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April 26,2020

Bible Text: Luke 24:13-35 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | < >
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Devotional:

I have heard that many of us, now that we have more time to spend at home, are reading more books. While I wouldn’t say I’ve been able to read as much as I thought I would I do appreciate that I have a little extra time, particularly in the evenings to read. I have my favourite genres, most of which are novels, most of which involve some kind of travel or adventure.  Perhaps a little known fact is that I wrote a thesis paper for my undergraduate degree in Religion in Culture entitled, Buddha Between the Lines: How the Beats introduced Buddhism to North America. Both the novels and poetry of the Beat Generation, a literary movement of the 1950s,  were obsessions of mine some twenty years ago. The defining novel of the Beats is Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, a story that follows a drifter and poet across the United States. There was a time in my life when I definitely wanted to follow in those footsteps and just hitchhike my way to all kinds of places. I wanted to be on the road. By the way, the closest I ever got to hitchhiking is catching an Uber in Toronto. And currently the closest any of us should get to any kind of travel is sitting at home and reading books about road trips.

Today’s Gospel passage deals with two important and reoccurring themes found throughout Luke, both of which we can not do at this time. The first is indeed being on the road, travelling together and the second is eating together. First, throughout Luke Jesus is either on the road or tells parables about people on the road. In fact, 10 chapters in Luke are dedicated to Jesus travelling toward Jerusalem and the section is called “the travel narrative” among most scholars. For Luke, Jesus’ constant movement is important to the Gospel.  Even the metaphor of being on the road or on the move inspires theological imagination. Travel can either bring us together or keep us apart. Right now the appropriate restrictions mean that we should not be travelling at all, which means many of us are separated from family and friends.

In this story two disciples are leaving Jerusalem and making the seven mile journey to Emmaus, not a particularly long journey but one that doesn’t actually make a lot of sense. Why are these two disciples leaving Jerusalem? It doesn’t really say except that they were talking to each other about the recent events. You all know how much I like to walk. A good walk helps me figure things out, whether I’m walking back from a pastoral visit and I need to touch base with God or if I just need to ruminate over a sermon idea.  I do my best thinking and praying while walking. Despite the fact that Jesus had told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem, I suspect these two disciples need to process the past two weeks and so they embark on a little walking road trip.

Like Mary’s experience that we heard a couple Sundays ago, on Easter morning, the eyes of the two disciples keep them from recognizing that Jesus has joined them. I don’t really know what that means. How do our eyes prevent us from recognizing someone so familiar? Perhaps a lot had to do with their grief, they certainly weren’t expecting Jesus so when he does show up it is so out of context that they don’t recognize him. In Luke’s Gospel all that happened before this story is that two angels told the women that Jesus has been raised. No one, thus far has actually seen Jesus with their own eyes- so it is understandable that the disciples wouldn’t be expecting him.

I appreciate how sad and incredulous the disciples are when Jesus asks about what they are discussing, basically stating, “have you been living under a rock? Do you not know what has happened over the last few days?” But the depth of their grief and sadness is revealed when Cleopas states, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”. They had invested their hope in Jesus and at this stage they are so completely discouraged by their dashed hopes, sure some of the women among them have been told that Jesus has been raised, but are we supposed to believe everything we are told? Then this “stranger” reveals to them his interpretation of events starting at the very beginning with Moses and moving all the way through the prophets to this present day. It sounds like Jesus talked for much of the 7 mile walk, easing and opening the disciples’ minds. A good walk can do that.

As they approach Emmaus Jesus looks as if he is going to continue on the road. But the disciples invite Jesus to stay with them. Notice an interesting twist that takes place as we hit the second important and reoccurring theme in Luke. The disciples offer hospitality to Jesus as they invite him to stay the night but as the table is set the roles are reversed, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. While it is us who must invite Jesus in, it is Jesus who makes us feel at home. In the moment that Jesus does these familiar actions the disciples’ eyes are opened and they recognize him.

Almost as often as Jesus is on the road in Luke, Jesus is eating, often eating with people who others declare as sinners or unclean. In Fact, in Luke chapter 7 Jesus is accused of being a glutton and drunkard because of how much he eats and with whom he eats. But what is fascinating is that it is not Jesus’ presence that opens the eyes of the disciples, it is in his sharing of food with friends, it is in his hospitality that they recognize him. Jesus breaks down cultural barriers when he eats.

How can we be a church on the move when we should be staying at home? How can we be a church that demonstrates this transformative hospitality when we must not eat together? I don’t actually have final answers for either of those questions. I want you to think about them as we continue to live in the light of the resurrection during a pandemic. But be aware, things have been very busy and moving forward among various ministry initiatives at CVPC, particularly within the 2020 Vision Committee which is moving forward on further discussions about a residential building project on our property.  Perhaps right now a lot of us are at the “we had hoped” stage of our physical distancing. We had hoped that by now we would be worshipping together. We had hoped that we would be able to gather with family and friends once again. We had hoped that things would return to normal. But the message in our Gospel today is that Jesus walks with us, even if at first he is hidden from our sight. It is true that we can not gather physically as a congregation and it is true that we can not extend the kind of hospitality through food that we have been known for but while walking and bread breaking together are not possible we can still share in all kinds of ways how Jesus accompanies us through this time and always. Amen

 

April 19, 2020

Bible Text: John 20:19-31, Peter 1:3-9 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes |  

Devotional:
Despite how strange it was, I think we are still enjoying the afterglow of the Easter story. I was so moved by the various ways Christians around the world celebrated Easter this year, from the yellow ribbon campaign in England to the beautiful sunrise service led by The Rev. Ingrid Brown of St. George’s/ Cumberland Church. We have become rather creative in our ways of staying connected even when we are physically a part. It is for this reason that I have been reflecting a lot on the Epistles lately. A big reason is because the letters ,written by various Apostles, are rather timely these days. Sure the letters were written to budding churches- where people gathered together, in person, and so it might not seem like they are relevant but it is the letter writing and style itself that has made me appreciate them. Almost all the letters, whether written by Paul, Paul’s disciples, Peter, John or unknown authors, all the letters, were written by people who were physically distant from the letters’ recipients. That is what makes them timely. For example, a variation on a comment I read on twitter is this, “Pastors, if you are upset that you can not gather in person with your congregation, just remember the Apostle Paul couldn’t meet with his churches either so he just sent them 20 page rambling letters filled with his every emo thought”. Easter may not have happened the way it usually does but we are pretty lucky that we can gather in this way, over a YouTube video, or that we can phone, email and message one another. Even those of you who receive these devotionals in paper form, can appreciate that we are all still “worshipping” together. This is what drew me to focus predominantly on 1 Peter this morning.

