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June 7, 2020

Bible Text: Matthew 28:16-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional

This week was supposed to be one of the most challenging, perhaps contentious, and definitely divisive meetings in the history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Today, the 146th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada was supposed to begin. And following a year long process of voting by presbyteries on two important remits, the PCC was supposed to finally vote on both the allowance of performing same sex marriage and ordination of ministers who identify as LGBTQ+. Many of us were holding our breaths as results from the various presbyteries came in and we hoped that the denomination would find a way to move forward in unity. In fact, the Pentecostal statements I made last week about unity in diversity was the slogan at last year’s Assembly. And then the world changed in a period of months and for the first time in the denomination’s history, since 1875 the Assembly council made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Assembly. Some breathed a sigh of relief, some breathed sighs of pain that it would be another year of waiting, some see this as an opportunity to live in the space of the Spirit. Regardless, it is difficult when a future that one envisioned, no matter how challenging, changes and when those changes are completely out of our control. For most of us, our summers look completely different then what we had thought. Today is called Trinity Sunday in our church calendar and both of the Scripture passages not only acknowledge this Trinity and what it is but, help us understand how we live in relationship with the Trinity even when our future is uncertain or we are troubled.

First for some context regarding Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. The church in Corith gave Paul, more trouble than all his other churches put together. As we know from the first letter, no sooner would Paul get one issue straightened out that three more would show up. But you know, for all their problems the two letters to the Corinthians are some of Paul’s most profound pieces. While first Corinthians has words of kindness and wonderful language about love it also does not mince words. Some of what he wrote to them was hard for them to hear which results in a response from this congregation with basically, “who are you to tell us what to do?” Clearly they forgot that he was their founding pastor! And so, this second letter is filled with Paul defending and defining his leadership. What we heard this morning, however, is his final salutation. I presume that the reason it is included this Sunday is because it is one of the few passages in the entire Bible that articulates the Trinity. In fact, most of the other times when Paul or any of the other Epistle writers write a send off they neglect to mention the Holy Spirit. Thus this sign off fits in well with our celebration of Trinity Sunday. But what is important to me is Paul’s summation of the letter.

After Paul’s description of what Christian leadership looks like he tells the church in Corith how to move forward with this information. The future will still be challenging but here’s what you do. First you put things in order. Paul might as well had said, get your ducks in a row, create a list, or policy and work from there. That step seems easy enough. But then Paul says, listen to my appeal and agree with one another. Ok, but what if we just can’t.  Perhaps we need to think a little differently about what it means to agree with one another.  In First Corinthians Paul uses a similar turn of phrase but adds that they should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. I don’t think this is an appeal for uniformity. We can be diverse in our expressions and opinions but that they are always rooted in Christ.   As it says in Philippians to have the same mind as Christ when he humbled himself and died for the sake of the world. We should have a humility about our opinions that allows us to find common ground. This unity then helps us with the third step in Paul’s summary which is to live in peace. As a result of those first three steps, putting things in order, agreeing with one another and living in peace, God’s presence will be felt and known, even in the chaos of an uncertain future. Unfortunately the final step that Paul’s tells this congregation to do is to greet one another will a holy kiss. Maybe not. But it is not about the kissing- it’s about the greeting and we can still greet one another with holiness. It reminds us that just as the Trinity works in relationship so do we. And sometimes relationships are hard.

This brings me to the Gospel reading which is another closing and summation. But it is that first sentence in our passage that comes with heartache. The disciples lived in relationship with Jesus and each other for approximately 3 years. They likely knew how to push each other’s buttons and how to lift each other up. Yet, Matthew 28:16 says, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee.” In Matthew, Judas’ betrayal affects Judas so much that he tries to take it back. He goes to the chief priests and tries to return the money but they refuse it. The remorse is so deep that Judas hangs himself. This line in Matthew 28 is the only acknowledgement that the disciples are no longer 12 but 11. Regardless of how they felt about Judas’ betrayal, his death would have affected them. Not to mention that they would still be grieving Jesus’ death. At this point in Matthew the disciples, have only heard rumours of Jesus’ resurrection.  Calling the disciples “bewildered” doesn’t even begin to describe what they are going through. We hear that, when the next verse states that even as they see Jesus in person, some worship while others doubt. In their vulnerability and uncertainty Jesus shows up and “gets them sorted”- gets them organized for their future- as uncertain as it may be.

