September 27

09/27/2015

 
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16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21)
Mark 9: 38-50

Jesus heals. Jesus heals unclean people.  Jesus heals on the sabbath.  Jesus performs many mighty works.  When you consider all of these things Jesus did, it would be very easy to heap all kinds of praise upon Jesus.  We could go on and on about what a wonderful fellow He was and is and what a glorious thing it must have been to follow him.  What awesome powers he must have possessed!

But in today’s gospel we discover controversy; someone ELSE is healing and doing a mighty work.  A common ordinary follower of Jesus is healing somebody!  Isn’t that supposed to be reserved for Jesus?  How could a mere human being perform a miracle?  Suddenly we are presented with all kinds of issues.

Does this mean that the miracles of Jesus were no big deal; something that anybody/everybody could do?  Was Jesus just another in a long line of magicians or faith healers who were a dime-a-dozen and lived in every village and town in the country?  Does the shine come off Jesus at this point?

It would be easy for us to be indignant at this gospel passage.  After all, we lift Jesus up as Lord and Saviour and it seems a bit of a come-down that he should share his awesome power with mere mortals.   If we were trying to reserve all these mighty works for Jesus alone, we might react negatively to this passage and we might be in good company. 

It appears in the gospel that the disciples of Jesus were, themselves, more than a little put out with the fact that this individual was performing miracles.  Who was this nobody, this outsider who was performing miracles? 

It would be easy to get swept up in the controversy.   However, I don’t want to pour water on the mighty works of Jesus, nor do I wish to cast any aspersions on this apparent interloper in the miracle game. 

The important part of today’s gospel for me, is the foundation of those mighty works, both the works of Jesus and the works of this unknown disciple. 

The foundation is AUTHORITY.  Today’s gospel is about authority.

The ancient Hebrews were really big on authority, as were everybody else in ancient times; for them, it was everything.  Your credibility was based on the authority someone else granted you. 

The first reading, from the Old Testament, tells the story of Queen Esther who saved her people, the Hebrews, from annihilation.  

Queen Esther is given the authority to make a petition on behalf of her people.  Who gave her that authority?  It was the King of Persia, Ahasuerus.   Esther pleads for the lives of her fellow people, condemns the oppressor Haman and saves the life of her cousin Mordecai.  

The Jewish people were saved from their enemies thanks to the only person who had the authority to spare them, the Persian King Ahasuerus and Queen Esther who was granted authority to speak for them.     

The Old Testament lesson is also about authority.

The Hebrew people of Jesus’ day, believed strongly in authority.  There was the political authority of their Roman oppressors.  The Jewish people did not like that particular authority, but for good or ill, they recognized the authority.  If you didn’t, the Romans killed you.

For the Hebrew people of the day, the real authority lay in their religion and their religious institutions.  TRUE authority rested in the Temple of Jerusalem, the seat of everything religious and holy.   True authority rested in the Temple, with the chief priests and scribes, with the upper crust of the religious elite.  The Pharisees, those keepers of the law, they had authority to interpret the law. 

Finally, when it came to the forgiveness of sins, only God, Yahweh, had that authority. 

So it was natural that when the people of Jesus’ day saw Jesus, they wondered:   Where did he get his authority?  When Jesus began claiming that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, they struggled.  Where did he get this authority to say these things?   After all, isn’t this the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary and Joseph?  Haven’t we watched him grow up before our eyes?  On our street?  Isn’t this the boy next door?  AUTHORITY?   He MUST have some sort of authority.

When he taught, they were amazed because he taught like one in authority.  When he claimed to forgive sins, they cried blasphemy.  Only God had the authority to forgive sins.  He was claiming to be God; by what authority? 

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, people were continually focused on his authority.  The disciples of Jesus were convinced that Jesus had authority, authority from God.  They came to the conclusion that Jesus was the son of God, God’s Messiah.   The disciples of Jesus were a product of that environment, they understood authority.  So when they came to the conclusion that Jesus had authority from God, they invested all authority in him. 

But what is this?  There is a mysterious follower of Jesus who is doing mighty works?  Someone else is healing?  By what authority?  By OUR authority?  Since Jesus had been replacing the authority of the Temple with himself, the disciples too, had been abandoning the authority of the Temple, the priests, the Pharisees, etc.   They followed Jesus in that regard.

But the disciples were human beings who were not content with the authority of Jesus alone.  There had to be other sources of authority, there had to be a chain of command and they concluded that THEY had to be part of that chain, part of that authority.  They invested authority in Jesus, but also in themselves, their group.   In ADDITION to Jesus, you had authority to do ministry if you were a part of their group.  Not everybody can do miracles, you understand, only those who a part of OUR group can do those things.   The disciples had closed the circle and had restricted the authority to heal and minister. 

 It was all about AUTHORITY.  Authority you see, brought power and prominence, it brought fame and notoriety.  You were needed, maybe even indispensable.  Because YOU had the power and authority, you withheld it from others.

Jesus jumps all over the disciples’ notions of authority.  Jesus quickly lets his disciples know that the authority to heal and minister in his name has nothing to do with power, fame, notoriety; it has everything to do with faith and most importantly, living out the faith. 

This mysterious follower who is doing a mighty work, is acting out his faith and Jesus says to the disciples,

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” 

 Jesus means to say, that if the disciples act on any authority OTHER than the name of Jesus, they are inhibiting the faith of those who are trying to live it out.  To impose THEIR authority instead of the authority of Jesus would be stumbling block to those who believe.   It would be better to walk around with one foot, or one hand, or one eye, than to impose THEIR authority, over the authority of Jesus

So Jesus says to them, relax, be at peace.  Because you believe in me, because you follow me and do mighty works in my name, you have a flavour to you.  Don’t lose that flavour. 

The flavour, the saltiness that Jesus confers on his disciples, is his message and his authority. The message of Jesus was to be carried to the 4 corners of the earth and this message was to be carried by others

The followers of Jesus were given this task to proclaim Jesus in word and deed and they were given the authority to do that, through the name of Jesus. 