It is up for debate whether Peter wrote the letter or not. If he did then the letter would have been written prior to Peter’s death in 64 CE. If not, then it would have been written a little later by one of his students. But the authorship is not what matters most to me, it is the content. We didn’t hear the introduction but Peter addresses this first letter to the “exiles of dispersion” in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, meaning not only that these people have been forced to leave their homeland and live abroad due to their faith but that geographically this letter speaks to people across about a 300,000 square miles radius. They are definitely physically distant from one another as well as their own homeland. These people have suffered greatly for their faith. Most of them, likely still considered themselves Jewish and practised Judeo rituals but they have been banished from their synagogues or region because they also believed in the Gospel. We might think that we are experiencing tough times- admittedly we are concerned about our finances and we are concerned that being apart for so long means people are falling through the cracks but in comparison to who Peter writes to we have very little to complain about. Also, Peter’s audience are mostly new Christians- they are young in their faith and they face incredible consequences for their belief. They face hostility from their friends, family and culture. Peter encourages them to hold fast to their faith and rejoice in the Gospel but he doesn’t sugar coat it. He knows they are suffering.

As someone who appreciates the Gold Rush history of BC the metaphor that Peter uses to explain how this suffering is transformed appeals to me. I’ve been to Barkerville and Zeballos I know that when panning for gold one often finds those tiny rough flecks of gold amongst plain looking rocks. Gold is nothing special until it is refined. Peter says the genuineness of their faith is like gold. Yes it is precious regardless but it must be tested by fire or refined to know how valuable it is. You know, this refining metaphor is a throw back to the various prophets in the Old Testament who often compared the people’s relationship with God to requiring refining. Peter uses familiar language for his predominantly Jewish audience and assures them that the metaphor still works for their new faith.

Then Peter balances this rejoicing and suffering by pointing to a dichotomy between the now and the then, the present and the future. He says, “even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials” we must have faith in God’s power and that outcome of such faith will mean the salvation of our souls. Faith is so important to Peter that he mentions it three times just within this short passage. Having faith means that we look toward a future- a future that has been revealed through the resurrection. Even if we are suffering now- just as Christ suffered greatly on the cross- the hope we have is that in the future things will be different because the story of the Gospel didn’t end with suffering on the cross. The story begins with the resurrection.

I have had numerous conversations with a lot of you about how this situation could go on for a long time- it has already gone on longer than we initially thought. And I really struggle with thinking about how long this could go. My head has trouble thinking that this could go on for months more, or a year, or 18 months. I experience fear for the future- so instead I try to take it day by day or week by week. Yet, ultimately I not only hope but know that we will be together again at some point and just think of how exciting that will be. These new Christians that Peter writes to, must have felt hopeless and afraid at times, as exiles they must have been taking things day by day but Peter assures them of hope.

I also want you to notice that in the Gospel lesson, the disciples are stuck in a home too- behind locked doors and they too are afraid. They have heard all kinds of rumours and don’t know what to believe. They are scared about their future. But into that fear, Jesus comes- Jesus literally breaks in- and offers them words of peace and then breathes upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit. I bet, even if Jesus has to stay 2 meters away, that the gift of the Holy Spirit is being breathed upon us today. Even if now we are suffering a little, we have the Spirit, we have the peace of Christ, we have the indescribable and glorious joy of the Gospel. With the light of the resurrection as our backdrop we look to the future with hope. Amen

 

Easter Morning Devotional

Bible Text: Psalm 98, John 20:1-18 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | < >
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Devotional:
Well, this is certainly an Easter for the history books. The last month has been one for the history books! Thankfully, there have been a few things that have helped me make the best of a challenging situation. For example, on a particularly lonely feeling day I convinced Mike to go down to the crawlspace and bring up some Christmas lights. Against our strata’s regulations we strung them up in our backyard and the twinkling white lights bring me much joy in the evenings. These little lights brighten these dark times. Or another example, since we have had to postpone our camping season I made a blanket fort in our spare room, it is now where we sleep, hang out and where I curl up to watch the nightly stream from the Met Opera. I have watched classics like Carmen and La Boheme and made my way through all of Wagner’s Ring Series. I have watched more operas in the last three weeks then I had in all my previous years. And I love it. My favourite opera is Mozart’s Die Zauberflotte or The Magic Flute. The premise of that opera is that the Queen of the Night tries convince Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter from Sarastro who is a high priest of the Sun. And in true opera fashion there is the bizarre side story about a bird man name Papageno who is trying to find a wife. Throughout the opera we are led to believe that the Queen of the Night is good and Sarastro is bad until various trials lead the Prince to realize that Sarastro is the good guy. And eventually the light of Sarastro conquers the darkness. There are worst ways to be spending time social distancing then sitting in a fort watching opera. Light conquering darkness, in various forms, is helping me cope with these days – it is that hope that is helping me understand and celebrate this Easter.
John’s Gospel lesson begins with, “Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark.” It was so early in the morning when Mary got up to go to the tomb that the sun had not yet risen. I wonder, was she experiencing sleepless nights? The last few days must have been very surreal for Mary. She must have found it hard to believe that the man she had learned from, followed and seen perform miracles- including her own brother rising from the dead- Jesus was actually dead. Going to the tomb was the only way it could really sink in- and so, early in the morning, while it was still dark she goes. Numerous times over the last few weeks I have used the word surreal- this all feels so surreal. Numerous times a week I think, surely this isn’t actually happening and then walk into an empty church and lead a devotional to a camera.

