Game Day

Bible Text: Mark 1:21-28, Deuteronomy 18:15-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Let me preface this sermon by saying I know nothing about American football, truth be told, I know nothing about any style of football. In University I went to the games and yelled when the ball was going in the right direction, but that really is about it. My mother, on the other hand, is a huge fan. As a result I felt I should do a little research for this afternoon’s game and assuming that some of you are like me I thought I would share what I found out. According to nfl.com the match up between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots (and yes, I even had to Google who was playing in the Superbowl) has the potential to be an outstanding game. It is a match up that pits a legendary coach and quaterback combo against the greatest defence of the era. Tom Brady, that’s the qb for the patriots, is heading into his sixth super bowl appearance. Russel Wilson, the qb for the Seahawks, I am told conjures up memories of a young Brady who “plays wise beyond his years. Now the two passers collide.” I really do not know what any of this means but it does make it sound like this afternoon’s game is going to be exciting. Makes you want to watch the game doesn’t it. It appears that it will be an equal fight and whoever wins this Superbowl will have some authority among other teams. Many commentators are calling it a classic old guard-new guard match up with the stakes at their highest.
The match up between Jesus and this unclean spirit was hardly fair. More over, the scene in this Capernaum synagogue, a place of prayer, teaching, worship and community, centres around the question of Jesus’ authority. Mark wants us to know at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry that Jesus’ authority will be contested. Jesus’ very presence, words, and actions threaten the other forces that claim authority over people’s lives, be they religious teachings, idols, distractions, or darkness. In particular the religious authority but others as we discover in this story, have something to lose, have a lot to lose.
It is a difficult passage because we are uncomfortable with the subject matter. Possessions, exorcisms, demons and unclean spirits are all subjects for horror films rather than our real life experience and there have been many discussions over the years about whether this person was suffering from a possession or mental illness and perhaps in the future I will go down that road a little further but it also strikes me that whether it was one or the other that is not the point of the story. Regardless of his situation Jesus heals this man. I also decided that I needed to look at it from a socio-historical perspective. The people who witnessed this event and certainly Mark and the early readers all believed and interpreted that this man was suffering from the presence of an unclean spirit and so to delve into the story we must also look at it from that perspective, how the original readers would have understood it.
This man, with an unclean spirit, seeks Jesus out in the synagogue. The first question he asks is a strange one, “What have you to do with us​?” It seems to convey something more like, “Why are you here to pick this fight? Couldn’t you have just left things alone?” It appears that Jesus, by his sheer presence in this sacred place has upset the order and crossed a margin. Time and time again Jesus crosses an established boundary and tears it down.
The next question, “Have you come to destroy us?” appears to be a fearful acknowledgement on the part of the unclean spirit that their end is in sight. This spirits’ fate is sealed because at that moment it leaves the man’s body- where it goes Mark does not elaborate. But the authority and power it once had with this man is gone. In some ways this man foreshadows teachings Jesus will share about the religious authority- how they who thought they would be first will actually be last. How the structured order will be turned upside down. How what once had great authority over other’s lives will no longer have power. It also foreshadows Jesus’ death- that what once gripped and crippled the people- sin and death- will be no longer, will have no position of power.
Also those present at this astonishing event are surprised and it resonates with reactions that Jesus will have throughout his ministry. I love the language used to describe how the people felt, “they were amazed!” The fact that Jesus is allowed to teach in the synagogue is not necessarily remarkable but what captures their attention is the manner in which he teaches- with such authority, with such knowledge and wisdom, with such confidence in the Word of God. The religious authority and scholars of the Torah see this as a challenge. If you recall from last week the disciples are northerners, what do they know about the Torah? What authority do they have? Matt Skinner, a new testament theologian calls Jesus’ teaching style, “More declarative than deliberative. That is, he interprets the law and speaks on behalf of God without engaging in much dialogue about the traditions, as the scribes were known to do… at minimum, this passage provokes us to stop assuming that “the way things are” must always equal “the way things have to be.””
This is early on in Mark’s gospel and so he is establishing a clear understanding of Jesus’ nature. Mark clearly chooses to portray Jesus within the prophetic tradition that is referred to in the Deuteronomy passage. Mark establishes that it is Jesus who has the ultimate authority, who is the ultimate winner, who provides the ultimate forgiveness, who is the ultimate mediator between God and God’s people. It is also important to note that Mark portrays Jesus as one who works on God’s behalf in particular ways. Notice how Jesus is not the one who declares any authority. Jesus doesn’t even demand that people listen to him. Rather the attention and fame he receives are through his actions of healing a man who is tortured internally by the presence of the unclean spirit. At this very early stage in his ministry it is not through his words but through his actions that others see him as someone to pay attention to. Jesus demonstrates his power as one filled with God’s Spirit through an act of liberating compassion.
I tried to imagine what it would be like for those first observers those people who came to the synagogue for prayer and ended up having a trans-formative experience. How amazing that would be. I wondered, where and when are we still amazed by Jesus’ authority? The theme for this Sunday calls for a discernment of the presence of God’s love and justice in the midst of words and deeds. We should be amazed at the continual liberating compassion of the gospel in the actions of those around us. Today, Superbowl Sunday, often has a different focus but if you recall we are still in the midst of epiphany, a time of year when we focus on God revealing a presence in our world. It is not just about acknowledging these past manifestations of Jesus’ greatness, authority and wisdom. It’s about being amazed now! Through Christ we are part of a winning team! Amen

February 1, 2015

Bible Text: Mark 1:21-28, Deuteronomy 18:15-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Let me preface this sermon by saying I know nothing about American football, truth be told, I know nothing about any style of football. In University I went to the games and yelled when the ball was going in the right direction, but that really is about it. My mother, on the other hand, is a huge fan. As a result I felt I should do a little research for this afternoon's game and assuming that some of you are like me I thought I would share what I found out. According to nfl.com the match up between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots (and yes, I even had to Google who was playing in the Superbowl) has the potential to be an outstanding game. It is a match up that pits a legendary coach and quaterback combo against the greatest defence of the era. Tom Brady, that's the qb for the patriots, is heading into his sixth super bowl appearance. Russel Wilson, the qb for the Seahawks, I am told conjures up memories of a young Brady who “plays wise beyond his years. Now the two passers collide.” I really do not know what any of this means but it does make it sound like this afternoon's game is going to be exciting. Makes you want to watch the game doesn't it. It appears that it will be an equal fight and whoever wins this Superbowl will have some authority among other teams. Many commentators are calling it a classic old guard-new guard match up with the stakes at their highest.
The match up between Jesus and this unclean spirit was hardly fair. More over, the scene in this Capernaum synagogue, a place of prayer, teaching, worship and community, centres around the question of Jesus' authority. Mark wants us to know at the outset of Jesus' public ministry that Jesus' authority will be contested. Jesus' very presence, words, and actions threaten the other forces that claim authority over people's lives, be they religious teachings, idols, distractions, or darkness. In particular the religious authority but others as we discover in this story, have something to lose, have a lot to lose.
It is a difficult passage because we are uncomfortable with the subject matter. Possessions, exorcisms, demons and unclean spirits are all subjects for horror films rather than our real life experience and there have been many discussions over the years about whether this person was suffering from a possession or mental illness and perhaps in the future I will go down that road a little further but it also strikes me that whether it was one or the other that is not the point of the story. Regardless of his situation Jesus heals this man. I also decided that I needed to look at it from a socio-historical perspective. The people who witnessed this event and certainly Mark and the early readers all believed and interpreted that this man was suffering from the presence of an unclean spirit and so to delve into the story we must also look at it from that perspective, how the original readers would have understood it.
This man, with an unclean spirit, seeks Jesus out in the synagogue. The first question he asks is a strange one, “What have you to do with us​?” It seems to convey something more like, “Why are you here to pick this fight? Couldn't you have just left things alone?” It appears that Jesus, by his sheer presence in this sacred place has upset the order and crossed a margin. Time and time again Jesus crosses an established boundary and tears it down.
The next question, “Have you come to destroy us?” appears to be a fearful acknowledgement on the part of the unclean spirit that their end is in sight. This spirits' fate is sealed because at that moment it leaves the man's body- where it goes Mark does not elaborate. But the authority and power it once had with this man is gone. In some ways this man foreshadows teachings Jesus will share about the religious authority- how they who thought they would be first will actually be last. How the structured order will be turned upside down. How what once had great authority over other's lives will no longer have power. It also foreshadows Jesus' death- that what once gripped and crippled the people- sin and death- will be no longer, will have no position of power.
Also those present at this astonishing event are surprised and it resonates with reactions that Jesus will have throughout his ministry. I love the language used to describe how the people felt, “they were amazed!” The fact that Jesus is allowed to teach in the synagogue is not necessarily remarkable but what captures their attention is the manner in which he teaches- with such authority, with such knowledge and wisdom, with such confidence in the Word of God. The religious authority and scholars of the Torah see this as a challenge. If you recall from last week the disciples are northerners, what do they know about the Torah? What authority do they have? Matt Skinner, a new testament theologian calls Jesus' teaching style, “More declarative than deliberative. That is, he interprets the law and speaks on behalf of God without engaging in much dialogue about the traditions, as the scribes were known to do... at minimum, this passage provokes us to stop assuming that “the way things are” must always equal “the way things have to be.””
This is early on in Mark's gospel and so he is establishing a clear understanding of Jesus' nature. Mark clearly chooses to portray Jesus within the prophetic tradition that is referred to in the Deuteronomy passage. Mark establishes that it is Jesus who has the ultimate authority, who is the ultimate winner, who provides the ultimate forgiveness, who is the ultimate mediator between God and God's people. It is also important to note that Mark portrays Jesus as one who works on God's behalf in particular ways. Notice how Jesus is not the one who declares any authority. Jesus doesn't even demand that people listen to him. Rather the attention and fame he receives are through his actions of healing a man who is tortured internally by the presence of the unclean spirit. At this very early stage in his ministry it is not through his words but through his actions that others see him as someone to pay attention to. Jesus demonstrates his power as one filled with God's Spirit through an act of liberating compassion.
I tried to imagine what it would be like for those first observers those people who came to the synagogue for prayer and ended up having a trans-formative experience. How amazing that would be. I wondered, where and when are we still amazed by Jesus' authority? The theme for this Sunday calls for a discernment of the presence of God's love and justice in the midst of words and deeds. We should be amazed at the continual liberating compassion of the gospel in the actions of those around us. Today, Superbowl Sunday, often has a different focus but if you recall we are still in the midst of epiphany, a time of year when we focus on God revealing a presence in our world. It is not just about acknowledging these past manifestations of Jesus' greatness, authority and wisdom. It's about being amazed now! Through Christ we are part of a winning team! Amen

Bible Text: Mark 1:21-28, Deuteronomy 18:15-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Let me preface this sermon by saying I know nothing about American football, truth be told, I know nothing about any style of football. In University I went to the games and yelled when the ball was going in the right direction, but that really is about it. My mother, on the other hand, is a huge fan. As a result I felt I should do a little research for this afternoon’s game and assuming that some of you are like me I thought I would share what I found out. According to nfl.com the match up between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots (and yes, I even had to Google who was playing in the Superbowl) has the potential to be an outstanding game. It is a match up that pits a legendary coach and quaterback combo against the greatest defence of the era. Tom Brady, that’s the qb for the patriots, is heading into his sixth super bowl appearance. Russel Wilson, the qb for the Seahawks, I am told conjures up memories of a young Brady who “plays wise beyond his years. Now the two passers collide.” I really do not know what any of this means but it does make it sound like this afternoon’s game is going to be exciting. Makes you want to watch the game doesn’t it. It appears that it will be an equal fight and whoever wins this Superbowl will have some authority among other teams. Many commentators are calling it a classic old guard-new guard match up with the stakes at their highest.
The match up between Jesus and this unclean spirit was hardly fair. More over, the scene in this Capernaum synagogue, a place of prayer, teaching, worship and community, centres around the question of Jesus’ authority. Mark wants us to know at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry that Jesus’ authority will be contested. Jesus’ very presence, words, and actions threaten the other forces that claim authority over people’s lives, be they religious teachings, idols, distractions, or darkness. In particular the religious authority but others as we discover in this story, have something to lose, have a lot to lose.
It is a difficult passage because we are uncomfortable with the subject matter. Possessions, exorcisms, demons and unclean spirits are all subjects for horror films rather than our real life experience and there have been many discussions over the years about whether this person was suffering from a possession or mental illness and perhaps in the future I will go down that road a little further but it also strikes me that whether it was one or the other that is not the point of the story. Regardless of his situation Jesus heals this man. I also decided that I needed to look at it from a socio-historical perspective. The people who witnessed this event and certainly Mark and the early readers all believed and interpreted that this man was suffering from the presence of an unclean spirit and so to delve into the story we must also look at it from that perspective, how the original readers would have understood it.
This man, with an unclean spirit, seeks Jesus out in the synagogue. The first question he asks is a strange one, “What have you to do with us​?” It seems to convey something more like, “Why are you here to pick this fight? Couldn’t you have just left things alone?” It appears that Jesus, by his sheer presence in this sacred place has upset the order and crossed a margin. Time and time again Jesus crosses an established boundary and tears it down.
The next question, “Have you come to destroy us?” appears to be a fearful acknowledgement on the part of the unclean spirit that their end is in sight. This spirits’ fate is sealed because at that moment it leaves the man’s body- where it goes Mark does not elaborate. But the authority and power it once had with this man is gone. In some ways this man foreshadows teachings Jesus will share about the religious authority- how they who thought they would be first will actually be last. How the structured order will be turned upside down. How what once had great authority over other’s lives will no longer have power. It also foreshadows Jesus’ death- that what once gripped and crippled the people- sin and death- will be no longer, will have no position of power.
Also those present at this astonishing event are surprised and it resonates with reactions that Jesus will have throughout his ministry. I love the language used to describe how the people felt, “they were amazed!” The fact that Jesus is allowed to teach in the synagogue is not necessarily remarkable but what captures their attention is the manner in which he teaches- with such authority, with such knowledge and wisdom, with such confidence in the Word of God. The religious authority and scholars of the Torah see this as a challenge. If you recall from last week the disciples are northerners, what do they know about the Torah? What authority do they have? Matt Skinner, a new testament theologian calls Jesus’ teaching style, “More declarative than deliberative. That is, he interprets the law and speaks on behalf of God without engaging in much dialogue about the traditions, as the scribes were known to do… at minimum, this passage provokes us to stop assuming that “the way things are” must always equal “the way things have to be.””
This is early on in Mark’s gospel and so he is establishing a clear understanding of Jesus’ nature. Mark clearly chooses to portray Jesus within the prophetic tradition that is referred to in the Deuteronomy passage. Mark establishes that it is Jesus who has the ultimate authority, who is the ultimate winner, who provides the ultimate forgiveness, who is the ultimate mediator between God and God’s people. It is also important to note that Mark portrays Jesus as one who works on God’s behalf in particular ways. Notice how Jesus is not the one who declares any authority. Jesus doesn’t even demand that people listen to him. Rather the attention and fame he receives are through his actions of healing a man who is tortured internally by the presence of the unclean spirit. At this very early stage in his ministry it is not through his words but through his actions that others see him as someone to pay attention to. Jesus demonstrates his power as one filled with God’s Spirit through an act of liberating compassion.
I tried to imagine what it would be like for those first observers those people who came to the synagogue for prayer and ended up having a trans-formative experience. How amazing that would be. I wondered, where and when are we still amazed by Jesus’ authority? The theme for this Sunday calls for a discernment of the presence of God’s love and justice in the midst of words and deeds. We should be amazed at the continual liberating compassion of the gospel in the actions of those around us. Today, Superbowl Sunday, often has a different focus but if you recall we are still in the midst of epiphany, a time of year when we focus on God revealing a presence in our world. It is not just about acknowledging these past manifestations of Jesus’ greatness, authority and wisdom. It’s about being amazed now! Through Christ we are part of a winning team! Amen

The Roaring Twenties

Bible Text: Mark 1:14-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Well, look at you now Comox Valley Presbyterian Church. Twenty years ago 45 people became charter members, 15 more joined as adherents, and twenty children attended the presbytery service of constitution on January 24, 1995. The presbytery was then moderated by Ivan Cronsberry. The congregation now holds steady at just over 100 (105) members and 50 adherents (52). This is a big deal. Sure you’re only twenty but at 18 you moved out and started a life all on your own following the final mortgage payment. Do you remember what you were doing in your twenties? The twenties is when we will really come of age. It’s when we really grow up. It’s the college years. A time when a lot of mistakes are made, a lot of fun is had, a time when true friendships are solidified, a time when we start to seriously think about our identity and future. It is both an exciting time and scary time. There are a lot of unknowns. And not all twenty year olds are the same. Perhaps what separates us from other 20 year olds is that we know we are getting older and not as invincible as we once were, we know our future is fragile and we know we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
Today’s gospel lesson continues the story from last week. It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and he is calling his first disciples. Today Jesus calls four fishermen at the Sea of Galilee, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. It is a powerful moment in the Gospel because there seems to be little to no hesitation. What separates these four disciples from Philip and Nathaniel in last week’s reading is that Philip and Nathaniel were already disciples of John, they had been preparing for Jesus’ arrival, and even so, Nathaniel is a little hesitant and as we discovered needed an extra nudge. Whereas these four fishermen seem to be caught unawares and yet they simply drop their nets. Jesus calls out, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” The NRSV says, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”Eugene Peterson’s The Message interprets, “They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.” They became disciples, just like that.
Other than their names and former occupations we don’t really know much about these disciples. We do know that they are northerners- men from the northern province of Galilee. This is interesting because the capital of Israel is Jerusalem which is in a Southern province, formerly known as the Southern kingdom. Jerusalem is also the religious centre of the Jewish faith in part due to the fact that it is the location of the temple. As a result it is not at all surprising that when Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem they are greeted with scepticism. Jesus and his disciples would naturally be considered outsiders. They are northerners, what do they know about faith and practice? Perhaps that’s the point, they don’t have to know much about faith and practice to be faithful followers.
With this basic information we can tell that these companions were ordinary men (and certainly there is evidence that there were ordinary women disciples as well). Jesus doesn’t appear to check references or even assess their abilities. There are certainly no tests with regards to their knowledge of the Torah or even if they practice their faith on a regular basis, what about their prayer life, does it even exist? I’m betting that these four, being fishermen, probably lived according to the schedule of the fish not the Sabbath. But Jesus called them, no matter their ability or experience, status or i.q. In fact, some of the disciples were of such ill repute that they gave Jesus a bad reputation just for following him. We also know that they were not perfect and certainly struggled to understand Jesus’ teachings. Despite this example of them leaving their nets and immediately following him we know they did not always follow so blindly. Peter denied and Judas betrayed him. Yet, Jesus personally chose and called each one of these ordinary fishermen.
We often refer to being called by God when talking about clergy but God’s call is not limited to ordained ministers. We believe God calls each one of us, ordinary people, regardless of status or iq, ability or experience. Over twenty years ago God called a group of people together in this valley, close to fifteen years ago a building began to take shape, around ten years ago, despite pain and challenges this congregation grew even more and out of sorrow arose a caring community, about five years ago new programs and ministries were introduced, one year ago my church family grew. Each one of you is called- no matter how ordinary and no matter what wisdom. You have been personally chosen. New Testament scholar Deborah Krause says, “[In this Gospel passage] one message is clear: God calls God’s people and creation into a transformed relationship with God. This transformation requires a release from our preconceptions and assumptions about who is and is not worthy of God’s love and mercy.”
When the disciples were called by Jesus there must have been something remarkable about him because they left their lives to begin an unknown journey. They followed him into an uncertain future. These disciples followed Jesus with no idea where it would lead. Perhaps if they had known how long the journey would be, or how much work it would take, or the pain they would experience they would not have left and followed in the first place. But when all was said and done few of them had regrets- yes, they probably would have done a few things differently but they realized that they had been privy to God in their midst.
God’s call is always into an uncertain future. When we enter into our callings we have no idea how it will all end up. However, if we use the gifts and talents God has given us, when we open ourselves up to the Spirit’s guidance, when we take that journey together we can look back and realize that God was indeed in our midst and if God was in our midst during those first twenty years imagine how much more God will be present with us as we head into the unknown future together. Amen

