Sermon May 1 2022

Not being meat eaters, we hardly ever have BBQs. But I have to say that whenever someone in our strata is having a BBQ the smell that wafts in the air is quite lovely- perhaps because it also symbolizes warmer- longer days. I recently came a cross a tongue and cheek definition of a BBQ that may or may not resonate with you. “A barbeque is when a woman shops, then creates innumerable salads, dressings, sauces and puddings, organizes cutlery, plates, napkins and drinks, while a man burns some sausages and burgers and asks the woman how she enjoyed her night off.” While that is not what happens in my household it obviously does strike a chord with many. Today’s story is essentially one of Jesus having a BBQ on the beach. The Gospel passage today is full of detail that is difficult to distill into one brief sermon but for me, this is one of a few stories in which I can completely see, hear, smell and taste what is going on, on that beach. I can see the water and haul of fish, I can hear the rejoicing and I can smell the fish frying on the fire. I can even taste the grilled bread. We all know that there is something special about sharing a meal together, going over to a friends place for a BBQ. In part because we get to enjoy true fellowship and often deep conversation. That is exactly what happens at this BBQ on the beach. 

I think that Jesus is quite deliberate with his actions on the beach on this early morning. In part because having a meal together is a lot less threatening then sitting down to have a serious talk with someone. Perhaps this story also hints at other open air meals that Jesus has shared with his disciples, like that of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus even stirs up memories of the last supper as he hands them bread with their meal. But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. You might recall last week that the closing verses explained the purpose of the Gospel, basically providing a conclusion to the book. But here we have an epilogue of sorts, one more chapter and one more story in which Jesus appears to 7 of his disciples, presumably the 7 who tended to do a lot of fishing. The chapter also starts with, “After these things” which leaves us with the unanswered question of when this account took place. There is, a timelessness to this story. It could have happened a day after, months after, even years after Jesus’ resurrection. It could have even happened after Pentecost. We simply don’t exactly know when this story took place other than it happened after the resurrection.  

What is also really interesting is that this story outlines exactly how the early church functioned. There was a post-resurrection appearance and ministry, a meal and a commissioning. Breaking it up even more we have the presence of Jesus among the disciples, the joy of recognizing Jesus within the community, Jesus’ provision for his disciples especially as the presence is felt at the “table” or BBQ and Jesus directing devotion into action. This narrative not only demonstrates what mattered to the early church but directs how the church should act and live today. 

Sometime after the resurrection Peter declares to his comrades that he is going fishing. In this world of unpredictabilities Peter decides he’s going to do the one thing that he knows he can do. He’s going fishing. The other six disciples decide that they too are going to join him. At first I was a bit frustrated with Peter and the others. They just spent a few years following Jesus, all the way to Jerusalem where he was crucified but according to John’s Gospel, they have since encountered the risen Lord in their midst and have received the holy Spirit. We many not know the exact time of when this event took place but it takes place AFTER Jesus appears to the disciples in the locked and AFTER Jesus has  breathed the Spirit upon the disciples. So, yes, according to John’s version, this story takes place after John’s Pentecost experience.  So what are they doing returning to what they did BEFORE Jesus came into their lives. But it turns out their actions are important for us as we understand the role of Jesus in our own lives. The disciples returned to their normal patterns, what was familiar to them, and in their daily routine and comforts Jesus seeks them out. Marion Soards says, “Whether or not we should understand that the disciples have come to take the risen Jesus for granted, this story informs us that he did not abandon them. He came to them as they fished, there in the middle of their everyday lives, and he blessed them in a way that was both unexpected and seemingly more than anything for which they could have hoped.”  Jesus seems to know exactly what the disciples need- even when they themselves don’t know. 

Jesus blesses us in the middle of our everyday lives. But how many of us are like the disciple whom Jesus loved, how many of us are like Peter and how many of us are like the others? It is the disciple whom Jesus loved who recognizes the Lord right away. Note that this disciple does not get a name, church mythology would tell you that it is the author, John himself, but I like to believe that it is any one of us.  It is Peter who, upon hearing this news, jumps into the sea to swim to shore, which does not appear to be all that far of a swim since the boat was only about 100 yards from shore.  I also need to say something about Peter here. I don’t know why the line that “he put on cloths because he was naked and then jumped into the sea” is recorded but it strikes me as a bit odd. First of all, who fishes naked?! Second of all, normally when I’m jumping into the water I don’t do so after I’ve put clothes on. But maybe that’s why this detail is important- Peter’s rejoicing isn’t always rational but it is always genuine. Sometimes I’m like Peter and sometimes he and I are on different pages.  Or maybe most of us are like the disciples in the boat, who skeptically approach the shore, perhaps with hope but also with caution.

Once ashore Jesus’ instruction to bring some of the fish they have just caught is important. Jesus is the one who got the fire going, there is even some fish and bread already prepared. But Jesus still directs the disciples to mission, to bring something to the feast, to bring something to the table. Yes, this narrative helped develop the church, yes it should direct us into the future but it is also important to note that this is what every Lord’s supper should be like. This is what coming to worship and gathering in fellowship should be. Think of the very best BBQs you’ve been to- Likely a situation were everyone brought a little something to the table. It adds to the feast and fellowship. Soards also has comments about this, here they are,  “The Lord’s people called to the Lord’s Table, bringing something of the Lord’s provision, and eating in the mysterious assurance of the real presence of the Lord.” Jesus makes himself known in our daily routines and then asks us to bring something of ourselves or our belongings to participate in this ministry in which Jesus leads.   

Jesus wanted to spend time with his friends but he also had some important things to say, things that were heavy on his heart and mind, but also a conversation that Peter needed to have so that instead of returning to routine he would be forever changed and be empowered to be the apostle that Jesus needed him to be. I think that, that is one of the reasons Peter returns to fishing, is because he doesn’t feel, after the denial he did, that he is the rock upon which this church should be built. Jesus has to assure him that he is. Still doesn’t explain the naked fishing but who knows!

Most commentaries on the conversation between Jesus and Peter connect the threefold questioning as a threefold “undoing” of the earlier threefold denial that Peter did. And there is nothing wrong with this connection. I love the image of the firelight of the beach fire even reflecting that of the courtyard just before dawn on the fateful day the cock crowed. However, I don’t think that it really is an “eye for an eye” kind of situation but rather a reassurance and empowerment of Peter. What is important is that in this heart to heart talk Jesus calls Peter’s love and devotion into action. It’s all fine and good to say we love the Lord but it means nothing if we don’t demonstrate it by feeding the sheep. Simply loving the Lord is not the stuff of true discipleship. But it is important to know that on those days when we just need some routine or turn to the familiar or former comforts that Jesus is the one who shows up and refuels us with spiritual food. 

It is still unclear to me whether it is safe to have BBQs or not, but we as a church, as a community, need to think of the things we can bring to the table not only in our immediate fellowship but abroad and see how our love can empower action. Christ is indeed the host, I don’t know if that means he’s the one over the grill or working in the kitchen but it does mean that we all get to enjoy the overwhelming joy of the presence of Jesus in the good friends and fellowship we have with each other. Amen 

April 24 2022

When 1960s boy-band The Monkees were looking for a follow up single after their hit, “Last Train to Clarksville,” the studio turned to one of it’s newest songwriters, a then very young, Neil Diamond. Now, you all likely know better than I that The Monkees were originally a “manufactured” group made up of predominantly actors not musicians for the TV show of the same name. However, Monkees drummer, Micky Dolenz, was indeed a talented musician and pushed to have the show include some actual songs. Neil Diamond at the time was simply writing songs that he thought would become country hits. In fact, the song he wrote that the Monkees recorded was original meant for Country singer Eddy Arnold. That song of course became the Monkees’ biggest hit… and here goes nothing, “I thought love was only true in fairy tales, Meant from someone else but not me, Love was out to get me, that’s the way it seemed. Disappointment haunted all my dreams. Then I saw her face, now I’m believer, Not a trace of doubt in my mind, I’m in love…..I’m a believer, I couldn’t leave her if tried.”  The song is of course about someone who finally believes in love now that they are experiencing it for themselves- an experience they had the minute they saw their lover’s face. Once they laid eyes on that face there was no trace of doubt in their mind.  It is a lot easier to believe in something if you experience it for yourself! Doubt dissipates when seeing turns to believing.  At least, that is the sense I get from this morning’s passage.