We too come this morning in darkness, even if the sun is shining. We live in a world that is suffering. Each morning I wake to listen to the press releases from various people in government and the situations around the world are grave. Easter isn’t really about girls in bonnets or baskets of chocolate. It is about a hopeless world- a world in darkness- finding light- despite its hopelessness. I’m not trying to replace the usual Easter symbols of butterflies, lilies or even bunnies with something bleak like a dark, grey, early morning- after all it is a good day. But remembering that this story started in darkness helps us appreciate the glory and hallelujahs of Easter within our current situation. I recently heard the observation, “The first Easter didn’t happen at a church. It happened outside of an empty tomb, while all the disciples were sequestered in a home, grief-stricken and wondering what was going on.” So this morning, we are getting a rather authentic Easter experience. The resurrection story starts with darkness which is eventually transformed into belief and rejoicing.

Once Mary discovers that the stone has been removed she runs to Peter and another disciple. They in turn run back to the tomb to see that what Mary has told them is true. The unnamed disciple gets to the tomb first and discovers that the linens are lying there but doesn’t go into the tomb until Peter goes in first. Then the Gospel says something a little funny. It says that the beloved disciple “saw and believed, but did not yet understand”. And then went home. Believed but did not understand what? Believed that Mary was telling the truth? Believed that Jesus had risen but did not understand why? John does not make this clear at all- so really, we are left somewhat in the dark about how Peter and the other disciple felt but some portion of the veil has been lifted.

Mary stands in disbelief and begins to weep. This is now the second time in the Gospel of John that Mary stands at a tomb and weeps. She explains to the two angels that she is weeping because they have taken away her Lord and she doesn’t know where he is. It is in that moment that Jesus approaches her- but she is still in the dark- she still does not recognize him. Believing he is the gardener she asks if he knows where Jesus is. It is in the moment that Jesus calls Mary by name that she recognizes him. Just as when Lazarus came out of the tomb when Jesus called his name so Mary’s darkness is lifted the minute Jesus names her.

This Easter, I don’t really know which person I identify with most in this narrative. Sometimes I feel like we are still at the early morning stage when things feel surreal and are hard to believe. Or sometimes I feel like the disciples, staring into an empty tomb and believing that it is truly empty but not quite understanding why. Why are we experiencing this right now? Sometimes I feel like Mary weeping completely overcome with emotions at our current situation and not recognizing the amazing stories of Jesus at work in our world right now. There are times when it feels like we are surrounded by darkness, that our hopes have disappeared, like we are staring into a void and making irrational conclusions. But then in those moments the light of the risen Christ pierces the darkness and gives me hope. As I said a few weeks ago, Jesus calls us by name. Jesus knows your name. And the light of Christ will overcome this darkness. Hallelujah, Amen.

 

Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020

Bible Text: Psalm 118:19-29, Matthew 21:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional:
Admittedly each week I have struggled with preparing these devotionals. Many of you know that I like to work well in advance- often having sermons done a few weeks ahead and service outlines prepared months in advance. But lately I have been working more on a week by week model because I’ve had to adjust to the weekly, sometimes even daily, changes we are experiencing. For example, the liturgy for palm Sunday, including the Children’s story, was completed over 2 months ago, before we had any indication that our services would look like this . I even ordered an item from Amazon to use during the children’s time for this Sunday and modelled it for my family when they were visiting. I debated saving it for another time, when I can actually have a children’s time again- but then I realized how timely and important it was. So, hopefully you will humour me for a moment.

When I was younger I liked to read comic books. I still like to watch superhero movies. Have you ever noticed how most superheroes wear capes? Sometimes, I like to put on a cape and imagine that I am a superhero. (PUT ON CAPE) But not all heroes wear capes- we have learned over the past few weeks that doctors, nurses, hospital staff, grocery store clerks, gas jockeys, postal workers and sooo many more people are currently our superheroes. Capes or not.
You know in Jesus’ day many people wore cloaks- which were very similar to capes. Cloaks provided protection against the harsh winds and blowing sand in the desert as well as protection from the hot sun. But today we hear a very interesting story about how these people used their cloaks differently.

When Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem, a very large crowd gathered to welcome him. And some of them spread their cloaks on the road for Jesus, while others cut branches from trees, and waved them in the air. This is because, whenever someone important came by, people would remove their cloaks as a sign of honour and respect. It meant that they recognized that the person walking by was more important then them. The people were greeting Jesus as a King. I take off my cape and lay it before all of those people who are working hard to keep us safe, nourished, in contact, and healthy. Today they are my heroes. Just as Jesus is my hero.

On Palm Sunday we celebrate that Jesus is being honoured- and yet in the background we know that by entering Jerusalem, Jesus will also be taken into custody and eventually sentenced to death. Right now, however, the cloaks of the disciples provide a cushion on the colt and the crowd’s cloaks provide a carpet.

But just as not all heroes wear capes- not all heroes do extraordinary things. At the beginning of this passage Jesus instructs some of his disciples to go and retrieve a donkey and colt so that Jesus has something to ride on when he enters Jerusalem. The disciples are performing a pretty basic task. Thomas Long an amazing homiletic writer once said that when he took his ordination vow, “Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love?” That he didn’t realize what kind of jobs that would entail. “Such language implies that ministry is a brave white-water romp over the cultural rapids toward global transformation in the name of Christ. Never once is it mentioned that serving people with energy, imagination, and lovee often boils down to stuff like changing light bulbs, visiting people in nursing homes who aren’t quite sure who you are, making a breathless Saturday afternoon run to the florist because you forgot to pick up palm branches, and as Jesus’ disciples found out, finding a suitable donkey at the last minute.” Oh, what I wouldn’t give to go back to those “basic” tasks. But Tom Long’s point is that essentially sometimes discipleship and ministry involves chores and running errands. If any of you need errands run for you- please let me know- we have a long list of people ready to help. Right now- that is what our palm Sunday looks like- doing basic tasks to help us stay connected and sane.