January 25, 2015

Bible Text: Mark 1:14-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Well, look at you now Comox Valley Presbyterian Church. Twenty years ago 45 people became charter members, 15 more joined as adherents, and twenty children attended the presbytery service of constitution on January 24, 1995. The presbytery was then moderated by Ivan Cronsberry. The congregation now holds steady at just over 100 (105) members and 50 adherents (52). This is a big deal. Sure you're only twenty but at 18 you moved out and started a life all on your own following the final mortgage payment. Do you remember what you were doing in your twenties? The twenties is when we will really come of age. It's when we really grow up. It's the college years. A time when a lot of mistakes are made, a lot of fun is had, a time when true friendships are solidified, a time when we start to seriously think about our identity and future. It is both an exciting time and scary time. There are a lot of unknowns. And not all twenty year olds are the same. Perhaps what separates us from other 20 year olds is that we know we are getting older and not as invincible as we once were, we know our future is fragile and we know we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
Today's gospel lesson continues the story from last week. It is the beginning of Jesus' ministry and he is calling his first disciples. Today Jesus calls four fishermen at the Sea of Galilee, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. It is a powerful moment in the Gospel because there seems to be little to no hesitation. What separates these four disciples from Philip and Nathaniel in last week's reading is that Philip and Nathaniel were already disciples of John, they had been preparing for Jesus' arrival, and even so, Nathaniel is a little hesitant and as we discovered needed an extra nudge. Whereas these four fishermen seem to be caught unawares and yet they simply drop their nets. Jesus calls out, “Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” The NRSV says, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”Eugene Peterson's The Message interprets, “They didn't ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.” They became disciples, just like that.
Other than their names and former occupations we don't really know much about these disciples. We do know that they are northerners- men from the northern province of Galilee. This is interesting because the capital of Israel is Jerusalem which is in a Southern province, formerly known as the Southern kingdom. Jerusalem is also the religious centre of the Jewish faith in part due to the fact that it is the location of the temple. As a result it is not at all surprising that when Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem they are greeted with scepticism. Jesus and his disciples would naturally be considered outsiders. They are northerners, what do they know about faith and practice? Perhaps that's the point, they don't have to know much about faith and practice to be faithful followers.
With this basic information we can tell that these companions were ordinary men (and certainly there is evidence that there were ordinary women disciples as well). Jesus doesn't appear to check references or even assess their abilities. There are certainly no tests with regards to their knowledge of the Torah or even if they practice their faith on a regular basis, what about their prayer life, does it even exist? I'm betting that these four, being fishermen, probably lived according to the schedule of the fish not the Sabbath. But Jesus called them, no matter their ability or experience, status or i.q. In fact, some of the disciples were of such ill repute that they gave Jesus a bad reputation just for following him. We also know that they were not perfect and certainly struggled to understand Jesus' teachings. Despite this example of them leaving their nets and immediately following him we know they did not always follow so blindly. Peter denied and Judas betrayed him. Yet, Jesus personally chose and called each one of these ordinary fishermen.
We often refer to being called by God when talking about clergy but God's call is not limited to ordained ministers. We believe God calls each one of us, ordinary people, regardless of status or iq, ability or experience. Over twenty years ago God called a group of people together in this valley, close to fifteen years ago a building began to take shape, around ten years ago, despite pain and challenges this congregation grew even more and out of sorrow arose a caring community, about five years ago new programs and ministries were introduced, one year ago my church family grew. Each one of you is called- no matter how ordinary and no matter what wisdom. You have been personally chosen. New Testament scholar Deborah Krause says, “[In this Gospel passage] one message is clear: God calls God's people and creation into a transformed relationship with God. This transformation requires a release from our preconceptions and assumptions about who is and is not worthy of God's love and mercy.”
When the disciples were called by Jesus there must have been something remarkable about him because they left their lives to begin an unknown journey. They followed him into an uncertain future. These disciples followed Jesus with no idea where it would lead. Perhaps if they had known how long the journey would be, or how much work it would take, or the pain they would experience they would not have left and followed in the first place. But when all was said and done few of them had regrets- yes, they probably would have done a few things differently but they realized that they had been privy to God in their midst.
God's call is always into an uncertain future. When we enter into our callings we have no idea how it will all end up. However, if we use the gifts and talents God has given us, when we open ourselves up to the Spirit's guidance, when we take that journey together we can look back and realize that God was indeed in our midst and if God was in our midst during those first twenty years imagine how much more God will be present with us as we head into the unknown future together. Amen

Bible Text: Mark 1:14-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Well, look at you now Comox Valley Presbyterian Church. Twenty years ago 45 people became charter members, 15 more joined as adherents, and twenty children attended the presbytery service of constitution on January 24, 1995. The presbytery was then moderated by Ivan Cronsberry. The congregation now holds steady at just over 100 (105) members and 50 adherents (52). This is a big deal. Sure you’re only twenty but at 18 you moved out and started a life all on your own following the final mortgage payment. Do you remember what you were doing in your twenties? The twenties is when we will really come of age. It’s when we really grow up. It’s the college years. A time when a lot of mistakes are made, a lot of fun is had, a time when true friendships are solidified, a time when we start to seriously think about our identity and future. It is both an exciting time and scary time. There are a lot of unknowns. And not all twenty year olds are the same. Perhaps what separates us from other 20 year olds is that we know we are getting older and not as invincible as we once were, we know our future is fragile and we know we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
Today’s gospel lesson continues the story from last week. It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and he is calling his first disciples. Today Jesus calls four fishermen at the Sea of Galilee, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. It is a powerful moment in the Gospel because there seems to be little to no hesitation. What separates these four disciples from Philip and Nathaniel in last week’s reading is that Philip and Nathaniel were already disciples of John, they had been preparing for Jesus’ arrival, and even so, Nathaniel is a little hesitant and as we discovered needed an extra nudge. Whereas these four fishermen seem to be caught unawares and yet they simply drop their nets. Jesus calls out, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” The NRSV says, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”Eugene Peterson’s The Message interprets, “They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.” They became disciples, just like that.
Other than their names and former occupations we don’t really know much about these disciples. We do know that they are northerners- men from the northern province of Galilee. This is interesting because the capital of Israel is Jerusalem which is in a Southern province, formerly known as the Southern kingdom. Jerusalem is also the religious centre of the Jewish faith in part due to the fact that it is the location of the temple. As a result it is not at all surprising that when Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem they are greeted with scepticism. Jesus and his disciples would naturally be considered outsiders. They are northerners, what do they know about faith and practice? Perhaps that’s the point, they don’t have to know much about faith and practice to be faithful followers.
With this basic information we can tell that these companions were ordinary men (and certainly there is evidence that there were ordinary women disciples as well). Jesus doesn’t appear to check references or even assess their abilities. There are certainly no tests with regards to their knowledge of the Torah or even if they practice their faith on a regular basis, what about their prayer life, does it even exist? I’m betting that these four, being fishermen, probably lived according to the schedule of the fish not the Sabbath. But Jesus called them, no matter their ability or experience, status or i.q. In fact, some of the disciples were of such ill repute that they gave Jesus a bad reputation just for following him. We also know that they were not perfect and certainly struggled to understand Jesus’ teachings. Despite this example of them leaving their nets and immediately following him we know they did not always follow so blindly. Peter denied and Judas betrayed him. Yet, Jesus personally chose and called each one of these ordinary fishermen.
We often refer to being called by God when talking about clergy but God’s call is not limited to ordained ministers. We believe God calls each one of us, ordinary people, regardless of status or iq, ability or experience. Over twenty years ago God called a group of people together in this valley, close to fifteen years ago a building began to take shape, around ten years ago, despite pain and challenges this congregation grew even more and out of sorrow arose a caring community, about five years ago new programs and ministries were introduced, one year ago my church family grew. Each one of you is called- no matter how ordinary and no matter what wisdom. You have been personally chosen. New Testament scholar Deborah Krause says, “[In this Gospel passage] one message is clear: God calls God’s people and creation into a transformed relationship with God. This transformation requires a release from our preconceptions and assumptions about who is and is not worthy of God’s love and mercy.”
When the disciples were called by Jesus there must have been something remarkable about him because they left their lives to begin an unknown journey. They followed him into an uncertain future. These disciples followed Jesus with no idea where it would lead. Perhaps if they had known how long the journey would be, or how much work it would take, or the pain they would experience they would not have left and followed in the first place. But when all was said and done few of them had regrets- yes, they probably would have done a few things differently but they realized that they had been privy to God in their midst.
God’s call is always into an uncertain future. When we enter into our callings we have no idea how it will all end up. However, if we use the gifts and talents God has given us, when we open ourselves up to the Spirit’s guidance, when we take that journey together we can look back and realize that God was indeed in our midst and if God was in our midst during those first twenty years imagine how much more God will be present with us as we head into the unknown future together. Amen

Nudges

Bible Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

I enjoy listening to a program on CBC radio called, Under the Influence, it exposes some of the secrets in advertising and is hosted by Terry O’Reilly, a advertizing guru. On one such episode I heard about Nudge Marketing. Nudge Marketing is when an organization uses small nudges to gently steer people toward making more positive decisions in their lives. Nudges are often small and invisible to the untrained ear or eye. Often resembling whispers. Here is an example. In Britain, the government tried to encourage homeowners to insulate their attics to save energy costs and prevent heat loss. They worked on creating all kinds of campaigns that gave compelling economic reasons why the public should insulate their attics including monetary incentives and subsidies. However, nothing seemed to be working. There was a great lack of interest and the government couldn’t figure out why. When they researched a little further they stumbled upon the reason for the resistance. The British people simply did not want to clear out all the junk in their attics. The attic being the predominant place for storage. Perhaps it was embarrassing, perhaps it was too difficult, but mostly it was because the mere thought of having to clear out their attics was enough for people to forgo the energy and economic savings of insulation. Once the government figured out this problem they teamed up with a home improvement company and offered an attic cleaning service. The amount of people who insulated their attics doubled. The attic cleaning offer was the nudge people needed to get to a bigger issue. This nudge marketing worked so well that the British government soon began to experiment with other nudges. For example, they discovered that people who were behind in paying their taxes responded to handwritten notes far better than computer-generated ones. Prime Minister David Cameron saw how great the effects of these nudges were that he set up an official “nudge unit”, making Britain the first country to adopt nudging as part of their strategy but they certainly weren’t the last.
Learning about nudge marketing made me think about how we often refer to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. That sometimes we experience nudges that make us do something a little out of routine but ultimately have a positive effect. Or perhaps a nudge reminds us that we should check in on a friend, pray for someone in need, or follow up with a comment. We sometimes call those nudges the prompting of the Holy Spirit from within. I’m not suggesting that the Holy Spirit or God are using dirty marketing tricks but rather are truly using nudge marketing in the best way possible, truly nudging people toward making a positive decision in their lives. When we think about the various ways in which God calls us we realize that nudging is one such way. But how often are we open to these nudges? And how often do we ignore them or mistake them for something else or even, like Samuel, someone else?
The passage from 1st Samuel was the first one to direct me down the path of Spirit nudges. Samuel is a young man, perhaps a teen, and he is living in the temple with an elderly priest, Eli. In the middle of the night Samuel receives these nudges, a voice, calling out his name. There are two very interesting sentences in this passage. The first, “The word of the Lord was rare or precious and visions were not frequent.” This is the only time such a phrase comes up in the entire Bible. The Hebrew word for rare is typically reserved for items like precious gems, something that is extremely valuable due to pure lack of supply. For the first time in memorable history the word of the Lord is in short supply. It does not explain why all of a sudden God’s voice and visions are no longer abundant it just simply states that they are. Perhaps it is because people had started to tune out the Spirit’s nudges. If not during the time of Samuel than it reflects the time now. Certainly we could claim that like Samuel’s time “The word of the Lord is rare or precious and visions are not frequent.” But it is not because God has stopped communicating but rather that we have stopped listening.
The second interesting phrase is that it says that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord” which is why for the first three times that Samuel heard the nudges he mistook it for the voice of Eli. I do find it a little strange that Samuel has been living in the temple for most of his childhood and yet he still doesn’t know the Lord. If I was the one in charge of the Sunday, rather Sabbath School, I would be a little concerned and definitely reviewing the curriculum. However, God called out to Samuel despite Samuel not knowing the Lord and God did not give up but rather the voice continued to call until Samuel was ready to answer. Despite the chances that most of the time we miss the nudges of the Spirit, the Spirit continues to nudge and call us. Despite the chances that we may not know or understand the Spirit in the fullest sense, the Spirit continues to nudge and call us.
Thankfully we also have the examples of the disciples to teach us about these nudges and sometimes a nudge comes not from our inner being but from others. When Philip meets Jesus he is ready to follow, straightaway, no nudge required. Then he goes to tell Nathaniel and says, “We have found the one promised in the Old Testament.” Nathaniel needs a little more nudging. After all, nothing good seems to come out of Nazareth, let alone a prophet or even the Messiah. But Philip responds, just come and see for yourself! This is important as well. Philip didn’t feel the need to try and analyze or even answer Nathaniel’s scepticism. He didn’t need to “prove” anything. Philip could have given Nathaniel some of his own thoughts on the matter. Instead he just simply says, come and see. Come and experience it for yourself. Sometimes when we try to express to people why they should come to church we feel we have to prove something but perhaps we should just say, “Come and see for yourself!” Sure Nathaniel continues to be sceptical until he truly experiences a meeting with Jesus, and talk about a nudge that brings about a positive change. Nathaniel is so impressed that he calls Jesus the Son of God and King of Israel. Philip used another marketing tool, word of mouth. In fact, we know that ‘word of mouth’ is one of the best ways to advertise but it is also the way in which Jesus managed to meet the needs of the most people. Jesus did not send out emails, Facebook updates or tweets, just simply travelled the countryside and by word of mouth the people came. Philip was not the only one to say, “Come and see for yourself!”
Samuel and the disciples are not unwilling to hear God, but they still struggle with discerning how God is revealing God’s self. Who are you in these stories of nudges? Are you Samuel, who can hear the nudges but doesn’t quite understand? Are you Nathaniel, who needs physical evidence and someone to nudge him along? Are you Philip who doesn’t need any nudging at all but rather nudges other people? I suspect we are each one at different times. Nevertheless, we must remain open to the Spirit’s nudges so that we can experience God in Christ in the fullest way and as followers of Jesus it isn’t our job to try to prove anything but rather invite people to “Come and See. And experience it for themselves!” Be open to the Spirit’s nudges in your life and be ready to nudge others. Amen

January 18, 2015

Bible Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

I enjoy listening to a program on CBC radio called, Under the Influence, it exposes some of the secrets in advertising and is hosted by Terry O'Reilly, a advertizing guru. On one such episode I heard about Nudge Marketing. Nudge Marketing is when an organization uses small nudges to gently steer people toward making more positive decisions in their lives. Nudges are often small and invisible to the untrained ear or eye. Often resembling whispers. Here is an example. In Britain, the government tried to encourage homeowners to insulate their attics to save energy costs and prevent heat loss. They worked on creating all kinds of campaigns that gave compelling economic reasons why the public should insulate their attics including monetary incentives and subsidies. However, nothing seemed to be working. There was a great lack of interest and the government couldn't figure out why. When they researched a little further they stumbled upon the reason for the resistance. The British people simply did not want to clear out all the junk in their attics. The attic being the predominant place for storage. Perhaps it was embarrassing, perhaps it was too difficult, but mostly it was because the mere thought of having to clear out their attics was enough for people to forgo the energy and economic savings of insulation. Once the government figured out this problem they teamed up with a home improvement company and offered an attic cleaning service. The amount of people who insulated their attics doubled. The attic cleaning offer was the nudge people needed to get to a bigger issue. This nudge marketing worked so well that the British government soon began to experiment with other nudges. For example, they discovered that people who were behind in paying their taxes responded to handwritten notes far better than computer-generated ones. Prime Minister David Cameron saw how great the effects of these nudges were that he set up an official “nudge unit”, making Britain the first country to adopt nudging as part of their strategy but they certainly weren't the last.
Learning about nudge marketing made me think about how we often refer to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. That sometimes we experience nudges that make us do something a little out of routine but ultimately have a positive effect. Or perhaps a nudge reminds us that we should check in on a friend, pray for someone in need, or follow up with a comment. We sometimes call those nudges the prompting of the Holy Spirit from within. I'm not suggesting that the Holy Spirit or God are using dirty marketing tricks but rather are truly using nudge marketing in the best way possible, truly nudging people toward making a positive decision in their lives. When we think about the various ways in which God calls us we realize that nudging is one such way. But how often are we open to these nudges? And how often do we ignore them or mistake them for something else or even, like Samuel, someone else?
The passage from 1st Samuel was the first one to direct me down the path of Spirit nudges. Samuel is a young man, perhaps a teen, and he is living in the temple with an elderly priest, Eli. In the middle of the night Samuel receives these nudges, a voice, calling out his name. There are two very interesting sentences in this passage. The first, “The word of the Lord was rare or precious and visions were not frequent.” This is the only time such a phrase comes up in the entire Bible. The Hebrew word for rare is typically reserved for items like precious gems, something that is extremely valuable due to pure lack of supply. For the first time in memorable history the word of the Lord is in short supply. It does not explain why all of a sudden God's voice and visions are no longer abundant it just simply states that they are. Perhaps it is because people had started to tune out the Spirit's nudges. If not during the time of Samuel than it reflects the time now. Certainly we could claim that like Samuel's time “The word of the Lord is rare or precious and visions are not frequent.” But it is not because God has stopped communicating but rather that we have stopped listening.
The second interesting phrase is that it says that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord” which is why for the first three times that Samuel heard the nudges he mistook it for the voice of Eli. I do find it a little strange that Samuel has been living in the temple for most of his childhood and yet he still doesn't know the Lord. If I was the one in charge of the Sunday, rather Sabbath School, I would be a little concerned and definitely reviewing the curriculum. However, God called out to Samuel despite Samuel not knowing the Lord and God did not give up but rather the voice continued to call until Samuel was ready to answer. Despite the chances that most of the time we miss the nudges of the Spirit, the Spirit continues to nudge and call us. Despite the chances that we may not know or understand the Spirit in the fullest sense, the Spirit continues to nudge and call us.
Thankfully we also have the examples of the disciples to teach us about these nudges and sometimes a nudge comes not from our inner being but from others. When Philip meets Jesus he is ready to follow, straightaway, no nudge required. Then he goes to tell Nathaniel and says, “We have found the one promised in the Old Testament.” Nathaniel needs a little more nudging. After all, nothing good seems to come out of Nazareth, let alone a prophet or even the Messiah. But Philip responds, just come and see for yourself! This is important as well. Philip didn't feel the need to try and analyze or even answer Nathaniel's scepticism. He didn't need to “prove” anything. Philip could have given Nathaniel some of his own thoughts on the matter. Instead he just simply says, come and see. Come and experience it for yourself. Sometimes when we try to express to people why they should come to church we feel we have to prove something but perhaps we should just say, “Come and see for yourself!” Sure Nathaniel continues to be sceptical until he truly experiences a meeting with Jesus, and talk about a nudge that brings about a positive change. Nathaniel is so impressed that he calls Jesus the Son of God and King of Israel. Philip used another marketing tool, word of mouth. In fact, we know that 'word of mouth' is one of the best ways to advertise but it is also the way in which Jesus managed to meet the needs of the most people. Jesus did not send out emails, Facebook updates or tweets, just simply travelled the countryside and by word of mouth the people came. Philip was not the only one to say, “Come and see for yourself!”
Samuel and the disciples are not unwilling to hear God, but they still struggle with discerning how God is revealing God's self. Who are you in these stories of nudges? Are you Samuel, who can hear the nudges but doesn't quite understand? Are you Nathaniel, who needs physical evidence and someone to nudge him along? Are you Philip who doesn't need any nudging at all but rather nudges other people? I suspect we are each one at different times. Nevertheless, we must remain open to the Spirit's nudges so that we can experience God in Christ in the fullest way and as followers of Jesus it isn't our job to try to prove anything but rather invite people to “Come and See. And experience it for themselves!” Be open to the Spirit's nudges in your life and be ready to nudge others. Amen

