. Sarah Henrich continues, “Jesus’ ministry involves restoration of those cut off from community to a full role in community. Those who have been seriously ill in our own time will understand the joy of simply being back as a participant.” Through Jesus, we can be lifted, raised up, to serve one another which means that the cycle of restoration and healing continues in and through us.

The Gospel lesson doesn’t stop there, however. After the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, word gets out and Jesus is bombarded with people in need of healing. He worked well into the night, never turning down someone’s cry for help. I can’t imagine how tired he must have been. But not only does Jesus know how important it is to restore others to health, he knows how important it is to restore himself. While it is still dark, early the next morning, Jesus finds a quite place and prays. Clearly he doesn’t even tell his disciples where he has gone because they go hunting for him. In order to serve others, to fulfil this disciple calling, one needs to be restored themselves. So, if you are listening to this and thinking, I don’t have the energy to serve, know that finding peace within yourself and prayer is an important part of the restoration process.

I don’t know who is going to win today, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that important. But we have learned more than ever, how illness can change our lives, even when we aren’t the ones getting sick. We have learned how much we need restoration and healing but not just to feel well, but to feel whole as we live out our calling and serve one another. Amen

Devotional January 31, 2021

Do you remember being young, and having a messy room, and your parent coming in and saying to you, “Clean up your room!” and you respond with “why?” and the parent then says, “Because I told you to!” and sometimes that elicited the proper response of cleaning one’s room while other times it might lead to the comment, “You’re not the boss of me!” While I am not a parent myself, now as an adult, I can appreciate how challenging parenting can be- especially when a child begins to debate the parent’s authority in dictating what the child can or can not do.

Today we are continuing to hear accounts from Mark about the early stages of Jesus’ ministry. Last week Jason shared with us Mark’s account of the calling of the first four disciples- and explained that Jesus was definitely breaking with tradition when he went out seeking disciples rather than disciples seeking him. Today Mark continues to develop Jesus’ character and we hear Mark’s first account of a miracle. The author is using an event in the temple to establish both Jesus’ healing ministry as well as Jesus’ authority and wisdom. A big part of the discussions that take place are about authority. First, Jesus seems to teach with authority- he appears to have a confidence and knowledge on subjects that not even the scribes seem to command. Then an unclean spirit obeys his command which means he’s displaying an authority that has never been seen before. I’m going to tell you right now that I am a rule follower- most of the time.

Understanding what the rules are and how to follow them is important to me- in part because I have faith that most rules have been created with our best interests in mind.  Over the past year I have learned a lot about rules and authority- and who wields it. A year ago, I’m going to bet that none of us knew who our provincial or federal health officers were let alone the fact that they could declare public orders. The authority of the session, as it is they who decide the time and date of worship, and therefore the ones who decide when the church should be open,  has been invaluable to me. It is good to have a team of people who make these decisions! But I know, it hasn’t always been easy to appreciate this authority or the rules.

Historically, the Church- I mean the wider institution, not necessarily our individual denomination or congregation- has not exercised authority well. In fact, throughout history we have condemned, persecuted and even killed those who challenged the Church’s authority, think of the Inquisition or Reformation. Or the church abused the authority it had, like the doctrine of discovery. There are often conflicting opinions about the church’s role and authority within society, especially a secular one like ours. You’ve heard me say that politics has no place in the pulpit- because I view that as an abuse of authority- but I also firmly believe the church has the authority to speak out against injustices, which can sometimes be political. Leaders within the church hold in tension this balance between asserting authority and being open to the Spirit’s wisdom. It’s complicated- and it appears that it has always been a bit complicated.

Today’s passage contains a pattern that is quite prevalent in Mark’s version of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. It occurs in a sacred space, in this case the synagogue, at a sacred time, in this case on the sabbath, while engaging with those on the margins, in this case a man with an unclean spirit. But the whole point of the story is to demonstrate Jesus’ authority- and it gets a bit complicated. I want to point out, a couple weeks ago, when we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism I mentioned that many other translations of the story use the word immediately. Jason also mentioned last week how Mark loves the term immediately. While we don’t hear it in our NRSV version, in the original Greek, the word for immediately appears twice in this passage. First, at the very beginning when it was the sabbath, they immediately go the synagogue. Second in verse 23 after Jesus has taught with such authority immediately a man enters. In the first case when they immediately go to the synagogue on the sabbath this is to display the authority of tradition. In the second, the sudden-ness of the man demonstrates how immediate one’s response to Jesus’ authority can be.