Last week we heard a reflection from the perspective of one of the women who first arrived at the empty tomb. In John’s version of the story it is only Mary Magdalene whom Jesus first appears to and while in Luke’s version the male disciples dismiss the women’s story as an idle tale it does appear that in John’s version Mary is given a little more credit, but not much. Mary tells the disciples all the things Jesus said to her but obviously the disciples are still dealing with a lot of unbelief and fear and confusion because they respond by locking themselves up. I mean, let’s be fair to them, a lot has happened over the last few days and no wonder they are afraid, they just watched their leader die in a horrendous way, they are likely afraid that they are next.

But their locked doors mean nothing to the risen Lord. Jesus stands among them and declares, “peace be with you.” (Mind blown action) They loose their minds, understandably, and begin to rejoice.  Jesus’ presence comes in a miraculous way and the first thing Jesus does is grants them peace. Jesus could have rebuked them because fear has paralysed them and driven them into hiding! Jesus could have chastised them for not believing Mary’s story.   Jesus could have dismissed them because clearly they weren’t paying attention when Jesus preached and teached about his death. But instead of any negative tone Jesus’ presence is purely positive and brings peace. And the disciples react accordingly, after the initial shock, they are overjoyed. There is no doubt in their mind, they are believers.

Have you ever experienced the joy of relief? I’m a bit of a worry wart. I worry or try to anticipate worse case scenarios…and I am always relieved when those scenarios never come to fruition. But I image the joy of relief that the disciples felt was something even more, after all, even though Mary had told them what she had seen and experienced, they aren’t going to believe that Jesus, who they watched die could be alive again. But then, when Jesus stands among them, they see his face and they become believers. Their eyes are not deceiving them, Jesus is really alive! What joy.

The word evangelical has come to mean a theological movement that may differ from how we see ourselves in the world but the term actually comes from the Greek word euangelion meaning “Good News”. The early church used the term to distinguish itself. To say you were evangelical meant that you focused on the love and joy of Christ rather than the violence of the Roman Empire. Sixteenth century biblical scholar and linguist Tyndale stated that the term euangelion, “signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings that maketh one’s heart gland and maketh one sing and dance and leap for joy.”  Well then, if that’s the real definition then you can count me in as an evangelical. But that too is the kind of joy I imagine the disciples expressed as Jesus blessed them with peace.

Along with joy, the joy of relief and the joy of believing and witnessing that the rumours of their risen Lord are true, there is also a sense that the grief and fear that the disciples felt originally has been lifted. Rev. Dr. Karen Campbell talks of the peace that Jesus provides not only when he enters the room and declares peace but breathes peace upon the disciples. She says, “Sometimes in our grief Christ meets us in our locked rooms and our hearts begin the process of encouraging us to unlock them, and see what’s on the other side. That’s what Thomas does in this encounter.”

We move from the first encounter of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room to the second encounter. I always feel for Thomas because for whatever reason he isn’t with the other disciples when Jesus first appears to them. I tend to think that Thomas was the only one not afraid and therefore going out into the community as Jesus told them to do. However,  Thomas has trouble believing when he is reunited with the disciples because the story is something straight out of a fairy tale.  There is a lot of doubt in his mind and it would be a very strange and disconcerting feeling to be the only one who is not elated by joy.

Jesus appears again and tells Thomas to touch him, something the other disciples have not done. Thomas must unlock the doubt he’s been dealing with in order to find the joy of believing in Christ’s resurrection. Thomas must see Jesus’ face before he can become a believer.  I firmly believe that Thomas represents all of us at some point. Those moments when a loved one receives a bad diagnoses, or we experience crippling grief, or we are shocked by news or we are afraid. How can we have the joy of believing when all we are experiencing is pain or fear or worry? What Thomas teaches me is that doubt does not disqualify us for discipleship. Instead Jesus addresses our doubts and allays our apprehensions.

Now, we do no share the advantage that is give Thomas. We have never known Jesus in the flesh. For us, Jesus does not literally physically enter the room and tells us to see his face or touch his wounds and believe but our belief comes when we experience Jesus through the lives of others and our practice. Jesus stands in our midst and offers peace through the work of the church, through the love of our community, through the peace we receive in prayer. Jesus’ own words to Thomas are important for us to hear too, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  This may mean we will still have grief and fear to contend with but now joy and peace are also in the mix.

Jesus also commissions the disciples and this is important for us too. The peace and joy that they receive and feel enables them to be the witnesses that Christ asks them to be. Just as God sent Jesus, so now the risen Christ sends the disciples to do the will and work of God in the world. One commentary pointed out brilliantly, “Yet, notice here, as is ever the case in relation to the gospel’s call to service, the disciples (and we) are not merely told to get the job done. The disciples (and we) are given the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit. We receive God’s own power and presence for doing the work to which our risen Lord directs us.” It’s a little intimidating, I’ll admit, but the point is that Jesus’ presence is what pushes the disciples outside their room and into the community.

As the Gospel of John comes to an end the author turns directly to us readers and states the purpose of this book. The stories that have been written about in this book are to give testimony to the work of God in Jesus Christ. These stories are written down so that we will believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and in the act of believing , have real and eternal life in the way Jesus revealed it. These stories are meant to bring us joy, the joy of believing. Call me an evangelical,  “I’m a believer I couldn’t leave him if I tried”. Amen

Easter Sermon – A dramatic reading April 17 2022

First Reading: Luke 23.55 – 24.3 Wayne Penner

55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

The Resurrection of Jesus

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a]

Reflection: I witness
It’s funny looking back.
We were so worried about that stone,
who would move it for us so we could get into the tomb.
There were only a few of us that morning.
I just forget who was there besides Mary and Joanna and me.
But we didn’t think a few women could move the boulder on our own.
Isn’t that the way, though?
You get so focused on the problem you expect,
spend all your worry on that one thing –
and then it’s something completely different which changes your day –
changes your life!

The tomb was already open when we got there –
like a mouth in the rock shouting at us.
But we couldn’t hear its joy.
We were so fixed on what we expected to do.
We wanted to honour Jesus.
Honour his body after all he’d been through.
But isn’t that the way, though?
You have a plan.
You know how things ought to happen.
And then God turns your world upside down.
At that moment,
when we couldn’t find the body,
we didn’t know what was going on.
Didn’t have a clue.
I was a witness.
I was there.
We looked and looked,
and all we could see was an empty stone ledge.

Unison Prayer:

God of mystery, we have made it here on Easter morning, seeking to find you.

We know the Easter story yet we do not always understand what is happening.

Open our hearts to be surprised,  just as the women were when they found the tomb empty. Amen.