Jesus commissions them to make disciples, to baptize, to teach and obey and he finishes it all by saying, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  In the chaos of their future, Jesus is with them. In the uncertainty of our future as a denomination or as a people living during a pandemic Jesus is always with us. Joanna Love, who works with Wild goose publishing, the Iona community’s publishing company puts it like this, “The eleven disciples cannot possibly have been all on the same page in processing these life-changing events. At this devastating ending that also led into a remarkable beginning, they were not the finished article, but had to continue to learn, relearn, make mistakes, take risks, get it right, get it wrong, fall out, fail, and keep going. The only sure things for them and for us are that we belong to God and will never be abandoned.” We’ve got this, because the Trinity, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit has us. Amen

May 31, 2020

Bible Text: Acts 2:1-21 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional:

Many of you know that in 2017 Mike and I went to Wittenberg, Germany to participate in the celebrations of the 500 years since the reformation. We went during an annual celebration called Luther’s Hochzeit or wedding, a festival that celebrates Martin Luther’s wedding to Katarina Van Bora. As part of the festival, on the Sunday morning, the City Church, one of two churches associated with Luther’s ministry in this small village, performs a couple’s blessing.  Midway through the worship service, anyone who is in a committed relationship is invited to come forward and receive a blessing from one of the elders. Now, as a none German speaker I sat through the service, recognizing most of the tunes to the hymns and at one point I figured out that the preacher was not actually the priest but the mayor but overall I didn’t really know what was going on. Thankfully, Mike does know some German was able to follow along so when it came time for the blessing I followed him up to the altar and we stood in front of an elderly woman who reached out and said something to us…I have no idea what she said but I think it was special because Mike squeezed my hand and looked lovingly into my eyes. So, I maybe didn’t understand the actual words but I got the gist of it. And the fact that this service took place a week after Pentecost was not lost on me. The Christian church is diverse, truth be told I have attended services in other denominations that were in English and I had trouble understanding what was going on.  But then, I am also always amazed at how the Spirit speaks through the language barrier, or the cultural gap, or the different expressions and provides some enlightenment. For me, that is a big part of the lesson from Pentecost- unity in diversity.

A few years ago our Bible Study group focused on the book of Acts and a portion of the curriculum came from William Willimon’s Interpretation Commentary. I’m leaning heavily on this commentary this morning because it does an incredible job of explaining this fascinating and chaotic story.

While we have split the Easter, the Ascension and the Pentecost stories written by Luke it is likely that Luke intended for them to be read together because each story informs the other. “At Pentecost the power of God, made manifest at the resurrection and ascension of Christ, [which if you recall from last week, happened on the same day] is bestowed upon the People of God.” It is important for us to see how, throughout history and today, that power which has been bestowed upon the people has been used, sometimes abused, by the church.

Today we hear the story of the formation of the church. Yet, what impresses me with this formation,  is that the community itself, the disciples do very little to make it happen. “The community, rather than taking matters into its own hands, getting organized and venturing forth with banners unfurled, has withdrawn to wait and to pray. The next move is up to God.” Just think of that, the apostles have witnessed some pretty incredible things but they have also been instructed to wait. But before we begin to think that they were sitting on their hands doing nothing as they wait, it is important to note that Acts 1 says that they were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer”. Never ever underestimate the power and work of prayer. Prayer can happen and does happen while we are waiting. It is not about doing nothing but actually doing one of the most important actions of our faith- praying.