Once the colt or donkey is retrieved, our hero rides into town with shouts of hosanna and blessing. Jesus is treated as a king. However, our king rides on a donkey; our king proclaims the words and deeds of God. Yet, as we chant hosannas, we know the future: the sayings and deeds of our king’s life will culminate in the whole city seeking his death. At the outset I didn’t know how I was going to incorporate this devotional into our current situation but then as I read some commentaries and as the Spirit guided me it struck me that I often have expectations on what this Sunday will look like and this year those expectations would not be met.
In many ways, the crowd in their celebrations and shouts had expectations of what Jesus would do- they thought he was about to wage war on the oppressive Roman empire. They thought he was going to be like the Messiah as predicted by the prophets, coming in as a conqueror. Instead he came not only on a donkey, but died on the cross as a common criminal. Their expectations of Jesus were not met. This story causes us to reflect on what we celebrate in our lives, but also on what happens when our expectations are not met.
We also heard today the complementary psalm for this gospel lesson in which Psalm 118:27 says, “The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.” The Gospel author incorporates this sentiment into the story of Jesus’ festal procession up to Jerusalem. This is often a day of celebration- we would normally have the children wave branches as we sing the hymn that Carol Anne sang. But it doesn’t feel all that festive today. Maybe it even feels a bit basic- yet that is part of our discipleship and ministry. Perhaps today as we gather in our homes we actually feel the true sentiment that would have been felt by Jesus. Jesus knows where this is leading him. Not all heroes wear capes- some wear a crown of thorns. Amen

 

March 29,2020

Bible Text: John 11:17-44 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes |  

Devotional:

Friendship has been on the top of my mind of late. Each week I have made an effort to reach out to my church friends- to ensure that they are well and that they have what they need. In turn I have received numerous offers of support and prayer. It is clear to me that navigating this surreal time of social distancing and self- isolation requires friendship. In fact, I firmly believe that the only way we are going to get through this is by being friends, friends with our neighbours, whether you knew them before all this happened or not, friends with the cashiers, friends with our small business owners,  friends with our medical staff. I don’t mean for this to sound trite, yes I mean we should be friendly but also companions, because we are walking through this darkness together.  I hope that this comes across as being vital- the friendships we had and form now will be what gets us through this.

In today’s Scripture passage we see how Jesus builds friendships. If I was to do a children’s story on the passage I would ask who are your friends. And I would say how I’m pretty lucky to have a friend named Mike who, when I’m sad he helps me laugh, when I’m mad he helps me remember what is really important, when I’m hysterical he patiently waits until my temper tantrum is over before saying a word. I hope we all have  a friend like that. But in today’s reading Jesus’ display of friendship helps us to understand not only the glory of who Jesus is but also that we have a friend in him.

Jesus’ friendship with Lazarus and the miracle that follows foreshadows his own death and resurrection. This story is helping us prepare for what we will read and study in the coming weeks. However, one of the most striking verses in this fairly lengthy story is the short verse 35. In the NRSV it says, “Jesus began to weep” other translations shorten it even further and tend to say, “Jesus wept.” Notice how, Jesus does not begin to weep until he sees Mary and the other Jews weeping also. Now, I’m the type of person who will cry at a commercial if it’s sappy enough, so I can appreciate that when witnessing grief it is difficult not to weep. But in this story Jesus knows what he can do, Jesus knows what he will do- earlier on he essentially gives Martha a hard time for not believing in his abilities. He knows that things are going to work out and yet, he still weeps. Many psychologists and mental health professionals are warning us that the strange feelings we have over our social distancing is grief. We are grieving the lack of physical contact-but we know that these are necessary measures to helps us reach the time when things will work out.  I don’t think Jesus is weeping because of his own grief over Lazarus but because he sees the grief in Mary and the others and he knows what is in store for him. Jesus is weeping for us.

Along with Jesus’ weeping there are two other aspects to the story that, this year, seem to jump out at me. First is the bewilderment that takes place and the second is how disturbed Jesus is. Notice how Mary has a crowd who follows her- a crowd that is also grieving. Then as they see how deeply moved Jesus is, some say it is a demonstration of how much Jesus loved his friend Lazarus and others begin to question Jesus’ ability. They are confused or bewildered. Rev. Angus Mathieson examines the meaning of this bewilderment, “[this story] is about the reaction of people to the events related in this passage. Martha and Mary both state that if Jesus had been there, then Lazarus wouldn’t have died. And into that situation, into their bewilderment, and faltering understanding, Jesus brings himself. He brings clarity, and the light of the world will bring an end to their stumbling in the dark. His voices calls Lazarus forth from the grave, and calls us today.” We are bewildered and stumbling right now yet just as Jesus shouts out Lazarus’ name into a dark void and calls Lazarus forth into the light of his presence, Jesus is calling us. We are experiencing some dark times right now- but we must have faith.

Perhaps this is also why it refers to Jesus being “disturbed” throughout the passage. It is unclear whether Jesus is disturbed over the death of his friend or disturbed by the lack of faith in his friends. But also since this foreshadows his own death it must have been deeply disturbing to witness. You know, for the past couple of weeks I haven’t really felt like it is the season of Lent- in part because this experience is unlike any I could have ever imagined. But this passage brings me back to what the season of Lent is about. It is a time to recognize our own frailty- something I think we are all aware of right now. It is a time to acknowledge our need for God- also something I think many of us are aware of right now. But Lent is also a time to prepare ourselves for the glory of the Easter story. It has been really hard to think of Easter this year. However, here we have a precursor story that points to what is right around the corner. New life is identified in this story in the power of Jesus over the forces of life and the consequences of death.