Second Reading: Luke 24.3-5 (yes, verse 3 is read again)-Wayne Penner

3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d]

Reflection continues: I witness
We were perplexed, all right.
We had been there
when they handed Jesus over to the soldiers.
He could barely walk by his own strength.
And we were there while he was hanging on that cross.
We saw him die;
we heard him die.
We watched as they took his body down.
We followed Joseph to the tomb.
We were there, all of us women.
I was a witness.
We were there.
After the Sabbath, we were ready.
We had the spices;
we had it all worked out.
But we weren’t counting on angels.
I ask you,
do you expect an angel, dazzling in your eyes
on the saddest day of your life?
They were so bright, we threw ourselves on the ground in front of them.
But those angels,
they sounded as if we should have known better!
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
Well, Angel, were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Did you see him suffer?
Did you hear him breathe his last desperate breath?
I was a witness.
I was there.
My heart was broken on Friday.
And you don’t get over a broken heart in a couple of days!

 

But then hindsight is so much clearer, isn’t it?
When I look back now,
after all these years,
I can see how God was at work.
In Jesus.
In our very midst.
All those years.
But face to face with that angel, I didn’t know what to say.
Still, my heart started to beat a little faster.
Jesus definitely was not there.
But I was.
I was a witness.
And he was not there.

Unison Prayer:

God of mystery, we can understand why those women were perplexed.

We know the Easter story but we do not understand how things happened as that day dawned.  Yet your gift of hope is dazzling to us, too.  We would like to believe that death is not the end. Amen

Third Reading: Luke 24.5b-12- Wayne Penner

said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[c] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

 

 

Reflection: I witness
Remember how he told you…
Remember?
Of course we remembered being with Jesus in Galilee.
We women were always there,
watching, listening, herding the children, organizing lunch.
Of course we remembered Jesus in Galilee.
How he spoke.
How he taught us that God’s kingdom was like a woman baking,
flour up to her elbows, waiting for the yeast to rise.
Jesus had been watching us, listening to us, too.
I remember
how he loved the children near by, under his feet.
I remember how he loved a good meal, a good laugh.
I remember how he loved to tell a good story,
how he made me think.
I was there in Galilee.
I was a witness.
I remember when he told us that the Son of Man would be rejected and killed.
But I didn’t want to hear it.
I didn’t want to believe Jesus would die.
Not so soon.
Not in so much pain.
I remember
but I didn’t want to.
Not then.

 

Then again, hindsight is so much clearer, isn’t it?
When I look back now,
after all these years,
I can see how God was at work.
In Jesus.
In our very midst.
Right beside us all those years.
I remember his clear hope
that all God’s people would come from east and west, from north and south
to eat together in God’s kingdom.
I just didn’t understand Jesus would have to die
to bring people to the table together.
To make peace between us.

 

Still, I remember when he was dying.
With his last breath, he said to God,
“Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
I was a witness.
I was there.
And now I see he was giving his spirit to us;
putting his spirit into our hands
so that we can take his peace with us wherever we go.
To bring all God’s people to the table together.
Jesus rises in us,
in his friends,
in our broken hearts.
He rises to put us back together again
so we can befriend the world,
make peace for all God’s people in his name.
 

Hindsight is so much clearer, isn’t it?
When I look back now,
I can see how God was at work.
In Jesus.
In our very midst.
And still is.
That morning,
when we remembered what we’d known all along,
we ran back to tell the others.

Jesus is risen.
And we’ve got work to do – in his name.
You know what those disciples said?
It’s all idle chatter.
An old wives’ tale.
But I know.
I was there.
I was a witness.
And as Peter found out,
Hindsight is always so much clearer!

 

Unison Prayer: Spirit of Resurrecting Hope, Thank you for your renewing energy which sends us out to serve the world in his name. We pray for all those who need renewing energy in these challenging times. Equip us with grace,  compassion and wisdom so that our lives can offer these gifts to others with the faith and confidence Jesus offers us again this Easter Day. Amen.

Sermon April 10 2022

Often a mob of people is defined as a group of people intent on violence. However, all of that changed in 2003 when Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s Magazine organized a gathering of people in the rug department of Macy’s Department Store in New York City. One hundred and thirty people converged around one expensive rug, for no other reason but for a social experiment. Since then flash mobs, in which people usually sing or dance, have popped up in airports, malls, or busy street corners.  My favourite is one that takes place in a plaza in Sabadell, Spain. A double bass player appears to be busking when a young girl puts a coin in his hat. As the girl stands to watch a cellist approaches and they begin to play the familiar tune of Ode To Joy. Out of the alleyways more and more musicians appear, including a timpani player and then half of the crowd that has converged to watch turns into singers! The video has been viewed over 18 million times, so you know it’s good. I’ve never seen one live but I have spent a lot of time down youtube rabbit holes watching different flash mobs. Unlike other stories of mobs they are supposed to be peaceful and playful. They are kind of magical because they give the impression of appearing out of nowhere, are often incredibly choreographed and then when it’s all over everyone returns to their regular daily behaviour.  Imagine what it would be like to be caught up in a flash mob, suddenly someone shows up in a somewhat descrete, yet coordinated, way and then another starts to sing and then more and more voices join in. The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is often taken for granted. This story is so imbedded into our church psyche that I think we sometimes miss some of the nuances and even “magical” quality of the story. In part because, while the history books say that the first flash mob took place in 2003, I think the story of Palm Sunday tells us that the first flash mob happened long before that.

First, like a well choreographed flash mob, the events on this day are well planned and seamless, despite the fact that it begins with a rather odd request. As they approach Jerusalem Jesus stops at the Mount of Olives and directs two of his disciples to go ahead to the village to find an unbroken colt. They do as they are told, and eventhough the owner questions why they are  taking his colt, their response that “The Lord needs it,” seems satisfactory. Securing the animal has gone as planned irrespective of the odd request.  This is important for us to remember, Jesus knew how this day would play out and it goes as planned. What is perhaps lost when we hear this story is that the cold has never been ridden before. Now, I have never ridden a horse but even I know that riding a colt that has never been ridden before is normally a really bad idea. A colt like that, does not normally take kindly to a stranger on its back.  Yet, even that goes on without a hitch. Then, as Jesus rides along the crowd that has gathered throws their cloaks on the road and the multitude that has gathered begin to joyfully praise God. You see, it is a skillfully carried out flash mob! Sort of.

What perhaps, in our familiarity with this story, we miss is how the first century people would have received it. There is a lot of symbolism going on in this story, not the least of which is that a peaceful mob has gathered to sing praises. In her podcast entitled “Walking Humbly” Sally Foster-Fulton reminds us that there was a good chance that on the other side of town Pontius Pilate was entering Jerusalem which much pomp and circumstance. There would have been foot soldiers, majestic horses, banners and standards bearing golden eagles, the symbol of Rome’s authority paraded in through the main gate. After all, this was the festival of the Passover, so Jerusalem was teeming with Jewish pilgrims and as a result Pilate was sent to “keep the peace” through whatever means necessary. Rome was exercising their authority! Meanwhile, here we have Jesus coming in on a colt or donkey. One that has never been ridden before, which means that this colt was likely a working colt in agriculture.  Pilate comes in on warrior horses, on war machines while Jesus choses a symbol of agriculture as his mode of transportation. Jesus is being very clear, choreographed even, in his symbolism and is stating, I am not here to cause violence I am here for peace. Foster-Fulton says, “The triumphal entry was a parody of Pilate’s grand procession, a mockery of it. And it wasn’t an accident either. It was a staged demonstration.” It was something more than a flash mob, it was a holy protest.