It is into this time of prayer that Holy Spirit literally bursts in.  They thought it would be just another day of waiting and praying and worshipping together and then there is an eruption of sounds and incredible sights.  What is interesting is that we hear the Spirit before we see it. It is a sound like a rushing violent wind. This is the same wind that shows up in Genesis 1:2 that sweeps over the waters just as God is about to create something new and wild and good. Following the sound of wind comes something like tongues of fire which rests on the disciples. Again, perhaps this harkens back to the burning bush or as we discussed a few weeks ago how fire was used by the prophets to explain how faith is refined. Finally, added to this great eruption of sights and sounds is speech. As all the apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit they begin to speak in various languages. Think about that for a moment, the first gift that the Spirit gives is speech and not just words but the ability to communicate in various languages so that there is opportunity for everyone to understand. I feel that in some way this hits at one of those abuses of power that I alluded to earlier. Historically, instead of the church going into communities and learning the language of the community the church has often insisted that the people learn the language of the missionary. Yet here, in this story it is the apostles who speak the people’s language. The Spirit gives us the power to speak.  We pick up once again on the commission Jesus gave at the ascension that they are to be witnesses, to speak to what they have heard, seen and experienced. Notice this unity in diversity. The Spirit is not speaking to a monoculture but speaks to the diversity of people.

However, the crowd, which comes from various corners of Luke’s known world, are in shock. In their own language they hear these Galilean disciples speaking of God’s deeds of power. While some are amazed, many are perplexed, while others explain it away as inebriation. Willimon says, “The in breaking of the Spirit is profoundly unsettling and deeply threatening to the crowd in the street, and so it must devise some explanation, some rationalization for such irrationality.”  So the Spirit gives us the power to speak but that doesn’t always mean that those words will inspire the listener. I think instead of relating to the apostles, who have gathered once again for prayer while they wait, at this moment I relate best to the diverse crowd. We not only come from a multitude of backgrounds but we also represent a multitude of interpretations. Sometimes the Word of God inspires and fills me with awe. Sometimes the Word of God causes me to be filled with concern. Sometimes the Word of God seems so irrational that I try to rationalize it with nonsense. Sometimes I am more like the confused crowd then the enlightened apostles.

However, out of this confusion one of the apostles becomes a preacher. I think it is also important for us to remember that Peter wasn’t exactly the best orator of the group. Jesus was often chastising him for misunderstanding what Jesus was saying. “Yet here, before the half enquiring, half mocking crowd, Peter is the first, the very first to lift up his voice and proclaim openly the word that only a few weeks before he could not speak.”

I think that often the historical church relied too much on its own instinct and was not open to the Spirit’s guidance. I think the modern church struggles with that too. However, on Pentecost Sunday we are reminded that the Spirit helps us to get the gist of it. Helps us to experience God’s mercy even when we barely understand the language. Helps us celebrate the diversity of God’s people while also remaining unified in Christ. That is one powerful Spirit. Amen

May 24, 2020

Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Every year, except for this one, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington holds an Eagle release day in which one of the Bald Eagles that has spent time recovering at the centre is released into the wild. The public is welcomed to this event and we have been able to take it a couple of times. We gather along a track, like a landing strip, and one of the staff comes out with the eagle in a cage. We are told to sit quietly and to not make any sudden movements. Then the cage door is lifted and we all hold our breath. Usually there is a timid hop from the cage while the Eagle tests out it’s freedom and then in a big swoop it takes off into the trees. We all gasp and clap and then there is a mix of emotions. For many of the staff this is a bitter sweet day. The reward for all their hard work in rehabilitating this eagle is that it leaves them and yet there is the knowledge that this was the ultimate goal. With gratitude the eagle flies off while the crowd is left below looking up. You know the comparison is coming- I bet the disciples can identify with the staff at Wildlife Recovery Centre. They were gathered on a hilltop as Jesus had instructed and it is a bittersweet moment as Jesus ascends in front of their eyes. Jesus rises as they are left below looking up.