I don’t know how we prepare for the next two weeks. It’s disturbing to think of an Easter Sunday without being surrounded by the usually rejoicing and celebration. However, what I do know, is that no matter our circumstances- we have a friend in Jesus who weeps with us, who walks with us in our bewilderment, who calls us forth from our darkness. And if there is some silver-lining in this whole experience it is that now is the time when we can display what friendship means. Now is the time to be the companions we have been called to be. Amen

 

 

March 22, 2020

Bible Text: John 9:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | < >
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Devotional:
I received a criticism about last week’s devotional and that was, that they were disappointed that I didn’t do a children’s story. So, I thought I would combine the two in today’s devotional.
When I was a kid we used to spend a lot of time outside- literally playing in the dirt. And one of my favourite things to do was to make mud pies! All you needed was some dirt (today I am using brownie mix), water and pie plate. Oh, how simple things were back when I was young. We would mix the dirt and water into a pie pan and then “serve” it to the neighbourhood kids. Of course- in general eating dirt is a bad idea. I know that the BC health officer has told us to spend time outside but I’m not recommending that you go out and make mud pies and try to serve them to your neighbours. But you know, in today’s Scripture passage Jesus is playing in the dirt. He sees a blind man, gathers some dirt and spits on it to make mud. He makes mud pies and places them on the man’s eyes. Again, I can not stress enough that we must NOT spit on dirt and put it on someone’s eyes- DO NOT SPIT on people period, now or ever. However, Jesus was able to do this because this is Jesus we’re talking about and he was able to do something miraculous with his mud pies. Once the blind man washed the mud from his eyes- he could see!

But, that’s what makes Jesus so incredibly special. Jesus can do all kinds of miracles like this. He can turn something dirty like a mud pie and turn it into something amazing like helping a man to see. Often in the children stories I encourage us to be more like Jesus, be kind, be thoughtful, be faithful but in this story we are more like the mud pies. We aren’t perfect, we sin, we make mistakes, like the Samaritan woman from last week, we are “morally messy”. But Jesus’ touch can turn mud pies like us into miracles.

It is by being touched by Jesus that we can do pretty amazing things. In this passage, Jesus states that he is the “light of the world” and then demonstrates how he is able to provide literal light to a man who has been living in physical darkness. This passage is a little complicated because it begins with the disciples asking if the man was born blind due to sin. But you know, by asking the question about who sinned to make this man blind the disciples are also sinning in that, instead of treating this man as a human being they are treating him like a riddle. It is Jesus, who treats this man as a person. In fact, when the neighbours see that this man now has sight, their true colours are revealed because most of them did not acknowledge this man’s humanity-only seeing him as a blind beggar, they don’t even recognize him. Darkness has many forms in this story. Practical theologian Dale P. Andrews points out that while this man is physically blind, figurative darkness “rears its head in this discussion in the form of sin. The power of sin is that it enslaves a person for life.” If we were to read further into this story, as I hope we do in the near future, we would discover that by giving this man sight the religious leaders go spiritually blind.

Jesus saw this man’s need and knew how he could respond. Right now the idea of reaching out and touching- let alone spitting- on someone is not the appropriate response. Yet, we often have selective sight when it comes to the needs around us. What are we blind to, particularly in this strange time of self-isolation and social distancing? Just because we can not be together physically does not mean we should ignore one another. Think of the ways you can reach out-perhaps figuratively- to your neighbours, friends, and church family.
In this story Jesus is walking with his disciples slow enough that he notices what is going on. He is not only ready to respond to a question from the disciples about this man but to respond to the person in need. Covid-19 has caused our busy schedules to come to a halt and yet are we going at a slow enough pace to listen to people and to respond to their needs?
On line there are various prayers being shared to help us pray for the appropriate response in this pandemic. For example, Cameron Wiggins Bellm writes, “May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake. May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable… May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go… As fear grips our community let us choose love during this time.”
Jesus has touched all of our lives and given us the ability to find peace, joy and love and to be resourceful. Our job as a community of faith right now is to bring peace to a world that is panicking. We need to pray for the light of Christ to heal our blindness so that we can see where and how we can help. Amen

 

March 15 2020

Bible Text: John 4:3-26 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional:

Writing this devotional was one of the hardest ones I have ever had to write. This is in part because this passage has to do with Jesus travelling around the countryside- and travel isn’t exactly something people are planning on doing in the near future. In fact, like me, I think many of you have cancelled upcoming travel plans.  And yet, here is Jesus not only travelling but going out of his way to travel into a high risk area. Most Jews travelling at this time would have chosen to take a safer route across the Jordan to avoid travelling through Samaria, home of the Samaritans.

You see, there was deep-seated animosity between the Jews and Samaritans since 920 BCE. There was a lot of resentment, anger and hatred that had been passed down over the generations amongst both groups. For example, the Samaritans worshipped at their own temple on Mount Gerizim, which only a century before this conversation at the well had been razed by Israelites in the Southern Kingdom. This animosity resulted in many a conflict which made it an unsafe place for Jesus to travel, and yet, he not only backtracks but decides to go through Samaria. It would have not only been very peculiar to have a Jewish man travelling through Samaria but then he shatters another social convention.

A Samaritan woman comes to the well mid-day which is a very peculiar time for someone to be drawing water from the well.  The sun is blazing and so most people would not leave the house, even for water. It is, however, the only time this woman is able to get water from the well uninterrupted by the local gossips or critics. As I read in one commentary, this woman is “morally messy”. Jesus shocks her by initiating dialogue and requesting water. This initiates the longest conversation between Jesus and an individual ever recorded in the Bible! Just think of it, Jesus travelled into dangerous territory to have a long conversation with a morally messy Samaritan woman!

While Jesus is the one who initiates the conversation it is the woman who carries it on. While Jesus is the one who initially asks for water it is the woman who finds herself thirsty.  As soon as the woman asks for living water Jesus reveals that he knows all about her. Many commentaries call Jesus’ tactic “provocative theology” because it appears that even when Jesus tells this woman everything she has ever done he does not seem to take an interest in her sordid past. Jesus tells her what he knows not as a criticism but rather to demonstrate his prophetic abilities and to quench this woman’s thirst.

Notice how near the end of the conversation they begin to debate where true worship can take place and instead of disagreeing with her Jesus declares that true worship of God is not geographically defined but rather defined by God’s own nature, which is through the Spirit and truth. This is so important for us to hear this morning as we worship in our individual spaces. This is so important for us to hear, especially if you have opted to watch this at a later time. This is so important for us to hear if an elder is reading this to you over the phone. Today our worship is not about coming together in our sanctuary and praising and praying to God together. Today is about being together in spirit, a spirit of truth.