The fact that Jesus’ entry was timed at the same time as Pilates may also explain another important note. Despite the multitude of people that have gathered to say and sing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” it appears that there are no agents of Rome in the crowd. It is not Roman officials or representatives who try to stop this parody, it is the Pharisees. By the way, in Luke’s version of the story of the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem, this is the last time the Pharisees make an appearance. Through this gospel the Pharisees have appeared sometimes as dinner hosts but most often as agitators and yet, in this scene all they try to do is put a stop to it and then they don’t reappear for the rest of the story.  This will also set up how Luke will attempt to balance the relationship between tradition and the early church as he records the Acts of the Apostles in his sequel.

Yes, this passage is often referred to as Jesus’ Triumphal Entery into Jerusalem but really Jesus is mimicking the way we exalt earthly power.  It should also cause us to ask which parade do we want to follow, meaning, what power do we turn to? Foster-Fulton says, “We have to decide which one we will join. When we choose to forgive or not, we choose a certain path. When we choose what we will do with our money, our energy, our love. We walk a certain way.” To be perfectly honest, I’m the kind of girl who loves big parades with ridiculous floats, so I know which parade I would have most likely been drawn to, but on the other hand, it would have been pretty amazing to have been part of a flash mob.

The disciples have been travelling with Jesus for a while now. They have witnessed his deeds of power, not just at this entry into Jerusalem but in all kinds of miracles. Yet, Jesus never wields his power in a way that requires recognition. If anything, after most miracle stories Jesus tells them to not tell anyone about these things. Jesus’ power is one of humility and that is symbolized today by his riding on a colt.  The power of Jesus’ humility will continue to be expressed this week as he washes the disciples feet, follows God’s will toward his arrest and is hung up on a cross.

The problem is that this flash mob of praising disciples, and it should be pointed out that for Luke the term disciples does not only refer to the twelve but rather to a large group of people, this praising mob does change from a peaceful, playful, rejoicing one, to a more “traditional” mob intent on violence. Within the week their cloaks will turn to whips and their cries of hosanna will turn to crucify. They do eventually decide to join the wrong parade. Perhaps this is because on the surface, power displayed in pomp is more appealing than power displayed in humility. But this is the great thing about the God we believe in and the Christ we follow.

Within an instant, kind of like the crowd, or a flash mob after their performance, we transition from the story of the palms to the story of the passion. There is no greater story, I would argue in history, that displays the power of humility than Jesus willingly taking up his cross. It is an example of faithful obedience like no other example before. Jesus’ humble power and faithful obedience is what brings the salvation of humanity. How might our humility and obedience be displayed this holy week and always?

Amen

Sermon April 10 2022

Often a mob of people is defined as a group of people intent on violence. However, all of that changed in 2003 when Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s Magazine organized a gathering of people in the rug department of Macy’s Department Store in New York City. One hundred and thirty people converged around one expensive rug, for no other reason but for a social experiment. Since then flash mobs, in which people usually sing or dance, have popped up in airports, malls, or busy street corners. My favourite is one that takes place in a plaza in Sabadell, Spain. A double bass player appears to be busking when a young girl puts a coin in his hat. As the girl stands to watch a cellist approaches and they begin to play the familiar tune of Ode To Joy. Out of the alleyways more and more musicians appear, including a timpani player and then half of the crowd that has converged to watch turns into singers! The video has been viewed over 18 million times, so you know it’s good. I’ve never seen one live but I have spent a lot of time down youtube rabbit holes watching different flash mobs. Unlike other stories of mobs they are supposed to be peaceful and playful. They are kind of magical because they give the impression of appearing out of nowhere, are often incredibly choreographed and then when it’s all over everyone returns to their regular daily behaviour. Imagine what it would be like to be caught up in a flash mob, suddenly someone shows up in a somewhat descrete, yet coordinated, way and then another starts to sing and then more and more voices join in. The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is often taken for granted. This story is so imbedded into our church psyche that I think we sometimes miss some of the nuances and even “magical” quality of the story. In part because, while the history books say that the first flash mob took place in 2003, I think the story of Palm Sunday tells us that the first flash mob happened long before that.

First, like a well choreographed flash mob, the events on this day are well planned and seamless, despite the fact that it begins with a rather odd request. As they approach Jerusalem Jesus stops at the Mount of Olives and directs two of his disciples to go ahead to the village to find an unbroken colt. They do as they are told, and even though the owner questions why they are taking his colt, their response that “The Lord needs it,” seems satisfactory. Securing the animal has gone as planned irrespective of the odd request. This is important for us to remember, Jesus knew how this day would play out and it goes as planned. What is perhaps lost when we hear this story is that the cold has never been ridden before. Now, I have never ridden a horse but even I know that riding a colt that has never been ridden before is normally a really bad idea. A colt like that, does not normally take kindly to a stranger on its back. Yet, even that goes on without a hitch. Then, as Jesus rides along the crowd that has gathered throws their cloaks on the road and the multitude that has gathered begin to joyfully praise God. You see, it is a skillfully carried out flash mob! Sort of.

What perhaps, in our familiarity with this story, we miss is how the first century people would have received it. There is a lot of symbolism going on in this story, not the least of which is that a peaceful mob has gathered to sing praises. In her podcast entitled “Walking Humbly” Sally Foster-Fulton reminds us that there was a good chance that on the other side of town Pontius Pilate was entering Jerusalem which much pomp and circumstance. There would have been foot soldiers, majestic horses, banners and standards bearing golden eagles, the symbol of Rome’s authority paraded in through the main gate. After all, this was the festival of the Passover, so Jerusalem was teeming with Jewish pilgrims and as a result Pilate was sent to “keep the peace” through whatever means necessary. Rome was exercising their authority! Meanwhile, here we have Jesus coming in on a colt or donkey. One that has never been ridden before, which means that this colt was likely a working colt in agriculture. Pilate comes in on warrior horses, on war machines while Jesus choses a symbol of agriculture as his mode of transportation. Jesus is being very clear, choreographed even, in his symbolism and is stating, I am not here to cause violence I am here for peace. Foster-Fulton says, “The triumphal entry was a parody of Pilate’s grand procession, a mockery of it. And it wasn’t an accident either. It was a staged demonstration.” It was something more than a flash mob, it was a holy protest.

The fact that Jesus’ entry was timed at the same time as Pilates may also explain another important note. Despite the multitude of people that have gathered to say and sing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” it appears that there are no agents of Rome in the crowd. It is not Roman officials or representatives who try to stop this parody, it is the Pharisees. By the way, in Luke’s version of the story of the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem, this is the last time the Pharisees make an appearance. Through this gospel the Pharisees have appeared sometimes as dinner hosts but most often as agitators and yet, in this scene all they try to do is put a stop to it and then they don’t reappear for the rest of the story. This will also set up how Luke will attempt to balance the relationship between tradition and the early church as he records the Acts of the Apostles in his sequel.

Yes, this passage is often referred to as Jesus’ Triumphal Entery into Jerusalem but really Jesus is mimicking the way we exalt earthly power. It should also cause us to ask which parade do we want to follow, meaning, what power do we turn to? Foster-Fulton says, “We have to decide which one we will join. When we choose to forgive or not, we choose a certain path. When we choose what we will do with our money, our energy, our love. We walk a certain way.” To be perfectly honest, I’m the kind of girl who loves big parades with ridiculous floats, so I know which parade I would have most likely been drawn to, but on the other hand, it would have been pretty amazing to have been part of a flash mob.