Jesus SHARES his saltiness with ALL of his disciples and those who weren’t necessarily his disciples.

So the followers of Jesus would go out and proclaim the glory of God as they had seen and experienced through Jesus.  They proclaimed it because they could use his name.  

We get a glimpse of the practise of the early Christians when we look at the book of James.  In today’s second lesson the writer of James talks about a mighty work that was practised in the early church.  He says, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

The early church ministered in the name of the Lord; they had authority.

The early Christian church had the authority from Jesus and they KNEW it.

What about THIS church, 2000 years later?   Do we have the authority to proclaim the mighty works of Jesus in word and deed? 

In our day and age I think one of our struggles as church is the struggle with the authority Jesus gives us.   Too often religious belief is characterized as IMPOSING one’s beliefs upon others.  Can we impose our beliefs on total strangers?  People wonder if they can even impose their religious beliefs on their own children.   Can we still be church in this day and age?

We can. 

Jesus reminds us that the authority he gives us is the authority to be salt.   He does not tell us to impose our beliefs, or lord it over other people, or make demands upon people before we minister to them. 

Jesus simply tells us to be salt. 

So we make quilts, we provide lunch at Glenwood Elementary, we do our street ministry.  Who knows what else we will do, but we will be salt. 

It is all about being salt.

Yesterday in Philadelphia, Pope Francis proclaimed in his sermon during mass that the history of the church is not about building walls but breaking them down.  He said,

"It is a story about generation after generation of committed Catholics going out to the peripheries, and building communities of worship, education, charity and service to the larger society."

 This applies to all Christian communities.

It is about being salt and nothing more. 


We do indeed have the authority to proclaim Jesus.   We are reminded in baptism that God has bought us and redeemed us with an incredible price.  We have life, in the future and in the present, because Jesus died on the cross for our salvation and our forgiveness of sins.  Through the resurrection, we go out and live out our faith.   We are God’s own children and God through Jesus calls us to be workers in this kingdom. 

We are to be salt and nothing more.

We understand that as we go out and proclaim in word and deed, Jesus gives us the authority.  But thanks be to God, we only proclaim.  We do not judge, nor do we impose our beliefs on anybody.  We proclaim, we act as salt which means that God’s Holy Spirit is the one who convicts, the one who prods, the one who transforms the listener, the one receiving our ministry. 

We are to be salt and nothing more.

Thanks be to God.  



Amen. 


 
 
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Pentecost 14/Lectionary 22
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Imagine if you will, going to a restaurant and prior to sitting down to eat, you look over and you notice Pastor Roland sitting at the next table.   Well, isn’t that special!

Imagine that you decide to get up from your table and go to the washroom to wash your hands.   Maybe you simply turn on the water and run your hands under the water for a few seconds and towel off.   You turn from the wash basin and who do you imagine is standing behind you?  Why it’s Pastor Roland!    Surprise, surprise! 

If that was not enough, Pastor Roland begins to take you to task for not soaping your hands and scrubbing them while you recite the Alphabet.   Such an encounter might make you very uncomfortable, maybe even anger you, but the best would be yet to come.

All of a sudden, Pastor Roland who has been yelling at you for improper hand-washing, accuses you of not believing in God; he tells you that you are a sinner and that you are heading to hell in a handbasket.

Imagine that you move forward to protest Pastor Roland’s presence in the washroom and his rush to judgement.   As you try to defend yourself, Pastor Roland backs away and says, "Don't touch me!"

You then discover that Pastor Roland is actually afraid that you will contaminate him with your "germs; "Spiritual "germs" that is.   If YOU are heading to hell in a handbasket, Pastor Roland certainly wouldn't want be touched by YOU, because then HE would be heading to hell too.

Can you imagine such a scenario?  Does that sound a little bit over the top?

That is the kind of situation we encounter in today's gospel.

The disciples are accused of an improper religious observance and a religious group known as the Pharisees don't want anything to do with them because the Pharisees don't want to be religiously defiled and polluted.

A very important question is raised in today's gospel reading as Jesus and his disciples encounter a group of Pharisees.   Question is: "What defiles, what pollutes, what makes us dirty?"  


The Pharisees believed that they were "clean" people. What made them clean and UNdefiled?   The Pharisees scrupulously observed all the laws of Scripture and all the laws that were built around the interpretation of Scripture.   They understood that the proper observance of the hundreds and hundreds of laws and rules of the faith, made them clean and Undefiled. 

If that was the case, then what made them unclean and defiled?   What polluted THEM?   They believed that external contact, IMPROPER external contact, made them unclean and defiled them.

We often look at the Pharisees and imagine them to be a bunch of "wingnuts," but the truth is, the Pharisees did not operate in a vacuum. There were a lot of people who believed that defilement was an external phenomenon and the gospels are actually chock full of stories regarding defilement and uncleanliness. On top of that, those same gospel stories pit clean people against unclean people and the reader is left to wonder, what kind of defilement is going to take place.

In addition, the reader of all those gospel stories is left to ask the essential question: "How will Jesus react to an external threat of defilement?"

Consider the story of Jesus and his encounter with the 10 Lepers. The 10 Lepers call out to Jesus, FROM A DISTANCE. Why did they do this? Simple, they understood that their leprosy made them unclean and they were defiled and if they were to come into contact with Jesus, a rabbi and likely a pious Jew, one who might have observed all the religious laws, well, that would make HIM dirty and defiled. The 10 Lepers respectfully, don't want to come into contact with Jesus, because they will defile him.

The first century Palestinian reader would acknowledge their cries FROM A DISTANCE, but horror of horrors, the first century reader would have been alarmed and mystified by the reaction of Jesus. Jesus, the clean one, the undefiled one, welcomes the lepers close, comes into contact with them and he heals them.   Why would the undefiled Jesus welcome such external contact?    



Why does Jesus not appear to be ritually defiled and unclean?

