Sunday, 24 August 2014

Living God, Living Church

This is one of those gospel stories we’ve probably heard dozens of times before. Jesus goes into the district of Caesarea Phillipi with the disciples. Now this isn’t any old city. It is a Roman city and they are surrounded by the god’s of the Roman Empire. In this of all places, Jesus says to the disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)
And they come up with a bunch of possible answers. “Some say John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus turns to all of them and says, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mathew 16:14) Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” Talk about a bold proclamation! Especially in a place where they are surrounded by stone carvings of the Roman god’s. Jesus turns to Peter and says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)
Amazing isn’t? We sit here worshipping together and in some strange way it starts with Jesus saying, “You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my church.” Now I don’t think Jesus had in mind churches like we know today. He probably imagined people worshiping this living God in the synagogues. Still, here we sit gathered in Jesus’ name because Peter and others had the nerve to proclaim boldly to anyone who would listen that “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” More than two thousand years later that church with all its successes and all its failures still clings to the promise of a living God. 
But churches, not just United Churches, are faced with hard times. Some of it is bad PR on our part. People think that churches are judgement, unfriendly and unwelcoming. Some of it is the changing place of church in society. Sunday mornings are no longer reserved for church attendance. It is hard for those of us who remember full pews and Sunday schools bursting at the seams to know that we are faced with budgets that are stretched to the limit and buildings that are beautiful but bigger than we need or can afford. And it makes me wonder what is next for this church – the church of Jesus, the messiah, son of the living God. 
Recently Scott attended some church meetings by the Edge Network which is trying to help congregations who are wrestling with some of these hard questions.  He brought home the gift of a new word – well two words linked together in a new way. Discontinuous change. “Discontinuous change” happens when we struggle to understand why the ways we have functioned in the past no longer produce the same results.  
And isn’t that where we are in the church? The things that worked once no longer produce the same results. The things we’ve always done seem to fall flat. The world has changed and that leaves who sit in the pews on Sunday mornings trying to figure out what to do. We wonder if the church even has a place in this new world. And if we do, what is it? Hard questions with no easy answers or instant fixes. 
Sarah Cunningham’s book Portable Faith writes about finding new ways of being church. She begins with a story of a middle aged woman behind the desk at the local bond office who says to her, “There’s at least a dozen churches within a four block radius of here and that doesn’t change anything. … The city is the same as it’s always been. Same problems, same hardships, same cycles. Churches hold weekly services for anyone who wants to come, but I don’t think there’s any reason to believe they impact people beyond their own buildings.” (Portable Faith, pg. 1) 
Cunningham continues by writing, “…despite growing up as a pastor’s kid and logging hundreds – maybe thousands – of hours in church pews. I knew in the sinking, what-is-true part of my gut that “coming” was not the verb that Jesus had used in his parting shot to the disciples. “Come join us” was decidedly different invitation than “go into all the world.” And “inviting ones” was almost the polar opposite identity as “sent ones,” the term attached to those first believing apostles who bore the message of Jesus.”  (Portable Faith page 3) 
Peter was a sent one. He started life doing what his father before him did – fishing. Then he met Jesus and everything changed. He quite literally left everything to follow Jesus. He went to places he’d never been and he even got a new name, “Peter.” Rock. After Jesus’ resurrection, he didn’t stay in his hometown. He went and spread the word about Jesus wherever he could because he knew that Jesus was the son of the living God and that is what made all the difference. 
Now it is our turn today to pick up from Peter and all the faithful who’ve gone before us left off. It is our turn to share the good news of Jesus, Messiah, son of the living God. And we can. We’ve just gotten out of practice. We all grew up hearing that religion and politics aren’t something you talk about in polite company. Here’s the problem, if we don’t talk about why we come to church, if we don’t talk about what God has done for us, if we don’t talk about why we are followers of Jesus, how will anyone know about the living God whose love changes everything?
And here something else we’ve forgotten, people want to know. If you go to the Spirituality section in the bookstore it is full of books for people searching for answers to the meaning and purpose of life. Why not share ours? There are several longitudinal studies that link attendance at religious services with lower rates of depression. So going to church is good for you. We have something so special in the church and we need to share it with others. 
We don’t have the luxury of being polite or holding back. There was a time when I was outside the walls of churches that I would actively work at not telling people that I was a United Church minister. I would dread the question, “And what do you do?” And then watch the people who clam up or worse apologizing for swearing in front of me – like I’d never heard the words or said them. But no more. We have a message of the living God to share and if we don’t tell our stories then no one will know about it.
So here it goes. I love the church. I love that Jesus loves me as we sing in church, “Yes, Jesus loves, Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes Jesus loves me the bible tells me so.” I love the stories in the bible call me to see things in every new ways. I know when it seems like my life is crumbling around me God is holding me. I love that I can feel the Holy Spirit pushing, nudging, inspiring me to try something different. Church is one of the few places I truly felt comfortable. I think it saved my life when I was a teenager because it was the only place I felt loved for me. On Sunday morning I could walk in through the doors of Edgewood United Church and I could breathe again. I knew that in school I didn’t belong – not with the cool kids and sometimes not even with the people who were my friends. But church was home. My wonderful Sunday School teacher Mary made it a place to explore and think about faith but most importantly to belong. 
Perhaps, if we can find a way to start sharing those stories of grace and forgiveness, those stories of love and acceptance, of our God whose love gives life, we can find every new ways to be the body of Christ for this time and this place. It is our turn to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” and boldly declare, “You are the Messiah, son of the living God.” And then, we like Peter, like all who’ve gone before us, become the rock upon which the church is built. Amen. 

To listen, please visit 
Links to articles about church attendance and depression:

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Opening our Hearts

The bible is full of wonderful stories, but this is one of my favourites. Just imagine what was going in this woman’s life that she had the nerve to do what she did in a time when men and women didn’t associate much and men had the final say. When asking didn’t work she demanded something of Jesus. Nadia Bolz-Webber (@sarcasticluther) tweeted this morning, “Personally, I like a text where Jesus commends the faith of a sass-mouthed woman.” Whether she’s sass-mouthed or persistent, what happened that day changed everything. 
For some it this is a hard text because Jesus is downright rude. There is none of that compassion that we are used to seeing. The grace in this text doesn’t come from him that for sure. 
Imagine what it was like that day. Jesus and the disciples decided to go to the region Tyre and Sidon which is the traditionally the land of the gentiles – those who are not the people of Israel – descendants of Abraham. Not long after arriving, a woman approaches Jesus and the disciples. She starts saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) But no one paid attention. Jesus kept walking and the disciples behind him. She was after all a Canaanite woman, a gentile – there was no need to listen to her. Again “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) Still nothing. 
But she will not be ignored. Her daughter’s life is one the line. She knows about Jesus and what he can do. Again she says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22)  Finally the disciples are tired of this nagging and say to Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” We might as well just say it like it is. Jesus is rude. He is guilty of racism. His mission is not for her kind and he says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  And he keeps going. 
This is why I love this story. She will not be ignored or put off or told to go home without first getting what she came for. She puts herself in Jesus path and kneels at before him saying, “Lord help me.” (Matthew 15:25) And still Jesus does nothing. Can you believe it? Our Jesus who heals. Our Jesus who is compassionate. Our Jesus who loves us back to life refuses to help this woman whose daughter is being tormented by demons. And then he compares her to dog. He says, her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26) 
Most people would have walked away. First ignored, then dismissed and then insulted. But not this woman. She says “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27) And finally Jesus see her – not where she is from – but her. A mother crying, begging for her daughter’s life to be restored. Jesus says, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:28) And in that moment her daughter is healed. 
And in that moment that Jesus is changed. Jesus us healed. On the surface this an ordinary healing story except that it does not follow the normal pattern of healing stories. Truly the person healed in this text is Jesus. He has a new understanding of his calling. Barbara Brown Taylor writes , “through the Canaanite woman’s faith [Jesus] learns that God’s purpose for him is bigger than he had imagined and there is enough of him to go around [...]Faith works like a lever on him opening his arms wider and wider until there is room for the whole world in them, until he allows them to be nailed open on the cross.” (Seeds of Heaven. p. 63)
The woman in our story was praised for her faith. But it is not only her faith that was amazing but her persistence and intelligence. We owe her thanks because she opens Jesus’ heart to a new way of living and being in the world.
Through her faith is that Jesus is changed. This happens all the time. People come into our lives and leave a mark on us. They change our hearts and set our lives on a new course. It happened with Jesus and can happen with us. It happened to me. When I was at school in Toronto, if I had a lot of work to do for the following week, I would go to the 8am service at the Anglican Church on the corner. It meant that I got to go to church and had more time to finish my assignments. It was a quiet service and usually there were no more than 10 people there. I loved the peace of this service. One Sunday, just before the sermon began I heard the doors of the church bang open and close.  And into the peace and quiet of this service walked a homeless man. He said loudly, “Sorry I’m late.” He sat down in the pew and the smell of someone whose life was spent outdoors filled street filled the sanctuary. And I confess that I resented his presence in that service. He disturbed the peace of my morning. 
My heart was closed. I couldn’t see that just as I needed a place to pray and worship – so did he. The sermon came and went. The ushers were taking up the offering and were just about to pass the man by, when he began searching through his pockets. Gradually he pulled out every coin he had and put it in the offering plate and then apologized for how little it was. 
In that moment I knew that I was wrong to be resentful. I was closed minded and judgmental. In short I looked on his appearance and did not my brother in Christ all I saw was a street person. I needed to be disrupted and have the peace of the morning disturbed. I had grown so used to seeing people living on the street that I lost my compassion. He taught me, reminded me that we are children of God. He who showed me the importance generosity and the importance of giving back to God. 
Just as the Canaanite woman helped Jesus see the world in a new way, he helped me. And that is our calling as a people of faith. To be disturbed and disrupted so that we can see something new. It is in learning from one another that we see the face of God and in respecting the diversity of those in our midst that we truly become the body of Christ in the world. God calls us to reach out beyond ourselves and those who are like us to learn about generosity, faith, hope and love from all those who have a story to tell. You never know when your actions might change someone’s heart or when yours will be changed. In expanding our world view we are taking steps that will bring healing and wholeness to our communities, countries and world. Thanks be to God. Amen. 
We are going to close by blessing one another. Turn to page 349 in your hymn books. As we say, pray these words look at those around you and bless them as the bless you. 

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet
walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands
stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart
open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet,
and may everyone you meet
see the face of Christ in you. Amen. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Wrestling with God and Humans

I get back from a lovely vacation and what is the first text for the day? Jacob wrestling with God. That's both the gift and challenge of the lectionary and perhaps God's sense of humour at work. The passage of scripture is at once a challenge and beautiful. The text asks us to consider: "What does it mean for Jacob and for for us to wrestle with God?" I’ve been reading Barbra Brown Taylors new book Learning to Walk in the Dark where she says some of the most significant moments happen as we wrestle in the dark with God.
Jacob knows it only too well. Twice in his life he encounters God and leaves with promise and blessing. Jacob is the grandson of Abraham and Sarah, one of Isaac and Rebecca’s two sons. Jacob is the second son only by minutes. His older brother Esau was born first and Jacob came behind him quickly griping his older brother’s heal. It seems from the before the day that Esau and Jacob were born they were competing with one another. And it was Jacob the younger always striving for what was his older brother’s. The bad family dynamics don’t end there it says in Genesis 25 “When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunger, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man living in the tents. Isaac loved Esau because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:27)
The ground work for this family feud was planted in fertile soil. Jacob’s grasping after Esau didn’t end with his heal. First Jacob tricks his brother into giving him his birthright and then he tricks his father into giving him Esau’s blessing. Jacob had taken everything from his brother and Esau was so angry he plans to kill his brother. The first time Jacob encounters God is as he flees and goes to live with his mother’s brother Laban who is a trickster to match Jacob. 
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Later God would come to Abraham’s Grandson Jacob in the middle of the night, after he fled from the family he betrayed in the worst kind of way. When Jacob could not run any longer, he lay down in the middle of nowhere and fell asleep, dreaming one of those dreams that arrives more like a vision. He saw a ladder with its feet set on the earth and its top reaching toward heaven, with bright angels of God climbing up and down  on it. That was when God said more or less the same thing to Jacob that he said to his grandfather Abraham. “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Barbra Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark page 92 – 93)
That is the first time God comes to Jacob. The second is in our passage for today, after Jacob falls madly in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel. After he works seven long years to Marry Rachel and ends up marring Leah. After he works another seven long years for Rachel. After Jacob is tired of being tricked and cheated by Laban. After he finally realizes that the only place for him to go is home – back to the family he betrayed. 
So he makes a plan. Jacob sends Esau presents with this message, “I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favour in your sight.” (Genesis 32:5) Then return message is this, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” (Genesis 32:7)
And you can imagine what Jacob is thinking. He is coming for me. So he sends more gifts and indeed his whole family over to meet Esau. He stays behind by himself for the night.
Now Jacob must face all his fears and shortcomings. All night he wrestles with a man. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. (Genesis 32:25) 

But Jacob is tenacious. He will not let go until he gets a blessing. So the figure asks, “what is your name? And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.”  (Genesis 32:27 – 28) Jacob walks away with a new name but he now walks with a limp.
And isn’t that what we are about as a people of faith? We struggle to understand God and how God calls us to live. We struggle with both faith and doubt. We struggle to live daily as God’s people. And on those nights we come face to face with our fears and shortcomings we like Jacob wrestle with God. And like Jacob, the most important thing we can do is never to let go of God. That means hanging on in spite of doubt and in spite of hard times to God’ promise. 
The breath taking beauty of Jacob’s story is not that Jacob was perfect he wasn’t. What amazes me every time is that God chooses him even though he betrays his family, even though he is a liar and a cheat. God chooses Jacob not for anything he is yet to be but just as he is. Then God blesses him and gives him a new name. And if God will do that for Jacob, then God will do that for you and for you. And that my friends is God’s abiding, amazing, transforming grace. Amen. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Bloom Where You Planted

Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. This is not a book for the Bible for the faint hearted. In part because Jeremiah asks us to look at our lives and our world with care. Not necessarily for the good stuff but the injustices that pit one human being against another and for the times that challenge us to see things in a new way. 
Yet every now and then there is a passage from Jeremiah that did not involve heart wrenching tears. Don’t get too excited – Jeremiah’s version of good news does not call for a party. God’s chosen people are still being held captive in Babylon by the Babylonians – there is nothing new on that front. The Israelites are are living in a strange land far from their beloved home in Jerusalem. The temple in Jerusalem still lies in ruins. What is new, are the false prophets who stand on every street corner predicting a swift end to their captivity in Babylon. Jeremiah looks on and shakes his head and says to the people “don’t believe a word of it. God has something else in mind and it does not involve a joyful reunion in Jerusalem in two years time.”  Jeremiah says, “It’s going to take time. Bloom where you are planted.”  
Listen again to Jeremiah’s words. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4 – 7)
What Jeremiah is asking is hard. It means finding a way to bloom in rocky ground. It means looking ahead instead of remembering what has been. Jeremiah makes no promises for a quick return to Jerusalem. Rather he asks the people of Israel to build a new life in Babylon and to pray for the wellbeing of the city where they are captives. In working for the health of this new city, the people of Israel will find their own health. Jeremiah asks God’s people to find a way to give thanks for this new place and to make the most of life in a new land and make the best of a difficult situation because they are going to be in Babylon for a long time. So, says Jeremiah, “Get married. Have children and pray for the welfare of the city where you are living even it means praying for enemies. Bloom where you are planted.” 
This is something I think many people from this province are well able to do. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the history of this place but in the time I’ve lived here I heard stories about people learned how to make do and to survive in difficult circumstances. I was settled on Newtown Lumsden Pastoral Charge in Bonavista North. While Newtown is a beautiful place you would not call the soil fertile and there is only one direction of warm wind. The winters, well it is fair to say I’d never seen anything like it. It is wild when the wind and the snow come. 
I once asked my neighbour, who grew up on a Pinchard’s Island which is a short boat ride from Newtown, how she and her family managed to survive winters on the island. I imagined she’d tell me the winters were terrible. I imagined she’d tell me it was cold because there was no electricity. I imagined she’d tell me there it was a daily struggle. Without hesitation she said, “It was the best time in my life. We all lived as one.” Talk about blooming where you are planted. 
In spite of a land that may seem inhospitable, people found places where vegetables would grow, they would eat what they could fish or hunt and harvested the berries in their season. Somehow, out of land that may seem to a new comer like me as harsh, generations people carved out a living out of the land. They not only made a living, but they gave thanks for what they had.  
It is a good message for us in the church today. We may not face the challenges of living that the people in Jeremiah’s day or the early settlers to this province did. All the same it is a challenging time to be in the church. Everywhere we turn people are saying that the church is dying. Changes in the society mean that church no longer has the place it once did. We know all too well in this congregation that pews are not as full as they once were, what one hard winter can do to an oil bill and how hard it is for us raise the money need to continue worshiping here. 
And yet, and yet Jeremiah’s message to us not one of despair. God calls us to bloom where we are planted. God’s word of hope to us is ever the same and so is the message of the prophet. Bloom where you are planted. Find ways to seek the welfare of the people and place where we find yourselves.  That is our calling today. To go into the community and find ways to help those who need help. To find ever new ways to share the good news of God’s deep and abiding love. To be a community of faith. 
Jeremiah says, “For surely you know that plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) We are promised a future filled with hope. So let us go into the world with praise on lips to be God’s people at work in the world. Amen. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Trinity Blest

Today in addition to being father’s day it is Trinity Sunday. It is one of those hard days for preachers because the doctrine of the Trinity is perhaps one of the most complex ways of talking about God. This doctrine has both confused and blessed the church from its beginnings. Over the centuries there have been countless ways to explain the Trinity. 
The early Celtic Christians imagined it as three inter connected rings – different yet inseparable. The shamrock is another way of imagining the Trinity – three distinct parts one leaf. The Trinity can be compared to a three legged stool. The three legs give it stability. Two legs could lead to disaster and adding a fourth would not add to its stability - our God has three persons in community with one another giving a divine balance.
Yet three in one, one in three is a difficult concept for our brains to digest. We sang it earlier, “Threeness of Persons, Oneness of Godhead, Trinity Blest.” (VU 410) Some have compared the Trinity with water – one substance three forms water, vapour and ice.  The beauty of the Trinity is that it gives us different ways of knowing God.
None of the descriptions of the Trinity has ever really connected to my day to day lived faith. This week I read an article by Dr. David Loose that helped put the Trinity in perspective. He writes: “I’ve said for years that a) I don’t fully understand the Trinity, b) I don’t expect to this side of the eschaton, and c) I tend not to trust those who say they do. :) (And, in case we feel bad that we don’t really understand the Trinity, let’s keep in mind that the church fought over it for a century or more and that even folks like Augustine at times got tangled up trying to explain it!)” ( I am thankful to be in good company. 
What matters most is how we live out that faith out. Lose suggests that instead of trying to understand the complex doctrine of the Trinity that we should “instead talk about what Trinitarian congregations look like. And my short definition of a Trinitarian congregation is one that sees itself as called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.” ( 
That is the heart of what is asked of the disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel. The disciples hear the news that Jesus has risen from the dead and that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. So the disciples travel to Galilee to the place that Jesus directed them. It says in Matthew, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, of the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17 – 18) 
For such a short passage it describes so clearly what we are about as a people of faith. Like the first disciples we come together to worship. It is in gathering together in worship like the disciples – some of us with faith and some of us with doubt that we gain strength for what following Jesus commands. Then Jesus sends the disciples out into the world to make disciples, to baptize and to follow in Jesus’ way of compassion and love. 
That is our calling today. Sometimes it can seem like a difficult and complex job. But the disciples were just like us people of faith and doubt. People who knew the stories of Jesus and did their best to follow in his way. One commentator writes: “Matthew reports that even now, at the close of his story, and just as the disciples are about to be commissioned as Jesus’ witnesses, they still have a hard time believing in Jesus even as they worship him. That’s who we are -- people made up of a mixture of faith and doubt, hope and fear, successes and failures.” (
As the disciples spread the word of Jesus, they do their best to live out their faith guided by the Holy Spirit to proclaim to good news Jesus, to care for all of God’s creation. The Trinity might be complicated but the hymn writer Brian Wren sums how we live it out “Three things I promise, Holy God, in age and youth, in life and death: to bless your Name, and cling to Christ, and listen for the Spirit’s breath.” (More Voices 176)
As each of us finds our own way to live out this calling, caring for the world and for God’s people, we are blessed by the “threeness of person and oneness of God head.” (VU 410) We are blessed with the gift of the Spirit’s guiding power. We are blessed by new life in Christ. We are blessed by our God who is ever creating. Paul said it best: “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. ... The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 – 13) Amen.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Holy Spirit Hear Us

The work of the Holy Spirit takes all of us. It is not work I or anyone can do alone. So today you are part of the sermon. So turn in your hymn book to 377. We are going to lift our voices in song and by the last verse we are going to sing a cappella as a reminder of what we can all do together as the body of Christ in this place.  


1 Holy Spirit, hear us,
help us while we sing;
breathe into the music
of the praise we bring.

Last week Jesus finished Luke’s gospel with these words: “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:48 – 49) And that is what they did. They went and waited. One day as they were together – praying and praising something amazing and terrifying happened. 
It seems that how it always goes when God is involved it is both amazing and terrifying. The disciples with the newly selected Mathias are together when all of a sudden there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. And then more – divided tongues as of fire appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. And then they could speak the languages of the world. 
Some were amazed at the power of the Spirit and wondered what this could mean and others sneered figuring they were drunk. For surely this was a new thing. 