Jesus travels across all kinds of barriers and into all kinds of danger zones, high risk areas, so that he can give us living water. You may not be the ones who are travelling right now but Jesus is travelling to you. Jesus does not care about your past, and right now, Jesus cares more about your and all of our congregant’s well being, then our ability to worship together. But as we work our way through this pandemic, as we seek to be cautious but not panic ask yourself this week, “What am I thirsty for these days?” because Jesus travels great distances to quench our thirst and surrounds us with strength, companionship and grace. Jesus travels into dangerous territory so that we don’t have to. Amen

 

 

Deserted Garden

Bible Text: Genesis 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes |

Now that I have lived on the West Coast for nearly 11 years I have adjusted fairly well to the seasons on this island. I expect rainy winters and I anticipate dry summers. It is a rather strange place to live where there are floods in January and fires in August. As someone who has tried their hand at gardening this is all too familiar too. We go from lush greens, even super soaked soil,  to dried up browns, with dry dusty soil,  in about a 4 month period. Right now we are in the midst of boasting about all of our spring flowers coming so much earlier than the rest of Canada but I know that come July I will be hand watering my garden every day for fear that I will loose what little crops I have tried to grow. Gardens and deserts are a part of west coast living. Today’s passages contrast a lush garden and desolate desert. Yet, what we will find is that while growth happens in both, transformation takes place in the wild.

I think when many of us hear the story of the temptation in the Garden of Eden we are brought back to an image from our Sunday School days of Adam and Eve standing by a single tree, the serpent wound up around the trunk, an apple in Eve’s hand and twigs or leaves placed in appropriate places.  Like Lucas Cranach The Elder’s painting from 1526 (PICTURE ON SLIDE). Despite the fact that Cranach was a very close friend of Martin Luther’s I would argue that there a few deeply theological and even anthropological inaccuracies in this painting. For example, what we didn’t hear in our reading this morning is that there were in fact two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as well as every other tree you can imagine. These two vital trees are referenced in Genesis 2:9. God did not say they could not eat the fruit of the tree of life but warns them that eating of the tree of knowledge would bring death. You see, both of these trees represent that which can only be God’s, immortality and morality. God allows humanity to eat from one of the two trees, as well as all the other fruit bearing trees in the garden, but not both. Adam and Eve have an abundance of fruits to pick from. Yet, every parent knows, the one sure fire way to ensure a child does something they shouldn’t is by telling them they can’t.

But this isn’t just about a painting this is also about the pre-conceived notions we tend to have about this story. This story is often called, “The Fall of Man” or the “Original Sin”, for centuries theologians and thinkers have interpreted this story using that language but do you know what words do not appear at all in this text? Sin, punishment, disobedience or fall, nor does the name of the serpent, its just a snake. Speaking of which, when the serpent tempts Eve it is tempting her to be like God. And because both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge are God’s alone when they choose to eat from the one tree they loose the right to the other. As a result, according to this creation parable, humanity looses the ability to have eternal life in the garden but gains access to ethical awareness. Many would argue that it is indeed our conscience rather than instinct that separates us from the rest of God’s creation.

However, here’s the thing that really nags at me about this story. If we gained access to ethical awareness shouldn’t we be better people? I can think of a whole bunch of situations in which clearly people are self-serving, self-centred, self-involved, power hungry and greedy and I’m not just talking about certain politicians. I not only see it everyday but admittedly I live it everyday, consistently balancing whether an action will benefit me or not. By trying to play God we lost both the access to life in this abundant garden and our ability to be moral.  We are often tempted, not by snakes, but by power or money or success.

By contrasting the story of the Garden of Eden with the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert we learn both a lot more about what temptation truly is and who Jesus truly is. In fact the word “temptation” in the Gospel passage does not mean what we often think about when we think of temptation. When I am tempted it often means that I have been lured into eating, drinking, or doing something that will weaken me-the kind of temptation referred to in the Garden of Eden. However the Greek word in the Gospel passage is peirazein and it literally means “to be tested.” Often when we are “put to the test” it is not meant to weaken us but to strengthen us and that is certainly the case for Jesus. For this reason I like to use the term tested when talking about Jesus’ temptation.

Jesus is tested three times. First he is tested with regards to physical needs. He is hungry and the devil, who is certainly named in this story, encourages him to turn the stones into bread. Jesus passes this test by placing God above everything else. We talked a few weeks ago about fasting and I mentioned that the purpose of fasting was to ensure that God, not food or anything else, was the focal point of our lives. Jesus essentially says the same by implying that true satisfaction comes not from bread but from complete reliance on God. In the second test the devil tried to get Jesus to prove himself by performing a miracle and Jesus successfully passes this test by again placing God first stating that God should not be tested. The last test is different, in that the first two were about miracles, either stone into bread or falling from a pinnacle without getting hurt but this time the devil offers Jesus all the earthly kingdoms so long as the devil is worshipped. Once again Jesus passes the test by clearly stating that only God is worthy of worship.

Before I come back to the images of the garden and the desert I want to point out something important. In the story of Jesus’ testing the opening verse and the closing verse are vital. The passages begins with, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.”  The passage closes with “and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” The entire time that Jesus was tested he did not do it alone. He went equipped with God’s resources. In all of our desert experiences we do not do it alone.

In both of these stories we hear about temptation yet, here is what matters to us west coasters who know about rainy winters and arid summers. The garden of Eden is described as a place of abundance. This is a lush garden in which you can eat the bounty directly from the trees. Whereas the desert is barren and the land is parched. And yet, it is in the garden, in this place of abundance that Adam and Eve give in to temptation- regardless of the fact that they can have every fruit available to them except one- they want that one, they want more. Yet in the desert, where there is nothing, where the land is desolate and dried up,  Jesus is able to pass each test by holding tight to God and by being transformed.