Or, consider the story of Jesus' contact with the woman who suffered from the bleeding, lo those many years.   SHE was considered ritually unclean and defiled and she knew it too.   That is one of the reasons why she sneaks up behind Jesus, to touch the hem of his garment.   She did not want the ritually clean and undefiled Jesus to notice such contact and she did not want him to be reviled in horror at this external contact with the defiled.   She did not want to contaminate HIM.

The first century reader of the gospel might react with anger and revulsion over the external contact between the defiled and undefiled, yet, the reader would have certainly been amazed by the reaction of Jesus.    

Jesus does not recoil from such external contact, rather he wants to know who touched him, who it was who sapped him of some of his healing power.  Why would the undefiled Jesus welcome such external contact?   Why does Jesus not appear to be ritually defiled and unclean?

The answer to those questions becomes obvious in today's gospel reading.

First of all, it appears that Jesus does not view such people as defiled and unclean. Jesus certainly did not see the 10 Lepers as unclean and beyond his healing mercy. Jesus did not see the bleeding woman as unclean and beyond his healing mercy. Jesus does not believe that his disciples are unclean and defiled neither.


So, remarkably Jesus challenges the cleanliness rules of first century Judaism.  Hand-washing has nothing to do with a person's standing before God, and improper hand-washing will not send you to hell

In addition to this, we understand that Jesus does not believe that external contact defiles HIM.   



The defiled and the unclean can touch him all they want; it will not make him dirty or polluted. That too, was a radical claim.

Of course, we have to ask, WHY Jesus believed that defilement had nothing to do with external contact.  

That answer, lays in the fact that Jesus believed that defilement was not an EXTERNAL phenomenon, but an INTERNAL phenomenon.   Defilement had nothing to do with whom you were standing next to or who you were touching or who came into contact with you.    

Jesus looks at the disciples and points to the HEART and he notes that defilement starts right there.

Now, maybe on the face of it, that doesn't seem to be a big deal, but in reality, it is a very big deal. Defilement comes from within, and Jesus brings us face to face with the phenomenon called SIN.  The Pharisees didn't think that they were terrible sinners. Oh, they knew they were sinners alright, but it was nothing that a good hand-washing couldn't cure; it was nothing that keeping "good company," couldn't cure.

Except, it appears that Jesus is in total disagreement with the Pharisees.   Good hand-washing is not going to cure a sinful heart; good company is not going to necessarily keep you from straying from the important laws, from God's laws.                 

So NOW what?   If this is an INTERNAL process, what does that leave us with?  If we can't wash our way to heaven, if we can't hob-nob with the right people and stay in God's good books, what can we possibly do?   Is it ALL up to us?

Well, yes and no.   Yes, it IS up to us, we are responsible for our own actions. We ARE sinners and we are plagued by our own sins and we may not be able to conjure up a disease or a syndrome to absolve us of responsibility.

The problem with this internal process is that while we bear responsibility for what is in our heart, WE cannot fix it on our own.   In the end, we cannot work our way out of it, for we can never be good enough.   Develop a good hand-washing system and someone will come along and challenge your system and then you will have to try and wash your hands better and more effectively.   The goal posts will always be moving and we will never be good enough.

So now what?

All of this can get confusing.  While this may be an INTERNAL process, we are left to understand that we are not capable of being right with God.  We can’t do it on our own?

We are reminded that we are left to rely on the mercy and strength of the Lord.  It is the strength and power of God which allows us to work on and try to perfect this internal process.  But we will always need God’s help.

Jesus was very aware of our need of God.  Yes, holiness and undefilement are an internal process, but Jesus also knew that there has to be an external as well, a very important external.  It was HE, Jesus, who was that important external.

The disciples of Jesus could not contaminate HIM.  The 10 lepers, the woman with the bleeding, you and I, cannot defile and contaminate Jesus, BUT, HE can clean us.  He can take the defiled, the polluted, and turn them around and make them clean.  In fact, Jesus welcomes that contact. 

Today, as we come forward to the altar to celebrate Holy Communion, we come as those who continually struggle with our internal process, our internal demons. 

To whom shall we go?

Jesus, the clean, the undefiled, welcomes us to come close to him.  Jesus offers to come into our lives, deep into our existence, as close as bread and wine can come to being inside of us.  He comes into our lives, welcomes the contact and promises to make us clean and undefiled. 

And this has important consequences for us.  Because Jesus welcomes us and promises to make us clean and undefiled, he CALLS us to welcome contact with those in our society whom some deem to be Unclean and defiled.  

Sadly, there are lots of people in this world who are still considered UNCLEAN; people who are kept at a distance, people who cry out from afar.  Who are those people? 

Regardless of who they are, we are called to welcome contact; we are called to bring them from that distance they experience.   We are called to bring them close and provide whatever ministry, comfort and solace we can.   We are called to embrace everyone with the grace and love of Jesus Christ. 

In joy Jesus wants us to go out and try our hardest to be doers of the word.  He wants us to go out and try to live a life without blame.  But if we fail, and we often do, he invites us to come back, to come close, to be healed and cleansed, again and again. 

Cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus, he will send us out to proclaim his saving love and grace....again and again. 



Amen. 


 

June 28

06/28/2015

 
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5th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 5: 21-43

When I was a child, 10 years old and in Grade 5 to be exact, there was this girl in my classroom by the name of Michelle Rhodes.  Michelle came from a very poor family, but what was most memorable about them, was just how dirty Michelle and her brother and sisters were.  I think there were 4 or 5 children in the family and it seemed to all of us that they were never clean.  Their clothes, their hands and faces, their hair, were always dirty and unkempt.  I mean, you could really see the dirt. 

Of course, children, being as mean as they could be, would always tease the Rhodes children and accuse them of having “fleas.”  During recess, or before and after school, children would run up to Michelle and the others, “touch” them and then run away, screaming that they were now infested with Michelle’s “fleas.”  Often WE would begin chasing other classmates who were “clean,” and touch them and give them Michelle’s “fleas.” 