2 Holy Spirit, shine now
on the book we read;
light its holy pages
with the truth we need.

Peter knew exactly what to do. He pulled out his bible are reminded them of the words of the prophet Joel. “Indeed the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2: 17 – 18) With the gift of the Holy Spirit the disciples began to spread the word about Jesus. The words of life are passed from one person to another, from one generation to the next from that day to this one.

It is easy on the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the birth of the church, to only look back at what was and to see only vestiges of former glory. It is harder to look ahead and see what can be. I just spent a whole week in meetings preparing for the General Council of the United Church of Canada in 2015. The Spirit is alive and well in our church. Filled with leaders that are as faithful as they are passionate about their church. Even in the mist of uncertainty, they trust, we trust, that the Holy Spirit will guide and inspire us as we move forward. The message of Jesus that inspired people to travel and speak in all the languages of the world is ours today. Now it is our turn, we are the witnesses. 

3 Holy Spirit, prompt us
when we bow to pray;
speak within and teach us
what we ought to say.

We are the witnesses the ones called to tell the stories of Jesus. The parables that inspire and confuse, the healing stories from the bible and from our lives – those holy moments when God draws close to us are ours to share. 

As we share the good news, we do this so alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Holy Spirit that filled the disciples so long ago with the ability to speak with in all the languages of the world, is with us today, guiding and strengthening us. We've all been given gifts of the Spirit.  Sometimes they are hard to spot but that doesn’t meant they aren’t there. Paul writes this: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; …To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, … to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 12) 

Each of us has been given a gift of the spirit and when we work together as the body of Christ we can do anything. 

4 Holy Spirit, help us
daily by your might,
what is wrong to conquer,
and to choose the right.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Ascension Sunday

At the top of the playlist in our house this week is Sara McLachan’s song “Ordinary Miracle.” It all started last week at Carrie’s Dance recital when it was used as one of the songs for a group to dance to. Since then Scott’s been singing and we’ve been playing it in the car to and from school. They lyrics are beautiful.  
“It's not that unusual
When everything is beautiful
It's just another ordinary miracle today
The sky knows when it's time to snow
Don't need to teach a seed to grow
It's just another ordinary miracle today
Life is like a gift they say
Wrapped up for you everyday
Open up and find a way
To give some of your own.

… Do you want to see a miracle?
It seems so exceptional
The things just work out after all
It's just another ordinary miracle today
Sun comes up and shines so bright
And disappears again at night
It's just another ordinary miracle today”
The songs has me thinking about those ordinary miracles. Those things that we take for granted like sunshine sparkling on the water, or icebergs, or flowers pushing their way up through the ground or how a friend calls at just the right time. The list could go on and on. They are so ordinary that we forget how amazing and beautiful and miraculous these things really are.  
It takes practice to take note of the miraculous things that happen right before our eyes. Watching for miracles is a like a muscle that needs to be worked out. And, if you can’t spot the ordinary day to day miracles, how are you going to be able to notice the big ones? Jesus knew that. He used ordinary things like yeast, and sheep and lost coins or bread and wine to remind us of God’s love for us and to teach us how God is at work in the world. Because while God does come into our lives in powerful ways it is not our everyday experience of God. Daily God is in the ordinary events of living, dying, working, loving, sorrow, praying, eating, growing, learning. 
In our scripture reading, the disciples were trying to get back to their ordinary lives. But how could they after everything that happened? The disciples are still reeling from the events of the past few days. The big parade with palm branches waving, the trial, the horror of crucifixion, death and now the news of Jesus’ resurrection. It was the women who first shared the news. Then Cleopas came back from a walk to Emmaus with the news that he’d seen Jesus. 
As the disciples and others were gathered in a room trying get used to this new normal Jesus comes and stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36) Everyone in the room is terrified – as you can imagine. Jesus shows them is wounds and gives them one last promise, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
Then Jesus leads them to another place, he blesses them and while he is blessing them is carried up into heaven. It is hard to explain what happened that day. But it left a mark on the disciples because they went to Jerusalem with joy and were in the temple day and night praising God. It leaves a mark still today as over two thousand years later people both Muslim and Christians gather at the mosque of the Ascension, built to mark the place where Jesus ascended to heaven, to worship. It is a holy place. 
To understand why the ascension is such a holy moment you need to know more about the Gospel of Luke. It was written around the year 70 after the Romans destroyed temple in Jerusalem. The beautiful temple, the holy place where generations of people had been meeting God was in ruins. It was devastating for the people of Israel. Richard Swanson writes: “Luke stands in the ruins of the Temple and reclaims the old hope of real transformation. This hope goes back to Isaiah and the Exile, goes back also to Ezekiel standing in the valley of dry bones. In Ezekiel, the prophet stands in a valley full of the bones of Jews killed by Gentiles and receives a promise of a rebirth of hope that had been clean cut off. Luke stands in the midst of a similar scene of slaughter. Luke promises a raising and re-gathering of all of God’s Creation, even from among the enemy who brought destruction to the Jewish center of the world. This is real audacity. It will require metanoia, that basic change of heart that changes everything.” ( 
It is a bold message – life changing and transformative. It is a reminder to us today who look at the changes in the world and in our churches and lament. The church is not what it was 20, 30, 50 or 100 years ago but the message of hope proclaimed by Jesus has not changed.  We have a promise to cling to that changes hearts and changes lives. God will not leave us. We may need to find new ways of being God’s people in the world. But, and this important God is not finished with us yet. There is more for us to be and do in the world as a people of faith.
In this in between time – between what was and what will be, it is our calling, to share the good news of Jesus, to ensure that all God’s people are cared for and to look for that promise in the ordinary miracles of life. There is no better place to be reminded of that then as we gather at God’s table, surrounded by the gifts of bread and wine. In the ordinary gifts of bread and wine we are reminded of God’s abiding presence in our lives and sustained for the journey ahead.  God is not finished us yet. Thanks be to God. Amen.  