Today we are spending time celebrating the Ascension. The day in which Jesus ascends, goes up, leaves, in fact, if some of the neo-classical paintings are correct it looks as if Jesus flies off into heaven. And yet there is a lot to unpack from this short passage in Luke that steps into much deeper territory then the idea that Jesus ascends- that is only part of the story.

First we have to acknowledge the astonishing truth that Luke is the only one to record the ascension. Matthew alludes to it. In Matthew Jesus meets them on the mountain and commissions them but it doesn’t say what happened after. Matthew’s story is more about a resurrection appearance then an ascension. In John, Jesus mentions that the beloved disciple must remain until he comes again- presupposing that Jesus has to go somewhere in order for him to return and Mark never mentions it at all. And yet the ascension is an important part of our theological understanding of who Jesus is. Then, as if the fact that it is only mentioned by Luke isn’t enough, Luke gives two different accounts of the ascension. Today we hear the version that ends the Gospel but Luke also begins the Book of Acts with a slightly different version of events. The version we heard completes the Gospel and thus Jesus ministry whereas the version in Acts begins the book and thus begins the work of the Apostles.         Another important detail to remember is that while it has been seven weeks since we celebrated Easter this story takes place on that first Easter day. Thus far in Luke, for the disciples, they awoke to the women telling them of their visions of angels. Peter affirmed that he saw the linen cloths by themselves. Two followers have run back from Emmaus to say they have broken bread with Jesus and then Jesus, himself has shown up, offered peace. Jesus has spent the evening with them and as night comes he takes them up to a mountain where he blesses and ascends. That’s a lot to take in on one day.

We also see some links between the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus and Jesus appearance to the whole group. In both Jesus’ primary objective is to teach about the fulfillment of Scripture. He opens the dsiciples’ minds to understand the law, the prophets, and the psalms- naming the three important parts of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, or what we call The Old Testament. This helps the disciples understand his death and resurrection within their own religious context and it is what informs the modern church. For Luke’s original audience this was essential, they need to learn how to read Scripture through the lens of Jesus. And that isn’t just a tool for the early church but one we employ often. They are to hold onto their roots, know where they came from, but they are to live it within a modern context. This is what also sets the stage for the book of Acts in which the Gospel begins within the Jewish community but quickly spreads beyond that to include Gentiles, and all nations.

Along with opening up the disciples minds, there are two other important acts which Jesus does in this conversation. First, like in Matthew, Jesus does indeed commission them to be witnesses. They are to wait in Jerusalem until they are given such power but with that power they will be able to witness, tell of the things they have learned. We will touch upon this further next week when we celebrate Pentecost but remember this word witness. Jesus does not commission them to be judges, does not commission them to be prosecutors, does not commission them to be defence lawyers, Jesus commissions them to be witnesses- simply share what they have seen, heard, and experienced.

Second, Jesus’ last act on earth is to bless the disciples. Jesus isn’t just saying goodbye. To bless someone or something is to make it holy.  Jesus’ final gift  is a blessing. In many ways this is a reciprocal blessing because as Jesus blesses them they in turn and go to the temple. After Jesus ascends his followers return to Jerusalem with great joy- I am sure that they are saddened to see Jesus go but they have also been given such great gifts that they go to the temple to continually return blessings to God. Here’s an interesting point, Luke’s Gospel narrative begins with Zechariah in the temple and ends with the disciples in the temple. Gathering for worship is important to Luke.

So how does this all apply to us particularly during a pandemic? The ascension is not so much about where Jesus has gone but rather who Jesus is. The historical, physical Jesus may no longer be here but the work of Christ is lived out through his disciples. The ascension firmly establishes Jesus as God’s right-hand man, or in fact, more than that, Jesus is an equal part of the Trinitarian God. Therefore we read scripture, all of scripture, through that lens. I would also argue it means that we live in our modern context with that lens- continually looking to Christ for the example. We are witnesses- what better time to witness to the grace, love, and mercy of God. But maybe the most relevant and important message from the ascension today is the blessing, making holy. In February, if you had told me that I would be preaching to an online congregation I would have said, “there is no way that could replace the sacred act of gathering together in worship.” But you know what, through your encouragement and prayer- we have managed to make it holy. In all the ways we are gathering together- online, over the phone, in texts and emails- we are taking what used to be mundane and making in sacred. We cherish this time together. It is bittersweet. It is hard. But we aren’t just standing around looking up. God lifts us up on Eagle’s wings. We are blessed. Amen