All of this was pretty cruel to say the least, as we taunted and scorned the “unclean” child, while those of us who were clean, felt pretty good about ourselves.

On the face of it, that story pretty much sums up the antics of schoolyard children, who don’t seem to know any better.  Yet, what I have described to you, is not exactly a new concept.  In fact, the practise of “clean” people, taunting and scorning “unclean” people, is a centuries old custom.  We understand that in first century Palestine, it was very common, for “clean” people to heap scorn upon those who were deemed “unclean.”

I know that in the past, I have made reference to the culture of first century Palestine and how society was segregated between the “clean” and the unclean.”  Such “uncleanness,” was not characterized by dirty hands and faces, or unkempt clothes, along the lines of Michelle Rhodes.  Rather, “clean” vs. “unclean,” was determined through the keeping of rituals, or through one’s “birth certificate.”

In first century Palestine, the “clean” people, were the Jewish people, the sons and daughters of Abraham. WHO were the “unclean?”  The “unclean” were those people who WEREN’T Jewish, such as the Gentiles, or the Samaritans, who were considered “half-breeds.”  The “unclean,” were those people who didn’t faithfully keep the laws and rituals of the day.  They were the people who didn’t wash their hands at the right times, or in the right manner.  

Women were often deemed “unclean.”  A woman who recently had a baby, was considered “unclean,” until after a certain time period, when she would go to the temple and make a sacrifice.  When Mary and Joseph go to the temple to “name” Jesus after his birth, Mary is also there to make a sacrifice, in order to be “clean” again.  Women who were menstruating, were considered “unclean.”

People who were ill, who had diseases, were considered, “unclean.”  Dead bodies were considered “unclean.” 

So what did it mean when the “clean” and the “unclean,” met or came in contact?  Well, the “clean” and the “unclean” often did not come into contact, because the “clean” would not allow it.  Much like a bunch of 5th graders who run around trying to shake of Michelle Rhodes’ “fleas,” the clean would work very hard at not contacting the “unclean.”  If there was contact, it was assumed that the “clean,” would be contaminated and would themselves, be “unclean.”  They would be required to run away to the Temple, to perform some ritual, so that they would then become “clean” again. 

A wide gap existed between the “clean” and the “unclean.” 

All of this makes today’s gospel reading quite shocking and dramatic, for in the reading from Mark, we have 2 examples of “unclean” people.  In our gospel reading, Jesus is walking towards the home of Jarius, a temple official, whose daughter is near death and who seeks the healing powers of Jesus.  Jarius was a “clean” person, a male of power and status and he approaches Jesus, who is deemed to be “clean” because he is male rabbi and teacher.  Jesus goes to see the daughter of Jarius, who is a Jewish girl, who is also assumed to be “clean,” because her father is “clean.”  

Along the way, Jesus encounters a woman who is suffering from some sort of flow of blood.  She is UNCLEAN.  Here is a woman who is either ill, or diseased, or in some way is deemed to be “unclean,” and she KNOWS it.  She is unclean and she knows that it is not right for her to “touch” a “clean” person. 

The second person who is “unclean” in our gospel, is actually the daughter of Jairus.  By the time Jesus arrives at the home of Jairus, the little girl has died.  VERY “unclean.”  Dead bodies were considered “unclean,” so it would not be right, for a “clean” person to come into contact with that dead body.  Yet the “clean” Jesus is ushered into the room where the “unclean” body lay.  This was NOT right.

But.... this is where we encounter the gospel, the good news, God’s surprise.  The “clean” comes into contact with the “unclean,” and an apparent violation has taken place.  However, it is no violation at all, in fact, the contact appears welcome.  Jesus the “clean,” is touched by the “unclean” woman and rather than Jesus becoming “unclean,” it is the woman who becomes “clean.”  She is healed, her bleeding has stopped and she is now “clean.”

The “clean” Jesus goes into the room where this apparently “unclean” body lay, and he voluntarily touches the body.  Rather than Jesus becoming “unclean,” the corpse comes alive, the little girl rises and she is now “clean.” 

This story violated every first century sensibility; this was not the way the world operated, the “clean” and the unclean” did not mix.  If they did mix due to some unfortunate circumstance, then it was assumed that the “clean,” were changed, for the bad.  

But the way of the world, was not the kingdom of God.  When the unclean, encountered the “clean,” the economy of Jesus was such that THEY changed.  HE did not change, THEY did.  THEY became clean.  The power of God, through Christ, made the “unclean” “clean, ALL the time. 

THIS is the bedrock of our faith, the good news of God through Jesus.  The point of our gospel is that Jesus makes us “clean.” 

He makes US “clean?”  Does that mean that we are “Unclean?”   I think deep down inside, we assume that we are at some point, “unclean.”  When we struggle, when we make mistakes, we may assume that we are “unclean.”  Sometimes, people point at us and say, “unclean,” even when we may think otherwise.  Like Michelle Rhodes, we may have dirty faces and dirty hands and we may think that is okay, until.... someone comes along, singles us out and scorns us by telling everybody that we have “fleas.” 

On top of that, if you throw in our own guilt and fear, there is a possibility that we might feel “unclean.” 

The good news for us today, the promise for us today, is that we can be made “clean.”  When we come into contact with Jesus, we are made “clean.” The question is, HOW do we touch the hem of his cloak?  How do we come into contact with Jesus?

When we hear the Word, we have met Jesus. 

When we gather and together we speak and hear the words of confession and forgiveness, we come into contact with Jesus.  We come with faces hid, we are ashamed, we come from behind, we may not be worthy to be in his presence, yet we come, knowing that he lets us close. 

When we come to the baptismal font, we hear the promise that we are washed clean.

We come and ask for his mercy, because we know that he is so ready to extend his mercy to us. 

