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