The word Comox literally means, “Land of Plenty”, we have a taste of the garden here. However,   I would argue that throughout North America and most of the Northern Hemisphere we deal with abundance and yet this is the place where churches are in decline, where self-serving attitudes are ripe, where fewer and fewer people are dependent on God and instead try to play God. Sometimes in our abundance we only want more.  Sometimes we need those desert experiences to bring us closer to what really matters.   We might live in the land of plenty but we are parched for God. May we consume some of that bread of life and cup of grace so that we too can pass our tests and turn to God whether we are in a lush garden or a desolate desert. Amen

Awestruck

Bible Text: Exodus 24:12-18, Matthew 17:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes |

A couple years ago I decided that I was going to try to see 200 different bird species in North America. Nearly all my trips that year centred around going to key birding sites from Whitehorse to Tucson. Birders are a strange breed of people- we spend most of our time with our are necks cranked upward, we shush people when we hear an unfamiliar call and we get excited about little brown birds that all look the same. Yet, the reason I began this year of intense birding is because I am struck by the oddity and beauty of some birds, whether it is the funny beak on the very common Surf Scoter or it is the bright red legs of an Oyster Catcher. I find it easy to be awed by some species, especially as you wait patiently for a Amercian Avocet to come out of the bull rushes or as you gather with a bunch of birders from all over North America waiting for the Citrine Wagtail to make itself known. Birding is a hobby that cannot be rushed and takes some practice but when you find yourself in a forest and a Western Tanager lands on the stump beside you- the awe you experience when seeing those vibrant colours is worth it. Well- at least for some of us. For others awe can be experienced in seeing a great piece of art, or after a long mountain climb, or while swimming in a river. But then there are times when something that once caused awe becomes ordinary. I remember the first time I nearly lost it when a Anna’s hummingbird came to our feeder- and admittedly I still get somewhat excited but I no longer feel awe. Capturing and keeping awe is a nearly impossible thing to do and thus experiencing true awe can also be a rarity. Today’s passages are about capturing awe or as many would call it, having mountain top experiences or if you’re a birder you might say, “seeing a lifer”.

Moses is one of the few people to have a literal mountain top experience with God. The setting is Mount Sinai, a location that will dominate the rest of the book of Exodus and even into the book of Numbers. In truth Mount Sinai takes over for the next 72 chapters until Numbers chapter 10- which actually tells me that eventually the awesome power of this mountain would have worn off and we hear that as the people grumble, turn away from and then turn back to God. However, while our passage this morning is not the first time Mount Sinai is mention it is certainly the most intense encounter. The mountain is not simply a designation of geography but is also meant to symbolize how God is present among the worshipping community, something that should bring us awe.

God instructs Moses to come up the mountain and wait. Moses leaves Aaron and Hur in charge of the Israelites while he sets out with his assistant Joshua. It would appear, although it is somewhat unclear, that eventually Moses leaves Joshua and continues to ascend the mountain alone. As Moses makes his way up, a cloud descends upon the mountain- which for most mountain climbers would cause panic and concern but in this case the cloud settles for six days and then on the seventh day God calls Moses. Before we go any further there is an important connection to make. Notice the strong links to the creation story in which God creates for the first 6 days and then finds rest on the 7th. This is likely quite intentional because the writers want  us to see how our worship of God is not like the rest of our weekly activities, precisely because God is with us in a special way when we come to worship. Perhaps there were times this week when it felt like you were surrounded by a cloud- maybe literally, or maybe in a cloud of confusion or a cloud of concern for a loved one or in a cloud of busy schedules and stressful encounters. But here in worship that cloud should be transformed into glory and awe.

Also notice how similar the words are in the beginning of our Gospel passage regarding the transfiguration. It says that six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John- possibly the first to be called and therefore charter members of Jesus’ disciples – and led them up a high mountain. These disciples will experience a worship like no other.  And I would argue that in both stories the details are not so much that Moses or Jesus and his disciples ascend mountains but rather that God descends to deliver a message. The central point of both these stories is the descent of God to the mountaintop into our world to meet, be seen and experienced by others-that is awe-inspiring worship.

But for Moses, those six days in a cloud are not enough, he then spends 40 days surrounded by a devouring fire on top of the mountain.  Forty days being the biblical shorthand for “a long time.” This tells me that meeting God- in an awe-inspiring way- can require time and patience. In a world where we want instant gratification, it is hard to imagine all of this time spent waiting around. Birding has taught me to be patient and wait in silence for that special call. Too often we expect everything to be instantaneous- but sometimes we need to be patient and wait. And an authentic encounter with God can not be rushed and the presence of God in this world is never casual.

This is made all the more obvious with the description of the cloud and fire. Note that Moses does not see God but rather he sees the glory of God. But then I think of the various images we have seen lately of the fires in Australia or the explosions of volcanoes or the frightening power of destructive weapons (OR SOME OTHER RELEVANT NEWS ITEM) and I wonder- if God’s glory were to appear on Mount Albert Edward in the form of a cloud and fire would we recognize the glory? We have become numb to images that used to draw awe because we are over saturated. I think that we have even lost our ability to capture awe in mountain top experiences or even worship. How do we recapture the wonder of encountering God?

The word transfiguration is one of the many strange words the church uses when a more recognizable word would work. Transfiguration literally means to be transformed or changed. The Good News translation, often known for its oversimplification, translates the transfiguration as “a change came over Jesus.” In Matthew’s telling of this story, the active hand of God is recognized in the transfiguration, transformation or change of Jesus.  Jesus is then joined by Moses and Elijah representing the Law and the prophets, of which Jesus is the fulfilment. And we know from our Exodus passage that Moses conversed with God, and if you know Elijah’s story you know that he too conversed with God. Now we see Moses and Elijah conversing with Jesus which is a gentle pointer to Jesus’ divinity.

Peter then offers to build shelters- in part because he wants to capture the awe of the moment but then as Peter blabbers on he is  interrupted by the glory of God. Sometimes we need to be interrupted by the glory of God in order to be awed by God’s presence.