May 17,2020

Bible Text: John 14:15-21 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional: Comforter, Advocate, Lover

In 1973 country star Dolly Parton decided to end a 7 year business partnership with friend and mentor Porter Wagoner. This was a particularly challenging break up because it was Porter who had introduced the world to Dolly on his television show in 1967. Like many singer-songwriters, Dolly opted to write a song about this heartbreaking decision. That song became one of her biggest hits and the best selling single of 1974. Later the song made a comeback in 1992 when it was produced by David Foster and covered by Whitney Houston for the film The Bodyguard. Now, there is no way you want to hear me try to sing the song, “I Will Always Love You” . The song is about a break up but instead of it being a song about revenge or anger it is about parting with respect. And it was named one of the top 10 best love songs of all time by Billboard Records. While I haven’t done a lot of research on this I’m pretty confident that love is the predominant theme in most songs. Often it is about lost love but sometimes it is about found love or love a job or love of family. Even most of our worship songs are about love for God.

Did you know that love is mentioned 57 times by Jesus in the Gospel of John alone?  Jesus uses two Greek verbs throughout John to describe love, agapao and phileo. Phileo is often described as “brotherly love” or friendship. Agape love is the highest form of love, love between God and humanity and vice versa. Our passage this morning begins and ends with statements about love. Jesus begins in verse 15 with “If you love me you will keep my commandments” and ends verse 21 with “and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them.” In both of those instances Jesus is referring to agape love- a high love. This is not a sentimental love song kind of love but a love that is active, alive even. Today we continue to hear words from Jesus’ Farewell discourse. Last week it was about dwelling or feeling at home in God’s presence but also about doing the work to build that relationship. This morning Jesus builds on what that relationship will look like.

The word “keep” in this passage, as in “keep my commandments”, can refer to obeying or following. When we follow Jesus’ commandments we are actively engaging in a high love. It is also important that we understand that the commandments Jesus is referring to here is not really the 10 commandments rather it is the new commandment that Jesus gave to the disciples back in chapter 13: 34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  I know not all of us like schmaltzy, honeyed, or sappy talk of love but this is not what Jesus is talking about. This is daily discipleship! Doing the impossible task of loving one another as Christ loved us.

But before we begin to feel discouraged because it is impossible to live this high love on a daily basis.  Jesus assures the disciples that they will get a little help living this love.  Jesus will ask God to send another Advocate, the Spirit of truth. Note that Jesus says another advocate, implying that he was the first advocate. As we heard last week the disciples are anxious that Jesus is leaving them and that they will be without him to guide and teach them. Here Jesus assures them that while he is leaving, they will not be left alone. And the astonishing thing is that the Spirit of truth will be able to accomplish more than what Jesus did in his ministry. Whereas Jesus could only be in the flesh at one place at one time, by the Spirit Jesus will be with all of his followers all the time.

This Spirit will help them become the leaders and revealers of God’s love that they are meant to be. This sentiment is also meant to give hope to anyone of us who have not had a one on one encounter with the historical Jesus. We, who have come millenniums after Jesus  are not at a disadvantage because the Spirit continues to advocate, guide and comfort us.