The disciples have been travelling with Jesus for a while now. They have witnessed his deeds of power, not just at this entry into Jerusalem but in all kinds of miracles. Yet, Jesus never wields his power in a way that requires recognition. If anything, after most miracle stories Jesus tells them to not tell anyone about these things. Jesus’ power is one of humility and that is symbolized today by his riding on a colt. The power of Jesus’ humility will continue to be expressed this week as he washes the disciples feet, follows God’s will toward his arrest and is hung up on a cross.
The problem is that this flash mob of praising disciples, and it should be pointed out that for Luke the term disciples does not only refer to the twelve but rather to a large group of people, this praising mob does change from a peaceful, playful, rejoicing one, to a more “traditional” mob intent on violence. Within the week their cloaks will turn to whips and their cries of hosanna will turn to crucify. They do eventually decide to join the wrong parade. Perhaps this is because on the surface, power displayed in pomp is more appealing than power displayed in humility. But this is the great thing about the God we believe in and the Christ we follow.
Within an instant, kind of like the crowd, or a flash mob after their performance, we transition from the story of the palms to the story of the passion. There is no greater story, I would argue in history, that displays the power of humility than Jesus willingly taking up his cross. It is an example of faithful obedience like no other example before. Jesus’ humble power and faithful obedience is what brings the salvation of humanity. How might our humility and obedience be displayed this holy week and always?
Amen

Sermon March 27 2022

In 1896 the Presbyterian Church in Canada opened a day school in Ahousaht on Flores Island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. The school was classified as a residential school in 1903 and remained under the care of the PCC until 1925 when it was transferred to the care of the United Church of Canada. In 2021 funding was set aside to assist in exploring any unmarked graves on the site of the former school. It is important to know that the Presbyterian Church in Canada has clear records of at least 13 children who died in the care of that school from 1903-1913. In my capacity as moderator of the Presbytery of Vancouver Island I have been asked to participate in some listening exercises with residence of Ahousaht and the Nuu-cha-nulth band. Ever since I studied pre-contact North American archaeology for my undergraduate degree, reconciliation has been a part of my life. Having attended the Truth and Reconciliation commission when it came to Victoria I know the importance of listening, rather than speaking, at a time like this.  Yet, reconciliation is one of those words that is easy to say and difficult to emulate. It is a challenge to listen to the stories, as a preacher I am used to doing all the talking, but on this matter it is not about speaking but listening. It is about taking one small step towards reconciliation. But what is reconciliation, really? 

The word reconciliation is one of those words that we tend to use a lot- often in reference to the reconciling work of Jesus Christ as he suffered and died on the cross- and more importantly rose again. But what does that all really mean? Even I would have different answers for you on different days. Sometimes it is about the fall of humanity- and how God, through Christ, reconciled us back into a relationship with God. Sometimes it is about, grace- and how God has granted us grace so that we are consistently being reconciled. Sometimes, it is more of an accounting term, reconciling beliefs with actions. How do we balance our understanding of Jesus reconciling us to God within the context of reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters? Well, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians might help us in this matter. 

You’ve heard me say it before, the church in Corinth really liked to push Paul’s buttons, test his patience, and give him a real run for his money. The two letters we have from Paul clearly demonstrate that as soon as Paul solved one problem, three more would pop up. We don’t have the correspondence from the church in Corinth but we know by his response that Paul is responding to a letter that critiqued his leadership. They accused him of inconsistencies (which, if I’m honest, they aren’t wrong in that regard). They questioned his motives and they challenged his authority.  They pushed back- and yet, Paul’s response, while a defence of his leadership, is also some of his best writing.  It is thanks to the letters to the Corinthians that we have beautiful passages like  “there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit.” or “Love is patient, love is kind, etc”  or the imagery of holding a treasure in clay jars. We also have challenging passages like  if a woman prays she should wear a head covering, or the testing of generosity.  Today some of that beautiful and challenging writing is in full view and I think this was Paul’s way of tackling the theology of reconciliation as well as starting fresh with the Corinthians.

Eugene Petersen’s version of this passage is so concise and beautiful that I feel the need to share most of this paraphrase with you, verses 16-18 go,  “Our firm decision is to work from this focused centre: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own. Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationship with each other. Become friends with God; God is already friends with you. ” Verse 21 concludes, “How you ask? In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”  

You see, based on Paul’s letters we can tell that the Corinthian community was obsessed with hierarchy- this is clear by the way they challenge Paul’s authority. Within this system was also a practice of exclusion or superiority. So, Paul’s words were a major challenge to them. How could they control who became part of the worshipping community if everyone was equal? How could they demonstrate a level of knowing what was right for their community when the community was beneath them? Paul’s words are not only about a new creation but being equal in God’s love. Equality is still a challenge. 

In the NRSV translation of this passage it begins, “From now on, therefore,” which I think is a very important piece to reconciliation. Within Paul’s context what he is saying is from this point onward- things are different. Christ’s love and dying changed everything- which means we can no longer see ourselves as we did before- we can no longer work within the realms of this earthly hierarchy, we can no longer claim to be superior or think we know better. As author Wendy Lloyd puts it, “We no longer view others in human terms but through the eyes of God’s love for them. We can no longer see ourselves as we once did, but through the gaze of God’s love. This changes everything.”

You know the word reconcile or reconciliation appears five times in six verses. Paul is hammering it home that the outcome of this changed relationship is reconciliation. And that’s important to note too, reconciliation does not happen before the changed relationship; it is a result of the changed relationship. This has been important for me to realize as I come to the table to listen to stories from residential school and inter-generational survivors. Sure, we could say, look it was years ago, get over it, how many times do we have to say we’re  sorry- but that is not demonstrative of a changed relationship- one that works toward reconciliation. I also thought that since I had the desire to work towards reconciliation that, that is where we would start. But the truth is, we have to build a relationship first- equal, humble, loving relationships and then reconciliation can take place. Quite honestly, that shouldn’t have surprised me because that’s how Jesus worked too. Jesus became human first- lived like us, emoted like us, preached about equality, lived humbly, and demonstrated love for all so that he could experience death and only after all that could reconciliation take place through his rising. 

Paul’s words to the church in Corinth likely challenged the congregation- but it was also a challenge to the Roman world- a society that liked to differentiate between race, gender and class. But here Paul says, “oh no, we are not to be defined or separated in this way, but as benefactors of love we are to witness to this changed life, no matter who you are.” As a result we are ambassadors for Christ- and it is clear that the church has not always gotten that right. We have abused that privileged of being an ambassador. But Paul is also insisting that God reconciles us for ministry- we could take that to mean we are superior, that because we have accepted the Good news of the Gospel that we know what’s best for everyone else,  but I don’t think Paul meant it that way or at least didn’t expect it to be manifested in things like residential schools. 

We are mid-way through Lent. We have spent time talking about the relationship between God’s people and the wilderness. We have talked about how the wilderness is a place where God not only teaches lessons but makes promises. Last week it was about growth through repentance and grace in the wilderness- and that we don’t really know how the story ends, but we do know how the story of Easter ends. I don’t think our story of reconciliation will ever end but I do pray that we can be united as God’s beloved children because every child matters and right now we have some communities who are suffering and our focus should be on building relationships with them. Amen 

Sermon March 27 2022

In 1896 the Presbyterian Church in Canada opened a day school in Ahousaht on Flores Island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. The school was classified as a residential school in 1903 and remained under the care of the PCC until 1925 when it was transferred to the care of the United Church of Canada. In 2021 funding was set aside to assist in exploring any unmarked graves on the site of the former school. It is important to know that the Presbyterian Church in Canada has clear records of at least 13 children who died in the care of that school from 1903-1913. In my capacity as moderator of the Presbytery of Vancouver Island I have been asked to participate in some listening exercises with residence of Ahousaht and the Nuu-cha-nulth band. Ever since I studied pre-contact North American archaeology for my undergraduate degree, reconciliation has been a part of my life. Having attended the Truth and Reconciliation commission when it came to Victoria I know the importance of listening, rather than speaking, at a time like this.  Yet, reconciliation is one of those words that is easy to say and difficult to emulate. It is a challenge to listen to the stories, as a preacher I am used to doing all the talking, but on this matter it is not about speaking but listening. It is about taking one small step towards reconciliation. But what is reconciliation, really? 

