January 25

01/25/2015

 
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Epiphany 3
Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Mark 1: 14-20

Years ago, I walked into the church secretary`s office at Our Saviour`s Lutheran Church in Prince George  and I began to sing: “I will make you fisher’s of men, if you follow me.”

I then asked Dorothy what she thought of that song, what she thought of the concept of following Jesus and “fishing for people?”  She responded, “I don’t mind fishing, as long as I don’t have to clean them.”

Right there, it dawned on me.  That is the problem with today’s gospel text, why it is a difficult pill to swallow; fishing involves “catching” AND “cleaning.”
…. and that brings us face to face with one of our fears as a church.   We see our numbers declining and we fear that we will have to go out and CATCH fish.  THAT bothers us. 

What does it mean for us as a faith community, to “catch” the fish? 

I think you know what it means; it means that ugly word, evangelism. 

“Catching” fish means that we have to share our faith with others. As a consequence we have to know what we believe in and then live it out.  “Catching” means inviting people to come to church, to enter into a faith experience, to explore a deeper relationship with God and Christ. 

That is only one side of the coin however.  What happens if we actually “catch” fish?  If we catch them, we have to “clean” them.  What does it mean to have to “clean” the fish? 

We have to be careful here.   When I wonder what it means to “clean the fish, ” I am not suggesting that we take people and make them better, or fix them, or force them to act like us and be like us.    

To me, “cleaning” the fish, means spending time with the fish.  It means walking with them, accompanying them on their faith journeys.  It is not be enough to dump the fish off at the pastor’s door and say, “here, you clean them.”  How many times have parents told their kids, “If you catch it, you clean it.”  If we are prepared to “catch,” to ask, to invite, it means that we are also responsible for the “cleaning,” walking with and leading by example.

Many years ago, we had a little campaign in Prince George where we encouraged members to invite their friends to church on a “Friendship Sunday.”  One of our members did a very good job of asking a neighbour to come to church.  “The neighbour” was looking for a church, so it was a good fit, but about 3 months later, the “neighbour” phoned me up with a question.  Said the neighbour, “Is it important to attend church?”  “Of course it is,” I replied.  “Well,” the neighbour said, “how come I am coming to church every Sunday, and your member who invited me, is only coming once per month?”  The neighbour wanted to be here every Sunday, wanted to be in relationship, wanted to be active, WITH the member who invited her.  The neighbour did not want to come alone.  The fish had been dropped off at the door for cleaning and eventually, the fish quit coming. 

“Catching” and “cleaning” means WORK.  Notice that Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make YOU fishers of men.”  He didn’t say to them, “Follow me and YOU can watch ME fish.”

“Catching” and “cleaning” means WORK and we may not want to do any more work.  If we spend 5 or 6 days a week, working our brains out, maintaining careers and households, are we ready to take on more work?  I doubt it.  When it comes to church, I rather suspect that we would prefer to deal with our own faith and belief, on a personal level with God, and not get involved beyond the SPORT of fishing.   Me and Jesus, and that is enough. 

After all, isn’t that what the SPORT of fishing, the SPORT of church is all about?  Go like crazy during the week, and then come to church for rest, for peace, for comfort?  Like fishing, going to church may involve a chance for rest, for peace, for comfort.  Isn’t it nice to sit in the boat, floating peacefully on the waves, enjoying the scenery?  `Hey, isn`t that the pastor on the dock?  What`s he doing?  Oh yeah, he`s cleaning fish.  Isn`t that special. 

Have you ever watched the television show, `Deadliest Catch,`on the Discovery Channel?  In that show, King Crab fishermen navigate the treacherous waters of the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska.  The dangers of King Crab fishing are extreme, the work is long and tiresome and for those who have to cut the bait.....   Sometimes, fishing is not a sport, but a job, work.           Sometimes church is about work, about fishing, “catching” and “cleaning.”

So, if our church is about fishing, about “catching” and “cleaning,” what does that mean for us as members and households of this church?   Is there a magic bullet out there that allows us to fish, without getting our hands too dirty?  Is there a program that allows me to get marginally involved, while someone else does the hard work? 