Again knowing the Greek word used in this passage is helpful- and any of you who speak Greek know that I am butchering the language. Often when the Holy Spirit is referred to throughout the other Gospels they use the Greek term pneuma meaning breath or soul. But John and only John uses parakletos to describe the Spirit and that is often translated as advocate (as it is in the NRSV), or comforter, or encourager or helper. It can even mean defence lawyer.  Instead of picking one of these definitions I think it is important that we understand all of them and how this plays into our understanding of agape love. The spirit advocates for us- gives voice when we are voiceless and pleads our case. The Spirit defends us and gives us the words to say in our defence.  The Spirit comforts us-gives us sustenance when we struggle to support ourselves and others. The Spirit helps us overcome our ignorance. The Spirit encourages us- lifts us when we are discouraged. The Spirit pushes us to have the courage and confidence we need to express our faith.  The Spirit helps us- gives us guidance when we are having trouble staying on track. The Spirit reminds us of what we have learned and leads us into truth.  I dare say that, that is how Jesus also wants us to keep his commandment to love one another, to advocate, to comfort, to encourage to help.  The three of us who are leading these devotionals have certainly felt your encouragement and the Spirit’s guidance as we bumble along. I know many of you are reaching out to those within our community without internet to ensure that they too can feel connected. You are bringing them comfort. There are numerous ways as we continue to worship and live in this manner in which we can be open to the Spirit and keep Christ’s commandments.

Craig Koester, New Testament Professor at Lutheran Seminary, says “Coming to faith is similar to falling in love. One cannot fall in love in the abstract. Love comes through an encounter with another person. The same is true of faith. If faith is a relationship with the Living God, with the living Jesus, then faith can only come through an encounter with them. And the Spirit is the one who makes this presence known for us.” Feel this presence even as we are physically separated. And know that Jesus promises to always love you.  Amen

May 10,2020

Bible Text: John 14:1-14 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional : Certain smells can make me feel right at home. For example, the home in which I grew up was often filled with my Mom’s baking and cooking whether it was bread, banana loaf, or chocolate chip cookies or some of her signature dishes like Hamburger pie, Grandma’s goo or the dish with mushroom soup and chicken. A lot of people have been baking lately, I know this because every time I go to get Flour the shelves are (nearly) empty! Perhaps a lot of children will remember this time of isolation with the smell of freshly baked bread.  I was pretty privileged to live in a home where Mom baked and cooked, thanks Mom, Happy Mother’s day- If I even smell a hint of those smells I feel at home. Spending so much time at home has made me think what does that turn of phrase really mean, “to feel at home.” In a lot of ways I think it means feeling safe, comfortable, even rested. But Jesus adds some layers to feeling at home as we hear part of the farewell discourse in John this morning.

Jesus and the disciples have gathered in an upper room- not their own home but a residence in Jerusalem where they can celebrate the familiar ritual of the Passover together. This very special meal includes all kinds of symbols, flavours and smells. The meal is well underway when Jesus gets up and starts washing the disciples’ feet, an incredibly intimate act. After-which, Jesus returns to the table and breaks bread and begins to discuss both his betrayal and how they should love one another.  Judas Iscariot has stormed out and the rest of the disciples are really confused. These disciples, some of whom were uneducated fishermen, some of whom were tax collectors, some of whom were likely women, begin to get themselves worked up over the events of the evening. They are troubled and anxious. And it is into this discussion that our Scripture reading for this morning breaks in.

Jesus urges them not to be troubled and tells them of the Father’s house.  This heavenly villa has many dwelling places, a lot of room, and Jesus shares that he will be going to prepare a place in this dwelling for them, a place of safety? A place of comfort? A place of rest?  Now the imagery of an actual home, mansion, or villa can get in the way of the theology of the passage. Many of us imagine this being an actual physical   place in heaven, yet Jesus never uses the term heaven in this passage. It has also been used to argue something like the rapture even though Jesus never mentions anything like that, or it has been used to exclude rather than include others implying that space is limited when in fact the point Jesus is making is that there is room for everyone. What is key is that Jesus says “where I am, you will also be”. Home is not necessarily a building but with Jesus- wherever Jesus takes us.

