Sunday, 27 November 2016

Between Times

It does not seem possible to me that we’ve arrived at the First Sunday in Advent. Perhaps because it’s been so mild or perhaps because this fall has flown by. The signs are all there. Christmas music in stores; lights on houses; it is frightening to go near a store. The lobby is on our house for when the tree will go up. But I still feel like it’s October. I haven’t even put my snow tires on. Sometimes we arrive at seasons before we are ready. That is why we need Advent. It’s four weeks to focus our hearts and souls on getting ready for the mystery of Jesus’ birth. Advent also marks start of something new. It is the first day of a new Christian year. 
So in spite of me not being ready, it seems Christmas is in the air – the joy is building. It is one of those challenges with face as a people of faith. The world tells us Christmas is here. But in church we sing Advent carols like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, we light candles that help us prepare for Jesus birth and we wait. Even the scripture readings are challenging. Like the one for this morning from Matthew: 
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be standing in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24: 36 – 42) 
You would be in good company wondering why we are reading this passages at the beginning of a festive season when we are getting ready for the birth of the babe in the manger. 
Apocalyptic literature; eschatological texts are text that deal with the end of time and the coming of God’s reign. There is a long tradition in the bible of apocalyptic literature. At the heart of apocalyptic literature is the promise of God’s coming reign and it is a theme that runs throughout the bible. 
Sometimes the words are so beautiful and sometimes that can seem a bit scary. The book of Revelation describes the new heaven and new earth in which God will be at home among mortal, God will wipe every tear from our eyes and offer us water from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21) Our reading from Isaiah says “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2: 4 – 5) This passage does not describe current reality neither for the people Isaiah spoke to or for us. This passage is a future hope for God’s coming reign. 
Our reading from Matthew is less clear. Two people are standing in a field and one is taken. Two people are grinding meal and one is taken. There seems to be no rhyme or reason. Both are going about the same task. It is a mystery. There is no scientific data or reasoned argument that can prepare us for the mystery that is at the heart of our faith. We can try to think through how one gets taken up and one gets left but the answers are few. Many theologian, preachers and writers have tried to make sense of it. One commentator writes, “Christians look backward, remembering God’s mighty acts of salvation over the generation, and forward, anticipating the vindication of God’s ways in a new heaven and a new earth. They live as Karl Barth said, “between the times.” (Feasting on the Word Year A, volume 1 page. 20)
As a people of faith we live between the times. Just this past week on the CBC morning show Anthony Germain recalled spending New Year’s 1999 locked in the basement of the CBC because it was the dawn of a new millennium. Do you remember the build-up to year 2000? Can you remember the panic? Toilets were not going to flush. Computers were going to crash. The really big computers that store all our banking information – kaput all that data gone. Everyone had to be Y2K ready. The world was going to end as the clocks moved from 11:59 pm on December 31st, 1999 and as we entered 12:00 am January 1st, 2000. But the world did not come to an end. Computers worked. Toilets flushed. And all was well. 
Jesus said that two people would be work one would be taken and one left behind. The ones left in the fields or grinding meal had to keep going about the tasks of daily living. They had to keep working for justice, for mercy for compassion. We do not know what God has in store for us. Jesus said, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. ... Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:43 – 44) The call of Advent, Jesus call to each of us, is to keep working in the fields – to keep working for a world remade in the image of God. Jim Strathdee describes this work well in his hymn “I the Light of the World.” The work we are called is 
“To find the lost and lonely one,
to heal the broken soul with love,
to feed the hungry children with warmth
and good food,
to feel the earth below, the sky above. (Jim Strathdee, I am the Light of the World, Voices United  87)
Living between the times means that we live with the Advent tension of waiting for that which has been – the angels proclaiming the joyful birth of the one called “Emmanuel – God with us” and we wait for that which will be – God’s coming reign. We live into the mystery of the in between times as we wait with Hope, Joy, Peace and Love for the birth of Jesus that changes hearts and lives. Come, let us walk in the light of God Grace. Amen

Monday, 14 November 2016

There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in

This has been one of those weeks that will stand out in our memories. On Friday night the news Leonard Cohen’s death spread quickly. Whether it is his own recordings or Jennifer Warnes Famous Blue Raincoat or k.d. lang’s haunting recording of Hallelulujah or The Once singing Coming Back to You – his music resonates. Leonard Cohen can weave together life, love and religion in a seamless stanza. 
Then there was Wednesday morning. We woke up and found that the world had changed not necessarily for the better. I don’t usually comment on politics but somehow this seems different. The news is filled with stories of people afraid for the future. My children wanted to know if they could still go to Florida if there is going to be a wall. Immigrant children wonder if they will have to leave the country they call home. On Wednesday morning at Baylor University in Texas, a young black woman named Natasha Nkhama was walking to class when someone knocked her off the sidewalk saying, “No 'N. word' allowed on the sidewalk.” Another person walking behind, said, “Dude what are you doing?”  His response was, “I’m just trying to make America great again.” 
 On Wednesday morning my father sent my brothers and I an email that reflecting on his deep concern over the results of the American election. He left us with these words of hope “Yet somehow I hold to Leonard Cohen’s understanding that “there is a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in.” I am attaching a poem written by WH Auden as Germany invaded Poland and the 2nd world war began. It resonates with me.”  The closing verse of WH Auden’s poem September 1, 1939 is this: 
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Both Leonard Cohen and WH Auden in their poetry remind us that hope lives. In “Anthem” Leonard Cohen writes: 