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Stay the Course

There’s at least twice in the New Testament I can easily identify Paul using the image of the race and runner. The first time is in today’s passage of scripture in which he writes the well known words, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7) The second is one of my favourite passages of scripture Hebrews 12:1 - 2 “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely to us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”  
Runners, especially long distance runners, are quite remarkable. The commitment required to train involves an investment of time and a high level of dedication. I often see people running in cold, rainy, damp weather. I’m amazed at the dedication the people I see running in the winter. A friend of mine runs marathons and he talks of it as being both a physical and mental challenge. The physical part is pushing past the exhaustions and the mental aspect is the ability to stay the course, to keep focused on the goal and to know when to give yourself the necessary pep talk to keep going in spite of aching muscles. 
I am not a runner but a few years ago I started going to the gym again. That was a challenge for me. I began on the treadmill because I figured at the very least I can walk. I started out pretty slowly and every few days I would increase the speed. After about a month, I said to myself, “Why don’t you try to run a little?” So I did. I ran for a whole minute and I was proud of myself. After a week or so of one minute, I thought – why don’t you try two minutes? “Okay.” I said to myself, “a minute is only sixty seconds. Anyone can do anything for 60 seconds.” Oh, that was a hard 60 seconds -- legs aching; breathing hard. I had to break it down. Only 45 more seconds to go – I can do anything for 45 seconds; only 30 seconds to go; only 15 seconds to go keep going; only 10. That’s the mental challenge – how to persuade yourself to keep going when your body would rather stop. 
As Paul travelled spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, he no doubt had plenty of days when he would rather have stopped and given up being a disciple. And yet he kept going. He travelled all around Asia, proclaiming the good news and did his best to stay in touch with all the fledgling Christian communities he visited. I think Paul was like a minister for a multi-point pastoral charge – except his points were hundreds and hundreds of miles apart. He could not always be with them so he wrote all the points letters – letters of encouragement; letter of discipline; letters with practical advice on how to live as one of Christ’s disciples. He ran the race. He kept going.  
William Ritter writes, “Several years ago, I told you a story about one of my all-time favourite people. Not that I know her, or have even met her. But I admire her. Because one day, at age 42, in beautiful downtown Cleveland, she ran a marathon by accident (all 26 miles, 385 yards of it). Her name was Georgene Johnson. Still is. As you will recall, she lined up with the wrong group at the starting line. Not the 10K group, where she belonged. But the 26 mile group, where she didn't. It wasn't until the four mile mark that she realized her mistake. So she just kept going, finishing the race in four hours and four minutes. But it's what she said later (by way of explanation) that has stayed with me since. Said Georgene: "This isn't the race I trained for. This isn't the race I entered. But, for better or worse, this is the race I'm in." (
That is true for so many of us. We sometimes find ourselves in places we don’t intend to be and yet we must make the best of the situation. At the end of his life and ministry Paul found himself in that unintended place. He was in prison. As Paul sits in jail, looking back over his ministry, perhaps he is remembering that day on the road to Damascus when Jesus came so powerfully in his life or remembering his visits with the Christian communities in Rome, Corinth, or Phillipi. As the scenes of his ministry flash before his eyes, he has a choice to make about how to spend his remaining days. He could choose to be bitter or to lash out at God for the fate that has befallen him. 
Instead, Paul does what he does best, he does what God has called him to do from the beginning of his ministry, he takes out his pen and parchment and writes. Today it is a letter to Timothy. Some of what he writes is instruction to us, “As for you always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” (2 Timothy 4:5) Some of what Paul writes is practical, “Do your best to come to me soon…. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas; also the books, and above all the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:9, 13) Some of it is Paul’s deep and abiding faith in God’s goodness. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever.” (2 Timothy 4: 18)
Paul could have chosen to look at his time in prison as a failure—a dismal end to and otherwise good ministry. Instead he is able to write in faith, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:6 – 7) 
On April 12, 1980 right here in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador Terry Fox began the Marathon of Hope. Every day for 143 days he got up and ran – ran in the rain; ran in the wind; ran in the sleet. His goal was to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research – 1 dollar for every Canadian. On September 1, 1980 just outside Thunder Bay, after running 5, 373 km, Terry had to stop. With tears in his eyes, he announced that the cancer had returned. He never reached his destination. But who among us would say he failed? Terry Fox is a Canadian hero because of his determination and strength of spirit -- to stay the course, to run the race. Terry’s dream lives on each year as thousands people around the world gather to run, walk, or wheel sharing in his legacy – the Marathon of Hope. In faith we call those who inspire us to stay the course the great cloud of witnesses. Success lies not in reaching our destination, but in how well and true we stay the course. Terry stayed the course. Paul stayed the course. 
As we hear the story of Paul’s life lived in faith we are reminded of the course that is set before each one of us. We do not know the twists and turns that will come our way. No doubt we will face difficult times. No doubt we will want to give up. No doubt there will be times of joy. It is not the destination that matters, but the company we take with us, our fellow travellers in the way of Christ, and above all our God who sustains us and offers us the grace that inspires us to stay the course, run the race, and keep the faith. Amen. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

May 11, 2014

The reading from Luke at first glance seems like a story of little consequence. Not much happens and yet there is something about the interaction between Mary and Jesus that is intriguing. In this short story we catch a glimpse of Jesus’s childhood. He is 12 years old and he travels with his family to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. Many people did this so it wasn’t unusual for a large group of extended family and friends to be traveling together and it wasn’t that surprising that Joseph and Mary didn’t notice that Jesus wasn’t with them right away. They’d travelled for a day when they started asking around. “Have you seen Jesus?” I’m guessing that that Mary’s fear increased every time someone said “No.” 
Mary and Joseph go back to Jerusalem. They spend three exhausting and stressful days searching for their child. Weary and anxious they finally find him in the temple. Not being able to find your child is big deal. I’m guessing many of us can identify with Mary and Joseph in their frantic search for Jesus. I remember clearly the day Will wandered away from in the jam packed grocery store two days before Christmas. I rushed up and down the aisles searching for him. When I finally found him I was simultaneously relieved and angry. Angry that he didn’t listen. Angry at myself for turning my back on him to get something off the shelf. And he was only lost for 5 minutes. 
As parents, God entrusts us with the care of our children. But it is not always an easy calling. There are joyful days like today as we welcome new members of the body of Christ through baptism or concerts or watching them succeed at their newest endeavour. There are the crazy days of making sure that meals are ready and that they get to their activities. There are days spent caring and worrying when they are sick. There are parents who struggle with strained relationships with their children.
For Mary it was much the same. There were times of joy but also terrible days. Think of Mary during Holy Week as Mary watches from the sidelines as terrible things happen to her son and how her heartbreak that day. Did she pray the words of our psalm, “I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will come my help?” (Psalm 121). Maybe she needed someone to reminder her, “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121) 
This week many around the world have watched in horror as details about the abduction of over 200 hundred Nigerian girls from their school unfolds. They are being held captive with the threat that they will be sold. The refrain “bring back our girls” is a haunting prayer and cry for help. A senseless crime that has devastated so many families and it seems as though we are helpless to change the situation. It seems especially hard on a day that celebrates mothers to know that there are so many who are anxiously waiting for news about their daughters.  
Prayers for our children aren’t new. Mary and Joseph must have said so many as they searched for Jesus. Perhaps a prayer with every step as they looked for him. Finally they find him. Mary says, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” (Luke 2:49) Fear, frustration, anger all balled up into two short sentences. And what does Jesus say? Today I imagine he would say, “Well duh Ma. Where did you think I’d be? This is my Father’s house.” 
The story comes to no easy resolution – other than to say that Jesus grows in wisdom and years and Mary treasures all these things in her heart. But then that is often the case between parents and children. It is a journey over a lifetime filled with ups and downs. 
That journey includes praying for children here and round the world – today especially remember especially our brothers and sisters in Nigeria. But we also need to pray for a world where children are safe every day. Mother’s day has its roots in the hope of better lives for women and families. Voices calling for change inspired the first Mother’s days.  Ann Reeves Jarvis began planning “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to improve women’s lives though education in the areas of health and sanitation. Around the same time Julia Ward Howe, the poet who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic wrote “A Mother’s Day Proclamation” as plea for peace in the world. She writes,
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears! …
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice."