We come to the altar, we raise our hands for bread and wine.  This is Jesus, this is our contact with him; he touches us in a very real way.  His presence, his spirit, enters into our lives, into our bodies and goes deep down inside of us.  We touch and taste, the promise, the hope, where we are made “clean,” now and in the future.

We are made CLEAN.

With that, we are sent OUT.  We are sent out, to tell others that for even one brief shining moment, we were made “clean” by the power of God through Jesus.  We are “CLEAN,” and others can be “clean” as well and I bet there are many people who yearn for that feeling. 

I don’t know what ever happened to Michelle Rhodes.  A year or two later, in Grade 7 I think, Michelle and her family moved away and I never saw her again.  As far as I know, she still had “fleas.”  But maybe she didn’t have “fleas,” and maybe for one brief moment, she understood that she just might be “clean.” 

In Grade 5, on Valentines’ Day, our classroom was eating cupcakes with the little candy hearts on them and we were exchanging valentines.  I had lots of valentines given to me, as did every other kid, except Michelle.  Michelle got ONE valentine that day.... and she got it from ME.  Much to my dismay, my mother insisted that I give a valentine to EVERY kid in my grade 5 class.  Either I gave a valentine to EVERY person, OR I would not be allowed to hand out any at all.  I resented that. 

I can still see Michelle, holding up that valentine, with a squirrel and a heart on it, and looking over at me, from her desk, two rows over.  She was smiling as she held up one lousy little valentine and she said thank you.  At the time, I hoped that nobody noticed and maybe no one did.

However, years later, it seems very different.  Thanks be to God and my mother, Michelle got a valentine.  Maybe for one brief moment, Michelle might have understood that she did not have “fleas.”  She was “clean,” at least until recess. 

Touched by Jesus for one moment?  I think so.  



Amen

 

June 21

06/21/2015

43 Comments

 
Picture
4th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
2 Corinthians 6: 1-13
Mark 4:   35-41

Objects:   a large plastic machete an “Acme Siren”

I need two volunteers.   I need someone quite small and I need someone who is larger; preferably a child and an adult.   I am going to arm this adult with a sword.   I am not going to give the child a weapon, in fact I am going to give the child an “Acme Siren.”

So folks, now that they are lined up for “battle,” what do you say to this child?  Do you have any advice for this child?  Any coaching?

            (invite responses and make comments on those responses)

How about THIS for advice or comment?   “May the LORD be with you!"

We may laugh at that comment, or we may groan when we hear such a comment.   In the face of adversity, danger, fear and dread, such a comment might not feel very adequate. 

And yet, this is the comment, the advice that King Saul gives David, the shepherd boy.  In our first Scripture reading we have the famous story of David and Goliath.   The nation of Israel and the Philistine nation are squared off against each other, ready to do battle.   The Philistines propose a simple solution to resolve this fight:   each nation will present a champion and the two will fight.   Whichever champion wins the fight, in effect wins the battle and the losers become slaves to the winners. 

The Philistines present the giant Goliath and all the soldiers of the nation of Israel quake in fear; no one wants to go out and fight Goliath.  No one that is, except little David, the shepherd boy.   David offers to fight Goliath and immediately King Saul rejects this little scamp as the champion of Israel.   But because no one else wants to go out and fight Goliath, Saul figures that he should at least arm David with weapons and protection.   The armour that is put on David is too big and he casts it all aside; David will simply contest Goliath with his sling-shot.

As David prepares to go and “battle” Goliath, what does Saul say to him?  In the end, Saul has nothing to offer but the following:   “May the LORD be with you!"

Was that adequate?

We all know people who are facing difficult and maybe even dire circumstances, circumstances which have all the appearances of a pitched battle.   Health, relationships, lack of employment, addictions, poverty, homelessness, loneliness…   there are lots of battles being waged.   What do you say to people who are facing adversity, danger, fear and dread? 


“May the LORD be with you?!"


Is that adequate?

In the second reading, from 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul says, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.”

In the face of internal and external forces and struggles, Paul is saying to the church in Corinth:   God is indeed with you, you are not alone; you have not been abandoned.   God is with you, the grace of God is with you and the grace of God does not abide with you in vain.   God’s presence, God’s grace upon you, is NOT without purpose.   God’s presence, God’s grace is given to us with a purpose

To those who are facing adversity, danger, fear and dread, the apostle Paul would ALSO say, “May the LORD be with you!"

The disciples of Jesus are in the boat and their boat is being tossed about by a huge storm; they are facing adversity, danger, fear and dread.   Will the storm do them in?  What word was given them?  Was there anybody to say to them, “May the LORD be with you?"

No one spoke those words to them, but in fact, the Lord WAS with them.   The Lord Jesus was with them, beside them in their journey across the Sea of Galilee.  Eventually the Lord who was with them, spoke, calmed their fears and gave them renewed faith and courage. 

This was the message that Mark wanted to convey to the fledging Christian movement.  A small group of people who follow Jesus are facing all kinds of struggles, both internal and external.   Mark reminds them that while their boat may be tossed around by a variety of storms, Jesus is in the boat with them and this lord of the universe will conquer all that is before them. 

I am sure that we all know someone who is staring a giant in the face.   I am sure we all know of people who are in the boat, being buffeted by the waves.   Who knows, maybe it is us who are facing the storm or are in some form of battle.  

To all of us who struggle in any way, God’s word for us today is, “May the LORD be with you!"

 Is that enough?   It will have to be enough.   The reality is that God is with us even when we wonder and are not sure.   The God we meet through Jesus is with us and will speak to our adversity and our fears.

We do not know what God will say and when God will speak and act.   The only thing we know is that God will speak and act, to let us know that we are not alone and that God will somehow still the storm.   In the meantime, this gives us the hope and the strength and the courage to live on in the face of life’s difficulties. 

“May the LORD be with you!"  



Amen.