Just as this passage has caused confusion among scholars the whole phrasing is too much for Thomas and Philip. I really appreciate their honesty.  They don’t want to hear anymore parables or metaphors or allegories.  Thomas wants specific directions. Thomas wants a clear map.  Jesus then uses an I AM statement- opening up a comparison between this conversation and the one Moses had at the burning bush and says “I am the way, the truth and life.” The way “home” is to be completely dependent on Jesus and Jesus’ relationship with God, to trust in Jesus. Philip interjects and also wants something a little more concrete. “Show us the Father”, he demands. And Jesus basically says, “Look! Here I am!”

This is perhaps where we can truly appreciate the anxiety that the disciples are experiencing. This anxiety and worry about being left by Jesus is clouding and confusing their vision, their understanding and their hope. I think as a result Jesus tries to redirect the conversation and moves away from talk of home or returning and simply asks them to trust that Jesus and God are one. To know Jesus is to know God.

Often this passage is used at funerals or in some reference to a future time when Jesus will come back and then take us away. But what Jesus is really saying is that God is at work here and now, not only through Jesus but through the disciples. One commentary points out, “Jesus’ imperative is to remind the disciples that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they can handle His mission from here. It is in their hands to feed the hungry, heal the sick, welcome the stranger.” This is made all the more clear by the closing verses of this passage when Jesus states, “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

But sometimes fear, as with Thomas and Philip in this discourse, can close our ears and hearts to words of hope. It is particularly difficult to hear words of assurance when we have had heartfelt prayers that have gone unanswered, when our hearts are broken and our trust has been shattered. I know we all have been praying for an end to the spread of this virus.  Jesus even tells the disciples that if they really mean it, if they pray with honesty and truth, that those desires will be fulfilled. So what happens when things don’t turn out the way we had hoped?  But what Jesus is saying is that there is room in this relationship for honest acknowledgement of our confusion, our lack of power or control, our frustration when our requests seemingly go unheard. In all those experiences we are called to continue to trust and abide, believe, in the most authentic way, in Jesus.

We all struggle with the feeling that God is absent from our world at some point. Often instead of safety we are surrounded by uncertainty and fear, instead of comfort we have trauma or grief, instead of rest we are agitated and anxious. But this discourse between Jesus and the disciples reminds us that God is not absent nor are we waiting for God to show up but rather God is here. God has come. When Jesus says I AM the way we realize that God is present in the life and ministry of Jesus. God is at work, even in this pandemic. We may not have the luxury of seeing or hearing the physical Jesus, currently we do not have the luxury of seeing each other in person, but in his commandment to love one another we are encouraged to look at the faces before us- even in pictures or online or in our minds and see Jesus in them.

The disciples are anxious and afraid so when they hear Jesus reference a dwelling place they want to go, they want to be where they feel safe, comfortable and rested. But Jesus tells them home is where they need to get to work. We have been spending a lot of time in our literal homes but the work we are doing to stay physically a part is having an affect. It seems to be working. And God is dwelling with us. That’s what feeling at home means. Amen

May 3,2020

Bible Text: John 10:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional:

Throughout my teenage years I spent almost every summer either attending or working at summer camps- three camps or programs were instrumental in me hearing a call to ministry, Camp Kintail on the shores of Lake Huron, Presbyterian Music Camp in the Muskokas and Summer Experience- a travelling musical and Vacation Bible Camp  throughout southwestern Ontario. Central to all three was the music, whether it was around a campfire or during morning chapel or a workshop. I even spent one summer as the Music and Drama director at Camp Kintail. The songs I learned then still haunt me at times and it is why I tend to lean on music trivia for sermon illustrations. Through our church’s ministry of Hymns and Hers, where Heather and I sing to and sometimes with home bound or hospitalized members of the church I know how music can leave a lasting impression upon us. For some of those people, regular conversation is no longer possible and yet when we start to sing they join in, singing every word. So, when I came to the lectionary reading for this morning and it touched upon the incredible image of Jesus as the Shepherd and his followers as sheep,  the only thing that went on in my brain was a classic camp song. It has been stuck in my head for two weeks.

“I only wanna be a sheep, Babababa, I only wanna be a sheep, Babababa, I pray           the Lord my soul to keep. I only wanna be a sheep, Babababa.