Bible Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

I enjoy listening to a program on CBC radio called, Under the Influence, it exposes some of the secrets in advertising and is hosted by Terry O’Reilly, a advertizing guru. On one such episode I heard about Nudge Marketing. Nudge Marketing is when an organization uses small nudges to gently steer people toward making more positive decisions in their lives. Nudges are often small and invisible to the untrained ear or eye. Often resembling whispers. Here is an example. In Britain, the government tried to encourage homeowners to insulate their attics to save energy costs and prevent heat loss. They worked on creating all kinds of campaigns that gave compelling economic reasons why the public should insulate their attics including monetary incentives and subsidies. However, nothing seemed to be working. There was a great lack of interest and the government couldn’t figure out why. When they researched a little further they stumbled upon the reason for the resistance. The British people simply did not want to clear out all the junk in their attics. The attic being the predominant place for storage. Perhaps it was embarrassing, perhaps it was too difficult, but mostly it was because the mere thought of having to clear out their attics was enough for people to forgo the energy and economic savings of insulation. Once the government figured out this problem they teamed up with a home improvement company and offered an attic cleaning service. The amount of people who insulated their attics doubled. The attic cleaning offer was the nudge people needed to get to a bigger issue. This nudge marketing worked so well that the British government soon began to experiment with other nudges. For example, they discovered that people who were behind in paying their taxes responded to handwritten notes far better than computer-generated ones. Prime Minister David Cameron saw how great the effects of these nudges were that he set up an official “nudge unit”, making Britain the first country to adopt nudging as part of their strategy but they certainly weren’t the last.
Learning about nudge marketing made me think about how we often refer to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. That sometimes we experience nudges that make us do something a little out of routine but ultimately have a positive effect. Or perhaps a nudge reminds us that we should check in on a friend, pray for someone in need, or follow up with a comment. We sometimes call those nudges the prompting of the Holy Spirit from within. I’m not suggesting that the Holy Spirit or God are using dirty marketing tricks but rather are truly using nudge marketing in the best way possible, truly nudging people toward making a positive decision in their lives. When we think about the various ways in which God calls us we realize that nudging is one such way. But how often are we open to these nudges? And how often do we ignore them or mistake them for something else or even, like Samuel, someone else?
The passage from 1st Samuel was the first one to direct me down the path of Spirit nudges. Samuel is a young man, perhaps a teen, and he is living in the temple with an elderly priest, Eli. In the middle of the night Samuel receives these nudges, a voice, calling out his name. There are two very interesting sentences in this passage. The first, “The word of the Lord was rare or precious and visions were not frequent.” This is the only time such a phrase comes up in the entire Bible. The Hebrew word for rare is typically reserved for items like precious gems, something that is extremely valuable due to pure lack of supply. For the first time in memorable history the word of the Lord is in short supply. It does not explain why all of a sudden God’s voice and visions are no longer abundant it just simply states that they are. Perhaps it is because people had started to tune out the Spirit’s nudges. If not during the time of Samuel than it reflects the time now. Certainly we could claim that like Samuel’s time “The word of the Lord is rare or precious and visions are not frequent.” But it is not because God has stopped communicating but rather that we have stopped listening.
The second interesting phrase is that it says that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord” which is why for the first three times that Samuel heard the nudges he mistook it for the voice of Eli. I do find it a little strange that Samuel has been living in the temple for most of his childhood and yet he still doesn’t know the Lord. If I was the one in charge of the Sunday, rather Sabbath School, I would be a little concerned and definitely reviewing the curriculum. However, God called out to Samuel despite Samuel not knowing the Lord and God did not give up but rather the voice continued to call until Samuel was ready to answer. Despite the chances that most of the time we miss the nudges of the Spirit, the Spirit continues to nudge and call us. Despite the chances that we may not know or understand the Spirit in the fullest sense, the Spirit continues to nudge and call us.
Thankfully we also have the examples of the disciples to teach us about these nudges and sometimes a nudge comes not from our inner being but from others. When Philip meets Jesus he is ready to follow, straightaway, no nudge required. Then he goes to tell Nathaniel and says, “We have found the one promised in the Old Testament.” Nathaniel needs a little more nudging. After all, nothing good seems to come out of Nazareth, let alone a prophet or even the Messiah. But Philip responds, just come and see for yourself! This is important as well. Philip didn’t feel the need to try and analyze or even answer Nathaniel’s scepticism. He didn’t need to “prove” anything. Philip could have given Nathaniel some of his own thoughts on the matter. Instead he just simply says, come and see. Come and experience it for yourself. Sometimes when we try to express to people why they should come to church we feel we have to prove something but perhaps we should just say, “Come and see for yourself!” Sure Nathaniel continues to be sceptical until he truly experiences a meeting with Jesus, and talk about a nudge that brings about a positive change. Nathaniel is so impressed that he calls Jesus the Son of God and King of Israel. Philip used another marketing tool, word of mouth. In fact, we know that ‘word of mouth’ is one of the best ways to advertise but it is also the way in which Jesus managed to meet the needs of the most people. Jesus did not send out emails, Facebook updates or tweets, just simply travelled the countryside and by word of mouth the people came. Philip was not the only one to say, “Come and see for yourself!”
Samuel and the disciples are not unwilling to hear God, but they still struggle with discerning how God is revealing God’s self. Who are you in these stories of nudges? Are you Samuel, who can hear the nudges but doesn’t quite understand? Are you Nathaniel, who needs physical evidence and someone to nudge him along? Are you Philip who doesn’t need any nudging at all but rather nudges other people? I suspect we are each one at different times. Nevertheless, we must remain open to the Spirit’s nudges so that we can experience God in Christ in the fullest way and as followers of Jesus it isn’t our job to try to prove anything but rather invite people to “Come and See. And experience it for themselves!” Be open to the Spirit’s nudges in your life and be ready to nudge others. Amen

What’s a baptism?

Bible Text: Mark 1:4-11 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Many of you have likely heard of or know the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote incredible texts on discipleship, prayer and theology. He was a professor of systematic theology at the University of Berlin before being ordained as a Lutheran pastor. Two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address in which he attacked Hitler and warned Germany against slipping into an idolatrous cult. He was cut off the air in the middle of a sentence. He became vehemently opposed to Hitler’s behaviour and participated in Nazi resistance. As a result he was arrested in April 1943 by Gestapo and imprisoned for one and half years before being transferred to a concentration camp. On April 9th, 1945, just two weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp he was executed. But as he was led to his death he said to one of the prison guards, “For some this is the end, but for me it is the beginning.” Bonhoeffer was so confident in the acts of baptism that he knew he had already died and been reborn. I question whether I would have such faith. In all honesty it has been awhile since I thought about the theology of baptism or the reasons for baptism. However, as I read Bonhoeffer’s remarks I was moved to truly delve into what baptism means. And baptism is complicated. I truly believe we take it for granted and perhaps we sometimes misuse the act of baptism. If you will indulge me, I think a sermon on baptism is in order, if not for you, then for me. To help us build up confidence in our own baptisms. Baptism is one of two sacraments within our tradition, it is fundamental to our practices and faith. However, we often use baptism more of a rite of passage than a transformed life. Yet, even for Jesus baptism signified a change and a new beginning.
For Mark, the baptism of Jesus is an origin story. Mark does not start his gospel with stories of Jesus’ birth or childhood but immediately begins with Jesus’ baptism. That is because, for Mark, it is the baptism that begins Jesus’ ministry. It is not the birth story that has importance but the re-birth story that is most influential in the life and work and ministry of Christ. For Mark this origin is deeply rooted within the convenantal promises of the God of Israel. A new Elijah, John, stands outside Jerusalem in the wilderness, preaching baptism for the forgiveness of sins. People are drawn to him, if not for confidence but for curiosity. Jesus arrives on the scene and is anointed with God’s presence and blessing to begin a ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God in this world. When we are baptized we are anointed with God’s presence and blessing. In his baptism Jesus is confirmed as the one who will bring forth the Holy Spirit. Jesus not only announces but also bears in his person and through his actions the very presence of God. Through Jesus’ baptism heaven and earth are joined.
Jesus’ baptism changed the face of baptism forever. John’s baptism had two components, repentance and forgiveness. Our very own baptismal words reflect renouncing evil and turning from sin but also forgiving our old life so that we may begin anew. Jesus himself is clear that to be baptized is to lead a new way of living. However, when Jesus is baptized there is another component, that of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit became a part of the regular practices of the early church. When the crowds saw and understood the disciples they asked Peter how they should respond to this witness and he said that they should repent, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As we know there are clear distinctions within denominations about baptism. The issue of infant baptism versus believer’s baptism has divided churches. Clearly as early as our Acts passage there were different views of baptism. The Presbyterian church is very comfortable with infant baptism and here are a few reasons why. Throughout the book of Acts there are references to entire households being baptized. Often a parent in the family would convert to Christianity and one of the Apostles would come and baptize not only that parent but the spouse and children as well. Baptism always follows faith either the faith of the person being baptized or the faith of the parents. There are also passages in the New Testament that compare baptism to the rite of circumcision, by which infant boys are made a part of the people of the covenant. Despite the divisions about when one should be baptized we can all agree that baptism is always done in faith and that children who are learning the faith are indeed part of God’s people.
Related is the reality that baptism is also not an individual act. In baptism we become part of the people of God. We are baptized into the one body. In baptism we become part of the Christ’s body. We are baptized into something- into a family, adopted and loved. The Living Faith states, that “baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” This is the point Bonhoeffer was making. Perhaps it is a bit obtuse or morose but this is the freedom we talk about over Christmas and Easter. That we die in baptism, with Christ, but we also rise up to new life in Christ.
In today’s Gospel reading when we look at the meaning of Jesus’ baptism we realize that we are baptized into something greater than ourselves. That there should be a noted change that takes place at baptism. Michael Rogness, a homeletic professor at Luther Seminary says, “We often speak of baptism as a “means of grace” that is, one of the ways that God’s grace comes to us. Physically it’s only a small splash of water, but it marks the beginning of a whole new life- of forgiveness, of the presence of God’s Spirit, of our union with Jesus and our becoming part of the world-wide Christian church.”
I’m betting that so many of us were baptized either as children or so long ago that we barely remember. It appears as though our lives haven’t changed all that much. Presbyterians don’t do re-baptisms but we do, do reaffirmations. If you were baptized long ago re-affirm your commitment with Christ, re-affirm the transformation into new life. Maybe our new year’s resolutions have failed but the good news is that through baptism we are invited to constantly re-affirm who we are in Christ. If you have not been baptized, well, we do have a membership Sunday coming up and it is never to late. And when Jesus was baptized he was reminded that he was beloved by God. This is our reminder that we, too, are beloved of God and known by name. Have confidence in your baptism. Amen

January 11, 2015

Bible Text: Mark 1:4-11 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Many of you have likely heard of or know the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote incredible texts on discipleship, prayer and theology. He was a professor of systematic theology at the University of Berlin before being ordained as a Lutheran pastor. Two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address in which he attacked Hitler and warned Germany against slipping into an idolatrous cult. He was cut off the air in the middle of a sentence. He became vehemently opposed to Hitler's behaviour and participated in Nazi resistance. As a result he was arrested in April 1943 by Gestapo and imprisoned for one and half years before being transferred to a concentration camp. On April 9th, 1945, just two weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp he was executed. But as he was led to his death he said to one of the prison guards, “For some this is the end, but for me it is the beginning.” Bonhoeffer was so confident in the acts of baptism that he knew he had already died and been reborn. I question whether I would have such faith. In all honesty it has been awhile since I thought about the theology of baptism or the reasons for baptism. However, as I read Bonhoeffer's remarks I was moved to truly delve into what baptism means. And baptism is complicated. I truly believe we take it for granted and perhaps we sometimes misuse the act of baptism. If you will indulge me, I think a sermon on baptism is in order, if not for you, then for me. To help us build up confidence in our own baptisms. Baptism is one of two sacraments within our tradition, it is fundamental to our practices and faith. However, we often use baptism more of a rite of passage than a transformed life. Yet, even for Jesus baptism signified a change and a new beginning.
For Mark, the baptism of Jesus is an origin story. Mark does not start his gospel with stories of Jesus' birth or childhood but immediately begins with Jesus' baptism. That is because, for Mark, it is the baptism that begins Jesus' ministry. It is not the birth story that has importance but the re-birth story that is most influential in the life and work and ministry of Christ. For Mark this origin is deeply rooted within the convenantal promises of the God of Israel. A new Elijah, John, stands outside Jerusalem in the wilderness, preaching baptism for the forgiveness of sins. People are drawn to him, if not for confidence but for curiosity. Jesus arrives on the scene and is anointed with God's presence and blessing to begin a ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God in this world. When we are baptized we are anointed with God's presence and blessing. In his baptism Jesus is confirmed as the one who will bring forth the Holy Spirit. Jesus not only announces but also bears in his person and through his actions the very presence of God. Through Jesus' baptism heaven and earth are joined.
Jesus' baptism changed the face of baptism forever. John's baptism had two components, repentance and forgiveness. Our very own baptismal words reflect renouncing evil and turning from sin but also forgiving our old life so that we may begin anew. Jesus himself is clear that to be baptized is to lead a new way of living. However, when Jesus is baptized there is another component, that of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit became a part of the regular practices of the early church. When the crowds saw and understood the disciples they asked Peter how they should respond to this witness and he said that they should repent, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As we know there are clear distinctions within denominations about baptism. The issue of infant baptism versus believer's baptism has divided churches. Clearly as early as our Acts passage there were different views of baptism. The Presbyterian church is very comfortable with infant baptism and here are a few reasons why. Throughout the book of Acts there are references to entire households being baptized. Often a parent in the family would convert to Christianity and one of the Apostles would come and baptize not only that parent but the spouse and children as well. Baptism always follows faith either the faith of the person being baptized or the faith of the parents. There are also passages in the New Testament that compare baptism to the rite of circumcision, by which infant boys are made a part of the people of the covenant. Despite the divisions about when one should be baptized we can all agree that baptism is always done in faith and that children who are learning the faith are indeed part of God's people.
Related is the reality that baptism is also not an individual act. In baptism we become part of the people of God. We are baptized into the one body. In baptism we become part of the Christ's body. We are baptized into something- into a family, adopted and loved. The Living Faith states, that “baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” This is the point Bonhoeffer was making. Perhaps it is a bit obtuse or morose but this is the freedom we talk about over Christmas and Easter. That we die in baptism, with Christ, but we also rise up to new life in Christ.
In today's Gospel reading when we look at the meaning of Jesus' baptism we realize that we are baptized into something greater than ourselves. That there should be a noted change that takes place at baptism. Michael Rogness, a homeletic professor at Luther Seminary says, “We often speak of baptism as a “means of grace” that is, one of the ways that God's grace comes to us. Physically it's only a small splash of water, but it marks the beginning of a whole new life- of forgiveness, of the presence of God's Spirit, of our union with Jesus and our becoming part of the world-wide Christian church.”
I'm betting that so many of us were baptized either as children or so long ago that we barely remember. It appears as though our lives haven't changed all that much. Presbyterians don't do re-baptisms but we do, do reaffirmations. If you were baptized long ago re-affirm your commitment with Christ, re-affirm the transformation into new life. Maybe our new year's resolutions have failed but the good news is that through baptism we are invited to constantly re-affirm who we are in Christ. If you have not been baptized, well, we do have a membership Sunday coming up and it is never to late. And when Jesus was baptized he was reminded that he was beloved by God. This is our reminder that we, too, are beloved of God and known by name. Have confidence in your baptism. Amen

Bible Text: Mark 1:4-11 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Many of you have likely heard of or know the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote incredible texts on discipleship, prayer and theology. He was a professor of systematic theology at the University of Berlin before being ordained as a Lutheran pastor. Two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address in which he attacked Hitler and warned Germany against slipping into an idolatrous cult. He was cut off the air in the middle of a sentence. He became vehemently opposed to Hitler’s behaviour and participated in Nazi resistance. As a result he was arrested in April 1943 by Gestapo and imprisoned for one and half years before being transferred to a concentration camp. On April 9th, 1945, just two weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp he was executed. But as he was led to his death he said to one of the prison guards, “For some this is the end, but for me it is the beginning.” Bonhoeffer was so confident in the acts of baptism that he knew he had already died and been reborn. I question whether I would have such faith. In all honesty it has been awhile since I thought about the theology of baptism or the reasons for baptism. However, as I read Bonhoeffer’s remarks I was moved to truly delve into what baptism means. And baptism is complicated. I truly believe we take it for granted and perhaps we sometimes misuse the act of baptism. If you will indulge me, I think a sermon on baptism is in order, if not for you, then for me. To help us build up confidence in our own baptisms. Baptism is one of two sacraments within our tradition, it is fundamental to our practices and faith. However, we often use baptism more of a rite of passage than a transformed life. Yet, even for Jesus baptism signified a change and a new beginning.
For Mark, the baptism of Jesus is an origin story. Mark does not start his gospel with stories of Jesus’ birth or childhood but immediately begins with Jesus’ baptism. That is because, for Mark, it is the baptism that begins Jesus’ ministry. It is not the birth story that has importance but the re-birth story that is most influential in the life and work and ministry of Christ. For Mark this origin is deeply rooted within the convenantal promises of the God of Israel. A new Elijah, John, stands outside Jerusalem in the wilderness, preaching baptism for the forgiveness of sins. People are drawn to him, if not for confidence but for curiosity. Jesus arrives on the scene and is anointed with God’s presence and blessing to begin a ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God in this world. When we are baptized we are anointed with God’s presence and blessing. In his baptism Jesus is confirmed as the one who will bring forth the Holy Spirit. Jesus not only announces but also bears in his person and through his actions the very presence of God. Through Jesus’ baptism heaven and earth are joined.
Jesus’ baptism changed the face of baptism forever. John’s baptism had two components, repentance and forgiveness. Our very own baptismal words reflect renouncing evil and turning from sin but also forgiving our old life so that we may begin anew. Jesus himself is clear that to be baptized is to lead a new way of living. However, when Jesus is baptized there is another component, that of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit became a part of the regular practices of the early church. When the crowds saw and understood the disciples they asked Peter how they should respond to this witness and he said that they should repent, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As we know there are clear distinctions within denominations about baptism. The issue of infant baptism versus believer’s baptism has divided churches. Clearly as early as our Acts passage there were different views of baptism. The Presbyterian church is very comfortable with infant baptism and here are a few reasons why. Throughout the book of Acts there are references to entire households being baptized. Often a parent in the family would convert to Christianity and one of the Apostles would come and baptize not only that parent but the spouse and children as well. Baptism always follows faith either the faith of the person being baptized or the faith of the parents. There are also passages in the New Testament that compare baptism to the rite of circumcision, by which infant boys are made a part of the people of the covenant. Despite the divisions about when one should be baptized we can all agree that baptism is always done in faith and that children who are learning the faith are indeed part of God’s people.
Related is the reality that baptism is also not an individual act. In baptism we become part of the people of God. We are baptized into the one body. In baptism we become part of the Christ’s body. We are baptized into something- into a family, adopted and loved. The Living Faith states, that “baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” This is the point Bonhoeffer was making. Perhaps it is a bit obtuse or morose but this is the freedom we talk about over Christmas and Easter. That we die in baptism, with Christ, but we also rise up to new life in Christ.
In today’s Gospel reading when we look at the meaning of Jesus’ baptism we realize that we are baptized into something greater than ourselves. That there should be a noted change that takes place at baptism. Michael Rogness, a homeletic professor at Luther Seminary says, “We often speak of baptism as a “means of grace” that is, one of the ways that God’s grace comes to us. Physically it’s only a small splash of water, but it marks the beginning of a whole new life- of forgiveness, of the presence of God’s Spirit, of our union with Jesus and our becoming part of the world-wide Christian church.”
I’m betting that so many of us were baptized either as children or so long ago that we barely remember. It appears as though our lives haven’t changed all that much. Presbyterians don’t do re-baptisms but we do, do reaffirmations. If you were baptized long ago re-affirm your commitment with Christ, re-affirm the transformation into new life. Maybe our new year’s resolutions have failed but the good news is that through baptism we are invited to constantly re-affirm who we are in Christ. If you have not been baptized, well, we do have a membership Sunday coming up and it is never to late. And when Jesus was baptized he was reminded that he was beloved by God. This is our reminder that we, too, are beloved of God and known by name. Have confidence in your baptism. Amen

Who are these Magi?

Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72: 1-7, Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

The hymn, “We Three Kings” is often sung over the Christmas season. Albeit, that it is more about Epiphany, which is officially celebrated on Jan. 6, than Christmas, it was written as a Christmas gift by John Henry Hopkins Jr in 1857. We could blame this hymn for some of the mythology around the three kings but in actual fact the thought that there were three and that they were kings was a long established tradition by the time the hymn was written. Actually the celebration of Epiphany is older than Christmas in terms of liturgical traditions. In fact originally epiphany used to also include the story of the birth of Christ as a sidebar. The term epiphany stems from the Greek epiphaneia which literally means “revelation of God”. As a result it is quite appropriate that we include the story of the magi in this revelation. God revealed to them the birth of a king. Popular culture and centuries of myths have created images for us that are less accurate than most literalists would like. Good thing I hardly call myself a literalist. But that is the mystery of epiphanies, they are mysterious, hard to explain, often very personal and over time sound more like legends than reality.
Despite these popular myths this story is an important narrative in the function of the Gospel of Matthew and who Jesus is in all the Gospels. Understanding the language and where some of these myths come from is important. The Bible does not state how many wise men there were. It could have been three or thirty, but as early as an Alexandrian manuscript it was interpreted that there were 3 and they even had names, Bithisarea, who later became Balthazaar, Melchior and Gaspar. In the medieval period theologians concluded that each magi represented three of the then known races of humanity as descended from the three sons of Noah. They became kings because their gifts were only afforded by the richest of men. The term magi is the Greek word for wise men but is also the root of words like magicians and magic. We often interpret the magi to be astronomers, due to the fact that they were obviously looking at the sky and noted a change in the constellations but they likely were also adept in various occult arts such as astrology, fortune telling and the interpreting of dreams. What is important about these magi is that they take on the role and represent Gentiles who came to worship Jesus. Also, their paying homage reflects the bringing of gifts to the Messiah found in our psalm reading. God reveals part of the plan to these foreigners, these gentiles, in modern day language we might even call them heretics or heathens. God reveals to them a king and enlightens them with an epiphany. God illuminates a dark world with not only the presence of Jesus Christ but the opportunity for these people to truly encounter him and worship him.
Along with the magi, the star, a light in the sky, is central. The magi are from the “East”. The Greek word is anatolai which is really the root for the verb “to rise” and literally means the region of the rising sun. The word the “orient” comes from the Latin oriens and it has the same meaning. The idea that these magi came from the place where the sun rises is important. The rising of the sun implies the image of light and light was often associated with salvation in the Bible. In fact the passage from Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come” uses the same verb. The word arise is anatetalken in Greek. Isaiah’s vision of salvation includes a pilgrimage of the nations to Israel’s light. These Gentile magi are fulfilling this prophecy. Making a pilgrimage from the place where God’s creation rises each day to the light of the world.
The sincerity of the magi’s worship is contrasted with Herod’s insincere pledge to worship Jesus. When the magi ask where is this king of the Jews they ask it with delight and privilege. The next time that term “king of the Jews” is used is much later in Matthew, close to the end of his Gospel. Jesus is charged with claiming to be king of the Jews and is eventually crucified for having such a title. Matthew wrote his Gospel already knowing the end of the story. He already had Jesus’ death in view when he has the magi refer to Jesus as the king of the Jews. This is not only a foreshadowing of what is to come but reflects so much of our world today. How do we reconcile our understanding that Jesus is the light to the world, the personification of hope and salvation, when there is still so much darkness in our world.
Who are the magi today? Who will make the pilgrimage? Who will present their gifts to the king of kings? Who will find light in today’s darkness? The year 2014, like so many years, included stories of tragedy, fear, pain and violence. We tend to focus on those news stories at this time of year. But there was a lot of light too. My personal favourite news story is that of the Olympics when a Canadian ski coach ran out and fixed the ski of a Russian Olympian so that he could finish the course with dignity. Who will share the glimpses of light, of God, in our midst?
The birth of Jesus alarms Herod. After all Jesus threatens to usurp Herod’s title as king of the Jews. Herod’s plot at the end of our passage constitutes the reason for the holy family’s flight to Egypt and return a few years later. The flight to and from Egypt reflects the story of the Exodus. Jesus’ experience early in his life reflects that of the nation of Israel. Later in Matthew Jesus further represents Israel when he embarks on a wilderness journey and remains faithful to God despite the many temptations. The difficult story of the flight to Egypt highlights that God is present in the pain and suffering of this world. That there is a flicker of light just waiting to light up the sky.
While Christmas may focus on the babe, Epiphany bursts open on that glowing moment of God with us. Foreigners travel, Herod feels threatened and stars move their course. The lesson of Epiphany seems to be that in no way is Christ’s birth a private matter; the manifestation of God’s presence in the world engages all aspects of our lives, political, cultural and natural realms. It’s a big news story. Perhaps we are the magi of today but we are often so busy looking at ourselves that we forget to see God. Isaiah calls the people of Israel to see that God will work to restore and redeem Israel through the resources and presence of those formerly known as outsiders. Through the power of God’s presence the community is a centre of life and justice. It’s time to let those outsiders in and shine the light on God’s grace, love, and redemption at work in our world. Amen

January 4, 2015

Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72: 1-7, Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

The hymn, “We Three Kings” is often sung over the Christmas season. Albeit, that it is more about Epiphany, which is officially celebrated on Jan. 6, than Christmas, it was written as a Christmas gift by John Henry Hopkins Jr in 1857. We could blame this hymn for some of the mythology around the three kings but in actual fact the thought that there were three and that they were kings was a long established tradition by the time the hymn was written. Actually the celebration of Epiphany is older than Christmas in terms of liturgical traditions. In fact originally epiphany used to also include the story of the birth of Christ as a sidebar. The term epiphany stems from the Greek epiphaneia which literally means “revelation of God”. As a result it is quite appropriate that we include the story of the magi in this revelation. God revealed to them the birth of a king. Popular culture and centuries of myths have created images for us that are less accurate than most literalists would like. Good thing I hardly call myself a literalist. But that is the mystery of epiphanies, they are mysterious, hard to explain, often very personal and over time sound more like legends than reality.
Despite these popular myths this story is an important narrative in the function of the Gospel of Matthew and who Jesus is in all the Gospels. Understanding the language and where some of these myths come from is important. The Bible does not state how many wise men there were. It could have been three or thirty, but as early as an Alexandrian manuscript it was interpreted that there were 3 and they even had names, Bithisarea, who later became Balthazaar, Melchior and Gaspar. In the medieval period theologians concluded that each magi represented three of the then known races of humanity as descended from the three sons of Noah. They became kings because their gifts were only afforded by the richest of men. The term magi is the Greek word for wise men but is also the root of words like magicians and magic. We often interpret the magi to be astronomers, due to the fact that they were obviously looking at the sky and noted a change in the constellations but they likely were also adept in various occult arts such as astrology, fortune telling and the interpreting of dreams. What is important about these magi is that they take on the role and represent Gentiles who came to worship Jesus. Also, their paying homage reflects the bringing of gifts to the Messiah found in our psalm reading. God reveals part of the plan to these foreigners, these gentiles, in modern day language we might even call them heretics or heathens. God reveals to them a king and enlightens them with an epiphany. God illuminates a dark world with not only the presence of Jesus Christ but the opportunity for these people to truly encounter him and worship him.
Along with the magi, the star, a light in the sky, is central. The magi are from the “East”. The Greek word is anatolai which is really the root for the verb “to rise” and literally means the region of the rising sun. The word the “orient” comes from the Latin oriens and it has the same meaning. The idea that these magi came from the place where the sun rises is important. The rising of the sun implies the image of light and light was often associated with salvation in the Bible. In fact the passage from Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come” uses the same verb. The word arise is anatetalken in Greek. Isaiah's vision of salvation includes a pilgrimage of the nations to Israel's light. These Gentile magi are fulfilling this prophecy. Making a pilgrimage from the place where God's creation rises each day to the light of the world.
The sincerity of the magi's worship is contrasted with Herod's insincere pledge to worship Jesus. When the magi ask where is this king of the Jews they ask it with delight and privilege. The next time that term “king of the Jews” is used is much later in Matthew, close to the end of his Gospel. Jesus is charged with claiming to be king of the Jews and is eventually crucified for having such a title. Matthew wrote his Gospel already knowing the end of the story. He already had Jesus' death in view when he has the magi refer to Jesus as the king of the Jews. This is not only a foreshadowing of what is to come but reflects so much of our world today. How do we reconcile our understanding that Jesus is the light to the world, the personification of hope and salvation, when there is still so much darkness in our world.
Who are the magi today? Who will make the pilgrimage? Who will present their gifts to the king of kings? Who will find light in today's darkness? The year 2014, like so many years, included stories of tragedy, fear, pain and violence. We tend to focus on those news stories at this time of year. But there was a lot of light too. My personal favourite news story is that of the Olympics when a Canadian ski coach ran out and fixed the ski of a Russian Olympian so that he could finish the course with dignity. Who will share the glimpses of light, of God, in our midst?
The birth of Jesus alarms Herod. After all Jesus threatens to usurp Herod's title as king of the Jews. Herod's plot at the end of our passage constitutes the reason for the holy family's flight to Egypt and return a few years later. The flight to and from Egypt reflects the story of the Exodus. Jesus' experience early in his life reflects that of the nation of Israel. Later in Matthew Jesus further represents Israel when he embarks on a wilderness journey and remains faithful to God despite the many temptations. The difficult story of the flight to Egypt highlights that God is present in the pain and suffering of this world. That there is a flicker of light just waiting to light up the sky.
While Christmas may focus on the babe, Epiphany bursts open on that glowing moment of God with us. Foreigners travel, Herod feels threatened and stars move their course. The lesson of Epiphany seems to be that in no way is Christ's birth a private matter; the manifestation of God's presence in the world engages all aspects of our lives, political, cultural and natural realms. It's a big news story. Perhaps we are the magi of today but we are often so busy looking at ourselves that we forget to see God. Isaiah calls the people of Israel to see that God will work to restore and redeem Israel through the resources and presence of those formerly known as outsiders. Through the power of God's presence the community is a centre of life and justice. It's time to let those outsiders in and shine the light on God's grace, love, and redemption at work in our world. Amen

Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72: 1-7, Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

The hymn, “We Three Kings” is often sung over the Christmas season. Albeit, that it is more about Epiphany, which is officially celebrated on Jan. 6, than Christmas, it was written as a Christmas gift by John Henry Hopkins Jr in 1857. We could blame this hymn for some of the mythology around the three kings but in actual fact the thought that there were three and that they were kings was a long established tradition by the time the hymn was written. Actually the celebration of Epiphany is older than Christmas in terms of liturgical traditions. In fact originally epiphany used to also include the story of the birth of Christ as a sidebar. The term epiphany stems from the Greek epiphaneia which literally means “revelation of God”. As a result it is quite appropriate that we include the story of the magi in this revelation. God revealed to them the birth of a king. Popular culture and centuries of myths have created images for us that are less accurate than most literalists would like. Good thing I hardly call myself a literalist. But that is the mystery of epiphanies, they are mysterious, hard to explain, often very personal and over time sound more like legends than reality.
Despite these popular myths this story is an important narrative in the function of the Gospel of Matthew and who Jesus is in all the Gospels. Understanding the language and where some of these myths come from is important. The Bible does not state how many wise men there were. It could have been three or thirty, but as early as an Alexandrian manuscript it was interpreted that there were 3 and they even had names, Bithisarea, who later became Balthazaar, Melchior and Gaspar. In the medieval period theologians concluded that each magi represented three of the then known races of humanity as descended from the three sons of Noah. They became kings because their gifts were only afforded by the richest of men. The term magi is the Greek word for wise men but is also the root of words like magicians and magic. We often interpret the magi to be astronomers, due to the fact that they were obviously looking at the sky and noted a change in the constellations but they likely were also adept in various occult arts such as astrology, fortune telling and the interpreting of dreams. What is important about these magi is that they take on the role and represent Gentiles who came to worship Jesus. Also, their paying homage reflects the bringing of gifts to the Messiah found in our psalm reading. God reveals part of the plan to these foreigners, these gentiles, in modern day language we might even call them heretics or heathens. God reveals to them a king and enlightens them with an epiphany. God illuminates a dark world with not only the presence of Jesus Christ but the opportunity for these people to truly encounter him and worship him.
Along with the magi, the star, a light in the sky, is central. The magi are from the “East”. The Greek word is anatolai which is really the root for the verb “to rise” and literally means the region of the rising sun. The word the “orient” comes from the Latin oriens and it has the same meaning. The idea that these magi came from the place where the sun rises is important. The rising of the sun implies the image of light and light was often associated with salvation in the Bible. In fact the passage from Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come” uses the same verb. The word arise is anatetalken in Greek. Isaiah’s vision of salvation includes a pilgrimage of the nations to Israel’s light. These Gentile magi are fulfilling this prophecy. Making a pilgrimage from the place where God’s creation rises each day to the light of the world.
The sincerity of the magi’s worship is contrasted with Herod’s insincere pledge to worship Jesus. When the magi ask where is this king of the Jews they ask it with delight and privilege. The next time that term “king of the Jews” is used is much later in Matthew, close to the end of his Gospel. Jesus is charged with claiming to be king of the Jews and is eventually crucified for having such a title. Matthew wrote his Gospel already knowing the end of the story. He already had Jesus’ death in view when he has the magi refer to Jesus as the king of the Jews. This is not only a foreshadowing of what is to come but reflects so much of our world today. How do we reconcile our understanding that Jesus is the light to the world, the personification of hope and salvation, when there is still so much darkness in our world.
Who are the magi today? Who will make the pilgrimage? Who will present their gifts to the king of kings? Who will find light in today’s darkness? The year 2014, like so many years, included stories of tragedy, fear, pain and violence. We tend to focus on those news stories at this time of year. But there was a lot of light too. My personal favourite news story is that of the Olympics when a Canadian ski coach ran out and fixed the ski of a Russian Olympian so that he could finish the course with dignity. Who will share the glimpses of light, of God, in our midst?
The birth of Jesus alarms Herod. After all Jesus threatens to usurp Herod’s title as king of the Jews. Herod’s plot at the end of our passage constitutes the reason for the holy family’s flight to Egypt and return a few years later. The flight to and from Egypt reflects the story of the Exodus. Jesus’ experience early in his life reflects that of the nation of Israel. Later in Matthew Jesus further represents Israel when he embarks on a wilderness journey and remains faithful to God despite the many temptations. The difficult story of the flight to Egypt highlights that God is present in the pain and suffering of this world. That there is a flicker of light just waiting to light up the sky.
While Christmas may focus on the babe, Epiphany bursts open on that glowing moment of God with us. Foreigners travel, Herod feels threatened and stars move their course. The lesson of Epiphany seems to be that in no way is Christ’s birth a private matter; the manifestation of God’s presence in the world engages all aspects of our lives, political, cultural and natural realms. It’s a big news story. Perhaps we are the magi of today but we are often so busy looking at ourselves that we forget to see God. Isaiah calls the people of Israel to see that God will work to restore and redeem Israel through the resources and presence of those formerly known as outsiders. Through the power of God’s presence the community is a centre of life and justice. It’s time to let those outsiders in and shine the light on God’s grace, love, and redemption at work in our world. Amen

Traditions

Bible Text: Luke 2:22-40 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Christmas traditions run pretty high in my household. There are certain things that must be done, as a rule! Following the Christmas Eve service we must drive around looking at lights while listening to a radio drama of A Christmas Carol dating back to the 1960s. On Christmas day one must not look, open or touch the stockings until everyone is ready and after stockings one has strata, a bread, cheese and egg casserole for breakfast. A more recent but now just as important tradition is that we must skype with family members some time between the morning flurry of gifts and the main meal. Which interestingly enough, the dinner, in our house can be anything from a fancy fish to chili by the camp fire. You can blame my type A personality for these rules or the desire to be nostalgic or the fact that I like to be in charge. But I know there are traditions in your own households. Perhaps those traditions have changed over time, adapted to circumstances, and perhaps you have picked up new ones each year or perhaps this Christmas was different and difficult because some traditions couldn’t happen. That’s the problem with traditions, if we hold too tightly to them they get in the way of us enjoying ourselves. They take away from the meaning of the day, moment, event. The Old Testament is full of traditions that developed into the Law of Moses. Even the very first “Christmas” had traditions to follow.
The presentation of Jesus in Jerusalem is motivated by specific requirements, laws and traditions. But Luke is also very confused because in our Gospel text all these practices happen on one day, when in fact they would have happened over several different days. Of course the circumcision happened 8 days following Jesus’ birth. But the presentation should have happened that day as well while the purification would have happened 40 days following Jesus’ birth. Getting wrapped up in what Luke wrote and how wrong it is takes away from the true meaning of the story. However, it is rather interesting to know what laws it was that Luke is referring to.
The Torah has specific requirements for parental duties following the birth of all children but especially first born sons. Of course God claims the right to firstborn sons, based on the story of God passing over the firstborn Israelites in Egypt. There is also a strong link between Jesus and the story of Samuel. When Hannah, who had no children, prayed to God for a son, she vowed that if she had a son, she would give him to God. And indeed when Hannah bore Samuel she brought him to the temple and presented him and gave his life to God. So, when Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem they are in effect dedicating his life to God. The story thus sets the stage for Jesus’ life to be dedicated fully to his heavenly Father.
The purification of Jesus is motivated by specific laws in Leviticus. After a woman gives birth to a son she is impure for 40 days. At the end of that period she is to bring an offering to the temple, which the priest offers as a sacrifice, effecting her purification. Further in Exodus there are all kinds of statements regarding first borns, even all first born animals are sacrificed. First born children however, are brought to the temple not to be sacrificed by purified. According to the law of Moses, Jesus, being the firstborn, needed to be redeemed. But then, as will happen throughout Jesus’ life, things don’t quite happen according to the law or tradition.
At the moment when the parents would present their offering, Mary and Joseph are interrupted almost intercepted. Instead of a priest residing over the blessing we have two old but very wise people, Simeon and Anna. In our translation Luke writes, “When the time came” the Greek, kai hote eplethesan hemerai literally means the “days were fulfilled.” Fulfilment is the real message this morning. Simeon and Anna function as the people who realize that God has fulfilled a promise. They serve to embody the hopes of Israel and depict the fulfilment of those hopes.
When Simeon lays eyes on this child he cannot help himself but take the child in his arms, perhaps a startling moment for the parents, and he begins to sing! But he does not sing a lullaby as one might expect for a babe in arms but rather a revolutionary song. The shape and hopes of this song reflect the same content that has already been sung by Zechariah and Mary. For anyone in the music world it is as if Simeon’s song is a final coda. A final reminder, a poetic summing up of the events. But there is also a hint of melancholy.
The King James Version says it best, “Lord, now lettest though thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” Simeon then gives prophetic voice to the realities about to face this child. This child will be both a stone upon which many will stumble and upon which many will find salvation. The child’s destiny will be one of radical transformation. Simeon is granted peace upon which he may see the Messiah but he also acknowledges the deep pain and great cost that it will bring.
Anna in her great age and deep piety recognizes Jesus for who he is and begins to praise God and speak about the child to all who are looking for redemption in Jerusalem. She has a great and important prophetic role in speaking God’s truth about the child’s future. She provides a clear model of what faithful behaviour looks like. Her patient waiting, her rejoicing at the good news and her deep desire to share that good news all seems to exemplify the proper response to the gospel.
Simeon and Anna play another key role. At this point in the story we know that Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zecharaiah and a few Shepherds know about Jesus’ true nature. These two seniors worshipping in the temple are the next to respond. I often hear sentiments like “we’re getting older and can’t do the things we used to” or “It’s too bad we’re all a little grey in hair” but this story of Simeon and Anna two elderly people tells me that we are never too old to worship God or to see the true nature of Christ among us. Never too old to praise God. They both model a faith that embraces Jesus fully, full of what such faith means and may cost but they also share it so that people of every age may respond. Anna and Simeon have waited patiently. They embrace Jesus as soon as they see him and joyously sing and bless this child. They tell the truth of who this child is to all who will listen. More than any traditions, laws or rules isn’t that what Christmas is all about. Rejoicing at God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Amen