Notice how the glory of God is still represented as a cloud but instead of fire it is now a bright cloud from which a voice reiterates the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism with the addition of “Listen to him!” Thus helping the disciples recognize the authoritative nature of Jesus’ teaching- but this also causes the disciples to collapse in fear. Now that’s a truly awe-filled response to God’s glory. Matthew’s version of the transfiguration is a little different from the versions found in Mark and Luke in that when the disciples fall in awe Jesus comes and touches them saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

In many ways Jesus’ words are the answer to the question, “how do we recapture the wonder of encountering God?” We get up, we do not fear, and we come down the mountain. God’s presence in our world is never casual but it also isn’t always in the form of clouds, fire and light. Sometimes it is in the ordinary. You know the Song Sparrow is one of the most boring looking little brown birds but it has a beautiful song to sing yet most don’t notice because they are busy not listening or not looking because they are seeking out something bigger or better. Take notice of the awe of God’s presence that is around us and be ready to be used by God to cause awe in others. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anger Management

Bible Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Matthew 5:21-37 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes |

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, “find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble.” Which prompts this character to break out into a song about leaving the black and white dull world of Kansas.  The fascinating fact about this song is that it was originally cut by the movie’s producer, Louis B. Mayer (formally of New Brunswick) who criticized the song for “slowing down the movie.” When Judy Garland’s voice coach heard that the song had been cut, he became irate and stormed into Mr. Mayer’s office demanding that the song be put back into the film. “Over the Rainbow” not only became Judy Garland’s signature song but the Recording Industry Association of America ranked it as the number one song of the 20th century. Imagine, if it had not been for the vocal coach’s anger this song would have been left on the cutting room floor. I share this story with you not only because it is an interesting tidbit for you to share at your next dinner party but because this song sings of a place where bluebirds fly and dreams come true and trouble melts like lemon drops, high above the chimney tops (that’s where you’ll find me).  It’s a song about ridding the world of all the division, anger, and frustrations and it is a song that was saved due to someone getting mad that it was cut. Sometimes anger is a good thing because it causes an action or reaction. Sometimes anger needs to be managed so that it does not cause harm. Today’s complicated Gospel passage is about anger and the Deuteronomy passage is about the choices that God places before us and  delves into God’s anger when we make the wrong choice.

As the people of Israel stood on the edge of the Jordan river and looked across to the land upon which they would settle I often wonder, did some of them get rather annoyed or angry that Moses broke out into a lengthy 3 part speech? Did they feel like his address was slowing down their progress in reaching the promised land? This land, a land of milk and honey, was where their troubles were expected to melt away like lemon drops…or at least that is what they had hoped. However, Moses’ lengthy speech makes it clear that only by choosing to follow the law will they be able to prosper.

The Book of Deuteronomy is a reiteration of the Law as found in the Book of Exodus and we are approaching the final stretch. As I mentioned in the introduction Moses is delivering this speech to the second generation. The first generation nearly reached this same point forty years earlier but forfeited the land because they feared the risk of following God over the Jordan. The result of their lack of trust was that, even though this first generation experienced God’s liberation from Egypt, they were denied the land and instead were forced to wander in the wilderness, in part because God got mad. As this book draws to a close so too do their years of wandering in the wilderness. They have endured forty years of wandering and along the way God provided for them but now Moses is reminding them that this future that they envision will not be just handed to them on a silver platter. These people will have choices to make and their choices matter. This is Moses’ exhortation to choose life. Several motifs are used to underscore what a faithful life in the land will look like; loving God, walking in God’s path and keeping the law. Moses is reminding them of their covenant.

It is this covenant that the prophets will consistently call upon whenever the people begin to stray. God promises that if they observe the commandments, live according to the decrees, walk in God’s ways then they will live and become numerous and the Lord will bless them. However, if their hearts turn away and they are led astray they will not live long in this land. Throughout the centuries of the Israelites living in Canaan, there were numerous times when the prophets told them they made the wrong choice and are being led astray and God gets angry. But in many ways this anger is required to solicit the return to the right relationship.

In anger management counselling it is not about suppressing anger. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion but like any emotion sometimes it can have a negative effect- particularly if anger is harming yourself or others. Anger management is about understanding why we are angry, what is lying behind this anger, and managing our responses. Although, I personally like the statement, “I wouldn’t have to manage my anger if people would manage their stupidity”. But then perhaps that is getting at the heart of Jesus’ words.

Jesus would have been an outstanding anger management coach. The verses from our Gospel passage deal with complex interactions where emotions could easily escalate. And because emotions are complex so too is this passage. Commentators often refer to verses 21 and 22 and other similarly formulated lines as “The Antitheses”because Jesus begins by saying, “You have heard it said that….but I say to you…” Jesus points out the literal law and then contrasts it with the appropriate response to the law. These verses provide a specific illustration of the “fulfilling” of the Law of which Jesus speaks and to which he calls us to live. What is important however, is that these statements that Jesus makes are not antithetical to the Law. Rather Jesus shows concern for inner attitudes and motives as well as outward observable behaviour.

Clearly Jesus saw that some of his followers, certainly the religious leadership, had no problem criticizing others as fools, trading insults and getting worked up, calling other people’s behaviour, stupid.  He then points out that of course it is a crime to commit murder and the penalty for such a crime should be severe but what Jesus goes on to tell them is that words too can kill and if those insults hurt the other than the penalty for insults should be just as severe. Jesus teaches that how we interact with our neighbours matters. We can choose to live harbouring anger or frustrations or we can choose to make things right which only one leads to abundant life. Jesus’ advice is to lower tensions- and be mindful of what we say to others, whether in daily conversation or in what we choose to say about others. Jesus isn’t saying we can’t get angry- Jesus is saying that how we get angry matters.

In the here and now it is hard to imagine that we will ever reach a time or place where troubles and anger transform into trust and relationships. One only needs to look at comments from internet trolls who throw insults from the safety of their anonymity to know that words can have very harmful consequences.  It is even more difficult as we see how world leaders choose to name call and bully and they perpetuate the divisiveness by ramping up aggressive language. Jesus is clear that social interactions are best characterized by considerate comments and that there is no place for wild and unsubstantiated statements about others.  Jesus then takes it further by  raising the stakes and saying, reconciliation is a prerequisite not only for the kingdom of heaven but for coming before God in worship. We are not talking about some imaginary world over the rainbow but a future envisioned by Moses as he delivered his final speech and a reality taught by Jesus in his sermon on the mount. Yet, we are also painfully aware that there are times when our anger gets the best of us. The good news is that as we meet Christ week after week in our prayers and worship, in Word and sacrament, we thankfully receive grace and can begin again. Amen