 
 
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Easter Sunday B                                                           
Mark 16: 1-8

How is your memory?  Do you have a good memory?  Do you remember lots of things? Do you forget lots of things?                                                                                                  Sometimes people share with me their anxiety over forgetting things; they worry about their forgetfulness and whether this might be a sign of their age, or a sign of something bad like dementia or Alzheimers.   On the other hand, I don’t get too worried about forgetfulness; I think we forget lots and lots of things.    I think we forget more than we realize.                                                            



There are SO many things we try to remember, so many details that we cram into our lives, that I think we have a certain capacity in our brains and then the memory banks are full.  I personally think that we file events in our brains and some of those events we put at the front of our brains and some we file back there somewhere.                                                                          


Of course, none of what I am saying is accurate as far as physiology goes; physically speaking I don’t think we have a front storage and a back storage space in our brains.   Maybe the forefront of the brain, the recesses of the brain are I, euphemisms; convenient descriptions to console us when we forget.                                                                                                     


Regardless, we forget lots of things.             

On top of that, when you think of WHAT we remember and what we forget, that can get pretty interesting too.  WHAT do you remember?   Do you remember important things?  Do you remember silly and trivial little things?                                                                                                   

My dad passed away about 8 and a half years ago.   One day, shortly after he passed, our family was sitting around and sharing memories.   I piped up and said, “Do you remember when….?”  Much to my surprise, I discovered that neither my mother, or brother remembered the same event, in the same way, or at all.                                                                                                 


My brother also said, “Do you remember when….?”  Neither my mother or myself remembered.   The same occurred when my mother offered up a memory.                                                   


For whatever reason, we all had DIFFERENT memories.   Which made us all wonder, “Why do we remember SOME things, and forget others?   Did we each remember large and important events?  No.  Did we remember spectacular things and not the little insignificant events?  NO.                                                                                                                                                  
It was all pretty random actually.   Not only did each of us remember a variety of events and forget a vast array of other events, we remembered some things later.   For a while, almost every time I was on the phone with my mother or brother, we would share a memory that we had forgotten at the time of his death.   We remembered later and then shared that with each other.            


Do my mother and brother and I have good memories or bad ones?   I think for the most part, we all have good memories; it is just that at the time of my dad’s passing, there were things that we remembered, things we forgot and things we remembered later.  

Do you think people 2000 years ago, had good memories?  Do you think they remembered everything, or did they forget some things?   Did they remember later?                                                

I began to ask these questions as I considered THE EMPTY TOMB.                                                  
We read in the gospel of Mark today, that some women walked in the early daylight, to the tomb of Jesus.   In the haste to bury Jesus on Friday afternoon, before the beginning of the Sabbath when it was illegal to bury dead bodies, none of the usual burial details were observed.              


So these women go to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body in the proper way, with the proper spices and fragrant plants.  However, when they arrived at the tomb of Jesus, they discover that the stone has been rolled away AND the body of Jesus is not there.               


As they peer into the tomb, a young man, dressed in a white robe, tells them that Jesus has risen from the dead.                                                                                                                                                                          
We anticipate that the women would have been dancing for joy at the prospect of the resurrected Jesus.   Instead, Mark tells us that they fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.           

If you were to open your Bibles you would notice that Mark’s gospel ends right there; sort of.  Biblical scholars think that Mark ended his gospel at that point and that later on, some stories were added to the gospel of Mark, stories in which the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples.                                                                                                                                                               Why did Mark’s gospel end at that point?   Why were resurrections stories added later.   We don’t know for sure, but I wonder:   “Did the followers of Jesus have good memories, bad memories, or did they remember later?”

At the time of Jesus’ death on the cross and his burial, I am sure that the memories of all his disciples went blank.   The women who go to the tomb on Sunday morning have the additional shock of seeing the empty tomb.   I would think their memories were not very good either.   But later on, I think that the disciples of Jesus began to remember and they began to encounter Jesus all over again, in important and meaningful ways.                                                                         



As they Remembered, as they encountered the risen Christ in a variety of ways, all of his teaching, all of his promises of returning on the third day, came alive for them.   Some of them would remember this........   Some of them would remember that……

In the end, when they remembered is not as important as WHAT they remembered.   WHAT they remembered was the promise of Jesus that he would be raised on the third day.                           



The fact that TOGETHER they remembered all these things is important too.  TOGETHER they remembered all those stories and as they remembered, those memories gave strength, joy and hope to each other.  

I think that happened for me, for my brother and my mother.   As we have remembered, as we have shared with each other our particular memories, we have enriched the memories of each other.   As I received a story that I did not particularly remember, I had great joy and it gave me strength.   I hope my mother and brother felt the same way.  As we share those memories, the memory of my dad come to the front of my brain and keeps him alive.   That is good. 

The women at the empty tomb fled in terror and amazement, but as they gathered with other followers of Jesus, they were able to share their memories.   Each of them had a good memory and TOGETHER, they were able to compile memories that were meaningful and important.                                                                                                                                                               Together they remembered the story of Jesus, and as they remembered, they gave each other a precious gift of faith and they kept Jesus alive for each other.   For those who met the risen Jesus, who embraced him and talked to him and even ate with him, their stories and memories provided an additional gift to their fellow disciples.  

In the midst of many memories, God was writing a new story.  The story replaced the emptiness as God began to reveal God’s-self to humanity in the most powerful way.                                      



In the midst of the empty tomb, God was telling humanity that God had a plan.  That through this crucifixion of Jesus, God was standing in solidarity with all of humanity, at the lowest ebb of human existence; in pain, suffering and death.  God said, “I am there, I am with you, I will overcome this suffering and death.”  God spoke a new word to humanity, a word of hope, of life, of forgiveness and of heaven.                                                                                                  


God spoke all of these things, during the death of Jesus.  God spoke of our future in God.            


Somebody remembered the stories.  Somebody remembered the places they had been. 


Somebody remembered the promises.  Somebody re-discovered their faith.                                     
And so, that community of followers of Jesus, began to remember the promise, the future, the words of Jesus.  In the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, they came to see the glory of God in its fullest.  They began to see and feel the hope, the life, the forgiveness, eternity.                                      
The tomb was never empty again.  