I don’t wanna be a hypocrite, I don’t wanna be a hypocrite, cause they’re not hip         with it, I don’t wanna be a hypocrite.

I only wanna be a sheep, Babababa, I only wanna be a sheep, Babababa, I pray the     Lord my soul to keep. I only wanna be a sheep, Babababa.”

Now, You understand why Carol Anne is the one who leads the hymns. But this camp song that I sang for decades growing up never had deep theological implications for me, it was just a song about being a sheep that follows Jesus, until I began to study this passage from John.

Shepherd imagery was used regularly throughout the Old Testament. The most famous psalm, psalm 23 begins with “the Lord is my shepherd”. Both Moses and David were shepherds and they are regarded as the epitome of strong and steadfast leadership for the Israelites. The prophets also used shepherd imagery often lamenting politicians as bad shepherds who were leading the flock astray. In fact, in both Israelite and Greco-Roman traditions the term shepherd was used as a political term for rulers. Which means that both the Jewish and Gentile audiences of John’s gospel would have understood what John meant by Jesus being a Good Shepherd.

I only wanna be a sheep indeed- who wouldn’t want to follow a leader willing to guide their flock to safety and abundance. But this discourse creates some confusion and does not reflect the pastoral images of shepherds from the Old Testament. Instead Jesus brings up thieves, bandits and strangers and even mixes the metaphors. In fact, our passage explicitly says that “they did not understand what he was saying to them.” What is important for us to realize is who “they” are. Who are the people Jesus is speaking to?

Our passage is a continuation of a conversation that Jesus is having with the Pharisees. Just before our text Jesus had not only healed a blind man but then the Pharisees were so shocked by this healing that they interrogate the blind man and eventually Jesus on what right he had to heal blindness. Jesus then accuses the Pharisees of being spiritually blind  and our reading is a continuation of that accusation. Jesus is widening the division between his ministry and the Pharisees in this passage and what we also miss this morning is the fact that the Pharisees will end this conversation by trying to stone Jesus for his heretical claims. In John, this ends up being the last conversation Jesus will directly  have with the pharisees and it is what will precipitate their plot to kill him. Jesus’ claim that he is the good shepherd is what will get him killed. To be one of this Shepherd’s sheep means that they will see their shepherd die, laying down his life for the sheep. I only wanna be a sheep?

But there is also the confusing imagery of Jesus not only being the shepherd but the gate. While the shepherd imagery would have been familiar to this audience, a person being the gate itself would have seemed strange.  New Testament scholar Barbara Rossing helps to understand the gate reference, “Jesus has already said that anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate is a thief and bandit- a possible veiled reference to the Pharisees. With the claim to be the gate, Jesus lays out an urgent either/or choice between himself as the entry point versus all others.” Jesus is offering a choice, do you wanna be a sheep?

At the time that this gospel was written the Judeo-Christian community was under attack. Those Jews who had decided to also follow the Gospel were doing so in secret because otherwise they would have been expelled from their synagogues and families. So these words of Jesus bring comfort as they begin to think about “going public” with their faith. Jesus promises that they will be saved, they will find pastures, and abundant life- perhaps not in the immediate future but in their life as Jesus’ sheep.

Along with shepherd imagery, abundance is also used throughout the Old Testament as a way in which God cares for God’s people. Think of the story of manna from heaven or in psalm 23 in which one’s cup overflows, or  the feeding of the thousands with just two loaves and three fish. Our world often functions on a scarcity model with the myth that there just isn’t enough wealth to go around- and yet, perhaps what our current situation has taught us is that when there is real need, needs can be met. And perhaps that is the role of the church right now- we are to be stewards of God’s abundance.

I only wanna be a sheep, babababa. I pray the Lord my soul to keep, but it’s not just about my soul- its about the soul of this world, a world in need of being kept safe, a world in need of well being, a world that is full of abundance so long as we follow the example of the Good Shepherd, leading with love, giving generously, staying in touch,   even in such challenging times. Amen

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