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Those bells that can still ring are our voices holding on to hope and reminding ourselves and others that love not fear will have the last word. This is a promise reflected throughout scripture. Isaiah tells of day when the world will be changed. Those things that would divide us one from the other will no longer exist. God says through Isaiah “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.” (Isaiah 65:17 – 18) 
Isaiah writes this after the destruction of Jerusalem and after the Babylonian exile when things looked pretty grim. Yet, in the midst of all these challenges – God says I am doing a new thing. This is God’s promise: 
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord. (Isaiah 21 – 25) 
Challenges may come, the world may look bleak and terrible things may happen. But God’s promise endures and you can count on it. The world is being rebuilt in God’s way of love. They wolf and lamb will feed together. The lion will eat straw like an ox. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain says the Lord. 
This is God’s promise to us. This is God promise for us. We may not be able to see that right now. But every now and then we catch a glimpse of what a world shaped with love looks like. It is hands reaching out in care. It is working to support one another. It is people standing for what is right. It is the 300 students at Baylor University in Texas who walked Natasha Nkhama to class on Friday. In tears Natasha said, “I just wanted to thank everyone for being here, and I want everyone who sees this to know that Baylor is a campus of love. To whoever defended me that day, I don’t know who you are but I thank you for being an example to everyone on campus.”

Challenging weeks come and go, what remains is God’s unshakeable word of hope.  It is the promise that love drowns out hate and that love is stronger than fear. Let us make God’s love real in the world. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Amen 

Sunday, 13 November 2016


This was written for a service on October 28th, 2012 when The Tenors sang at Cochrane Street United Church and sang Leonard Cohen's famous song "Hallelujah"

“I’ve heard that there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord. … It goes like this fourth, the fifth, the minor fall the major lift.” (Leonard Cohen) Don’t you wish you knew that secret chord? To that know that special combination of thoughts acts and deeds that allows us to live close to God? I hope I’m not alone when I tell you that sometimes the special connection with God gets lost in the busyness of life. Between work, the endless to do lists, the never ending laundry, bill paying, meal prep, kids to and from all the places they need to get – somehow God gets lost in all. Somehow in it all I get lost in it all.

That’s when I notice that no matter how you really feel when people ask, “How are you?” The answer is fine or good or okay. Even when you know deep in your soul that things are not fine. Even when you know that things are not good. Even when you know that things are not okay. Don’t you wish on days like that, that you knew the secret chord that David played that pleased the Lord? I know I do. That way, when those hard days come and they will come– we know how to draw strength and comfort from God.

David knew just how to do it. He was the one of greatest king of Israel. He was so great that when they wrote down the story of Jesus’ life Jesus was of the descent and lineage of David. It was David who defeated the giant Goliath with a tiny stone; it was David who soothed Saul’s troubled mind with his beautiful music; it was David who wept at Saul’s death even after Saul tried to kill him; it was David who wept for his son who betrayed him crying “Oh Absolom, my son, my son.”  But for all his greatness on the battlefield and in politics, his personal life was a mess. At every turn with David there are broken relationships and sorrow.  But here’s the thing about David, he’s human. He did great things, he made mistakes and he did some terrible things. Oh yes, Hallelujah was always on David’s lips. But more than once he turned from God, he forgot about God’s ways and did things that the bible describes as, “Evil in God’s sight.” Yet somehow David always found his way back to God.
David knew the secret chord. It wasn’t perfection because he was far from it. It wasn’t doing always doing the right thing because he often did the wrong thing. This morning’s bible reading tells that story well. It follows on the heals of David falling in love or in lust with Bathsheba. He saw her bathing on the roof. Even though she was married to Uriah, David wanted her for himself. He was the King and the King gets what he wants. And when he couldn’t get his way, he had Uriah killed on the battlefield.

Not a smart move – a terrible thing really. It displeased the Lord. But David was the king so who was would have the nerve to say, “Wait a minute you can’t do that?” God called Nathan, his faithful prophet to remind David of God’s ways. Nathan tells David a story, a simple story of a rich man and a poor man. Now the rich had many herds of sheep and the poor man had one lamb that he loved. The rich man stole the poor man’s lamb and used it to prepare a feast for a passing stranger. When David hears the story he is outraged. He cries out to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’” (2 Samuel 12:5 – 6)

Nathan turns to David and says, “You’re the man! …Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:9) In that moment David knows the truth of what he’s done and there is nothing for him to do but turn to God seeking forgiveness.