The short answer is, “NO.”  The long answer involves a personal and communal struggle. 

There is likely no figure who best exemplifies this sort of struggle, than the prophet Jonah.  In our Old Testament lesson, we find Jonah receiving a second call from God, to go to the city of Ninevah and proclaim God’s message ot the people of that city.  We read in the Scriptures, that Jonah went, proclaimed and the people believed.  That is only part of the story.  What we don’t see is the struggle that Jonah went through prior to going to Ninevah.  You see, Jonah didn’t want to fish, OR cut bait.



We read in the beginning of the book of Jonah, that God wanted Jonah to go fishing. Specifically, God wanted Jonah to go to the great city of Ninevah, to protest the “evil ways” of that city and to demand that the citizens of Ninevah “repent.”  Jonah sized up the fishing expedition and he decided to pass; Jonah ran away from God.  Jonah was not prepared to speak God’s word to anybody; he was not prepared to risk life, limb or relationship for the task at hand.  Jonah refused to go fishing. 

We know the popular portion of the story of Jonah, how he tried to run away from God and the mission.  We know that Jonah was thrown into the sea by desperate sailors and that Jonah was swallowed by a large fish, so that he might not perish in the rough seas.  As Jonah sits in the belly of the fish, the grace and mercy of God in his life, becomes very real for him.  No matter that he tried to run away, God not only rescued him, but took him back, nurtured him, dusted him off and set him up for the task again.  God did not throw Jonah back, but kept him.

Along the way, Jonah really had to struggle with God’s purposes; he really had to struggle with the fishing task to which God had called him.                                                

That struggle is not readily evident in today’s gospel reading.  When Jesus calls his first disciples, when he bids them to come and follow, to fish, we read that they immediately drop their nets and go.   While there seems to be no personal struggles, I think we must all imagine that there had to be some sort of adverse reaction.  I don’t think we need to make these fishermen out to be some sort of heroic supermen; these people were men who had jobs, families, reputations in the community.  It could not have been easy to follow Jesus on such a fishing expedition.

Despite any struggles, both personal and communal, the early followers continued to fish; they were able to catch and clean.  They gathered in communities, to hear the stories of Jesus, to share in the holy meal, to engage in acts of charity.                                                                          The early Christian church, through all of its struggles, acknowledged the fact that they were saved and redeemed by a gracious God, who had suffered and died for them on the cross, through Jesus.  They recognized that God had conquered sin and death and all of their fears, through the resurrection from the grave.  They felt the benefits of forgiveness and eternal life and the joy of those benefits could not be kept to themselves.  Their joy took them out fishing. 

They “caught” fish, they invited in the newcomers, but they also “cleaned.”  They mentored, they stood with, they walked the journey of those who suffered in any way, physically, emotionally, spiritually.  It was not easy fishing; the call of Christ spurred them on. 

Fishing has never been easy, at any time in history.  For us in this day and age, it is ever the same.  Jesus calls us to a difficult task, a task that scares us.  

Sigh.   Okay Pastor, Jesus calls us to go out and catch and clean.   What is that going to look like?   How much time will it take?   Will we be successful? 

I have to be honest; I don`t know.   I don`t know the answer to any of those questions.

Here is what I do know.   We will gather as God`s people in this time and place over and over again.   We will gather to talk about what it is like to fish, to try and catch, to catch and to clean.   We will spend a lot of time talking about fishing.   We will spend a lot of time talking about what it means to clean the fish. 

Specifically I think we are going to talk a lot about spending time with people, welcoming and inviting people to share in community, to come and belong, to share in faith, to share in the journey of other people, to share in the community journey that is out there.  

There is one other thing I know for sure.   Like the early Christian church we will gather TOGETHER in worship, to hear the stories of Jesus, to share in the holy meal, to engage in acts of charity, to praise and thank God for the blessings all of that brings.           

Hopefully, despite our fears, such gathering, such worship, such conversation, will help us face our fears, help create enough joy in us that we are able to “catch and clean.”   Hopefully others may know what it is like to be “kept,” to be “caught,” to know the life-giving joy that Christ gives as WE fish.  Amen. 