The cry for peace and for the safety of all our children is one that continues to echo today. We know Mary’s heartache did not end when she found Jesus in the temple. There were many ups and downs until that last and most terrible day with Jesus on the cross. But we also know Mary witnessed the resurrection – that she knew the promise of new life that is for us all. It is our job as a community faith to live into that promise of new life and to hold high the candle of hope. For those whose heartache is still with them, it is our prayer that they will find that new life. Until the day where we can all dwell in safety and peace, let us as God’s people pray and work for a world made new. Amen. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Easter Sunsay

Easter Sunday rolls around each year and for me it is a challenging Sunday to preach. How do I find the right words to convey the joy that comes with this day? Especially when I’ve heard the story all my life and the logical part of my brain says, “really, Jesus died, he was dead and three days later came back to life. Really?”  Then my faith reminds me Easter Sunday joy just doesn’t make sense. We can understand resuscitation. We see it on all the hospital dramas. People flat line their hearts stop and then paddles come out and that flat line starts to flutter. Resuscitation we can understand – it is a medical miracle.  But resurrection is another matter altogether. 
Resurrection is three days dead and all of sudden living, breathing, walking, talking. Resurrection is coming back to life – not like the in zombie movies and tv shows but to fullness of life. Not just existence but life filled with joy, possibility and hope.  It does not make logical or rational sense. So is it any wonder that Mary didn’t recognize Jesus and thought he was the gardener?
After finding the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, Mary runs to find Peter. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:2) she tells Peter.  Peter and the other unnamed disciple run to the tomb finding nothing but linen wrappings and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head rolled up in a place by itself. The two disciples not knowing what to make of the scene left and went home. Mary stayed. Mary always stayed. 
She stood outside the tomb weeping. Waiting. Watching. Finally Mary looks inside the tomb but filled with grief she can’t make sense of the linen wrappings. She hardly notices the two angels who ask her what is wrong but all she can manage to say is, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:13) Then comes another voice that Mary thinks comes from the gardener, saying, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15) Hoping to find answers Mary says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)
What happens is amazing. Jesus says, “Mary!”  And somehow in hearing her name spoken everything is clear. It is because of this moment that John’s account of the resurrection is my favourite. A split second and one word transforms grief into joy. Mary hears her name changes her weeping to joy. Jesus says, “Mary!” and she turns and says “Rabbouni. Teacher” Nothing is the same again. Mary runs to the disciples and announces, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18) 
Peter Buehler says, “Easter is an event beyond seasons, beyond time and space. Easter is resurrection: impossible hopes made possible by the power of Christ raised from the dead.” (Peter Buehler, Further Up And Further In!
We may not be able to logically explain resurrection and what happens at Easter. It is divine mystery. But we do know those holy moments like the moment Mary hears her name and her life changes.  Like those moments when we feel God’s presence. We remember that with God all things are possible – even if we can’t explain and we don’t understand it. Dead people stay dead except when God enters in and breaks all the rules and changes everything. And because Jesus is risen death loses its sting and holy mystery opens for us a life filled with hope and joy. In some divine mysterious way God changes everything. The tomb is empty. Jesus Christ is risen. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Say Something

One of my favourite childhood memories was the annual natal day parade in Halifax. The parade route started so close to my house you could hear the bands warming up. In my memory it was always a warm sunny summer’s day. My brother and I would sit on our front step waiting listening and then run down to the end of the street to watch the floats and my favourite pipe and drum bands march past us. There is so much joy in a parade – the music, the laughter, the children.   
Do you suppose that this is what the very first Palm Sunday parade was like? This parade didn’t have an organizing committee with a date set in advance – it was a spur of the moment kind of parade. By the time we arrive at our reading for today the stage has been set. There’s been miracles, the feeding of the 5000 and Lazarus was raised. The Pharisees and the high priest Caiphas sent out the word that they wanted Jesus arrested and they will pay for information. But the crowds who heard that Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the festival had something else in mind. 
They took branches from the palm trees and went out to meet him. In Jesus’ day Palms were a universal sign of victory whether it was athletic or in battle. Jesus finds a donkey which all the kings of the Old Testament rode. Horses were used for war. Jesus rides the donkey as the crowds yell, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel.” (John 12:13)
It’s a parade with a whole lot of expectations of a world and lives changed.  You can hear it in the cries of the crowds who gathered there that day. Hosanna quite literally means “save us.” As Jesus rides on the donkey, they cry out, “Save us the one who comes in the name of the lord. Save us king of Israel.”  The expectation rings out in every word and with every wave of the palm branch. The crowds expect Jesus is the one who will save them from the Romans and save them from their lives. 
The disciples hoped? knew that Jesus was the one to save their people from the heavy hand of the Romans who ruled the land. They hoped Jesus was the one who would end their misery. The same is true for us today. Scott Black Johnson writes: “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom... Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears. Please God take the broken places that will tear us apart and make them whole. We beseech you, God, jump into the water and drag our almost-drowned selves to shore. "Save us." "Hosanna." (
Palm Sunday is more than the sweet band of children waving palm branches. It is an invitation to let Jesus come into the broken places in our lives. The disciples did that – they were people on the margins. Tax collectors that no one wanted to socialize with and people with demons that needed to be cast out and fishermen and people longing for something new. Peter followed Jesus from the start. He loved Jesus and he probably waved the palm branch harder than anyone else. Peter is at once the disciple who is closest to Jesus – who gets what Jesus is all about and the one who understands least. 
After the parade, Jesus takes his disciples aside and begins to teach them about what is to come next – how to live when he is no longer with them. Jesus washes their feet. Reminds that they are called to serve others. Gives them the commandment to love one another just as he has loved them. Peter asks “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36) But it is nowhere the disciples can follow. Peter jumps in, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay my life down for you.” (John 13: 37) Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” (John 13:38)
We know the story – the painful cries of holy week. It is the ones like Peter who would follow him the ends of the earth who cry crucify and deny. In Peter’s story we find our own. Most of us long for that saving power to fall on us, to pick us up, to heal us and at the same time when it gets hard we say good bye. It is easier to go back to familiar ways. Peter is the rock upon which the church is built and the one who denies Jesus three times.
The days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are sobering days. It is in going through the pain and sorrow of this time that we arrive at the good news of Easter. There are no short cuts only the promise that the hope will come. I’m about play you song. I’d heard it many times but one day as I pulled into the parking lot on Bannerman Street I heard something new. I heard Peter as he followed Jesus in the shadow of the cross. I heard my story. I heard our story as we wait in the shadows for the joy of Easter Sunday. 

Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all
And I will stumble and fall
I'm still learning to love
Just starting to crawl
Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
Anywhere, I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I will swallow my pride
You're the one that I love
And I'm saying goodbye
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
And anywhere, I would have followed you
Oh-oh-oh-oh say something, I'm giving up on you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
Say something. (A Great Big World) 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Living Faith

Today our journey begins. It is the first Sunday in Lent – special time set reflect on deep maters of life and faith. Wednesday on CBC’s lunch hour call-in show there was a discussion with people all across our province about Lent and whether or not people were observing the season. Some people called in to say they were giving up a whole variety of food items – chocolate being the top. Others talked about it being 40 days of compliments and others said they were adding something extra during this season. One person called or emailed in saying that Lent is irrelevant, antiquated and something only old people do. No surprise in the fact that I disagree. Lent is beautiful season.  A time set aside to dig deeper into our faith. It begins with a time to remember our human frailty on Ash Wednesday and then a whole 40 days to draw closer to God.

Nadia Bolz-Webber writes this about Lent, “Lent isn’t about punishing ourselves for being human – the practice of Lent is about peeling away layers of insulation and anesthesia which keep us from the truth of God’s promises. Lent is about looking at our lives in as bright a light as possible, the light of Christ.”