Notice how, while people clearly are astounded by Jesus’ teaching, it is the man with the unclean spirit- a man who likely would have been on the outskirts of the temple, normally shooed away when he would start to make noises, a man either possessed by a spirit, or perhaps in modern language struggling with mental illness such as schizophrenia or drug addiction. It is this man who says, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” I think, we are often like the people in the synagogue, people who are interested or astounded or even amazed by the word of the Lord but don’t always know what to do with that information. Yet, this man is the one, one of the first in Mark’s gospel, to declare who Jesus really is. Also, if this is an unclean spirit, then it stands to reason that because of Jesus’ authority his very presence threatens the spirit’s control over the possessed man. So many things demand our attention these days, so many things seem to control us- and a lot of those things would be threatened if we completely turned our lives over to the authority of Jesus. But what does this authority really mean?

The Rev. Nigel Robb, who specializes in developing dementia programs for churches, actually helps us understand the authority of Jesus in this passage. He writes, “Authority means power, conviction and, in this case, God speaking. Power is recognized by the crowd not in the miracle, but in the way Jesus spoke and did not rely on other historical tradition or inherited wisdom. It is beginning to dawn on the crowd that something different was in Jesus. Jesus’ authority over illness and demons, over the Law and its applications stems from the sense of urgency that His announcement of the proximity of God’s reign encapsulated.” Basically, when this story was told and retold to the community, and then recorded by Mark, then Luke, it was to bring the community hope that God was immediately and presently at work within their own traumas. The community was living under Roman occupation, had seen their saviour killed, heard rumours of his resurrection, and were afraid of their future. Rev. Robb goes on, “The story was treasured to indicate that real power was with them in the midst of universal upheaval.”

Jesus’ authority has not changed.  Jesus still has power, conviction and the Words of God. And this authority includes power over all the uncertainties and idols that control us. Authority that speaks words of comfort and challenge- particularly as we continue to fail at proper use of authority within and from the church. And when we read or hear those words of challenge and we start to ask “why?”, all God needs to say is, “Because I said so!” Amen

Devotional January 31, 2021

Devotional:

Do you remember being young, and having a messy room, and your parent coming in and saying to you, “Clean up your room!” and you respond with “why?” and the parent then says, “Because I told you to!” and sometimes that elicited the proper response of cleaning one’s room while other times it might lead to the comment, “You’re not the boss of me!” While I am not a parent myself, now as an adult, I can appreciate how challenging parenting can be- especially when a child begins to debate the parent’s authority in dictating what the child can or can not do.

Today we are continuing to hear accounts from Mark about the early stages of Jesus’ ministry. Last week Jason shared with us Mark’s account of the calling of the first four disciples- and explained that Jesus was definitely breaking with tradition when he went out seeking disciples rather than disciples seeking him. Today Mark continues to develop Jesus’ character and we hear Mark’s first account of a miracle. The author is using an event in the temple to establish both Jesus’ healing ministry as well as Jesus’ authority and wisdom. A big part of the discussions that take place are about authority. First, Jesus seems to teach with authority- he appears to have a confidence and knowledge on subjects that not even the scribes seem to command. Then an unclean spirit obeys his command which means he’s displaying an authority that has never been seen before. I’m going to tell you right now that I am a rule follower- most of the time.

Understanding what the rules are and how to follow them is important to me- in part because I have faith that most rules have been created with our best interests in mind.  Over the past year I have learned a lot about rules and authority- and who wields it. A year ago, I’m going to bet that none of us knew who our provincial or federal health officers were let alone the fact that they could declare public orders. The authority of the session, as it is they who decide the time and date of worship, and therefore the ones who decide when the church should be open,  has been invaluable to me. It is good to have a team of people who make these decisions! But I know, it hasn’t always been easy to appreciate this authority or the rules.

Historically, the Church- I mean the wider institution, not necessarily our individual denomination or congregation- has not exercised authority well. In fact, throughout history we have condemned, persecuted and even killed those who challenged the Church’s authority, think of the Inquisition or Reformation. Or the church abused the authority it had, like the doctrine of discovery. There are often conflicting opinions about the church’s role and authority within society, especially a secular one like ours. You’ve heard me say that politics has no place in the pulpit- because I view that as an abuse of authority- but I also firmly believe the church has the authority to speak out against injustices, which can sometimes be political. Leaders within the church hold in tension this balance between asserting authority and being open to the Spirit’s wisdom. It’s complicated- and it appears that it has always been a bit complicated.