Alleluia.  


Thanks be to God.


 
 
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Easter Sunday A
Mark 16: 1-8

On Tuesday, March 24th, a flight operated by the Lufthansa discount airline, named Germanwings, crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.   Tragically, all the information that has been gathered through the various recording devices on the aircraft seems to indicate that the co-pilot intentionally locked the door to the cockpit and then put the aircraft into a descent, plunging it into a mountainside.  The aircraft was described by search crews as being “pulverized;” there was nothing much left.                                                                                                               

Since then, family members have been carried up to the crash site for a look, to see where their loved ones died.   I imagine that the family members who went, took with them momentos and flowers as a way of creating some sort of memorial.  I imagine that they needed to be there, to see for themselves, to gain some form of closure.  

I imagine that to some degree, they did not see a whole lot when they arrived at the crash site; the aircraft and the people inside, literally disintegrated.  I imagine there would have been virtually nothing to see, nothing distinguishable, almost as if their loved ones were not there.  

I imagine that it would have had the feeling of arriving to find an empty tomb.

As I reflected on the Germanwings air crash and those who mourn, I thought of the women who followed Jesus, who approached the tomb of Jesus on that Sunday morning after his crucifixion and burial.                                                                                                                                      



The trauma of Jesus’ death was still very fresh in the minds of the women who walked to the grave site where Jesus lay, that Sunday morning.  Even though the sun had come up on their day, the brightness and splendor of the morning was likely lost on them.  They were still sorrowful and hurting from the Friday, when their Lord and Master had been executed in such a brutal way. 

So they come to the tomb of Jesus, expecting to find his body, hoping that someone will roll the stone back for them, so that they could pour spices on his dead body. 

These women, were not coming to EMBALM the body of Jesus, they were coming to ANOINT him.  Two thousand years ago, the Jewish burial custom did not incorporate embalming, but it did include anointing.   People would often anoint a body with spices, perfume type spices, as a final gesture of love and respect.  The womens’ intent to anoint the body of Jesus, meant that they had come in the early morning, to pour perfume oils over their dead master.  Such perfumes were costly, so this was a financial sacrifice for them.

They waited until after the Sabbath, which extended from Friday evening to Saturday evening.   They waited until the Sunday morning, because the strict rules of the Sabbath observance made it improper to perform such rituals on their holy day. 

So they hurried to the grave on Sunday morning, running against time.  Jesus had died in the mid-afternoon of Friday and had been in the grave for close to 36 hours.  In the Jerusalem climate, during the late spring when Jesus was crucified and buried, dead bodies would begin to decompose very quickly.  So with no embalming practices at their disposal, the women hurry to the tomb.  THIS was not going to be an easy morning, this was NOT going to be a pleasant experience.             

Instead......, they find something that they did not expect.  

The TOMB of Jesus was EMPTY.  Yes there was a young man at that empty tomb, who told them that Jesus had risen, who showed them the place where Jesus lay, who told them to go to Galilee with the rest of Jesus’ followers.  There, he said, they would get to meet this risen Jesus.             

Today, 2000 years later, we would imagine that these women would have been jumping for joy, excited over the prospect of their master being alive.  Instead, in this gospel of Mark, we get something totally unexpected.  We experience the empty tomb and the emptiness of the human soul; the women flee in terror.

The women, like their male counterparts, flee frozen in silent fear.   The women are confronted with the emptiness and the starkness of the empty tomb.  It is “one more nail in the coffin” of their sorrow, if you will.  They do not run about telling everybody about the resurrection, rather it becomes for them, another bleak reminder of what had happened a couple of days earlier.

Just a lot of emptiness.

Emptiness.   Standing at a mountainside in France, mourners may have likely had a emptiness….. and MEANINGLESSNESS.   Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of such a tragedy is the sense of meaninglessness. What did these people die for? What was the point? While these questions tend to be necessary parts of grieving they are often fruitless.

Yet..... all is NOT “empty.”  

I am hopeful that the emptiness of those families wIll eventually be replaced with something else.     As one moves along in life, there are the constant reminders, reminders that are ANYTHING but, empty.   They may have memories and stores and pictures and who knows what.   Hopefully it will keep their loved ones alive

And then there is The promise of our faith:   in the midst of emptiness, there is life, there is hope, there is the promise of eternal life. 


The tomb of Jesus was empty.   Yes indeed, it WAS empty.    Yet....  all was NOT empty for the disciples of Jesus.   


            they had the words and teachings of Jesus.

            they remembered, they had the memories.  They had the stories. 

            they had the promise

            they saw him on the cross and they understood.   Life was not empty anymore. 

Yes.... there is “emptiness” in some parts of our lives, but there is something else as well.   There is memory, there are shared experiences, there are stories of faith and with all that, the void of emptiness is filled.   Darkness is replaced with light.  And with the light, comes hope and life. 

In the midst of emptiness, God was writing a new story.  The story replaced the emptiness as God began to reveal God’s-self to humanity in the most powerful way. 

In the midst of the empty tomb, God was telling humanity that God had a plan.  That through this crucifixion of Jesus, God was standing in solidarity with all of humanity, at the lowest ebb of human existence; in pain, suffering and death.  God said, “I am there, I am with you, I will overcome this suffering and death.”  God spoke a new word to humanity, a word of hope, of life, of forgiveness and of heaven. 

God spoke all of these things, during the death of Jesus.  God spoke of our future in God.           

The women flee from the tomb in terror and amazement.  They are so afraid they do not speak a word to anyone.  The emptiness of Good Friday, brought to life again at that empty tomb, was more than they could handle. 

But.... in the pain of encountering the empty tomb, somebody remembered the words of Jesus and the fact that he would rise again.  Somebody remembered the stories.  Somebody remembered the places they had been.  Somebody remembered the promises.  Somebody re-discovered their faith.