 

January 18

01/18/2015

 
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Epiphany 2
John 1: 43-51

Many of you are likely aware of the fact that I am fairly decent at remembering names.  I have a certain amount of ability, but more importantly, I work hard at remembering names and I guess I take a bit of pride in doing so.  One of the things that people have commented over the years is my ability to remember names while presiding over Communion. 

It is important for me that I remember all your names, not because I can, or because I want to brag about it, but because remembering your names, speaks of knowing each other and of relationship.  “The body of Christ,” is “given for YOU.”   YOU are named in that exchange, that relationship.  I believe that the exchange and the relationship is not just about me and you, but it is about Christ and his relationship with you, his “knowing” you and because of that, you are named.

Of course, going down the line of those who are communing, and naming you as I serve you, is a special feeling.  People communicate that special feeling with a look, a nod, a smile, a touch, whatever it is they do to let me know that it is an important moment for them.  Sometimes, that important moment includes a look of surprise and joy. 

It is as if at that moment the person has been found, or is “known” to me, when they were not expecting to be “known.”  

In today’s gospel we have such an experience, a wonderful story of surprise and joy, of being “found,” or “known,” when it was least expected.  From that special moment, comes a deep and lasting relationship. 

In the first chapter of John’s gospel we are introduced to a fellow by the name of Nathaniel. Nathaniel is confronted by Philip, who has recently become a disciple of Jesus.  Philip is convinced that this Jesus is the Messiah, the one about whom, even the great leader, Moses, talked and prophesied.  After centuries of waiting, it appeared that the promise had finally come true; Philip was excited. 

Nathaniel is approached by Philip who is enthusiastic and full of vitality, and how does Nathaniel respond to this energy of Philip?   Nathaniel is the model skeptic

Presented with this news of a “possible” Messiah, Nathaniel shakes his head and he says, “NO.”  Well, he doesn’t exactly say no, but Nathaniel certainly puts it all into question.  He finds it hard to believe that the Messiah would come from such humble circumstances, that the Messiah would come out of virtually the same environment as he and the rest of his fellow countrymen.  “The Messiah is coming out of Nazareth?”  That would be like people in Vancouver saying, “Can anything good come out of Maple Ridge?”  No offence to anybody from Maple Ridge, but that might be a good approximation. 

We don’t know WHO Nathaniel expected the Messiah to be, we don’t know WHERE Nathaniel expected the Messiah to come from or HOW he thought the Messiah might arrive on the scene, but Nathaniel is not impressed.  Grudgingly, I suspect, he tags along with these two smitten fellows, Philip and Andrew, to see for himself, what all the fuss is about.  There is no doubt in my mind that Nathaniel is more than prepared to reserve judgement on this Jesus. 

But now, the story now takes an interesting twist.  Nathaniel tags along despite his skepticism and when he encounters Jesus, he is praised for his honesty and his integrity.  Jesus holds him up as an example of what a true Israelite might be like, someone who is worthy to be called an Israelite.   It is difficult to tell if Nathaniel is impressed.  Maybe Nathaniel is more curious than anything, but there is no doubt what is going on in Nathaniel’s mind. 

Suddenly, a very important question comes to the forefront.  Nathaniel says to Jesus, “How do you KNOW me?”

There it is; the crux of the matter, the essence of the stories around the calling of the disciples, according to the gospel of John.  Nathaniel and Jesus have never met, yet like those called before him, it is very apparent, that Jesus “KNOWS” him. 

This is the turning point in Nathaniel’s encounter with Jesus.  With that, the encounter takes on an even greater depth and significance.  Nathaniel is surprised to find out that Jesus “knows” him.  Then he finds out that Jesus REALLY “knows” him.  Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree, before Philip called you.” 

Well, boy-howdy!  Can you beat that?

From that moment on, Nathaniel is changed; he becomes a disciple because he is “known.”  With that understanding, that experience, Nathaniel looks at Jesus and he does indeed see the Messiah.  He “names” Jesus as the Son of God, the King of Israel.   Such confession and passion came about, because he was “known,” and that was a very special moment for Nathaniel. 