Today’s passage contains a pattern that is quite prevalent in Mark’s version of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. It occurs in a sacred space, in this case the synagogue, at a sacred time, in this case on the sabbath, while engaging with those on the margins, in this case a man with an unclean spirit. But the whole point of the story is to demonstrate Jesus’ authority- and it gets a bit complicated. I want to point out, a couple weeks ago, when we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism I mentioned that many other translations of the story use the word immediately. Jason also mentioned last week how Mark loves the term immediately. While we don’t hear it in our NRSV version, in the original Greek, the word for immediately appears twice in this passage. First, at the very beginning when it was the sabbath, they immediately go the synagogue. Second in verse 23 after Jesus has taught with such authority immediately a man enters. In the first case when they immediately go to the synagogue on the sabbath this is to display the authority of tradition. In the second, the sudden-ness of the man demonstrates how immediate one’s response to Jesus’ authority can be.

Notice how, while people clearly are astounded by Jesus’ teaching, it is the man with the unclean spirit- a man who likely would have been on the outskirts of the temple, normally shooed away when he would start to make noises, a man either possessed by a spirit, or perhaps in modern language struggling with mental illness such as schizophrenia or drug addiction. It is this man who says, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” I think, we are often like the people in the synagogue, people who are interested or astounded or even amazed by the word of the Lord but don’t always know what to do with that information. Yet, this man is the one, one of the first in Mark’s gospel, to declare who Jesus really is. Also, if this is an unclean spirit, then it stands to reason that because of Jesus’ authority his very presence threatens the spirit’s control over the possessed man. So many things demand our attention these days, so many things seem to control us- and a lot of those things would be threatened if we completely turned our lives over to the authority of Jesus. But what does this authority really mean?

The Rev. Nigel Robb, who specializes in developing dementia programs for churches, actually helps us understand the authority of Jesus in this passage. He writes, “Authority means power, conviction and, in this case, God speaking. Power is recognized by the crowd not in the miracle, but in the way Jesus spoke and did not rely on other historical tradition or inherited wisdom. It is beginning to dawn on the crowd that something different was in Jesus. Jesus’ authority over illness and demons, over the Law and its applications stems from the sense of urgency that His announcement of the proximity of God’s reign encapsulated.” Basically, when this story was told and retold to the community, and then recorded by Mark, then Luke, it was to bring the community hope that God was immediately and presently at work within their own traumas. The community was living under Roman occupation, had seen their saviour killed, heard rumours of his resurrection, and were afraid of their future. Rev. Robb goes on, “The story was treasured to indicate that real power was with them in the midst of universal upheaval.”

Jesus’ authority has not changed.  Jesus still has power, conviction and the Words of God. And this authority includes power over all the uncertainties and idols that control us. Authority that speaks words of comfort and challenge- particularly as we continue to fail at proper use of authority within and from the church. And when we read or hear those words of challenge and we start to ask “why?”, all God needs to say is, “Because I said so!” Amen

Devotional January 24, 2021

Devotional: 26th anniversary! Welcome to the Rev. Dr. Jason Byassee,  our anniversary speaker

This morning’s message comes to us from the Rev. Dr. Jason Byassee- who was the author of the book Trinity: The God We Don’t Know- which we studied last Fall. He is also Butler Chair in Homiletics and Biblical Hermeneutics at Vancouver School of Theology. Which is how I first met Jason. He was previously the senior pastor of Boone United Methodist Church in North Carolina which has a congregation of 1500 people from five worshipping communities. Jason has a Ph.D. in systematic theology and served as a Fellow in Theology and Leadership at Duke University. At VST he teaches preaching, biblical interpretation, church history and writing. But I have come to appreciate his most recent research which has just been published in a book entitled Northern Lights: Resurrecting the Church in Northern England where he researched what creative things churches were doing. He is also a Dad to three teenage boys and husband to the Rev. Jaylynn Warren Byassee who is senior pastor of a United church in North Vancouver. This is now my fourth time hearing Jason speak and I found it engaging, thought provoking and hopeful. It is my pleasure to turn this time over to Jason Byassee.