This same pattern happens over and over in David’s life. Living, making bad choices, seeking forgiveness, return to God. Through it all God loved David. The secret chord that David played for the Lord was not perfection and nor was it always doing the right thing. It was always to turning to God in joy and in sorrow for support and for comfort. Through it all David sings “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.” (Psalm 42 and 43 Voices United)

Is it any wonder David is attributed with writing the bible’s hymn book, the book of Psalms? He knew the ups and downs of life. But in his private moments of prayer he finds solace as he sings to God, “Day and night I taste only tears, while they steadily belittle me, saying, 'Where is your God?' But I remember - though my soul is distressed - how I went with the crowds to the house of God, our voices joyful and filled with praise, a multitude keeping festival.” (Psalm 42 and 43 Voices United) Leonard Cohen says it well: 
I did my best, it wasn't much
…And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

That secret chord that pleases the Lord is trusting in God’s loving kindness. That secret chord is relying on God’s grace. Isn’t that we always strive for in our lives? To return to God again and again in our need and in our joy. Not easy but worth the time in study, in prayer and praise. David’s story reminds us that God’s goodness is there for us. Holding us. Calling us back to God’s ways. Not because we are perfect or doing everything right but because God loves us exactly as we are. That is God’s grace. That is the good news. So let us stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on our tongues but Hallelujah. Hallelujah. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A Letter

Paul spent a lot of time writing letters to Christian communities. The letter to the Thessalonians is one of many. He wrote letters filled with ways for communities to live out their faith. He wrote letters reminding communities that they were struggling to get along of the importance of love. He wrote letters about how to be the body of Christ in the world. As I read the text for today, I wondered what Paul would write to us today at Cochrane Street United Church. Here is where my imagination led me. A letter from Paul to Cochrane Street United Church
I, Paul, together with Silas and Timothy, greet Church of Cochrane Street in the name of God and Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace. 
“You need to know friends, that thanking God over and over for you is not only a pleasure; it’s a must. Your faith is growing; you’re love for each other is developing. It’s only right that we give thanks. You are steady and determined in your faith despite hard times. We tell people in the others church all about you. We’re so proud of you; you’re so steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you. We tell everyone we meet in the churches about you. ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3 -4)
I am so thankful for the pleasure you take in one another’s company as you gather for worship or to do work. I can see it as you share tea and conversation, as you greet one another with the peace of Christ, as you work together towards a common goal. You are a church family shaped by friendship and care for one another. 
As church family, the last year has been challenging for you. We keep you in our prayers as you continue on the journey. I have no doubt that after a year being away from your church home you are feeling a bit weary of being on the road. It is not as easy to do the activities that you are accustomed to doing when you have no permanent home. Yet, in faith, you carry on with worship, groups and all the things that make you a church family. Even in the midst of the challenges you continue to support and care for one another. I am grateful that you have you are keeping the faith. 
I know being in a temporary location is not the only thing that has made this past year difficult. There have been losses along the way. Beloved members whose lives of faith were an example to so many are missed in the life of the church. And there are some faces that we do not see in as often and that is yet another loss.
 In spite of the losses and challenges, you keep going. You reach out your hands to care for one another and for people in the community who need extra assistance. I give God thanks for the work you’ve done in the name of Jesus. The way you reach out to care for people. As I look back over the last few years, I’m amazed at the journey you’ve been on and the ways this church family has stepped out in faith. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that you were wondering how you were going to pay for oil and keep the church doors open. 
Even when things were at their most difficult, when you did not know what the future would hold for you as a church family you continued to reach out to help others. Gathering together to get ready for deal of a meal or bbq in the park or bringing food for Bridges to Hope or hosting a meal for Stella’s Circle Inclusion choir. You have a heart for God’s people and do all that you can to care for others. I’m grateful that you’ve persevered.
Your faith through the many meetings and big decisions has remained firm. Even when the task seemed daunting, even when you didn’t always agree on the way forward, you did your best to discern a way for you a church family to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  I’m guessing that it was with both fear and faith that you decided to use all that you had to provide for others – whether it is homes or community space or a place to create beautiful music. In those difficult moments, when the weariness kicks in, remind yourselves of the good work you are doing, of the lives your faith will touch. Through your generosity, many people will get a chance at a new life. Imagine people getting a new start looking out the beautiful views from the windows in their apartments. The way of Jesus is all about new life and second chances. 
As you live your faith, give thanks for those moments God is guiding you as you dream new dreams. Whether it is the right people coming forward at just the right, the windows in the right places or the right number of doors – the Spirit of God is at work. Those holy moments are reminders that you are headed in the right direction. That God in Jesus will be with you as strength, courage, love, grace and guide. 
Remember to continue to offer prayers of thanksgiving for God’s abiding presence and for the Holy Spirit who both inspires and guides. Continue to pray for one another, for the leaders in church, and for the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit as you follow in the way of Jesus.
As you move forward, may the grace of Jesus, that changes lives go with you. “May ... the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole and, put you together – spirit, soul, and body – and keep you fit for the coming of Jesus. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it. Friends, keep up your prayers. Greet all the followers of Jesus there. Make sure this letter gets read to all the brothers and sisters. Don’t leave anyone out. The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 – 28)