Even though Nathaniel is a skeptic and not sure, and brings all his doubts, Jesus knows him and accepts him.   There is no judgement cast upon Nathaniel, he is simply welcomed into the fold, accepted, known and cared for. 

In this way, Jesus created a relationship that would prove to be lasting, to have incredible depth and energy.  A life-giving gift of faith was given in that act of “knowing.”

Nathaniel the initial skeptic is given the gift of faith.  He is “known” and he is able to call out, “Son of God” and “the true King of Israel.”

That gift of faith, that “being known” will allow him to see even greater things.  Jesus promises him that he will see even greater things that those that he just experienced. 

Nathaniel is going to have a very interesting faith journey.  As a follower of Jesus he is going to go from pillar to post in his faith life.  He will experience tremendous highs, but there will be some discouraging lows.  He was a follower of Jesus and we know that Jesus was abandoned by his followers once Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified.  Nathaniel was likely one of those.  We also know that the followers of Jesus went into hiding because they were afraid of being identified with Jesus and they were afraid of the consequences of that identification.  Nathaniel was likely part of that group hiding behind locked doors. 

Yet, Nathaniel and the others who were “known” or “named” by Jesus did not stay behind locked doors for long.  They came out of fear and hiding, because that special feeling of being “known,” was too strong.  It was important for them to share that special feeling of being “known” and “named,” welcomed and accepted.   To be “known,” to be “named,” was a life-giving experience.

Is it important in THIS day and age, to be “known,” to be “named?”  Is it important to be “known” by Jesus, “named” by Jesus?  Is it important to be “known” and “named” by Jesus, through his suffering and death on the cross?  Is it important to be “known” and “named” by Jesus, through God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life?   Is it important to be “known” and “named” by Jesus, through the purpose and meaning that he gives your life?

Those are the gifts and benefits of being “known” and “named” by Jesus, gifts and benefits given to all.  Don’t forget that you have been “known” and “named” by Jesus even when there were times when you didn’t think that he “knew” you.  You were “known” all the time.  Do you remember how it felt when you discovered or re-discovered that you were indeed, “known?”  How special that is. 

Beyond our own “naming” and being “known,” the gospel reminds us that there are many people who would love to be “named,” and “known.” 

Every month I get an email newsletter entitled, “Leading Ideas,” from the Lewis Center for Leadership, an interdenominational think tank in the United States.  The January newsletter had an interesting article, “Think Bigger, The Challenge of Reaching Millennials.”   The article talked about millennials, our young people who have been born in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and begins to ask questions like:   what is their need, what is important to them?   

To be known.  

The writer of the article, David McAlister Wilson does not think that particular styles of worship or particular programs will catch the attention of young people.   There is no magic bullet, rather there is something needed that is more difficult to do; knowing people, welcoming them and accepting them.  

He says that we need to think about being the church, rather than going to church.   One of the ways of being church is to get to know the community, to find out what God is doing in the community and then acting as a spiritual resource for what the community is doing.  

His research indicates to him that people of all ages long for a sense of community and care.   They want to be known.  

People, he says, just want talk about life, their lives, what is going on in their lives and they need someone to listen.  People have lots of skepticism, like Nathaniel, lots of doubts and questions and they want to talk about those things without being judged. 

David McAlister Wilson has discovered through many conversations that people of all ages are grasping for an offering of grace.   They want grace; to be known, to be acknowledged, unconditionally, is an offering of grace.  To provide community and care, without judgement, without question, is an offering of grace.  

This is the gift of Jesus to Nathaniel, Jesus to the rest of the church, the church to the rest of the world. 

To be known.   To be known by name.  What a gracious gift.  



Amen.


 

January 4

01/04/2015

 
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Christmas 2
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Psalm 147: 13-21

John 1: (1-9) 10-18

When I was about 6 years old, my younger brother and I had one of the most amazing Christmases ever; a Christmas to remember.   What made it a memorable Christmas for us at that age was because of the number and nature of the gifts we received.   To be honest, we were overwhelmed with all the gifts.  