The word reconciliation is one of those words that we tend to use a lot- often in reference to the reconciling work of Jesus Christ as he suffered and died on the cross- and more importantly rose again. But what does that all really mean? Even I would have different answers for you on different days. Sometimes it is about the fall of humanity- and how God, through Christ, reconciled us back into a relationship with God. Sometimes it is about, grace- and how God has granted us grace so that we are consistently being reconciled. Sometimes, it is more of an accounting term, reconciling beliefs with actions. How do we balance our understanding of Jesus reconciling us to God within the context of reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters? Well, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians might help us in this matter. 

You’ve heard me say it before, the church in Corinth really liked to push Paul’s buttons, test his patience, and give him a real run for his money. The two letters we have from Paul clearly demonstrate that as soon as Paul solved one problem, three more would pop up. We don’t have the correspondence from the church in Corinth but we know by his response that Paul is responding to a letter that critiqued his leadership. They accused him of inconsistencies (which, if I’m honest, they aren’t wrong in that regard). They questioned his motives and they challenged his authority.  They pushed back- and yet, Paul’s response, while a defence of his leadership, is also some of his best writing.  It is thanks to the letters to the Corinthians that we have beautiful passages like  “there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit.” or “Love is patient, love is kind, etc”  or the imagery of holding a treasure in clay jars. We also have challenging passages like  if a woman prays she should wear a head covering, or the testing of generosity.  Today some of that beautiful and challenging writing is in full view and I think this was Paul’s way of tackling the theology of reconciliation as well as starting fresh with the Corinthians.

Eugene Petersen’s version of this passage is so concise and beautiful that I feel the need to share most of this paraphrase with you, verses 16-18 go,  “Our firm decision is to work from this focused centre: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own. Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationship with each other. Become friends with God; God is already friends with you. ” Verse 21 concludes, “How you ask? In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”  

You see, based on Paul’s letters we can tell that the Corinthian community was obsessed with hierarchy- this is clear by the way they challenge Paul’s authority. Within this system was also a practice of exclusion or superiority. So, Paul’s words were a major challenge to them. How could they control who became part of the worshipping community if everyone was equal? How could they demonstrate a level of knowing what was right for their community when the community was beneath them? Paul’s words are not only about a new creation but being equal in God’s love. Equality is still a challenge. 

In the NRSV translation of this passage it begins, “From now on, therefore,” which I think is a very important piece to reconciliation. Within Paul’s context what he is saying is from this point onward- things are different. Christ’s love and dying changed everything- which means we can no longer see ourselves as we did before- we can no longer work within the realms of this earthly hierarchy, we can no longer claim to be superior or think we know better. As author Wendy Lloyd puts it, “We no longer view others in human terms but through the eyes of God’s love for them. We can no longer see ourselves as we once did, but through the gaze of God’s love. This changes everything.”

You know the word reconcile or reconciliation appears five times in six verses. Paul is hammering it home that the outcome of this changed relationship is reconciliation. And that’s important to note too, reconciliation does not happen before the changed relationship; it is a result of the changed relationship. This has been important for me to realize as I come to the table to listen to stories from residential school and inter-generational survivors. Sure, we could say, look it was years ago, get over it, how many times do we have to say we’re  sorry- but that is not demonstrative of a changed relationship- one that works toward reconciliation. I also thought that since I had the desire to work towards reconciliation that, that is where we would start. But the truth is, we have to build a relationship first- equal, humble, loving relationships and then reconciliation can take place. Quite honestly, that shouldn’t have surprised me because that’s how Jesus worked too. Jesus became human first- lived like us, emoted like us, preached about equality, lived humbly, and demonstrated love for all so that he could experience death and only after all that could reconciliation take place through his rising. 

Paul’s words to the church in Corinth likely challenged the congregation- but it was also a challenge to the Roman world- a society that liked to differentiate between race, gender and class. But here Paul says, “oh no, we are not to be defined or separated in this way, but as benefactors of love we are to witness to this changed life, no matter who you are.” As a result we are ambassadors for Christ- and it is clear that the church has not always gotten that right. We have abused that privileged of being an ambassador. But Paul is also insisting that God reconciles us for ministry- we could take that to mean we are superior, that because we have accepted the Good news of the Gospel that we know what’s best for everyone else,  but I don’t think Paul meant it that way or at least didn’t expect it to be manifested in things like residential schools. 

We are mid-way through Lent. We have spent time talking about the relationship between God’s people and the wilderness. We have talked about how the wilderness is a place where God not only teaches lessons but makes promises. Last week it was about growth through repentance and grace in the wilderness- and that we don’t really know how the story ends, but we do know how the story of Easter ends. I don’t think our story of reconciliation will ever end but I do pray that we can be united as God’s beloved children because every child matters and right now we have some communities who are suffering and our focus should be on building relationships with them. Amen 

Sermon March 20 2022

Many years ago, before we arrived in the Comox Valley, we decided to sprout an avocado tree. Seriously, after we had used the avocado we took the pit, stabbed it with some tooth picks, suspended it in water and waited for the roots to grow, which they did.  After a year, a sprout formed from the top and we planted it in some soil. We even moved the small tree from Victoria to Comox. For a couple years it remained a small sprout in our window sill. We had already been warned that it can take seven to thirteen years for an avocado pit to transition from seed to fruit bearing tree. We knew that we would have to commit to moving the tree from indoors to outdoors gradually and than the reverse as the days and nights got cooler. But finally in about year four, we were ready to put this darling little tree outside on our patio and leave it over night. We had checked the weather and knew it would not be too cold- plus all that I had read said it needed some fresh night air and morning dew. So outside, overnight, the little tree went. It only took one night for the deer to find and consume our entire tree. But I suppose I should be grateful that in some respects the tree served a purpose,  it nourished the animals- instead of bearing fruit for us.  There isn’t really a message to this story but I couldn’t help thinking of our former little avocado tree as I heard Jesus share the parable of the fig tree. It only takes a fig tree three to five years to bear fruit, and as I far as I know they are deer resistant. I always look forward to picking up fresh figs from the market.  But what is unique about this parable is that we don’t really know how it ends- did the tree bear fruit or not?

This morning we heard Jesus tell the very challenging parable about a fig tree and the warning against a fruitless existence. This is one of those passages that is convoluted at best but it is made all the more distressing by the passage that precedes it about Pilate mixing blood and a tower bringing destruction. Our passage begins with a warning against presumed spiritual security. Let’s be honest, I think most of us no longer presume much. The pandemic, natural disasters, and the threat of war in Europe has taught us that we are not always safe. We have learned to pivot- more than once. The pandemic has taught us that what might look like a fruitless effort may actual reap some wonderful rewards. All of this will demand some further explanation, especially as we prepare for our AGM following the service, but first we need to unpack our Gospel passage just a bit. 

The conversation begins with some people telling Jesus about some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. In case it is lost in translation, these people are telling Jesus of the murder by Pilate of some Galileans. Now, we could be simply talking about people from Galilee but in all likelihood the term is actually referring to a form of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic speaking people, that the Pharisaic tradition (the ones we hear about most throughout the Gospel) found Galileans to be insufficiently concerned with the Law of Moses.  This is perhaps why, many early Christians were called Galileans because they too were beginning to loosen their observances of various Jewish laws. So, some of the people reporting to Jesus about this slaughter of the Galileans are trying to find out if he thinks their murder was their own fault. Jesus then goes on to also reference eighteen people who were killed, not because of an abhorrent ruler but because of human error when the tower of Siloam fell. Basically, these people are really asking Jesus, “To what extend is God in control or behind all that happens?”