December 28, 2014

Bible Text: Luke 2:22-40 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Christmas traditions run pretty high in my household. There are certain things that must be done, as a rule! Following the Christmas Eve service we must drive around looking at lights while listening to a radio drama of A Christmas Carol dating back to the 1960s. On Christmas day one must not look, open or touch the stockings until everyone is ready and after stockings one has strata, a bread, cheese and egg casserole for breakfast. A more recent but now just as important tradition is that we must skype with family members some time between the morning flurry of gifts and the main meal. Which interestingly enough, the dinner, in our house can be anything from a fancy fish to chili by the camp fire. You can blame my type A personality for these rules or the desire to be nostalgic or the fact that I like to be in charge. But I know there are traditions in your own households. Perhaps those traditions have changed over time, adapted to circumstances, and perhaps you have picked up new ones each year or perhaps this Christmas was different and difficult because some traditions couldn't happen. That's the problem with traditions, if we hold too tightly to them they get in the way of us enjoying ourselves. They take away from the meaning of the day, moment, event. The Old Testament is full of traditions that developed into the Law of Moses. Even the very first “Christmas” had traditions to follow.
The presentation of Jesus in Jerusalem is motivated by specific requirements, laws and traditions. But Luke is also very confused because in our Gospel text all these practices happen on one day, when in fact they would have happened over several different days. Of course the circumcision happened 8 days following Jesus' birth. But the presentation should have happened that day as well while the purification would have happened 40 days following Jesus' birth. Getting wrapped up in what Luke wrote and how wrong it is takes away from the true meaning of the story. However, it is rather interesting to know what laws it was that Luke is referring to.
The Torah has specific requirements for parental duties following the birth of all children but especially first born sons. Of course God claims the right to firstborn sons, based on the story of God passing over the firstborn Israelites in Egypt. There is also a strong link between Jesus and the story of Samuel. When Hannah, who had no children, prayed to God for a son, she vowed that if she had a son, she would give him to God. And indeed when Hannah bore Samuel she brought him to the temple and presented him and gave his life to God. So, when Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem they are in effect dedicating his life to God. The story thus sets the stage for Jesus' life to be dedicated fully to his heavenly Father.
The purification of Jesus is motivated by specific laws in Leviticus. After a woman gives birth to a son she is impure for 40 days. At the end of that period she is to bring an offering to the temple, which the priest offers as a sacrifice, effecting her purification. Further in Exodus there are all kinds of statements regarding first borns, even all first born animals are sacrificed. First born children however, are brought to the temple not to be sacrificed by purified. According to the law of Moses, Jesus, being the firstborn, needed to be redeemed. But then, as will happen throughout Jesus' life, things don't quite happen according to the law or tradition.
At the moment when the parents would present their offering, Mary and Joseph are interrupted almost intercepted. Instead of a priest residing over the blessing we have two old but very wise people, Simeon and Anna. In our translation Luke writes, “When the time came” the Greek, kai hote eplethesan hemerai literally means the “days were fulfilled.” Fulfilment is the real message this morning. Simeon and Anna function as the people who realize that God has fulfilled a promise. They serve to embody the hopes of Israel and depict the fulfilment of those hopes.
When Simeon lays eyes on this child he cannot help himself but take the child in his arms, perhaps a startling moment for the parents, and he begins to sing! But he does not sing a lullaby as one might expect for a babe in arms but rather a revolutionary song. The shape and hopes of this song reflect the same content that has already been sung by Zechariah and Mary. For anyone in the music world it is as if Simeon's song is a final coda. A final reminder, a poetic summing up of the events. But there is also a hint of melancholy.
The King James Version says it best, “Lord, now lettest though thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” Simeon then gives prophetic voice to the realities about to face this child. This child will be both a stone upon which many will stumble and upon which many will find salvation. The child's destiny will be one of radical transformation. Simeon is granted peace upon which he may see the Messiah but he also acknowledges the deep pain and great cost that it will bring.
Anna in her great age and deep piety recognizes Jesus for who he is and begins to praise God and speak about the child to all who are looking for redemption in Jerusalem. She has a great and important prophetic role in speaking God's truth about the child's future. She provides a clear model of what faithful behaviour looks like. Her patient waiting, her rejoicing at the good news and her deep desire to share that good news all seems to exemplify the proper response to the gospel.
Simeon and Anna play another key role. At this point in the story we know that Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zecharaiah and a few Shepherds know about Jesus' true nature. These two seniors worshipping in the temple are the next to respond. I often hear sentiments like “we're getting older and can't do the things we used to” or “It's too bad we're all a little grey in hair” but this story of Simeon and Anna two elderly people tells me that we are never too old to worship God or to see the true nature of Christ among us. Never too old to praise God. They both model a faith that embraces Jesus fully, full of what such faith means and may cost but they also share it so that people of every age may respond. Anna and Simeon have waited patiently. They embrace Jesus as soon as they see him and joyously sing and bless this child. They tell the truth of who this child is to all who will listen. More than any traditions, laws or rules isn't that what Christmas is all about. Rejoicing at God's promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Amen

Bible Text: Luke 2:22-40 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Christmas traditions run pretty high in my household. There are certain things that must be done, as a rule! Following the Christmas Eve service we must drive around looking at lights while listening to a radio drama of A Christmas Carol dating back to the 1960s. On Christmas day one must not look, open or touch the stockings until everyone is ready and after stockings one has strata, a bread, cheese and egg casserole for breakfast. A more recent but now just as important tradition is that we must skype with family members some time between the morning flurry of gifts and the main meal. Which interestingly enough, the dinner, in our house can be anything from a fancy fish to chili by the camp fire. You can blame my type A personality for these rules or the desire to be nostalgic or the fact that I like to be in charge. But I know there are traditions in your own households. Perhaps those traditions have changed over time, adapted to circumstances, and perhaps you have picked up new ones each year or perhaps this Christmas was different and difficult because some traditions couldn’t happen. That’s the problem with traditions, if we hold too tightly to them they get in the way of us enjoying ourselves. They take away from the meaning of the day, moment, event. The Old Testament is full of traditions that developed into the Law of Moses. Even the very first “Christmas” had traditions to follow.
The presentation of Jesus in Jerusalem is motivated by specific requirements, laws and traditions. But Luke is also very confused because in our Gospel text all these practices happen on one day, when in fact they would have happened over several different days. Of course the circumcision happened 8 days following Jesus’ birth. But the presentation should have happened that day as well while the purification would have happened 40 days following Jesus’ birth. Getting wrapped up in what Luke wrote and how wrong it is takes away from the true meaning of the story. However, it is rather interesting to know what laws it was that Luke is referring to.
The Torah has specific requirements for parental duties following the birth of all children but especially first born sons. Of course God claims the right to firstborn sons, based on the story of God passing over the firstborn Israelites in Egypt. There is also a strong link between Jesus and the story of Samuel. When Hannah, who had no children, prayed to God for a son, she vowed that if she had a son, she would give him to God. And indeed when Hannah bore Samuel she brought him to the temple and presented him and gave his life to God. So, when Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem they are in effect dedicating his life to God. The story thus sets the stage for Jesus’ life to be dedicated fully to his heavenly Father.
The purification of Jesus is motivated by specific laws in Leviticus. After a woman gives birth to a son she is impure for 40 days. At the end of that period she is to bring an offering to the temple, which the priest offers as a sacrifice, effecting her purification. Further in Exodus there are all kinds of statements regarding first borns, even all first born animals are sacrificed. First born children however, are brought to the temple not to be sacrificed by purified. According to the law of Moses, Jesus, being the firstborn, needed to be redeemed. But then, as will happen throughout Jesus’ life, things don’t quite happen according to the law or tradition.
At the moment when the parents would present their offering, Mary and Joseph are interrupted almost intercepted. Instead of a priest residing over the blessing we have two old but very wise people, Simeon and Anna. In our translation Luke writes, “When the time came” the Greek, kai hote eplethesan hemerai literally means the “days were fulfilled.” Fulfilment is the real message this morning. Simeon and Anna function as the people who realize that God has fulfilled a promise. They serve to embody the hopes of Israel and depict the fulfilment of those hopes.
When Simeon lays eyes on this child he cannot help himself but take the child in his arms, perhaps a startling moment for the parents, and he begins to sing! But he does not sing a lullaby as one might expect for a babe in arms but rather a revolutionary song. The shape and hopes of this song reflect the same content that has already been sung by Zechariah and Mary. For anyone in the music world it is as if Simeon’s song is a final coda. A final reminder, a poetic summing up of the events. But there is also a hint of melancholy.
The King James Version says it best, “Lord, now lettest though thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” Simeon then gives prophetic voice to the realities about to face this child. This child will be both a stone upon which many will stumble and upon which many will find salvation. The child’s destiny will be one of radical transformation. Simeon is granted peace upon which he may see the Messiah but he also acknowledges the deep pain and great cost that it will bring.
Anna in her great age and deep piety recognizes Jesus for who he is and begins to praise God and speak about the child to all who are looking for redemption in Jerusalem. She has a great and important prophetic role in speaking God’s truth about the child’s future. She provides a clear model of what faithful behaviour looks like. Her patient waiting, her rejoicing at the good news and her deep desire to share that good news all seems to exemplify the proper response to the gospel.
Simeon and Anna play another key role. At this point in the story we know that Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zecharaiah and a few Shepherds know about Jesus’ true nature. These two seniors worshipping in the temple are the next to respond. I often hear sentiments like “we’re getting older and can’t do the things we used to” or “It’s too bad we’re all a little grey in hair” but this story of Simeon and Anna two elderly people tells me that we are never too old to worship God or to see the true nature of Christ among us. Never too old to praise God. They both model a faith that embraces Jesus fully, full of what such faith means and may cost but they also share it so that people of every age may respond. Anna and Simeon have waited patiently. They embrace Jesus as soon as they see him and joyously sing and bless this child. They tell the truth of who this child is to all who will listen. More than any traditions, laws or rules isn’t that what Christmas is all about. Rejoicing at God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Amen

Joy!

Bible Text: Psalm 98, Luke 1:26-38 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Imagine being a young boy and travelling to the prison gate with your Mother to sing hymns to your Father who was imprisoned due to the fact that he would not conform to the state church in England. Imagine that father telling you that if you don’t like the hymns found in the hymnal to write your own and so you begin with just a few and end up writing hundreds. Imagine writing one such hymn and it becoming one of the greatest Christmas carols despite the fact that you do not actually celebrate Christmas. Isaac Watts did not need to imagine because it happened to him. Mr. Watts never intended for “Joy to the World” to become a carol. The extreme version of protestantism that the family practised prohibited them from acknowledging Christmas. The hymn is in fact based entirely on our psalm reading, psalm 98. You may have noticed the words of joyful noise and that heaven and earth are truly singing in one accord. Sing to God a joyful song, for God made a world of wonders! In the original hymn the first verse reads “Joy to the World the Lord will come” rather than the version we have “the Lord is come.” In the original hymn Watts is not referring to Christ’s birth but rather Christ’s second coming. In fact there is no direct reference to Christmas, the nativity or the Gospels in the song.
As I mentioned Watts was exposed to hymns at a young age when he and his mother would travel to the prison to sing hymns to lift his father’s spirit. He began writing hymns in
earnest at age 15. Over his 74 year life Watts wrote over 750 hymns none of them meant to be Christmas carols. He became a minister at 21 years of age and he even managed to write a book on logic. This book later became the standard textbook on the subject at Cambridge and Oxford for over a century despite the fact that Watts was banned from either school due to his rather strict religious leanings.
Joy to World was first published in Watts’ collection entitled Psalms of David in 1719. In 1839, American, Lowell Mason put the words to music. Mason later admitted that he stole the tune from Handel but as yet scholars have been unable to find any evidence of such a tune in Handel’s repertoire. It wasn’t until the 1940s that people began to sing this hymn at Christmas time and since then it has been moved from the general hymns section in many hymnals to the Christmas section.
For me this hymn be it a carol or not resounds with words fitting for the season. Joy, love, singing and all of creation exploding with rejoicing for the coming of Christ. The hymn echoes what we have reflected upon throughout this advent season. The carol Away in the Manger reminds us of the vulnerability and humility found in Christ’s first arrival and the hope it brings to the least and vulnerable of our world. Lo, How A Rose e’er blooming reflects the words of Isaiah and brings a sense of peace just as the simple word lo brings attention to a major miracle. The Huron Carol reflects Mary’s song of Joy. It speaks to the language, history and experience of God’s people. Joy to the World reminds us that the love that came at Christmas will come again- in fact it has the capacity to come each time we act as Christ to our neighbours or even act as Mary, bearing God to the world.
This is the only time of the year when we truly delve into the life and mystery of Mary. The church, throughout history, has had a difficult time knowing how to regard her. Protestants tend to ignore Mary’s role in the drama all together and yet like certain words and hymns she is as much a part of the season’s fact and mythology. Like a familiar carol, Mary’s presence is essential to the story. Luke’s Gospel is the only one to spend time with Mary. In Mark, her most memorable appearance is the account in which she and her other sons come to take Jesus home and essentially call him crazy. She doesn’t fare much better in Matthew, though she is present at the empty tomb. John never mentions her by name and Paul makes no reference to her at all. But in Luke, Mary is the most Christ-like person in this passage.
It is hard to say whether or not Mary was filled with joy the moment she saw Gabriel. I doubt that her initial reaction was anything like psalm 98. We know from last week that joy and love eventually came but, what went through her mind that very moment? This is one very unplanned pregnancy. She likely had her own plans, certainly Joseph thought that things would happen a little differently. How do you love a child that turns your world upside down and who you know will love the world so deeply that he will spare nothing to save it. Mary believed that Jesus would bring new life to all who believed in him, that no more sins and sorrows would grow, that he would come to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, that he would make the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.
As I mentioned Mary’s story reflects in a lot of ways that of other women in the Old Testament. She likely knew their stories and obviously she found comfort and refuge in Elizabeth’s house. History has made Mary into a saint, a feminist and throughout the medieval period she was even considered a God. But looking at the Gospel reading, hearing this sacred conversation, we see another image, a more comprehensive symbol. Mary is the first disciple and it is in her discipleship that I find a joy and love akin to the words in psalm 98.
Mary’s responses to Gabriel are more fearless and less humble than often interpreted and it shows hints of the kind of fierce love that she will have for the child. It is entirely understandable that initially she would be perplexed upon seeing the angel. When she questions him it is not due to fear but rather an effort to understand the extraordinary words and experience coming at her. Luke does not call her a god, does not even acknowledge her as a mother let a lone a woman. He calls her favoured one. Luke claims Mary to be much more than anything labelled by her gender. She is the ideal follower of Christ, the ideal Christian. Her words to the angel are a direct parallel to what Jesus later prays at the Mount of Olives, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Love for God, love for Christ is ultimately expressed in these words. Not my will but yours be done. When she is confronted with an unprecedented proclamation she accepts her unique call with faith and trust, two essential ingredients for a disciple.
Mary clearly has faith because when Mary approaches Elizabeth, the elder calls out, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken.” Yes, Mary is blessed because she is about the be the physical mother of Jesus but Elizabeth acknowledges that the true reason is because she believed in God’s word. It is a blessing we can all share. We cannot be physical parents to Jesus but we can believe that God’s word has been and will be fulfilled.
Mary shows trust because Luke’s final verse in this passage is “for nothing is impossible with God.” Despite the strange vision, despite the awkward words, despite the impossible Mary calls herself a servant of God. She questions, she ponders, she accepts God’s will for her life because she trusts in God. Often trust can be harder to achieve than faith. Trust is built up over time. But Mary finds that through trust she is able to achieve exactly what God is calling her to do.
The reason why so much of Mary’s experience recalls stories of prophet’s births in the Old Testament is because Mary really is being called to a prophetic task; to bear and raise Jesus. She is bearing Christ, within her. The orthodox church calls it theotokos, or God-bearer. Although it can be a controversial topic and has split denominations I really believe in some way we are all God-bearers in that we are all tasked with being disciples and witnesses, bearers of God’s love. Mary is blessed not because her womb bore Jesus but because of her devotion, her faithfulness and trust to the word of God. Joy to the world may not be about Christ’s birth but in our own trust and faith we realize that it is not only about having faith and trust in the familiar story of Christmas but also about what impossible things God will do for us in the future and of the wonders of Christ’s love. Joy to the world indeed! Amen