 

Comox Valley Presbyterian Church- Anniversary Sunday, January 24, 2021
Jason Byassee, via Zoom recording

Good morning friends, what a gift to be with you digitally for your anniversary Sunday, thank you so much church and pastor Jenn for the invitation. 26 years old, congratulations, you’ve made it a quarter century and change. Though of course in the long span of things you’re as old as Jesus calling the first disciples, or as old as God calling Abraham and Sarah, or of God counting the stars one by one and spinning them into space, depending on how you count these things. When I send someone birthday greetings I quote to them from Henri Nouwen, the great Dutch Catholic priest beloved by Protestants. He said most of our lives we’re celebrated for what we achieve. Birthdays are important because then we don’t celebrate an achievement. None of us did anything to get ourselves born. We’re the fruit of something others did. On birthdays we’re celebrated just because we exist. Birthdays are like grace, unearned, happily received. Happy birthday. Comox Valley Pres. And many more.

This church was born in an initiative of the Presbyterian Church in Canada in the mid-90s called Living the Vision, with a hope of planting churches across Canada. As it happens this is one of the few that survive from that initiative. The mothers and fathers of this congregation bought two and a half acres of land, prescient real estate move that, built this community building, with plans to build more. Now the hope is to use that precious land to build affordable housing. God bless you in that endeavor. I love the boldness of the story, let’s start churches all over Canada. Oops, that didn’t much work. But it did in one case! Y’alls! And that really matters! Can you think of one person you’ve influenced positively in some way? Good, you’re doing life right. And your forebears bought land you could never afford now. How much has it increased in value in a generation? And you want to use it to bless your neighbours. You know that’s why this whole faith thing was born in the first place. God called Abraham and Sarah to bless all the other nations. God’s blessings aren’t for us. No. They’re through us, for everybody else. It’s amazing that God has raised up disciples here, on the edge of the Salish Sea, nearly 2000 years after the resurrection, to be about the same business.

Hear this word from the gospel of Mark. It’s about Jesus gathering the first disciples to him. Peter. Andrew. James. John. There’ll be eight more. For now hear about these first four, and think about how Jesus has called you as a person by name. How he has called you into a church to bless the world.

Mark 1:14-20: 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” [SLIDE] 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

As human beings we sort of are what we celebrate. You can tell what any community is by what they mark on the calendar. In church we count very carefully things like attendance and giving. That’s good, every person attending is a precious child of God, every dollar given must be honoured and spent carefully (or, for Presbyterians, not spent!). But you also have to count strange things in church. Jesus has weird math. For him two or three is enough people, you don’t need thousands. A cup of cold water registers in the kingdom and is not forgotten. He numbers hairs on our head and the number of sparrows. So as a church we have to count like him, counter-intuitively. A church I know in Tennessee counts cigarette butts in the parking lot. Little old ladies hunched over counting Lucky Strikes. Why? Because they have a recovery ministry. More cigarettes smoked means more people getting off the bottle or the needle and that’s a kingdom win. A human being more whole, a celebration in Christian terms. How about you, church? What weird victory do you celebrate? 26 years of life is good. What else? When I was last a pastor my children’s minister counted little girls prayer lives that had been revolutionized, teaching their parents to pray. That’s the whole world.

The gospel of Mark is the shortest gospel we have. It’s the earliest written. It has a sparseness to it, a spareness. Not a word is wasted. It is also in a hurry. Mark’s favourite word is “immediately” (it appeared twice in our seven verses—how’s that for counting?). Our passage includes the first recorded words of Jesus. They’re a little different than Matthew with the lyrical Sermon on the Mount, or Luke with the great sermon in the synagogue. Nobody puts this sermon in needlepoint or teaches their children to memorize it. But it says everything that needs saying. [SLIDE] “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Some would wish sermons were still that short—18 words in English. Sorry to disappoint today, takes the rest of us a lot of words to say what Jesus says in very few. The time is fulfilled. It is ripe. What you’ve been waiting for is here. The Kingdom of God: a country ruled by God alone, no mere political leader or human king. Repent: turn around. Go another way. And I love this so much I can hardly stand it: believe the good news. The gospel is good. The word we have is one designed to make the whole world glad. So much religion is so onerous, frowny faced finger wagging shoulds and oughts. Not Jesus’ people. The whole point of the thing is joy, delight, celebration.

What is this story of the gospel’s origins all about? I mean, this is Jesus gathering his first church. Comox Valley Pres exists because of this story. If we look at it right we can learn who we are. Why there is such a thing as a church in the first place, let alone this one.