Lent is not antiquated or something no one does – it is counter cultural. When all the world around us sends message that defines our self-worth by the stuff we can accumulate. Lent reminds us that we are dependent on God’s love for us in Jesus. Lent asks us remember those who are suffering in our world. Lent reminds us that at the heart of faith is love for God and love for neighbor. Lent is an invitation to a Living Faith.

For the season of Lent we are going to explore that living faith with music and faith stories from around the world. And we do indeed have a living faith – don’t believe the rumours that the church is dying. Changing maybe but not dying. We have a living faith. Every day people in this community live out their faith through prayer, worship and acts of loving kindness. A living faith has many faces. It caring for those in our midst. It is the work done at Stella Burry where we are reminded that “hope lives here.” It people volunteering and bringing food for Bridges to Hope. It is raising money and bringing food so our school children have enough food to eat. A living faith is found as we worship on Sundays, as we care for friends and neighbours, as we try to make our world a better place.

That living faith is at work in places around the world as Christians gather to worship and care for their neighbours. James Murray a United Church minister shared this on the World Day of Prayer, “Back on New Year's Eve in 2010, a group of Islamic radicals bombed a Coptic church as Christians were gathering in worship. Dozens were killed in the attack. A week later, when the same Christians gathered to celebrate Christmas as they do on January 6th, a group of Muslims formed a human chain around their churches to protect their neighbours as they prayed. A few weeks later the Arab Spring uprising came to Egypt. People gathered in Tahrir Square to demand democracy and freedom. And as the Muslims there bowed for their daily prayer, Christians held hands to form a human chain to protect their neighbours as they prayed. Only God has the power to bring us together.” (James Murray, World Day of Prayer)

 A living faith starts with a strong foundation – a relationship with God. It is easy when reading John’s gospel to get lost in the long narratives. Let me help set the scene. Jesus had just fed the multitudes who’d come to hear him preach with two loaves and five fish. Amazing. So the crowds have eaten. Jesus then goes on to with a new teaching. You know it is going to be a powerful message every time Jesus begins with the words, “I am” We hear a few times. I am the living water. I am the good shepherd. It reminds of the time when Moses asked to know God’s name and the answer was “I am who I am.”

Well now that the “I am” is walking and talking in the person of Jesus it is getting fleshed out a bit. Today Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” At first glance that may seem simple. But the reminder that Jesus is the bread of life is a promise for daily life. Bread is a staple food. When I think of bread, I remember the smell of my mother’s homemade bread and the taste of that bread still warm form the oven with melted butter. Bread is a staple food.  

Bread is the food for life. So Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” And no one really understands what he is talking about because it is such a strange thing to say. So he tries to explain saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

Today as we gather at the table we are reminded that Jesus is the bread of life. The one who sustains each day. When we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we are reminded that God is with us. Today cup we are using for communion today is called “the Bent Chalice.” It is bent because it is a reminder that all of us come to the Lord’s Table bent and broken in need of grace. The Potter describes it this way, “The bent chalice is a visual reminder that all people of faith can come the Welcoming Table just as they are bringing whatever broken pieces of life, whatever isn’t perfect, and whatever doesn’t measure up ... and know that we are created in the image of The Holy.” (Dancing Fiddler Potter)

            Each of us comes the Lord’s Table in our own way recognizing that through some mystery we can’t quite name we meet God. Strengthened by gifts of bread and wine we are renewed to live out our faith in ever new ways. Amen.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

In the past few weeks I’ve had a good reminder that there is truth in the words “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” The first happened at a funeral. I was with a family at the committal in the cemetery. Her sons had placed the casket. I moved my foot and before I knew what was happening my feet were dangling in the grave. I’ve been joking ever since that day I turned forty and now look I have one foot in the grave. But for a brief moment, in that split second mixed emotion where I was embarrassed, I scared of falling all the way in, there was something else. A reminder that life is unpredictable and that there are no guarantees. As we say in the funeral liturgy “All of us go down to the dust.”

The second reminder of this came courtesy of Facebook. A facebook friend found an old thumb drive with pictures from about 12 years ago. She posted them and as I scanned the pictures there was a younger version of myself smiling back at me. We are given a mere handful of days. We don’t stay same in those handful of days – lines from laughter and tears marks our faces. Responsibilities shift and change with each passing day. Joys and sorrows mix and mingle as we live taking each day as it comes.

Ash Wednesday is a reminder of all these things – life and death, pain and joy. Amy Biancollie in her blog “Figuring. Shit. Out. Life seems to dish it out. I seem to write about it.” writes beautifully about scars those you can see and those that can’t be seen with eyes.

My biggest scars show no outward trace. But in the two and a half years since my kids and I absorbed the sudden blow of losing [my husband] Chris, a rough but healing dermis has formed around that wound, as well. A whole lot of life has occurred between then and now. The grief is still there. We can put our fingers on it, feel the bone beneath it, see the pucker of skin around its glossy ridge. It never fades, not completely — and it can hurt like hell during a flare-up. But our lives have grown around it. And thank God, they just keep growing.” (

Scars are reminders of the healing that comes after nights of sorrow. Scars show how far we’ve come. In those painful moments before the scars are formed we need some help from friends and from God. We’ve done a really good job in the church of turning Jesus into a meek and mild with children sitting on his knee. But when it comes to dealing with hard topics like life and death and human failings, most of us need, want more. We need the Jesus who stands against death and destruction. We need the Jesus who eats with sinners and tax collectors because they are his people. We need the Jesus who is not afraid of those things in our world that tare down, destroy, and bring pain.

Jesus is the guy in the sheepfold fighting off the bandits and the thieves. It doesn’t say who exactly the thieves and bandits are but we can guess. They are pain causers, heartbreakers, the life destroyers. And Jesus is right there in it with us. Fighting the thieves and bandits. Reminding us that we are not in this alone.  Jesus is with us when things don’t work out, and on terrible days and when death comes. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The job of the shepherd is to guard the lives of the sheep. And that is good news for us. We are the sheep. Jesus the good shepherd stands with us. There is no instant cure to those things the hurt and destroy but there is the assurance that we are not alone. Jesus reminds us daily, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  Amen.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Faith is a Journey -- March 2nd

Today’s gospel reading from John is so simple that it is easy to skip it. Not only is it short but it sounds like other stories we’ve heard. After spending a few days in Samaria, Jesus heads back to his home turf in the area of Galilee. Today’s story takes place in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding banquet.

John doesn’t say what Jesus is doing in Cana only that a royal official from Capernaum comes to see Jesus. His son was at home dying. The royal official with all his prestige and money, had a problem that no amount of money or connections could fix. His son was at the point of death. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The royal official heard about Jesus – about his words and deeds of power. He thought maybe if he asked, no if he begged Jesus would help his son. He finds Jesus and begs for his son’s life.

We parents will do anything for our children – especially when they are sick. It seems as though Jesus is indifferent to this man’s plight. He says, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48) The royal official is not put off by his indifference. The royal official persists. He says, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” (John 4:49) Jesus does not give the man what he wants but he gives him promise – something he can’t even see. Jesus says, “Go; your son will live.” (John 4:50) The royal official has a choice he can give in to despair or he can go home trusting in that promise.

Put yourself in the royal official’s shoes – maybe you’ve been there with your own child or a loved one. Your child is sick – to the point of death. Nothing seems to be working. Everything has been tried. But you hear about this guy – who from all accounts is more than just a prophet but God in human form. He’s in the neighbourhood and you go and beg for help. The words fall from your mouth, your little child whom you love, who you would give your life for is dying, please come, please help. And the only answer you get is indifference. Like a wall of silence from God.