December 21, 2014

Bible Text: Psalm 98, Luke 1:26-38 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Imagine being a young boy and travelling to the prison gate with your Mother to sing hymns to your Father who was imprisoned due to the fact that he would not conform to the state church in England. Imagine that father telling you that if you don't like the hymns found in the hymnal to write your own and so you begin with just a few and end up writing hundreds. Imagine writing one such hymn and it becoming one of the greatest Christmas carols despite the fact that you do not actually celebrate Christmas. Isaac Watts did not need to imagine because it happened to him. Mr. Watts never intended for “Joy to the World” to become a carol. The extreme version of protestantism that the family practised prohibited them from acknowledging Christmas. The hymn is in fact based entirely on our psalm reading, psalm 98. You may have noticed the words of joyful noise and that heaven and earth are truly singing in one accord. Sing to God a joyful song, for God made a world of wonders! In the original hymn the first verse reads “Joy to the World the Lord will come” rather than the version we have “the Lord is come.” In the original hymn Watts is not referring to Christ's birth but rather Christ's second coming. In fact there is no direct reference to Christmas, the nativity or the Gospels in the song.
As I mentioned Watts was exposed to hymns at a young age when he and his mother would travel to the prison to sing hymns to lift his father's spirit. He began writing hymns in
earnest at age 15. Over his 74 year life Watts wrote over 750 hymns none of them meant to be Christmas carols. He became a minister at 21 years of age and he even managed to write a book on logic. This book later became the standard textbook on the subject at Cambridge and Oxford for over a century despite the fact that Watts was banned from either school due to his rather strict religious leanings.
Joy to World was first published in Watts' collection entitled Psalms of David in 1719. In 1839, American, Lowell Mason put the words to music. Mason later admitted that he stole the tune from Handel but as yet scholars have been unable to find any evidence of such a tune in Handel's repertoire. It wasn't until the 1940s that people began to sing this hymn at Christmas time and since then it has been moved from the general hymns section in many hymnals to the Christmas section.
For me this hymn be it a carol or not resounds with words fitting for the season. Joy, love, singing and all of creation exploding with rejoicing for the coming of Christ. The hymn echoes what we have reflected upon throughout this advent season. The carol Away in the Manger reminds us of the vulnerability and humility found in Christ's first arrival and the hope it brings to the least and vulnerable of our world. Lo, How A Rose e'er blooming reflects the words of Isaiah and brings a sense of peace just as the simple word lo brings attention to a major miracle. The Huron Carol reflects Mary's song of Joy. It speaks to the language, history and experience of God's people. Joy to the World reminds us that the love that came at Christmas will come again- in fact it has the capacity to come each time we act as Christ to our neighbours or even act as Mary, bearing God to the world.
This is the only time of the year when we truly delve into the life and mystery of Mary. The church, throughout history, has had a difficult time knowing how to regard her. Protestants tend to ignore Mary's role in the drama all together and yet like certain words and hymns she is as much a part of the season's fact and mythology. Like a familiar carol, Mary's presence is essential to the story. Luke's Gospel is the only one to spend time with Mary. In Mark, her most memorable appearance is the account in which she and her other sons come to take Jesus home and essentially call him crazy. She doesn't fare much better in Matthew, though she is present at the empty tomb. John never mentions her by name and Paul makes no reference to her at all. But in Luke, Mary is the most Christ-like person in this passage.
It is hard to say whether or not Mary was filled with joy the moment she saw Gabriel. I doubt that her initial reaction was anything like psalm 98. We know from last week that joy and love eventually came but, what went through her mind that very moment? This is one very unplanned pregnancy. She likely had her own plans, certainly Joseph thought that things would happen a little differently. How do you love a child that turns your world upside down and who you know will love the world so deeply that he will spare nothing to save it. Mary believed that Jesus would bring new life to all who believed in him, that no more sins and sorrows would grow, that he would come to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, that he would make the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.
As I mentioned Mary's story reflects in a lot of ways that of other women in the Old Testament. She likely knew their stories and obviously she found comfort and refuge in Elizabeth's house. History has made Mary into a saint, a feminist and throughout the medieval period she was even considered a God. But looking at the Gospel reading, hearing this sacred conversation, we see another image, a more comprehensive symbol. Mary is the first disciple and it is in her discipleship that I find a joy and love akin to the words in psalm 98.
Mary's responses to Gabriel are more fearless and less humble than often interpreted and it shows hints of the kind of fierce love that she will have for the child. It is entirely understandable that initially she would be perplexed upon seeing the angel. When she questions him it is not due to fear but rather an effort to understand the extraordinary words and experience coming at her. Luke does not call her a god, does not even acknowledge her as a mother let a lone a woman. He calls her favoured one. Luke claims Mary to be much more than anything labelled by her gender. She is the ideal follower of Christ, the ideal Christian. Her words to the angel are a direct parallel to what Jesus later prays at the Mount of Olives, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Love for God, love for Christ is ultimately expressed in these words. Not my will but yours be done. When she is confronted with an unprecedented proclamation she accepts her unique call with faith and trust, two essential ingredients for a disciple.
Mary clearly has faith because when Mary approaches Elizabeth, the elder calls out, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken.” Yes, Mary is blessed because she is about the be the physical mother of Jesus but Elizabeth acknowledges that the true reason is because she believed in God's word. It is a blessing we can all share. We cannot be physical parents to Jesus but we can believe that God's word has been and will be fulfilled.
Mary shows trust because Luke's final verse in this passage is “for nothing is impossible with God.” Despite the strange vision, despite the awkward words, despite the impossible Mary calls herself a servant of God. She questions, she ponders, she accepts God's will for her life because she trusts in God. Often trust can be harder to achieve than faith. Trust is built up over time. But Mary finds that through trust she is able to achieve exactly what God is calling her to do.
The reason why so much of Mary's experience recalls stories of prophet's births in the Old Testament is because Mary really is being called to a prophetic task; to bear and raise Jesus. She is bearing Christ, within her. The orthodox church calls it theotokos, or God-bearer. Although it can be a controversial topic and has split denominations I really believe in some way we are all God-bearers in that we are all tasked with being disciples and witnesses, bearers of God's love. Mary is blessed not because her womb bore Jesus but because of her devotion, her faithfulness and trust to the word of God. Joy to the world may not be about Christ's birth but in our own trust and faith we realize that it is not only about having faith and trust in the familiar story of Christmas but also about what impossible things God will do for us in the future and of the wonders of Christ's love. Joy to the world indeed! Amen

Bible Text: Psalm 98, Luke 1:26-38 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Imagine being a young boy and travelling to the prison gate with your Mother to sing hymns to your Father who was imprisoned due to the fact that he would not conform to the state church in England. Imagine that father telling you that if you don’t like the hymns found in the hymnal to write your own and so you begin with just a few and end up writing hundreds. Imagine writing one such hymn and it becoming one of the greatest Christmas carols despite the fact that you do not actually celebrate Christmas. Isaac Watts did not need to imagine because it happened to him. Mr. Watts never intended for “Joy to the World” to become a carol. The extreme version of protestantism that the family practised prohibited them from acknowledging Christmas. The hymn is in fact based entirely on our psalm reading, psalm 98. You may have noticed the words of joyful noise and that heaven and earth are truly singing in one accord. Sing to God a joyful song, for God made a world of wonders! In the original hymn the first verse reads “Joy to the World the Lord will come” rather than the version we have “the Lord is come.” In the original hymn Watts is not referring to Christ’s birth but rather Christ’s second coming. In fact there is no direct reference to Christmas, the nativity or the Gospels in the song.
As I mentioned Watts was exposed to hymns at a young age when he and his mother would travel to the prison to sing hymns to lift his father’s spirit. He began writing hymns in
earnest at age 15. Over his 74 year life Watts wrote over 750 hymns none of them meant to be Christmas carols. He became a minister at 21 years of age and he even managed to write a book on logic. This book later became the standard textbook on the subject at Cambridge and Oxford for over a century despite the fact that Watts was banned from either school due to his rather strict religious leanings.
Joy to World was first published in Watts’ collection entitled Psalms of David in 1719. In 1839, American, Lowell Mason put the words to music. Mason later admitted that he stole the tune from Handel but as yet scholars have been unable to find any evidence of such a tune in Handel’s repertoire. It wasn’t until the 1940s that people began to sing this hymn at Christmas time and since then it has been moved from the general hymns section in many hymnals to the Christmas section.
For me this hymn be it a carol or not resounds with words fitting for the season. Joy, love, singing and all of creation exploding with rejoicing for the coming of Christ. The hymn echoes what we have reflected upon throughout this advent season. The carol Away in the Manger reminds us of the vulnerability and humility found in Christ’s first arrival and the hope it brings to the least and vulnerable of our world. Lo, How A Rose e’er blooming reflects the words of Isaiah and brings a sense of peace just as the simple word lo brings attention to a major miracle. The Huron Carol reflects Mary’s song of Joy. It speaks to the language, history and experience of God’s people. Joy to the World reminds us that the love that came at Christmas will come again- in fact it has the capacity to come each time we act as Christ to our neighbours or even act as Mary, bearing God to the world.
This is the only time of the year when we truly delve into the life and mystery of Mary. The church, throughout history, has had a difficult time knowing how to regard her. Protestants tend to ignore Mary’s role in the drama all together and yet like certain words and hymns she is as much a part of the season’s fact and mythology. Like a familiar carol, Mary’s presence is essential to the story. Luke’s Gospel is the only one to spend time with Mary. In Mark, her most memorable appearance is the account in which she and her other sons come to take Jesus home and essentially call him crazy. She doesn’t fare much better in Matthew, though she is present at the empty tomb. John never mentions her by name and Paul makes no reference to her at all. But in Luke, Mary is the most Christ-like person in this passage.
It is hard to say whether or not Mary was filled with joy the moment she saw Gabriel. I doubt that her initial reaction was anything like psalm 98. We know from last week that joy and love eventually came but, what went through her mind that very moment? This is one very unplanned pregnancy. She likely had her own plans, certainly Joseph thought that things would happen a little differently. How do you love a child that turns your world upside down and who you know will love the world so deeply that he will spare nothing to save it. Mary believed that Jesus would bring new life to all who believed in him, that no more sins and sorrows would grow, that he would come to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, that he would make the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.
As I mentioned Mary’s story reflects in a lot of ways that of other women in the Old Testament. She likely knew their stories and obviously she found comfort and refuge in Elizabeth’s house. History has made Mary into a saint, a feminist and throughout the medieval period she was even considered a God. But looking at the Gospel reading, hearing this sacred conversation, we see another image, a more comprehensive symbol. Mary is the first disciple and it is in her discipleship that I find a joy and love akin to the words in psalm 98.
Mary’s responses to Gabriel are more fearless and less humble than often interpreted and it shows hints of the kind of fierce love that she will have for the child. It is entirely understandable that initially she would be perplexed upon seeing the angel. When she questions him it is not due to fear but rather an effort to understand the extraordinary words and experience coming at her. Luke does not call her a god, does not even acknowledge her as a mother let a lone a woman. He calls her favoured one. Luke claims Mary to be much more than anything labelled by her gender. She is the ideal follower of Christ, the ideal Christian. Her words to the angel are a direct parallel to what Jesus later prays at the Mount of Olives, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Love for God, love for Christ is ultimately expressed in these words. Not my will but yours be done. When she is confronted with an unprecedented proclamation she accepts her unique call with faith and trust, two essential ingredients for a disciple.
Mary clearly has faith because when Mary approaches Elizabeth, the elder calls out, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken.” Yes, Mary is blessed because she is about the be the physical mother of Jesus but Elizabeth acknowledges that the true reason is because she believed in God’s word. It is a blessing we can all share. We cannot be physical parents to Jesus but we can believe that God’s word has been and will be fulfilled.
Mary shows trust because Luke’s final verse in this passage is “for nothing is impossible with God.” Despite the strange vision, despite the awkward words, despite the impossible Mary calls herself a servant of God. She questions, she ponders, she accepts God’s will for her life because she trusts in God. Often trust can be harder to achieve than faith. Trust is built up over time. But Mary finds that through trust she is able to achieve exactly what God is calling her to do.
The reason why so much of Mary’s experience recalls stories of prophet’s births in the Old Testament is because Mary really is being called to a prophetic task; to bear and raise Jesus. She is bearing Christ, within her. The orthodox church calls it theotokos, or God-bearer. Although it can be a controversial topic and has split denominations I really believe in some way we are all God-bearers in that we are all tasked with being disciples and witnesses, bearers of God’s love. Mary is blessed not because her womb bore Jesus but because of her devotion, her faithfulness and trust to the word of God. Joy to the world may not be about Christ’s birth but in our own trust and faith we realize that it is not only about having faith and trust in the familiar story of Christmas but also about what impossible things God will do for us in the future and of the wonders of Christ’s love. Joy to the world indeed! Amen

The Huron Carol

Bible Text: Luke 1:46-55 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

In the summer of 2002 I was completing my field placement in Prehistoric Archaeology at Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishene, a small community on the shores of Georgian Bay. Each day on our drive from our camp in Midland we would pass the Martyrs Shrine a huge cathedral in the middle of nowhere. Directly across the street was another archaeological site, St. Marie Among the Hurons. Throughout the summer we were able to stop in and visit both of these historical sites. St. Marie Among the Hurons was Ontario’s first European community. It was originally constructed in 1639 for the Huron or Wendat peoples and French settlers by Jesuit missionaries. At the Martyrs Shrine one can find the remains of these 8 Jesuits including St. Jean de Brebeuf, the author of the Huron Carol. He was the first Jesuit missionary to the region and he became a master of the Huron language.
The Huron carol is Canada’s first Christmas Carol and older than many well known carols such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World and Silent Night. It is sung to the tune of a French folk song, Une Jeune Pucell. When Brebeuf wrote the carol he of course adapted the story of Jesus’ birth to fit his context. God’s name is Gitchi Manitou, the wise men are chiefs, shepherds are hunters, swaddling clothes are rabbit skin and the stable is a lodge. Many of us know parts of the story of the Huron Carol and it has been romanticized over the years. We all picture a Jesuit priest in his cassock robe, sitting by a desk at candle light jotting down his inspiring words for a people whose language and culture he was just learning.
However, the truth is that this hymn took over a decade to write, starting in 1626. Brebeuf and the other French settlers found those first winters very difficult. They found themselves without food come mid-winter. There was also concerns that since the Jesuit’s arrival the native population where experiencing the destructive and fatal introduction of new diseases. Finally in the winter of 1642, Brebeuf wrote in his journal that the Wendat were feeling a connection to Christmas. They were particularly captivated by the story of Jesus’ birth. A small chapel of cedar and fir branches was built and housed a small manger scene. In the middle of this harsh, hard experience Brebeuf was able to write a hymn that has lasted through the ages.
By the late 1640s tensions between the Wendat and Iroquois or Haudenosaunee grew. The Wendat were attacked in 1649 at St. Marie Among the Hurons and the Jesuit and French settlers were forced to abandon their community. Brebeuf, however, refused to leave the people to whom he had ministered for so many years. He was captured and martyred six miles from the settlement.
Although we have this peaceful image it is a startling end to the story. We often treat Jesus’ birth in the same way. Imagine being a teenaged, unwed, mother. Imagine being an apprentice carpenter with little money to spare. Imagine being forced to walk the 111 km journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while pregnant. I imagine that the nativity story is not as romantic as we often make it out to be. But in the middle of this frightful, difficult, and tumultuous experience Mary finds joy and sings a song. It is a song that speaks to her people’s context, history, language and experience. It is also a demonstration of ultimate praise.
We know that Mary was extremely poor because in her song she calls herself lowly. The Greek term tapeinōsin actually means not only humble but absolute poverty. Mary is dirt poor, pregnant and unmarried. Under any other circumstance she would be in a real mess and likely convicted to death and yet Mary sings!
What makes this the ultimate example of praise is that her magnificat moves from the deeply personal to the explicitly political. It moves from an internal praise, that God has lifted up a lowly servant, to a hymn of thanksgiving for the redemption of all, God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. Mary not only sings a song about her own destiny but a freedom song on behalf of all the faithful in the land. She sings to God’s divine relationship for not only herself but for all. One commentator wrote, “Mary keeps singing, ranging high on her scales of praise, soaring in her expectant and revolutionary libretto, because God has reached so unexpectedly down to where the least and the lowly still struggle for life.”
Mary’s song is almost a complete reflection of Hannah’s song found in 1 Samuel 2. It is a song that the Hebrew people knew well and would have understood. This is an important connection because Luke has carefully included these words to link the trials of the Israelite people to the birth of Christ. It is a retelling of a familiar story of struggle to a people who otherwise would not understand. Mary or rather Luke, uses the language of the people to tell them exactly what God has in store for them.
We come to the table today knowing the story. However, I wonder what it looks like to the outsider. Firstly, instead of a sacred moment it looks more like a ritual. Secondly, instead of feast it looks like a measly piece of bread and tiny cup of juice. How would you tell or explain this story to a people who may not understand the liturgical language? What song would be on your heart? When we come to the table remember that God has the ability to place a song of praise, of joy, in our hearts even when things seem dire, even when struggles are expected, even when it appears that joy is no where to be found. Mary’s soul bursts with yearning for God, who has intimately chosen her but has also declared that her child will change the world. How will your soul burst with joy this season?
That is the ultimate praise we should be giving to God- not only do we give thanks for our individual relationship but thanks for the community of believers–not only do we lose control and sing our hearts out but we also have humble moments, like coming to Christ’s table, in which our hearts and souls are fed by God’s love. What a joy it is to be God’s people.
Amen

December 14, 2014

Bible Text: Luke 1:46-55 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

In the summer of 2002 I was completing my field placement in Prehistoric Archaeology at Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishene, a small community on the shores of Georgian Bay. Each day on our drive from our camp in Midland we would pass the Martyrs Shrine a huge cathedral in the middle of nowhere. Directly across the street was another archaeological site, St. Marie Among the Hurons. Throughout the summer we were able to stop in and visit both of these historical sites. St. Marie Among the Hurons was Ontario's first European community. It was originally constructed in 1639 for the Huron or Wendat peoples and French settlers by Jesuit missionaries. At the Martyrs Shrine one can find the remains of these 8 Jesuits including St. Jean de Brebeuf, the author of the Huron Carol. He was the first Jesuit missionary to the region and he became a master of the Huron language.
The Huron carol is Canada's first Christmas Carol and older than many well known carols such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World and Silent Night. It is sung to the tune of a French folk song, Une Jeune Pucell. When Brebeuf wrote the carol he of course adapted the story of Jesus' birth to fit his context. God's name is Gitchi Manitou, the wise men are chiefs, shepherds are hunters, swaddling clothes are rabbit skin and the stable is a lodge. Many of us know parts of the story of the Huron Carol and it has been romanticized over the years. We all picture a Jesuit priest in his cassock robe, sitting by a desk at candle light jotting down his inspiring words for a people whose language and culture he was just learning.
However, the truth is that this hymn took over a decade to write, starting in 1626. Brebeuf and the other French settlers found those first winters very difficult. They found themselves without food come mid-winter. There was also concerns that since the Jesuit's arrival the native population where experiencing the destructive and fatal introduction of new diseases. Finally in the winter of 1642, Brebeuf wrote in his journal that the Wendat were feeling a connection to Christmas. They were particularly captivated by the story of Jesus' birth. A small chapel of cedar and fir branches was built and housed a small manger scene. In the middle of this harsh, hard experience Brebeuf was able to write a hymn that has lasted through the ages.
By the late 1640s tensions between the Wendat and Iroquois or Haudenosaunee grew. The Wendat were attacked in 1649 at St. Marie Among the Hurons and the Jesuit and French settlers were forced to abandon their community. Brebeuf, however, refused to leave the people to whom he had ministered for so many years. He was captured and martyred six miles from the settlement.
Although we have this peaceful image it is a startling end to the story. We often treat Jesus' birth in the same way. Imagine being a teenaged, unwed, mother. Imagine being an apprentice carpenter with little money to spare. Imagine being forced to walk the 111 km journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while pregnant. I imagine that the nativity story is not as romantic as we often make it out to be. But in the middle of this frightful, difficult, and tumultuous experience Mary finds joy and sings a song. It is a song that speaks to her people's context, history, language and experience. It is also a demonstration of ultimate praise.
We know that Mary was extremely poor because in her song she calls herself lowly. The Greek term tapeinōsin actually means not only humble but absolute poverty. Mary is dirt poor, pregnant and unmarried. Under any other circumstance she would be in a real mess and likely convicted to death and yet Mary sings!
What makes this the ultimate example of praise is that her magnificat moves from the deeply personal to the explicitly political. It moves from an internal praise, that God has lifted up a lowly servant, to a hymn of thanksgiving for the redemption of all, God's mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. Mary not only sings a song about her own destiny but a freedom song on behalf of all the faithful in the land. She sings to God's divine relationship for not only herself but for all. One commentator wrote, “Mary keeps singing, ranging high on her scales of praise, soaring in her expectant and revolutionary libretto, because God has reached so unexpectedly down to where the least and the lowly still struggle for life.”
Mary's song is almost a complete reflection of Hannah's song found in 1 Samuel 2. It is a song that the Hebrew people knew well and would have understood. This is an important connection because Luke has carefully included these words to link the trials of the Israelite people to the birth of Christ. It is a retelling of a familiar story of struggle to a people who otherwise would not understand. Mary or rather Luke, uses the language of the people to tell them exactly what God has in store for them.
We come to the table today knowing the story. However, I wonder what it looks like to the outsider. Firstly, instead of a sacred moment it looks more like a ritual. Secondly, instead of feast it looks like a measly piece of bread and tiny cup of juice. How would you tell or explain this story to a people who may not understand the liturgical language? What song would be on your heart? When we come to the table remember that God has the ability to place a song of praise, of joy, in our hearts even when things seem dire, even when struggles are expected, even when it appears that joy is no where to be found. Mary’s soul bursts with yearning for God, who has intimately chosen her but has also declared that her child will change the world. How will your soul burst with joy this season?
That is the ultimate praise we should be giving to God- not only do we give thanks for our individual relationship but thanks for the community of believers--not only do we lose control and sing our hearts out but we also have humble moments, like coming to Christ's table, in which our hearts and souls are fed by God’s love. What a joy it is to be God's people.
Amen