First, where are we in the world. I worked as a journalist before, so we need to know the 5 W’s. Where is this happening? [SLIDE] The Sea of Galilee isn’t really a sea at all, it’s a little bitty lake, much smaller than the smallest of the Great Lakes. You know how you can see across the Georgia Straight from your beaches here in the valley? The Sea of Galilee is like that, you’re never in a place where you can’t see the shore, it’s just not that big. I love visiting the place because so much of the holy land is cluttered up with churches and tourist sites. But even a small lake is too big for a church to be put on top of it. If you’re out on a boat there it looks pretty much like it did in Jesus’ day. [SLIDE] There’s a first-century fishing boat archaeologists have dug up, little bitty rickety thing, big enough for 12 if everybody squenches in. The lake still has brownish green shores and gentle hills. No towers or high rises. It’s remote, rural. This is not a place for movers and shakers. Not like Jerusalem where things happen, or certainly Rome, capital of the world. The sea or lake hardly ever appears in the Old Testament. It is part of the land given to Israel, where the northern tribes lived, conquered in the 8th century, people carried off, occupied by the Romans now in the first century.

And Jesus comes along, preaches this first sermon after John was arrested, to whom? We’re not told. [SLIDE] But then he starts calling disciples. Now wait right there. This is weird. In Judaism you become a disciple by going to a rabbi and asking to learn from him. They usually turn down would-be disciples. The late rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, used to tell a story of coming from England and knocking on the door of the great rebbe Soloveitchek in New York. They laughed at him. Young man the rebbe is world famous, the list to see him a mile long, go away. He left his information, and got a call sometime later, the great man would see him. Spent 20 minutes with him and Sacks said he did the most amazing thing. He listened. Asked questions. How many Jews are there in Cambridge? This many. How many take Jewish life seriously? Very few. Well, the rebbe asked, what are you going to do about it? And one of the great careers in religion was launched, just a word from a great rabbi. This is how it works in Judaism, you go and seek out apprenticeship, expecting to be turned down, lucky for a scrap of attention.

Jesus does it wrong. [SLIDE] He goes and calls people. And the wrong people. Fishermen. Not scholars or aspiring rabbis, but working class people, small business owners. Not apparently looking to change careers, no plans to have anything different happen that day. But they leave their nets and follow. James and John in particular leave their father in the boat with the hired hands. One translation says they left him with the mercenaries. Jesus interrupts the normal economic life. He commandeers normal family patterns, the Zebedee boys would normally inherit the family business and pass it on to their sons. Jesus says no, I got other plans. You, come with me. And they go.

It’s enough to make me wonder. When did you start following Jesus? What brought you into this church whose birth we celebrate today as a disciple, a follower of Jesus?

There’s some oddity here. I always tell my students when reading the bible to look for the weird. That can be hard to do in a passage as familiar as this. But look what Jesus didn’t do. He called these four fishers and then did not . . . keep circling the lake calling all the fishermen to him. He could have. He’s batting 4/4 at this point. Why not enlist all of them? Here’s what he’s up to. He’s calling 12 disciples. He’s reconstituting the 12 tribes of Israel. He’s remaking the people of God around himself. Comox Valley Pres, you’re a small church. I’ve pastored small churches. They can feel discouraging. Why aren’t we bigger? What’s our future? How do you balance this budget? But look, Jesus could call everyone and doesn’t. [SLIDE] He calls four. So few we get all their names. We got a lot more than four people in here don’t we? Look what Jesus did with just these four, these twelve. Small churches are not failed big churches. They’re not. They’re gatherings around a God who loves small things. Little girls’ prayers and cups of cold water for strangers and cigarette butts as a sign that an addict has made a better choice. Israel has always been small, and has blessed the world immeasurably. There is no need to be big to be a faithful church, do you hear me? All you have to do is to be faithfully yourself.