Oh my, I can tell you I have had MANY conversations along similar lines these last couple of years. Did God create covid to teach us a lesson or not?  The problem is, is that Jesus’ answer doesn’t necessarily clear things up. HOWEVER, it is clear that Jesus rejects the idea that those who died got what they deserved- and that my friends is a very very very important lesson as we think about how it relates to our current times. Yes, God is in charge and God has purposes beyond that which we can see yet to be fulfilled- but that does not mean that the evil in this world is of God’s doing.   The Rev. Dr. Grant Barclay, through his use of the text The Providence of God: A Polyphonic Approach by David Fergusson points out, “There is a great deal of scope for human freedom, and much occurs in an incomprehensibly complicated world that we cannot superficially attribute to God.” What happened to the Galileans was not because they were bad people but because they were victims of a brutal and powerful regime. What happened to the people struck by the tower was due to the fact that accidents happen. Barclay goes on, “The world is a risky place where bad things happen- sometimes as a result of selfish human decisions. As meaning-making creatures we instinctively jump to “why” as soon as we have encounter “what”.” And Jesus’ rebuke is supposed to be a lesson in, “don’t jump to conclusions.” 

Jesus is basically saying, we are all sinners, and therefore we cannot evaluate the spiritual condition of others based on whether they do or do not suffer. We need to look to God, not ourselves or our life experiences when it comes to spiritual security, literally thank God for grace. Which is then why Jesus brings up the parable of the fig tree. The death of these people is not reflective of whether they were good or bad people. God was not punishing them or using them as an example or lesson. If God punished that way then we would all be in trouble. Basically, most simplistically, all the bad things in this world, are not a result of God’s doing. However the parable tells us that whatever good we experience comes to us by the grace of God. In giving us grace, God has a purpose- for us to bear fruit. And say we don’t bear fruit- we don’t live out our purpose- yes God is displeased but instead of putting us out to be eaten up by the deer of this world God continues to give us room to grow and produce.

If you’re asking me, if covid is a punishment by God- all I have to do is look to Jesus’ words in this passage and can clearly say, no God did not bring covid upon us to punish us. But has God provided lessons for us- absolutely- just as God does all the time.  It does make a difference how we live and we must take stock of how we are living as a community so that if we are off track, God is at work in our lives to effect the desired change. An AGM is the right time to think about these things.

As we read through our Annual Report it can perhaps feel like we have had another year of barely bearing fruit. In part because the pandemic put a stop to what we were doing before, to our previous status quo.  In a lot of ways, the way we did things before, no longer works, in part because we have a new appreciation for the well being and comfort of others, in part because we are all two years older and our abilities have changed. 

Yet, within these pages I read about a year in which CVPC did things differently, and often successfully. The Missions Committee encouraged us to raise funds for our lenten project- which this year included two local charities. The Session has worked through a bunch of things like covid protocols and grant proposals.  The Finance Committee and Building and Property Committee oversaw the replacement of the furnace and roof as well as numerous other little projects that popped up. The Prayer Group has met faithfully every two weeks throughout this pandemic over zoom, to pray for this church, for every single member and for requests big and small. And I continue to be impressed with the fruitful work of our New Beginnings Building Committee. We definitely still need to evaluate- as always- and ask, are we taking advantage of God’s many graces yet bearing no fruit or are we taking all the good that comes to us by the grace of God and bearing fruit with it?  We may not know how our story ends, all we can do is tend to our tree, protect it from the deer,  and hope it will bear fruit. Amen

Sermon March 13 2022

We are continuing the theme of wilderness wanderings on this our second Sunday in Lent. You know, one of my favourite things about being in the wilderness is the lack of light pollution and therefore the abundance of stars that one can see in the sky. It was always a special treat, when camping as a kid,  to get woken up by Dad who would say, “Jenny come out and look at the stars.” Headlamps in tow we would walk to a clearing, turn off the lamps, and look up. On those nights it was obvious how the Milky way got it’s name. Astronomers estimate that there are septillion stars in the observable universe, that’s a 1 followed by 24 zeros. However, on a good night the most we might see is 2500, which is still mind boggling. Before the invention of electricity, those kinds of nights- and seeing an abundance of stars- were available to most, now they are relegated to nights in the wilderness. Wilderness wanderings aren’t always about fasting or remorse or repentance. Even last week, we learned that the wilderness was both a place of penalty and a place to encounter God. Sometimes wilderness wandersings are simply just good for the body and soul. 

It is on a wilderness night that God speaks to Abram and makes a covenant with him. God takes Abram out of his tent, basically says, “Come out and look at the stars- Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them, so shall your descendants be.”  In this wilderness moment God makes a bold promise, especially given that Abram has yet to have any biological heirs, let alone many!  God actually makes two promises to Abram on this starry night because God also gives a declaration of salvation-a promise of land. While it is vital to focus on the importance of these promises, I am also struck by how Abram carries on this conversation with God- questioning God, confused by God, working through what these promises mean. In the wilderness Abram and God have a full on debate. But perhaps a bit of an Abram 101 is need for us to understand why Abram is questioning God’s promises. 

Abram was the son of Terah and brother to Nahor and Haran, both of whom only have bit mentions in the Genesis 11. Haran is the father of Lot- whose name will likely be familiar, but his story and wilderness wanderings will be for another day. Abram was born in Ur which is in modern day Iraq. After he marries Sarai, he goes with his father, Terah, and nephew Lot toward Canaan. But they don’t quite make it, rather they settle in Haran (yes, that’s the same name as Abram’s brother but this time it’s a place not a person). Why I think this is important information is because we often loose the fact that Abram is a foreigner and a wanderer. After Abram’s father dies he receives a call from God to continue on his journey. Abram and his wife end up in Egypt, which doesn’t go according to plan because Sarai ends up in Pharaoh’s harem and, again, another story for another time. But eventually Abram is wandering in the wilderness again when God calls Abram to continue on to Canaan where God will bless him and make him a great nation. That call is made in Genesis 12. What we hear in Genesis 15 is an affirmation of this call, that  Abram’s descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky.

The fact that Abram is childless is really only part of the problem. Yes, it is true that from the very beginning there is an emphasis on the importance of children. God’s first commandment to humanity is, “be fruitful and multiply.” There is also a great emphasis on genealogy, we know how important it is based on the emphasis on Jesus’ genealogy but genealogies are listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11 and there are whole books of the Bible that were written to outline the genealogies of kings. One’s link to the past is important. So, we can be excused for thinking that the only problem Abram has is that he is childless. However, this covenant made in the wilderness highlights something else. After Abram grieves his lack of children Abram laments that as a consequence Eliezer of Damascus, Abram’s slave will end up his inheritor. Abram’s problem is not just lack of children but his prejudice. 

Thankfully, we know that God’s covenant with Abram is broader than simply a promise of biological children- it is also a promise of land. God promises Abram and all of his descendants that he will have land to possess. For many of us who have been wanderers, people who have travelled far from home for work, people who have served in the military with limited time to put down roots, people who have struggled to afford a place to live; the promise of a place to settle, to land, may be even more comforting than the promise of children. It is also why conversations about identity being tied to the land, whether we are talking about Jewish Settlements, Palestinian refugees or Indigenous rights, can be so passion filled. Land and identity are as intricately linked as one’s family, one’s inheritors. God makes these defining promises with Abram in this undefined wilderness and it is these promises that will shape the future of God and God’s people. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all trace their roots, their identity, to these promises in the wilderness.  