Bible Text: Luke 1:46-55 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

In the summer of 2002 I was completing my field placement in Prehistoric Archaeology at Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishene, a small community on the shores of Georgian Bay. Each day on our drive from our camp in Midland we would pass the Martyrs Shrine a huge cathedral in the middle of nowhere. Directly across the street was another archaeological site, St. Marie Among the Hurons. Throughout the summer we were able to stop in and visit both of these historical sites. St. Marie Among the Hurons was Ontario’s first European community. It was originally constructed in 1639 for the Huron or Wendat peoples and French settlers by Jesuit missionaries. At the Martyrs Shrine one can find the remains of these 8 Jesuits including St. Jean de Brebeuf, the author of the Huron Carol. He was the first Jesuit missionary to the region and he became a master of the Huron language.
The Huron carol is Canada’s first Christmas Carol and older than many well known carols such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World and Silent Night. It is sung to the tune of a French folk song, Une Jeune Pucell. When Brebeuf wrote the carol he of course adapted the story of Jesus’ birth to fit his context. God’s name is Gitchi Manitou, the wise men are chiefs, shepherds are hunters, swaddling clothes are rabbit skin and the stable is a lodge. Many of us know parts of the story of the Huron Carol and it has been romanticized over the years. We all picture a Jesuit priest in his cassock robe, sitting by a desk at candle light jotting down his inspiring words for a people whose language and culture he was just learning.
However, the truth is that this hymn took over a decade to write, starting in 1626. Brebeuf and the other French settlers found those first winters very difficult. They found themselves without food come mid-winter. There was also concerns that since the Jesuit’s arrival the native population where experiencing the destructive and fatal introduction of new diseases. Finally in the winter of 1642, Brebeuf wrote in his journal that the Wendat were feeling a connection to Christmas. They were particularly captivated by the story of Jesus’ birth. A small chapel of cedar and fir branches was built and housed a small manger scene. In the middle of this harsh, hard experience Brebeuf was able to write a hymn that has lasted through the ages.
By the late 1640s tensions between the Wendat and Iroquois or Haudenosaunee grew. The Wendat were attacked in 1649 at St. Marie Among the Hurons and the Jesuit and French settlers were forced to abandon their community. Brebeuf, however, refused to leave the people to whom he had ministered for so many years. He was captured and martyred six miles from the settlement.
Although we have this peaceful image it is a startling end to the story. We often treat Jesus’ birth in the same way. Imagine being a teenaged, unwed, mother. Imagine being an apprentice carpenter with little money to spare. Imagine being forced to walk the 111 km journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while pregnant. I imagine that the nativity story is not as romantic as we often make it out to be. But in the middle of this frightful, difficult, and tumultuous experience Mary finds joy and sings a song. It is a song that speaks to her people’s context, history, language and experience. It is also a demonstration of ultimate praise.
We know that Mary was extremely poor because in her song she calls herself lowly. The Greek term tapeinōsin actually means not only humble but absolute poverty. Mary is dirt poor, pregnant and unmarried. Under any other circumstance she would be in a real mess and likely convicted to death and yet Mary sings!
What makes this the ultimate example of praise is that her magnificat moves from the deeply personal to the explicitly political. It moves from an internal praise, that God has lifted up a lowly servant, to a hymn of thanksgiving for the redemption of all, God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. Mary not only sings a song about her own destiny but a freedom song on behalf of all the faithful in the land. She sings to God’s divine relationship for not only herself but for all. One commentator wrote, “Mary keeps singing, ranging high on her scales of praise, soaring in her expectant and revolutionary libretto, because God has reached so unexpectedly down to where the least and the lowly still struggle for life.”
Mary’s song is almost a complete reflection of Hannah’s song found in 1 Samuel 2. It is a song that the Hebrew people knew well and would have understood. This is an important connection because Luke has carefully included these words to link the trials of the Israelite people to the birth of Christ. It is a retelling of a familiar story of struggle to a people who otherwise would not understand. Mary or rather Luke, uses the language of the people to tell them exactly what God has in store for them.
We come to the table today knowing the story. However, I wonder what it looks like to the outsider. Firstly, instead of a sacred moment it looks more like a ritual. Secondly, instead of feast it looks like a measly piece of bread and tiny cup of juice. How would you tell or explain this story to a people who may not understand the liturgical language? What song would be on your heart? When we come to the table remember that God has the ability to place a song of praise, of joy, in our hearts even when things seem dire, even when struggles are expected, even when it appears that joy is no where to be found. Mary’s soul bursts with yearning for God, who has intimately chosen her but has also declared that her child will change the world. How will your soul burst with joy this season?
That is the ultimate praise we should be giving to God- not only do we give thanks for our individual relationship but thanks for the community of believers–not only do we lose control and sing our hearts out but we also have humble moments, like coming to Christ’s table, in which our hearts and souls are fed by God’s love. What a joy it is to be God’s people.
Amen

LO!

Bible Text: Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Did you know that a very important anniversary passed us not too long ago. The internet turned 45 years old this year. It’s true. On Oct. 29Th, 1969, the first link between a computer at UCLA and a computer at the Stanford Research Institute was realized at 10:30pm. It went something like this, a telephone connection between the folks at UCLA and Stanford was set up. UCLA’s computer typed “L” and they asked over the phone, “Do you see the L?” “Yes, we see the L” came the response. Then they typed “O” and asked, “Do you see the O?”, “Yes, we see the O”. The UCLA computer was supposed to transmit a G but then the system crashed. As a result the first word ever transmitted across the internet was “LO”. The internet revolution had begun and 45 years later we send people messages over the world wide web, and our systems still crash. Webster’s dictionary defines the word “Lo” as a word used to call attention to something or to show wonder or surprise. These two simple letters, “L and O” are used to declare and announce the arrival of a more important message. It can be a precursor to important words of greetings, like the Angels to the Shepherds, “Lo, I bring you tidings of good news and great joy” or words of warning. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah often used the word “Lo” to bring attention to their warnings. Like in Isaiah 59:9 “We wait for light, and lo! there is darkness.” Two simple letters can be the bearers of good or difficult news.
Although it is not written as such I imagine that John the Baptist used the word “Lo” a lot too. Like the prophets of the Old Testament he was trying to bring attention to words of repentance. The Gospel lesson for this week introduces us not only to the person of John the Baptist but it is also the very beginning of Mark, the Gospel for the majority of the New Testament readings throughout the coming year. Yes, the Gospels are all about Jesus, but before Jesus there was John. John, like the word lo, is not the important person but is the one who brings attention to the important message.
Before John there was Isaiah. In Mark’s Gospel John the Baptist is essentially an Old Testament figure. His clothing is based on descriptions of Elijah. In fact, Mark believes that John IS Elijah, just as the prophet Malachi predicted. John serves as a link between these two testaments, between these two worlds. He behaves much like the prophets of old, hence why I suspect he used the term Lo, but he is also announcing new words of promise. There are many carols that reflect these two stages in the life of faith, the Old Testament words being used for a New Testament announcement. Our opening hymn, “Hark the glad sound”, includes references to words from Isaiah as well as “Angels from the realms of glory” , “It came upon a midnight clear” and “O little town of Bethlehem”. Isaiah’s words are embedded into much of our Advent and Christmas language.
The Gospel passage today reflects that of Isaiah 40, our Old Testament lesson. The passage announces God’s intention to visit, to be among, God’s people and reminds those listening to be prepared. It is a resounding announcement that the time of promise is drawing to a close and the time of fulfilment is drawing near. The voice of God in Isaiah’s text does not say, “Tell my people to get ready and when they have done so, I will come to them.” No, God says, “Prepare the way! I am coming to my people (whether they are read or not!)” Now, for Isaiah, the time of fulfilment was not in fact a coming of a messiah but rather the end of exile for the Israelites in Babylon.
In 587 BCE Jerusalem fell to Babylon and a large portion of Jerusalem’s population went into exile. Chapter 40 in Isaiah through to about chapter 66 are all about this time of exile. As a result what we hear are not words of warning because the worst case scenario has happened. Now the people of Israel are in need of words of comfort and hope for a new future.
Passages from Isaiah often dominate our advent readings. This is partly because Isaiah is often referred to by the Gospel writers when demonstrating that what was promised is coming into being through Jesus. But also because Isaiah often holds in tension this idea that we live in between- in the already and the not yet. But that does not mean we remain stagnant. Advent is about waiting but it is not about doing nothing. Isaiah reminds us that embracing hope has implications for our lives now. Christine Yoder a professor at Columbia Seminary says, “The prophet reminds us that Advent is as much about what we watch for as how we wait” and it is in the how that we are granted peace.
In John’s message even the geography has a role. The baptism occurs in the Jordan River, a river famous in the Old Testament as the boundary marker for the promised land. We know from the story in Exodus that God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years until at last they reached the Jordan River. When they entered these waters, they knew their waiting was over and that God’s promises to them during their wandering was about to be fulfilled. Essentially, the basic Advent theme sounding out this week is that the time of promise is drawing to a close and the time of fulfilment is drawing near. For the wandering Israelites the fulfilled promise was that of crossing the Jordan, for the exiled Israelites it was returning to the banks of the Jordan, for the searching Israelites it is the announcements declared at the Jordan river.
  One of my favourite carols is “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” or “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”. There’s that word “Lo” again. Like John this hymn blends Old Testament words with a New Testament message. This carol first appeared in a German hymnal in 1582. The song originally had 19 verses and in fact those carol loving Germans bumped it up to 23 verses in 1599. You will note our version only has 4 verses. But knowing that at one time the song had 23 verses is important because over the last 415 years this hymn has been tweaked, changed, and theologically redacted. Many purists struggle with it because it not only blends Old and New Testament words but blends a lot of theological myths as well. For example, it says that Isaiah foretold of a rose. There is no mention of a rose anywhere in Isaiah. Isaiah does however, mention the branch of Jesse. The German word for twig or branch is Reis and somewhere in the redacting it was translated as Ros, or rose. The version we will sing leads us to believe that the rose is Jesus but in the original 23 verse German version the rose was Mary. Throughout the medieval period mystic commentators often used a rose to represent Mary. We get a hint of that original image in our second verse but the English translation says that “with Mary we behold it,” when in fact the very early hymn said “From Mary we behold it.” We can thank the protestization of the hymn for this change. Michael Praetirous, son of a Lutheran minister, was the composer who changed the words so that the rose represented Jesus rather than Mary. Praetorius is also the one who is credited with giving us the beautiful harmony and the challenging, yet, beautiful tune.
It is a peaceful tune and the use of the word lo, harkens to the message from the angels rather than the words of warning in the Old Testament. However, as we wait in this Advent season we also prepare. Lo, have peace in your heart and comfort one another. For the time of promise, the time of waiting, the time of exile is coming to an end and the time of fulfilment, the time to experience God’s covenant is approaching. Much like a lush rose blooming at the end of a prickly stem. We arise from a time of struggle or pain or challenges and we have hope and peace in the fulfilled promise of Jesus Christ, alluded to in words of Isaiah, foretold by John, born of Mary, a flower whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendour our darkness everywhere, true saviour, king of glory.
Amen

Hymn:151 Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming

December 7, 2014

Bible Text: Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Did you know that a very important anniversary passed us not too long ago. The internet turned 45 years old this year. It's true. On Oct. 29Th, 1969, the first link between a computer at UCLA and a computer at the Stanford Research Institute was realized at 10:30pm. It went something like this, a telephone connection between the folks at UCLA and Stanford was set up. UCLA's computer typed “L” and they asked over the phone, “Do you see the L?” “Yes, we see the L” came the response. Then they typed “O” and asked, “Do you see the O?”, “Yes, we see the O”. The UCLA computer was supposed to transmit a G but then the system crashed. As a result the first word ever transmitted across the internet was “LO”. The internet revolution had begun and 45 years later we send people messages over the world wide web, and our systems still crash. Webster's dictionary defines the word “Lo” as a word used to call attention to something or to show wonder or surprise. These two simple letters, “L and O” are used to declare and announce the arrival of a more important message. It can be a precursor to important words of greetings, like the Angels to the Shepherds, “Lo, I bring you tidings of good news and great joy” or words of warning. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah often used the word “Lo” to bring attention to their warnings. Like in Isaiah 59:9 “We wait for light, and lo! there is darkness.” Two simple letters can be the bearers of good or difficult news.
Although it is not written as such I imagine that John the Baptist used the word “Lo” a lot too. Like the prophets of the Old Testament he was trying to bring attention to words of repentance. The Gospel lesson for this week introduces us not only to the person of John the Baptist but it is also the very beginning of Mark, the Gospel for the majority of the New Testament readings throughout the coming year. Yes, the Gospels are all about Jesus, but before Jesus there was John. John, like the word lo, is not the important person but is the one who brings attention to the important message.
Before John there was Isaiah. In Mark's Gospel John the Baptist is essentially an Old Testament figure. His clothing is based on descriptions of Elijah. In fact, Mark believes that John IS Elijah, just as the prophet Malachi predicted. John serves as a link between these two testaments, between these two worlds. He behaves much like the prophets of old, hence why I suspect he used the term Lo, but he is also announcing new words of promise. There are many carols that reflect these two stages in the life of faith, the Old Testament words being used for a New Testament announcement. Our opening hymn, “Hark the glad sound”, includes references to words from Isaiah as well as “Angels from the realms of glory” , “It came upon a midnight clear” and “O little town of Bethlehem”. Isaiah's words are embedded into much of our Advent and Christmas language.
The Gospel passage today reflects that of Isaiah 40, our Old Testament lesson. The passage announces God's intention to visit, to be among, God's people and reminds those listening to be prepared. It is a resounding announcement that the time of promise is drawing to a close and the time of fulfilment is drawing near. The voice of God in Isaiah's text does not say, “Tell my people to get ready and when they have done so, I will come to them.” No, God says, “Prepare the way! I am coming to my people (whether they are read or not!)” Now, for Isaiah, the time of fulfilment was not in fact a coming of a messiah but rather the end of exile for the Israelites in Babylon.
In 587 BCE Jerusalem fell to Babylon and a large portion of Jerusalem's population went into exile. Chapter 40 in Isaiah through to about chapter 66 are all about this time of exile. As a result what we hear are not words of warning because the worst case scenario has happened. Now the people of Israel are in need of words of comfort and hope for a new future.
Passages from Isaiah often dominate our advent readings. This is partly because Isaiah is often referred to by the Gospel writers when demonstrating that what was promised is coming into being through Jesus. But also because Isaiah often holds in tension this idea that we live in between- in the already and the not yet. But that does not mean we remain stagnant. Advent is about waiting but it is not about doing nothing. Isaiah reminds us that embracing hope has implications for our lives now. Christine Yoder a professor at Columbia Seminary says, “The prophet reminds us that Advent is as much about what we watch for as how we wait” and it is in the how that we are granted peace.
In John's message even the geography has a role. The baptism occurs in the Jordan River, a river famous in the Old Testament as the boundary marker for the promised land. We know from the story in Exodus that God's people wandered in the wilderness for forty years until at last they reached the Jordan River. When they entered these waters, they knew their waiting was over and that God's promises to them during their wandering was about to be fulfilled. Essentially, the basic Advent theme sounding out this week is that the time of promise is drawing to a close and the time of fulfilment is drawing near. For the wandering Israelites the fulfilled promise was that of crossing the Jordan, for the exiled Israelites it was returning to the banks of the Jordan, for the searching Israelites it is the announcements declared at the Jordan river.
  One of my favourite carols is “Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming” or “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”. There's that word “Lo” again. Like John this hymn blends Old Testament words with a New Testament message. This carol first appeared in a German hymnal in 1582. The song originally had 19 verses and in fact those carol loving Germans bumped it up to 23 verses in 1599. You will note our version only has 4 verses. But knowing that at one time the song had 23 verses is important because over the last 415 years this hymn has been tweaked, changed, and theologically redacted. Many purists struggle with it because it not only blends Old and New Testament words but blends a lot of theological myths as well. For example, it says that Isaiah foretold of a rose. There is no mention of a rose anywhere in Isaiah. Isaiah does however, mention the branch of Jesse. The German word for twig or branch is Reis and somewhere in the redacting it was translated as Ros, or rose. The version we will sing leads us to believe that the rose is Jesus but in the original 23 verse German version the rose was Mary. Throughout the medieval period mystic commentators often used a rose to represent Mary. We get a hint of that original image in our second verse but the English translation says that “with Mary we behold it,” when in fact the very early hymn said “From Mary we behold it.” We can thank the protestization of the hymn for this change. Michael Praetirous, son of a Lutheran minister, was the composer who changed the words so that the rose represented Jesus rather than Mary. Praetorius is also the one who is credited with giving us the beautiful harmony and the challenging, yet, beautiful tune.
It is a peaceful tune and the use of the word lo, harkens to the message from the angels rather than the words of warning in the Old Testament. However, as we wait in this Advent season we also prepare. Lo, have peace in your heart and comfort one another. For the time of promise, the time of waiting, the time of exile is coming to an end and the time of fulfilment, the time to experience God's covenant is approaching. Much like a lush rose blooming at the end of a prickly stem. We arise from a time of struggle or pain or challenges and we have hope and peace in the fulfilled promise of Jesus Christ, alluded to in words of Isaiah, foretold by John, born of Mary, a flower whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendour our darkness everywhere, true saviour, king of glory.
Amen