What else. Jesus does do something here I already noted. He interrupts. He commandeers. He says, hey, you, come with me. [SLIDE] There’s some surprise here. Me? Really? Yeah you. But I have no qualifications. Did I ask? I have no resume, no ancient languages, no scholarly pedigree. Blah blah blah. Come on. Jesus has really suspect taste in friends and followers, thank God. But this is an important point for us mainline Christians, we tend to get nervous about evangelism, we leave that to more conservative Christians. Lots of churches in retirement communities prefer to wait for people from our denomination to retire here and then join up. That worked for a long while. The problem is it doesn’t now. A friend is the Methodist bishop in Florida, my denomination. He says Florida Methodism’s unwritten mission strategy for decades was to wait for Methodists in Indiana to retire and move to Florida and move their membership. What’s the problem with that? Well, it seems that Indiana is plumb out of Methodists. So too I imagine in the Comox Valley, folks who retire are more secular than ever, because Canada is more secular than ever. And you know what? That’s good news. It requires us to ask hey, what’s a church for? Why does someone need one? They can be entertained better on Sundays in lots of places. Sure friendships are important but people are finding them in yoga and running clubs. What do we have? [SLIDE] Well, all we have is this slightly deranged prophet who calls strangers by a waterfront and says hey, you, come on. Now look here. Jesus says “I will make you fish for people,” or in the older language, “I will make you fishers of men.” Note the verbs. “I will make.” He promises he will make us fish. You don’t have to know anything before you’re an apprentice. But being a disciple means apprenticing yourself to Jesus, learning from him how to call others. My son is going into the trades, not sure if he’ll be an electrician or plumber or what, I just hope he does something that saves me money. He won’t be evaluated on how good he is right now. He knows nothing. The question is what kind of learner is he? At the end of his apprenticeship what will he have picked up? Friends, to be a disciple means to apprentice ourselves to Jesus, to learn from him how to serve others. That’s it, that’s the whole point of the church.

And you know what? People want that. Yoga and running are great, Lord knows I could use both. But they can’t save you. Not in the deepest sense. Only Christ can do that. Our neighbours are growing more secular. You know what that means? They wonder whether it was all for this. Nice house, reliable pension, beautiful place to live. You know what all that does for you on judgment day? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. [SLIDE] As a church we have to learn again from Jesus how to make a case for him with strangers, neighbours, friends, even our own children. Here’s the difference life with God makes. Here’s why you’ll feel empty without Jesus. You just will. And you know what? Here’s the good news. He still calls people. Want to follow with us?

One reason Jenn invited me here today is for a book I wrote on churches in the north of England, one of the most secular places in Europe. We tourists see great medieval buildings, but some 1% of people go to church there, lower than western Canada. And you know what I found? Some of the most interesting missional experiments I’ve ever seen. One example: England has seen a huge rise in Iranian immigrants. They’re processed in London but shipped north where it’s cheaper to live. The north is England’s former industrial heartland, with mines and factories all closed now, there are more white nationalists than coal mines. And you know where they’re finding welcome? [SLIDE] Christian churches of all kinds. It’s easier for Shia Muslims to be welcomed in a Christian church than a Sunni mosque sometimes, and then these Christians will help with your asylum case, so there’s a material reward to be found. But one pastor said to me he first went to church for the girls, not exactly godly, but it works. I saw pews long empty filled with people of all ages eager to be there. And you know old heads bowed in prayer for decades asking for that, and now their prayer is answered, not how they imagined! They imagined their own grandchildren who are usually still far from church. Instead God has given new grandchildren with hard to pronounce names and glorious food and tragic stories. We call it church. You can’t plan this stuff. Sometimes Jesus just comes along and calls all the wrong people all over again and says you, follow me. But this wasn’t what I had in mind! Take a number. Come on let’s go.

What about here, church? Among us, now? One pastor suggested this prayer: Lord, send us the people no one else wants. Then he chuckled. Sometimes we ask if we need to stop praying that, God sends so many!

Final point for today. [SLIDE] Peter, Andrew, James, John, these are the greater disciples. Everyone knows their name. By the end of the lists of twelve things get hazy. Was there one Judas or two? Was it Bartholomew or some other guy? The lists diverge. The point is there are twelve. And these four are always in. We have lots of stories about them, lots of churches named for them, legends grew up and their relics are spread all over the world. Churches from Ukraine to Scotland claim to have bits of Andrew’s bones for example. Thousands of people do archaeology in Galilee every year, brushing dirt away with toothbrushes, just looking for a scrap of info about the first century. My roommate wrote a whole dissertation on what Galilee was like in the first century, whether gentiles lived there or not (the way to answer that question: are there pig bones?). People are desperate just for a scrap of info, a bit of contact with these four. But you know what? We have a waterfront right here in Comox. We have a living resurrected saviour in our midst. He still has this thing for calling all the wrong people to drop what they’re doing and follow him right now, immediately. He’s on his way to save the world. And he wants our help. Can you believe it? Let’s go with him. I know it interrupts everything, inconveniences everybody, it will look crazy. But for reasons I can’t explain there is life in that one. He explains me to myself and the whole world besides. I want nothing more than to be with him, and he says he wants nothing more than to be with me. We call it church. Happy birthday Comox Pres. Now, to celebrate, let’s follow him all over again. Amen.