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.