So you beg again. Hoping that he’ll hear your desperation. Hoping that he will come and touch your child. Instead you are given the promise that if you go your son will live. Decision time. Do you go and believe this man’s word or do you give up? Maybe you like the royal official decide to walk the road of faith and walk the many miles to your home again not knowing if that word, that promise is true.

It is a heart wrenching scene. The royal official does not give into despair. He chooses the path of faith. It says, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. It must have been the longest journey of his life – he probably couldn’t walk fast enough. As he walked his slaves met him and told him his son was alive. When he asked the when his son started to get better they said, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” (John 4:52) The same time Jesus said, “Your son will live.”

God does not always answer us in the ways that we expect. Sometimes that wall of silence is really a promise. Sometimes new life comes in disguises that are hard to recognize. Nadia Bloz-Webber writes in her book Pastrix “New doesn’t always look perfect. …New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage not to mention when I’m right. New looks like a fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming—never even hoped for – but ends up being what we needed all along.” (Pastrix p. 177)

The royal official got just that – what he didn’t even know he needed. Not only did his son live, but the royal official and his whole family got a new way of living.  He went to see Jesus expecting that he would come and lay hands on his son. Instead he was given a new way of living. Faith is not an answer it is a way of life. It is leaving not knowing whether or not his son will live but taking each step trusting in the promise that God is with us.

It is the same lesson that the disciples learned as they climbed the mountain. Peter, James, John and Jesus climb the winding trail that leads to the top of Mount Tabor not knowing what to expect or where Jesus is taking them. With each step they get increasingly short of breath. Jesus doesn’t seem to mind though. He is on a mission. His footsteps are steady. Jesus never seems to lose his breath or heart.

            At the top of the mountain, the disciples look down at the planes below and in the next instant Jesus’ face is shining like the sun and his clothes are dazzling white. It hurts the disciple’s eyes to look at Jesus. They squint to keep the radiant light from blinding them, Moses and Elijah appear and they are talking to Jesus.

            Their knees are shaking and hearts are racing. There is fear and wonder at the same time. Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish I will make three dwelling places here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter keeps on talking, babbling because he’s nervous. Then a voice says, “This is my Son, the beloved, with him, I am well pleased, listen to him.” Peter, James and John fall to the ground, shaking with fear. After a couple of minutes, Jesus touches their shoulders and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  Then it all disappears and what remains is the feeling of standing in the presence of God most holy.

A moment spent with the holy and living God changes our lives – we are never the same again. The royal official knew or why else would he have headed home? The disciples knew it or who else could they have followed Jesus each day?

Faith is a daily journey with moments of great faith, periods of doubt and instances where God comes close. We cannot predict the days or times when these things will happen. We can’t always live in the shinning beauty of what happened when Jesus was transfigured. Those holy moments come and go. Faith is found as we climb to the top of the mountain and in the winding road that leads down into the valley. Faith is trusting in the promise of the one who offers new life. Faith is trusting that God is always there to give us what we need. So let’s go trusting, doubting, praying, working, building, knowing that God meets us wherever we are on the way today and every day. Amen

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

February 23 Sermon

Every four years it seems that we pause as a country to watch the Olympics. I love keep up with the results and watching just about every sport. It is the only time that I watch hockey. There is something special about watching the joy as our fellow Canadians achieve their goals and sharing in the sorrow of when it does not go as planned. While I tune in every four years to watch these sports, the athletes spend countless hours working, training and living their sport. I can’t begin to imagine what kind of dedication it takes to become a top ranked athlete who has the skills to compete at the international level. It is a labour of love.

            In many ways it is like the work of faith. Faith is a gift but it also requires work, time and dedication. It means being open to challenge and change. It means having the courage to get up again when life’s hard knocks come our way. Our gospel reading today tells just that kind of story.    

            She was a woman with no name – she probably did but it is not recorded.  She was from the wrong country. So she was of no account – except for the fact that she was the first one Jesus told the truth about who he was. Except she was the first person in John’s gospel to invite others to come and see Jesus. Except that even without a name and being from the wrong country her story has been told by generations and generations of believers.

            It is midday – high noon. Jesus is travelling from Judea back to Galilee. On the way, they stopped in a Samaritan city. This was a challenging place to stop because although both Jews and Samaritans believed in the same God they lived out their faith in different ways. Which means that the two peoples hated each other. They wanted nothing to do with each other.

            Jesus is at Jacob’s well – the disciples had gone to the closest city to find food. Jesus is taking a breather. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water from the well. What happens next breaks every rule. Jesus says, “Give me a drink.” (John 4: 7) Sounds innocent enough doesn’t it? But she is a Samaritan and he is Jew. They do not talk to one another. But even greater than that men and women unless they are related do not talk to one another. And they are at a well.

            Wells are significant places in the bible. They mean someone is getting married. It is like when you know who is going to fall in love in the movies based on how much the two hate each other or that special music or the slow motion meeting. Some pretty important people met at wells – think Jacob and Rebecca. A man and a woman at well in the bible means someone is getting married. Everyone in the story knows it.

            The woman can’t believe it and she says it, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9)  She asks good questions. This woman with no name could have just walked away, instead she wants to know more. As Jesus and the woman talk, it becomes clear that she’s had a hard time in life. She’s had five husbands – that means five funerals, five heartbreaks. A woman without a husband then was in a precarious place. She found herself in that hard place five times.  

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World writes, “The practice of getting lost has nothing to do with wanting to go there. It is something that happens, like it or not. You lose your job. Your lover leaves. The baby dies. At this level, the advanced practice of getting lost consists of consenting to be lost, since you have no other choice. The consenting itself becomes your choice, as your explore the possibility that life is for you and not against you, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.”


            The woman in our story must have refused to stay lost. Every time she picked herself up again and kept going. This is one of the hardest things to do. Now here she is standing at the well with Jesus talking about deep matters of faith. Hearing the promise that soon nothing will divide his people from her people. Hearing that the living water Jesus has is for her. Knowing that Jesus see her as someone of value.

            Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) The woman goes back into the village and tells her story to anyone who will listen. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4: 29) At her word the people form the village came to meet Jesus and hear him speak. Because of her invitation, many people came to believe in Jesus. Amazing.

            This woman with no name invites us to come and see Jesus. The one who knows everything about us. The one who loves us and invites us to come and drink the life giving water that sees us through life’s ups and downs. Now that is a promise. Joyce Cowley inspired by this passages wrote the poem “The Quiet Pool”

There is within each of us

a quiet clear pool of living water

fed by one deep Source

and inseparable from it’

but so often hidden

by a tangle of activity

that we may not know

of its existence.


We can spend the proverbial forty years

wandering in strange deserts,

sinking unrewarding wells,

and moving on, driven by our own thirst,

but when we stop still long enough

to look inside ourselves, really look

beyond our ideas about water

and what and where it should be,

we discover it was with us all the time,

that quiet clear pool which is ageless,

the meaning of our existence

and the answer to all our wanderings.


And as we drink,

we know what Jesus meant when he said

we’d never be thirsty again.

The invitation to a life of faith comes with the blessing of living water. It does not mean that it will be an easy road. It does mean that we won’t be alone. Like athletes preparing for sports, we prepare for a life of faith in prayer, in caring for others and by giving thanks that with Jesus we will never be thirst