You might find it strange that our passage for this morning then continues to give some of the details about how Abram brings a heifer, goat, ram, turtledove and pigeon and they are cut in half and laid against each other. The reason why this is important is because this is how this particular covenant is cut. Baptist Minister and Hebrew Scholar Justin Michael Reed, points out why these details are important, “This is not just a promise but a type of agreement where humans ensure their obligations with a symbolic gesture that speaks volumes. By treading through a path of blood between animals cut in half, a person “cutting a covenant” symbolically asserts that they will keep their word lest their own body be severed like the animal whose blood they walk through.” That is why these instructions are included. It is also why that piece about the smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between these pieces; because that is depicting God passing “between the carcasses in order to say that God will suffer death if God does not keep this promise.” The almighty, omnipotent, omnipresent God doesn’t need to come down to our human level and walk the same path as we do when we make promises- however God chooses to do that.

People often talk about how small they feel, even insignificant they feel, when they look up and see all those stars. In the wilderness there is beauty but also humility. In fact, in the wilderness, God humbles Godself. In the incarnational story of Jesus God humbles Godself.  In this story God meets Abram at a very human level. In fact, Reed points out, “God [even] concedes to Abram’s prejudicial anxiety about a slave carrying his legacy.” Actually, since we know how the story goes we know that Abram’s fear that a slave will become his inheritor will actually come true- not through Eliezer but through Joseph, Abram’s biological great-great-grandson. Abram’s descendants will become slaves in Egypt yet through Moses they will be freed and will spend the next 40 years, under the stars, in the wilderness.

In conclusion, Abram worries about his future and the future of his inheritance. We all have worries about tomorrow, next month, next year. We all worry about our future- and nothing can augment those worries like being in the wilderness. Sometimes those fears do become realized- just perhaps not always as we expected. But in every situation the truth is that God humbles Godself to walk in that wilderness of worries with us. God passes between the covenants made so that we and God can be in relationship with each other. God tells us to get out of our tents and look at the stars. Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing about this relationship God wants to have with us. Imagine, the God who created all those stars says to us, “Do not be afraid. Look up. I’m in this wilderness with you.” Amen

 

Sermon March 6 2022

Renowned author and theologian Philip Yancey has recently written a devotional book entitled “A Companion in Crisis: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions”. I chose to use this book as my daily devotional throughout the month of February. John Donne wrote his devotions in 1623 while he was serving as the priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London England during a bubonic plague epidemic. Donne, himself began to show symptoms of the illness and it was during this time that he wrote these devotions. Yancey says, “Donne burned, raved and raged. By recording his encounters for posterity, he became a guide who can help us face our own fears and confusion in the midst of a crisis, while also finding a way through it.” It is amazing how these devotions, thanks to Yancey’s modern updating, can truly speak to our own fears and confusion and concerns during this current pandemic. But as we begin the season of lent, I also began to see how Jesus faced his own crises- not the least of which was his own death, but today that crisis is the story of his 40 days in the wilderness.  I began to find connections that I had never realized before- in part because we feel like have been in the wilderness for 2 years. I will share some of Yancey and Donne’s thoughts in a moment but first we have to realize a few things about this oft familiar gospel story. 

In Luke chapter 3 Jesus is publicly baptized. I barely remember the story that we heard two months ago, but what I do remember is how Luke is rather abrupt with the story. Unlike the birth story which includes songs and lengthy details, the baptism is very brief. At the end of Luke chapter 4 Jesus gives his first publicly recorded sermon, stating that he is the fulfilment of the words found in Isaiah. This publicity garners both amazement and anger. But what is interesting is that in between these two very public stories is a very private moment. We are in-between two public stories of Jesus in which, Jesus most have felt very alone. Yes, Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, leading us to believe that the fellowship of the Holy Spirit was with him. And yes, it certainly states that during those forty days he was tempted by the devil, so we can assume the devil was his “travelling companion”  but it must have been a very lonely, even isolating, time for Jesus. He clearly felt some very human feelings- not the least of which was hunger, having not eaten for forty days. Jesus is famished and that is when the devil tries to take advantage of his very human emotions. 

Yancey shares one of Donne’s devotions on solitude that speak to the challenges of our own solitude that occurred during the early days of the pandemic. He writes, “If our greatest misery is sickness, its greatest misery is solitude. Fear of contagion daunts the helpers I need, and even the physician hesitates to visit. As a result, I lie here alone, isolated, a torture that hell itself does not threaten.” The passage continues a little further, “Solitude goes against the natural order, for all of God’s actions manifest a love of community…On earth, families, cities, churches and colleges all comprise of multitudes. Immediately after pronouncing creation good. God saw that it was not good for humans to be alone. So he made Adam a helper, one to increase our number on earth…In contrast, with an infectious disease I’m sentenced to solitude, left utterly alone.”   

  While Jesus was led by the Spirit and had the devil there to tempt him. Jesus was very much alone in the wilderness. For much of the history of God’s people, especially the Israelites, they have a complicated relationship with solitude and the wilderness. Guess what, I love being on my own especially if it’s along a trail or sitting by a campsite. As a borderline introvert I enjoy spending time by myself…but only for a short while. Eventually, I crave human interaction let alone contact. Conversely the wilderness can be a beautiful place- a perfect place to recharge…but after a short while one often begins to crave the conveniences of civilization. For the Israelites, and I would argue for many of us, the wilderness was both a place to get to know God, encounter God, develop a relationship with God, and a place of trials, tribulations and testing, a dangerous place in which they were punished for their disobedience. 

Wendy Lloyd in her commentary says, “It was in the wilderness that God met them in cloud and fire, and it was in the wilderness that God’s law was revealed. But it was also in the wilderness that they wandered for 40 years and they hungered and thirsted; it was in the wilderness that they succumbed to the temptations of power and comfort and worshipped a golden calf instead of the God who rescued them.” Donne, as he lay sick in his bed, struggling with the solitude, also has some beautiful encounters with God but struggles with anger and discomfort. 

Jesus also hungers and thirsts and faces temptations in his wilderness, but unlike the Israelites, conquers those temptations. Jesus also faces this solitude and finds a way for it to strengthen rather than weaken him. In part because each time that the devil tempts him, he picks humility and obedience over pride and pleasure. Through his ability to be humble and obedient Jesus is then prepared to preach good news to the poor, freedom for the oppressed and the year of the Lord’s favour!

I want to say to you that this is what our lenten journey this year should be like- a time of solitude, and reflection and humility in amongst the tempting wilderness BUT let’s get real! We have been in a two year long lenten journey. We have faced a lot of solitude and feeling cut off from our community. Many of us see wearing a mask in public as a very symbol of humility. And we have been wondering in this wilderness- full of ups and downs, full of wonderful encounters with God and deeply devilish temptations. So how do we celebrate or live this church season when it feels like all we have been doing is living it!

Maybe this lent it is about granting time for our inner- solitary- private faith to align with our humble-challenging-public faith. After Donne reflects on or laments his solitude, he realizes that sometimes solitude also brings one closer to God. He writes, “I remind myself that Moses was commanded to approach the Lord alone, and that God came to Jacob when he was alone, and then wrestled with him through the night. Perhaps a state of solitude and desertion best disposes us for God’s drawing near? Like Jacob, I am left alone to wrestle with you and with my conscience, Lord, in a manner that would not occur if others were there to console me?” 

As we begin our lenten journey with communion today may this be a time in which we can walk closer with God- through our solitude and wilderness. May this be a time in which we can turn with humble obedience so that we are strengthened privately for the public life of faith. May this be a time in which we can  reorient ourselves and connect with each other and God. Amen