My parents took a wonderful picture of my brother and I in the middle of opening AND playing with our gifts; we were doing both at the same time.   I was kneeling on the floor trying to figure out what to play with and my brother was standing next to me, with a toy gun in one hand and a toy tractor in the other. 

The picture was priceless; we were truly overwhelmed. 

Speaking of being overwhelmed with gifts, one need only take a gander at today’s Scripture readings.    As I reflected on all three Bible passages, what hit me first was the list of gifts that God gives.  It is a stunning list, a list that I cannot comprehend and they seem  overwhelming.  Consider the “gifts of God” that are listed in all three Bible passages: 

God gathers God’s people from the farthest parts of the earth they will come with weeping, they will receive consolation

God will provide a ransom for their freedom

God will redeem God’s people

God chooses us

God adopts us redemption through his blood the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
            

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, a gift of salvation wisdom and insight

God chooses to live among us in Jesus

Jesus provides us a light in the darkness of life

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world all who received him, believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
            

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

God has been made known to us.

That is quite an impressive list of gifts in those Bible passages and the overall message for me is that God keeps on giving and giving.   But are we truly overwhelmed?  What does this gift list mean to us? 

I would suggest that it depends on several things, not the least of which is the side of the fence I am on.  Do I approach this gift list from God as a receiver, or a giver?

As a receiver of gifts, I like practical gifts, gifts that I can use all the time.  I like gifts that I can use; clothing is a good gift. 

As a RECEIVER of gifts, I am not concerned about the cost.  A bigger price tag does not necessarily make a good gift.   I am not worried about style or color, so I am pretty much happy with just about anything.  Useful gifts PLEASE!

Okay, as the receiver of these gifts, I can agree that God is a generous giver however I am still not so sure about the practicality of all of these gifts.  Can I really use these gifts?  Maybe I CAN use these gifts, but not necessarily in a way that I might have imagined.  Here is the way that I imagine the practicality of the gifts God gives:

When the light goes on and I gain some wisdom or insight, this is a gift from God.

When I feel a closeness in my heart, a warmth, that God is near, this is a gift from God.

When God provides light for my path, and I see it, this is a gift from God.

When I forgive others as God has forgiven me, this is a gift from God.

When I don’t worry about trying to save myself, when I don’t worry that I haven’t been a good little boy or a bad little and that heaven is mine, this is a gift from God.

When I live out the consolation of God, so that someone else’s tears dry up, this is a gift from God.

In that regard, when I listen to the sorrows of others, this is a gift from God.

When I remember that is it better to give than receive, this is a gift from God.

When I live for and serve others, this is a gift from God.

 When I suffer and remember that God suffers with me and I am not alone, this is a gift from God.

And one could go on and on.

But rather than go on and on, as one considers this list from the perspective of a GIVER of gifts, that is something different.  

From the human perspective, I think most people love to give gifts; we tend to give and give and we often don’t have limits.   In that regard, it is a little easier to relate to this overwhelming list of gifts God has given us. 

God keeps on giving, doesn’t wait for sales, doesn’t seem to care how much God has already given; God can give and give without stopping or without reservation. 

There is one more thought from the perspective of the giver.  I think there is another factor that enters into God’s gift-giving.  There is joy. 

It would not take a lot of imagination to look at a picture taken 50 years ago, to see two little boys who are overcome with joy.   What joy there was in opening up all those gifts and then playing with them!  But I’ll be there was a lot of joy in the hearts of the gift givers. 

As GIVERS of gifts, I also think that we enjoy the giving as we get older.  Having children or grandchildren certainly changes your perspective and you get just as excited as they do when they open their gifts.    

I think joy factors into our gift-giving; we continue to give, because we get great joy as people receive our gifts.   In that sense, almost every gift is practical. 

Maybe God is like that.  Maybe God loves giving and gets great joy from it.   God gives and maybe God gets excited when we discover the depth and richness of our gifts.

Maybe God gets excited when I open some of these little revelations and then lines up ANOTHER gift for me to open up later on.  God is not stingy or resentful and that is a wonderful thing.    

I would like to think so. 

And the gifts keep coming!  Thanks be to God.   



Amen.