Hymn:151 Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming

Bible Text: Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Did you know that a very important anniversary passed us not too long ago. The internet turned 45 years old this year. It’s true. On Oct. 29Th, 1969, the first link between a computer at UCLA and a computer at the Stanford Research Institute was realized at 10:30pm. It went something like this, a telephone connection between the folks at UCLA and Stanford was set up. UCLA’s computer typed “L” and they asked over the phone, “Do you see the L?” “Yes, we see the L” came the response. Then they typed “O” and asked, “Do you see the O?”, “Yes, we see the O”. The UCLA computer was supposed to transmit a G but then the system crashed. As a result the first word ever transmitted across the internet was “LO”. The internet revolution had begun and 45 years later we send people messages over the world wide web, and our systems still crash. Webster’s dictionary defines the word “Lo” as a word used to call attention to something or to show wonder or surprise. These two simple letters, “L and O” are used to declare and announce the arrival of a more important message. It can be a precursor to important words of greetings, like the Angels to the Shepherds, “Lo, I bring you tidings of good news and great joy” or words of warning. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah often used the word “Lo” to bring attention to their warnings. Like in Isaiah 59:9 “We wait for light, and lo! there is darkness.” Two simple letters can be the bearers of good or difficult news.
Although it is not written as such I imagine that John the Baptist used the word “Lo” a lot too. Like the prophets of the Old Testament he was trying to bring attention to words of repentance. The Gospel lesson for this week introduces us not only to the person of John the Baptist but it is also the very beginning of Mark, the Gospel for the majority of the New Testament readings throughout the coming year. Yes, the Gospels are all about Jesus, but before Jesus there was John. John, like the word lo, is not the important person but is the one who brings attention to the important message.
Before John there was Isaiah. In Mark’s Gospel John the Baptist is essentially an Old Testament figure. His clothing is based on descriptions of Elijah. In fact, Mark believes that John IS Elijah, just as the prophet Malachi predicted. John serves as a link between these two testaments, between these two worlds. He behaves much like the prophets of old, hence why I suspect he used the term Lo, but he is also announcing new words of promise. There are many carols that reflect these two stages in the life of faith, the Old Testament words being used for a New Testament announcement. Our opening hymn, “Hark the glad sound”, includes references to words from Isaiah as well as “Angels from the realms of glory” , “It came upon a midnight clear” and “O little town of Bethlehem”. Isaiah’s words are embedded into much of our Advent and Christmas language.
The Gospel passage today reflects that of Isaiah 40, our Old Testament lesson. The passage announces God’s intention to visit, to be among, God’s people and reminds those listening to be prepared. It is a resounding announcement that the time of promise is drawing to a close and the time of fulfilment is drawing near. The voice of God in Isaiah’s text does not say, “Tell my people to get ready and when they have done so, I will come to them.” No, God says, “Prepare the way! I am coming to my people (whether they are read or not!)” Now, for Isaiah, the time of fulfilment was not in fact a coming of a messiah but rather the end of exile for the Israelites in Babylon.
In 587 BCE Jerusalem fell to Babylon and a large portion of Jerusalem’s population went into exile. Chapter 40 in Isaiah through to about chapter 66 are all about this time of exile. As a result what we hear are not words of warning because the worst case scenario has happened. Now the people of Israel are in need of words of comfort and hope for a new future.
Passages from Isaiah often dominate our advent readings. This is partly because Isaiah is often referred to by the Gospel writers when demonstrating that what was promised is coming into being through Jesus. But also because Isaiah often holds in tension this idea that we live in between- in the already and the not yet. But that does not mean we remain stagnant. Advent is about waiting but it is not about doing nothing. Isaiah reminds us that embracing hope has implications for our lives now. Christine Yoder a professor at Columbia Seminary says, “The prophet reminds us that Advent is as much about what we watch for as how we wait” and it is in the how that we are granted peace.
In John’s message even the geography has a role. The baptism occurs in the Jordan River, a river famous in the Old Testament as the boundary marker for the promised land. We know from the story in Exodus that God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years until at last they reached the Jordan River. When they entered these waters, they knew their waiting was over and that God’s promises to them during their wandering was about to be fulfilled. Essentially, the basic Advent theme sounding out this week is that the time of promise is drawing to a close and the time of fulfilment is drawing near. For the wandering Israelites the fulfilled promise was that of crossing the Jordan, for the exiled Israelites it was returning to the banks of the Jordan, for the searching Israelites it is the announcements declared at the Jordan river.
  One of my favourite carols is “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” or “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”. There’s that word “Lo” again. Like John this hymn blends Old Testament words with a New Testament message. This carol first appeared in a German hymnal in 1582. The song originally had 19 verses and in fact those carol loving Germans bumped it up to 23 verses in 1599. You will note our version only has 4 verses. But knowing that at one time the song had 23 verses is important because over the last 415 years this hymn has been tweaked, changed, and theologically redacted. Many purists struggle with it because it not only blends Old and New Testament words but blends a lot of theological myths as well. For example, it says that Isaiah foretold of a rose. There is no mention of a rose anywhere in Isaiah. Isaiah does however, mention the branch of Jesse. The German word for twig or branch is Reis and somewhere in the redacting it was translated as Ros, or rose. The version we will sing leads us to believe that the rose is Jesus but in the original 23 verse German version the rose was Mary. Throughout the medieval period mystic commentators often used a rose to represent Mary. We get a hint of that original image in our second verse but the English translation says that “with Mary we behold it,” when in fact the very early hymn said “From Mary we behold it.” We can thank the protestization of the hymn for this change. Michael Praetirous, son of a Lutheran minister, was the composer who changed the words so that the rose represented Jesus rather than Mary. Praetorius is also the one who is credited with giving us the beautiful harmony and the challenging, yet, beautiful tune.
It is a peaceful tune and the use of the word lo, harkens to the message from the angels rather than the words of warning in the Old Testament. However, as we wait in this Advent season we also prepare. Lo, have peace in your heart and comfort one another. For the time of promise, the time of waiting, the time of exile is coming to an end and the time of fulfilment, the time to experience God’s covenant is approaching. Much like a lush rose blooming at the end of a prickly stem. We arise from a time of struggle or pain or challenges and we have hope and peace in the fulfilled promise of Jesus Christ, alluded to in words of Isaiah, foretold by John, born of Mary, a flower whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendour our darkness everywhere, true saviour, king of glory.
Amen

Hymn:151 Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming

Smiling Sheep

Bible Text: Matthew 25: 31-46 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Have you ever wondered, why we smile? Is smiling universal? How is it that we know a smile means an expression of happiness? Maybe these questions do not keep you awake at night but they are rather curious. Did you know that Charles Darwin actually had a theory about smiling? He said that “facial expressions indicate the intention of animals-and by extension, humans”. In his explanation, an animal will bare its teeth as a warning to other animals. He suggested that humans co-opted this behaviour as a greeting. I prefer the answer given by researchers at Marquette University, a Jesuit University in Milwaukee. Dr. Nakia Gordon, assistant professor of psychology said, “Smiling, like most facial expressions, communicates to those around us what we are feeling. Individuals with relatively little contact with the industrialized world were able to accurately identify that a smile meant happiness. It has not been resolved whether expressions are learned or innate, but it does seem that all humans use the same expressions to communicate basic emotions.” In fact, research shows that if one smiles during a particularly difficult or distressing task it results in better emotional adjustment at a later point. Meaning that smiles not only communicate to others what we are feeling but also help us experience happiness. Basically the jury is still out about why we smile but it is universal and can have universal effects. I believe it is innate. Smiling is something we do starting at a very early age. Of course there are cynics that say a Baby’s smile is just gas, but it is rather intriguing how a smile can affect those around us.
We may not feel we have a lot to smile about with regards to our Gospel passage. Despite struggling with the two previous parables, this parable, is one of my favourites. However, the more I studied it the more distress I got, the more I had to smile through it. Some scholars and commentators do not think of this passage from Matthew 25 as a parable. It is true that it comes across as more of a vision than a parable in the traditional sense and the Jewish listeners would have understood this imagery well. The opening image is that of a king seated on the throne. This reflects many images from Hebraic apocalyptic literature. The closest parallel is found in the book of Daniel when Daniel has a vision of a king coming from the clouds ready to judge humanity. It is this judgement that has me a little worried. But before we touch on this judgement we need to touch upon a few other important details. It is the fact that this story has a meaning and a moral that I count it as a parable. It also deals with something that was very familiar to Jesus’ context, the sacrifial lambs and goats. It is for this reason that I count it as a parable.
At the very beginning it states that “All the nations will be gathered”. This phrase has puzzled, relieved, and concerned many a commentator. The Greek translation is panta ta ethne which literally means “all the peoples” or “all ethnicities”. The NRSV, the version we use, translates ethne to gentiles in some contexts and nations in others. Some people have understood that the ethne that are gathered are those within the Christian faith, others have understood it as those outside the Christian faith. I take a much more universalist approach that it is neither about those within our outside the church but rather all humanity, all nations in the truest sense. This can b a bit controversial but in my understanding of salvation it is for all people not just an elite few. This universal understanding goes both ways in this parable. The collection of sheep and goats were made up of all people but also those who are counted as the least of these represent all people- not just those within the church.
There is also an interesting link in all three parables that we have encountered over the last three weeks. In every single one there has been the element of surprise. The foolish bridesmaids were surprised to discover that the bridegroom was not coming on time and that they had run out of oil. The servants were surprised when the master was delayed. We are surprised when the third servant is demoralized for not taking big risks with the money. In this parable, BOTH the sheep and the goats are surprised. This concerns me and excites me and brings me back to this idea of why we smile. The point is that the righteous and the unrighteous have no idea that they did or did not serve the King when serving those in need. The sheep did what they did not because they expected a reward but because in seeing those in need they responded. The so-called sheep had no idea they were doing anything good or righteous when they fed the hungry, gave to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothing to the naked, took care of the sick, or visited the prisoners. They are just as shocked as the goats when Jesus tells them that when they did these things they were doing it to him. Like a simple smile, it was within their nature to be compassionate and kind. They served the needy because there was a need to fill.
So let us return to this idea of the judgement. If we believe that we are justified by faith and not by works, than theoretically this passage has very little to offer us, we are not the ones who will be judged because we have faith. But we must remember that Matthew is not writing from a grace versus works dichotomy. That theological debate came centuries after this Gospel was written. For Matthew the gospel is all about doing what Jesus says. In his Gospel Jesus commissions his disciples and says, “Obey everything I have commanded you.” However, he is not oblivious to grace either. For example, Matthew’s Jesus does not instruct the disciples that they should become the salt of the earth or light of the world; he tells them they are. For Matthew there was not debate- faith leads to works.
The fact that the sheep and goats are surprised means that it isn’t solely about works. For Matthew, and I would argue this is what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples in all the Gospels, ethical behaviour is indeed a response to Jesus’ commands. However, it does not result from effort, from trying hard, instead it comes from being human towards all humanity.
There is a Jewish proverb that says, “My neighbour’s physical need is my spiritual need”. Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th century philosopher would often refer to this proverb when discussing Matthew 25. There is a convergence of practice and faith when there is care for the least of these. Like the natural ability for all people to smile and share happiness these acts are not works to guarantee a place for us in heaven or a reason for us to be judged as righteous but rather acts that are responses to God’s merciful grace. Righteous behaviour is not done for the sake of reward but to be apart of Christ’s kingdom, to be in the reign of Christ ,is to act as if our neighbour’s physical need is our spiritual need. What a reason to smile! Amen

November 23, 2014

Bible Text: Matthew 25: 31-46 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Have you ever wondered, why we smile? Is smiling universal? How is it that we know a smile means an expression of happiness? Maybe these questions do not keep you awake at night but they are rather curious. Did you know that Charles Darwin actually had a theory about smiling? He said that “facial expressions indicate the intention of animals-and by extension, humans”. In his explanation, an animal will bare its teeth as a warning to other animals. He suggested that humans co-opted this behaviour as a greeting. I prefer the answer given by researchers at Marquette University, a Jesuit University in Milwaukee. Dr. Nakia Gordon, assistant professor of psychology said, “Smiling, like most facial expressions, communicates to those around us what we are feeling. Individuals with relatively little contact with the industrialized world were able to accurately identify that a smile meant happiness. It has not been resolved whether expressions are learned or innate, but it does seem that all humans use the same expressions to communicate basic emotions.” In fact, research shows that if one smiles during a particularly difficult or distressing task it results in better emotional adjustment at a later point. Meaning that smiles not only communicate to others what we are feeling but also help us experience happiness. Basically the jury is still out about why we smile but it is universal and can have universal effects. I believe it is innate. Smiling is something we do starting at a very early age. Of course there are cynics that say a Baby's smile is just gas, but it is rather intriguing how a smile can affect those around us.
We may not feel we have a lot to smile about with regards to our Gospel passage. Despite struggling with the two previous parables, this parable, is one of my favourites. However, the more I studied it the more distress I got, the more I had to smile through it. Some scholars and commentators do not think of this passage from Matthew 25 as a parable. It is true that it comes across as more of a vision than a parable in the traditional sense and the Jewish listeners would have understood this imagery well. The opening image is that of a king seated on the throne. This reflects many images from Hebraic apocalyptic literature. The closest parallel is found in the book of Daniel when Daniel has a vision of a king coming from the clouds ready to judge humanity. It is this judgement that has me a little worried. But before we touch on this judgement we need to touch upon a few other important details. It is the fact that this story has a meaning and a moral that I count it as a parable. It also deals with something that was very familiar to Jesus' context, the sacrifial lambs and goats. It is for this reason that I count it as a parable.
At the very beginning it states that “All the nations will be gathered”. This phrase has puzzled, relieved, and concerned many a commentator. The Greek translation is panta ta ethne which literally means “all the peoples” or “all ethnicities”. The NRSV, the version we use, translates ethne to gentiles in some contexts and nations in others. Some people have understood that the ethne that are gathered are those within the Christian faith, others have understood it as those outside the Christian faith. I take a much more universalist approach that it is neither about those within our outside the church but rather all humanity, all nations in the truest sense. This can b a bit controversial but in my understanding of salvation it is for all people not just an elite few. This universal understanding goes both ways in this parable. The collection of sheep and goats were made up of all people but also those who are counted as the least of these represent all people- not just those within the church.
There is also an interesting link in all three parables that we have encountered over the last three weeks. In every single one there has been the element of surprise. The foolish bridesmaids were surprised to discover that the bridegroom was not coming on time and that they had run out of oil. The servants were surprised when the master was delayed. We are surprised when the third servant is demoralized for not taking big risks with the money. In this parable, BOTH the sheep and the goats are surprised. This concerns me and excites me and brings me back to this idea of why we smile. The point is that the righteous and the unrighteous have no idea that they did or did not serve the King when serving those in need. The sheep did what they did not because they expected a reward but because in seeing those in need they responded. The so-called sheep had no idea they were doing anything good or righteous when they fed the hungry, gave to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothing to the naked, took care of the sick, or visited the prisoners. They are just as shocked as the goats when Jesus tells them that when they did these things they were doing it to him. Like a simple smile, it was within their nature to be compassionate and kind. They served the needy because there was a need to fill.
So let us return to this idea of the judgement. If we believe that we are justified by faith and not by works, than theoretically this passage has very little to offer us, we are not the ones who will be judged because we have faith. But we must remember that Matthew is not writing from a grace versus works dichotomy. That theological debate came centuries after this Gospel was written. For Matthew the gospel is all about doing what Jesus says. In his Gospel Jesus commissions his disciples and says, “Obey everything I have commanded you.” However, he is not oblivious to grace either. For example, Matthew's Jesus does not instruct the disciples that they should become the salt of the earth or light of the world; he tells them they are. For Matthew there was not debate- faith leads to works.
The fact that the sheep and goats are surprised means that it isn't solely about works. For Matthew, and I would argue this is what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples in all the Gospels, ethical behaviour is indeed a response to Jesus' commands. However, it does not result from effort, from trying hard, instead it comes from being human towards all humanity.
There is a Jewish proverb that says, “My neighbour's physical need is my spiritual need”. Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th century philosopher would often refer to this proverb when discussing Matthew 25. There is a convergence of practice and faith when there is care for the least of these. Like the natural ability for all people to smile and share happiness these acts are not works to guarantee a place for us in heaven or a reason for us to be judged as righteous but rather acts that are responses to God's merciful grace. Righteous behaviour is not done for the sake of reward but to be apart of Christ's kingdom, to be in the reign of Christ ,is to act as if our neighbour's physical need is our spiritual need. What a reason to smile! Amen

Bible Text: Matthew 25: 31-46 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

Have you ever wondered, why we smile? Is smiling universal? How is it that we know a smile means an expression of happiness? Maybe these questions do not keep you awake at night but they are rather curious. Did you know that Charles Darwin actually had a theory about smiling? He said that “facial expressions indicate the intention of animals-and by extension, humans”. In his explanation, an animal will bare its teeth as a warning to other animals. He suggested that humans co-opted this behaviour as a greeting. I prefer the answer given by researchers at Marquette University, a Jesuit University in Milwaukee. Dr. Nakia Gordon, assistant professor of psychology said, “Smiling, like most facial expressions, communicates to those around us what we are feeling. Individuals with relatively little contact with the industrialized world were able to accurately identify that a smile meant happiness. It has not been resolved whether expressions are learned or innate, but it does seem that all humans use the same expressions to communicate basic emotions.” In fact, research shows that if one smiles during a particularly difficult or distressing task it results in better emotional adjustment at a later point. Meaning that smiles not only communicate to others what we are feeling but also help us experience happiness. Basically the jury is still out about why we smile but it is universal and can have universal effects. I believe it is innate. Smiling is something we do starting at a very early age. Of course there are cynics that say a Baby’s smile is just gas, but it is rather intriguing how a smile can affect those around us.
We may not feel we have a lot to smile about with regards to our Gospel passage. Despite struggling with the two previous parables, this parable, is one of my favourites. However, the more I studied it the more distress I got, the more I had to smile through it. Some scholars and commentators do not think of this passage from Matthew 25 as a parable. It is true that it comes across as more of a vision than a parable in the traditional sense and the Jewish listeners would have understood this imagery well. The opening image is that of a king seated on the throne. This reflects many images from Hebraic apocalyptic literature. The closest parallel is found in the book of Daniel when Daniel has a vision of a king coming from the clouds ready to judge humanity. It is this judgement that has me a little worried. But before we touch on this judgement we need to touch upon a few other important details. It is the fact that this story has a meaning and a moral that I count it as a parable. It also deals with something that was very familiar to Jesus’ context, the sacrifial lambs and goats. It is for this reason that I count it as a parable.
At the very beginning it states that “All the nations will be gathered”. This phrase has puzzled, relieved, and concerned many a commentator. The Greek translation is panta ta ethne which literally means “all the peoples” or “all ethnicities”. The NRSV, the version we use, translates ethne to gentiles in some contexts and nations in others. Some people have understood that the ethne that are gathered are those within the Christian faith, others have understood it as those outside the Christian faith. I take a much more universalist approach that it is neither about those within our outside the church but rather all humanity, all nations in the truest sense. This can b a bit controversial but in my understanding of salvation it is for all people not just an elite few. This universal understanding goes both ways in this parable. The collection of sheep and goats were made up of all people but also those who are counted as the least of these represent all people- not just those within the church.
There is also an interesting link in all three parables that we have encountered over the last three weeks. In every single one there has been the element of surprise. The foolish bridesmaids were surprised to discover that the bridegroom was not coming on time and that they had run out of oil. The servants were surprised when the master was delayed. We are surprised when the third servant is demoralized for not taking big risks with the money. In this parable, BOTH the sheep and the goats are surprised. This concerns me and excites me and brings me back to this idea of why we smile. The point is that the righteous and the unrighteous have no idea that they did or did not serve the King when serving those in need. The sheep did what they did not because they expected a reward but because in seeing those in need they responded. The so-called sheep had no idea they were doing anything good or righteous when they fed the hungry, gave to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothing to the naked, took care of the sick, or visited the prisoners. They are just as shocked as the goats when Jesus tells them that when they did these things they were doing it to him. Like a simple smile, it was within their nature to be compassionate and kind. They served the needy because there was a need to fill.
So let us return to this idea of the judgement. If we believe that we are justified by faith and not by works, than theoretically this passage has very little to offer us, we are not the ones who will be judged because we have faith. But we must remember that Matthew is not writing from a grace versus works dichotomy. That theological debate came centuries after this Gospel was written. For Matthew the gospel is all about doing what Jesus says. In his Gospel Jesus commissions his disciples and says, “Obey everything I have commanded you.” However, he is not oblivious to grace either. For example, Matthew’s Jesus does not instruct the disciples that they should become the salt of the earth or light of the world; he tells them they are. For Matthew there was not debate- faith leads to works.
The fact that the sheep and goats are surprised means that it isn’t solely about works. For Matthew, and I would argue this is what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples in all the Gospels, ethical behaviour is indeed a response to Jesus’ commands. However, it does not result from effort, from trying hard, instead it comes from being human towards all humanity.
There is a Jewish proverb that says, “My neighbour’s physical need is my spiritual need”. Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th century philosopher would often refer to this proverb when discussing Matthew 25. There is a convergence of practice and faith when there is care for the least of these. Like the natural ability for all people to smile and share happiness these acts are not works to guarantee a place for us in heaven or a reason for us to be judged as righteous but rather acts that are responses to God’s merciful grace. Righteous behaviour is not done for the sake of reward but to be apart of Christ’s kingdom, to be in the reign of Christ ,is to act as if our neighbour’s physical need is our spiritual need. What a reason to smile! Amen