And so, that community of followers of Jesus, began to remember the promise, the future, the words of Jesus.  In the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, they came to see the glory of God in its fullest.  They began to see and feel the hope, the life, the forgiveness, eternity. 

The tomb was never empty again.  



Alleluia.  


Thanks be to God.


 

March 29

03/29/2015

 
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Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion                                       Processional Gospel: Mark 11: 1-11                                                                                                           
I would like you to imagine that Queen Elizabeth II is coming to town.   Obviously this would be a special day and considering the occasion, we would probably want to figure out how to greet her.                                                                                                                                                  

How DO you greet the Queen?                                                                                                            
You may have seen many occasions on TV, where the Queen arrives at a park, or a city hall or the seat of a government.   Having seen that, what do you notice?   Often you see the Queen greeted by throngs of people, waving flags, cheering and even presenting her with a bouquet of flowers.   When she arrives at some sort of destination, she leaves her vehicle and often walks on a red carpet.                                                                                                                           


So, when royalty arrives, we wave our flags and we roll out the red carpet. 

Today in our worship service, on this Palm Sunday, we are greeting Jesus in the same way that the people in Jerusalem greeted Jesus.   In our processional gospel from Mark 11, we read that the people who greeted Jesus at the entrance to Jerusalem, threw palm branches and clothing on the ground.                                                                                                                          



Today we are greeting Jesus by waving our “flags” (palm branches) and we threw clothing on the ground to symbolize rolling out the red carpet.                                                                        


The spreading of cloaks and branches on the ground is like our modern "red carpet treatment."   A special person, especially a ROYAL person, would walk upon clothing and branches, so that their feet didn’t have to touch the same ground that mere mortals walked on.

So on the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people in the crowd put their clothes down on the road, which was a sign of acknowledging royalty.   A clear reference to this is in the Bible, in 2 Kings 9:13, where we read:

“Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare* steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king.’”

So that is what happened on the day Jesus went into Jerusalem; he and his followers staged a parade.   The parade was chock full of symbolism; he rode on a donkey instead of a horse, he entered the gate that the Messiah was supposed to go through when finally coming to Jerusalem.   People hailed him as the Son of David, which was code language for the next ruler, the Messiah.                                                                                                                                                  

The parade was meant to show the people that Jesus was the Messiah and the people who were present, got it.                                                                                                                                                
So they shouted, “Hosanna!”, which was a cry of mercy, and roughly interpreted meant, “Save us!”  Here was the Messiah who would save them, restore their country, ensure their independence as a nation and usher in the reign of Yahweh. 

Palm Sunday was a day of great joy in Jerusalem, but the joy did not last long.   The journey into Jerusalem to the shouts and adoration of the crowds would wind up at the cross, with crucifixion and death as the end result. 

Today, as much as we might enjoy Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we must journey to the cross with Jesus.   The journey does not end with palm branches but with suffering and death; we must go there.                                                                                                               



So today, at this moment, we continue our journey with Jesus, to the cross.   We continue that journey, by trading our palm branches, our “flags” of celebration, for crosses.  There is a tradition in the Christian faith, of people taking their palm branches after Palm Sunday worship and weaving them into crosses.  We are going to do just that today. 

So, here is how it is done…..                                                                                                            Let’s take a bit of time, to fold our palm leaves into crosses.   Our youth are up here at the front and they will walk around and help you.   If you need help, turn to your neighbour.   If you complete your cross, turn around and offer your help to others.                                                                           

Let’s begin….

Jesus is now in Jerusalem.   Our flags of celebration are folded into crosses.   Before we continue to journey to the cross, there is one more thing we need to do; we need to “roll up our red carpet.”                                                                                                                                                   

Our youth group is going to collect the clothing off the floor, our “red carpet” which will begin the journey to the cross.   They are arranging the clothing into three crosses on the chancel, a reminder for us that this wonderful celebration concludes at the cross.                         

This is the story that is told on Palm Sunday.   This is why we hold our parade on Palm Sunday, this is why we throw clothing on the floor, this is why we give Jesus the red carpet treatment.  We remember; that the royal one, Jesus, enters into this world, into our lives in triumph.   But that is not the complete story of Jesus or Palm Sunday.  Within that joy is sadness, within that strength is weakness, within that pride is humility.                                                                        



We remember; that strength is concealed in humility, pain is hidden in triumph, victory in defeat, life in death, God in human form.                                                                                                            
We remember the cost of the Kingdom of Heaven and the cost it meant for the one who gets the red carpet treatment.   We remember the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven and the one who makes the promise. 

Our precious story continues next in our worship as we parade to the table, the altar, to receive bread and wine.  It is in the every Sunday parade that we tell the story; telling the old, old story, receiving grace, mercy and salvation.  We call out, “Hosanna!, Save us!”  The royal one, walking the red carpet goes to the cross and does just that, he saves us.                                                               

It doesn’t end there however.   Receiving mercy, receiving the gift of salvation from the royal one, we march out into the world, embodying the Kingdom of Heaven.   With every cup of soup, with every item in the shopping cart that heads off to the Food bank, with every piece of clothing that finds a new owner, with every kindness extended, we roll out the red carpet for our royal one, Jesus AND as we carry the cross of Christ. 

As we roll out that red carpet again and again, as we carry the cross of Christ again and again, we remember that strength is concealed in humility, pain is hidden in triumph, victory in defeat, life in death, God in human form.  We remember that God has brought us salvation in this remarkable way.  



Amen.


 

March 1

03/01/2015

 
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Lent 2                                                                                                         Mark 8: 31-38

If you can see my lap top computer from where you are sitting, you will notice that I have our congregation’s website on the screen.   It might be a little difficult to see but you could easily go home and call up our website and have a look.  Or.... you could get on your phone, “Google” the phrase, “Live and Share the Love of Christ” and you will come to our website.   If you have your phone on you, I can direct you to our website.                                                                                                 



By the way, THIS is a brochure.   Years ago, it was very important for churches to put out brochures, but not now.  NOW, we expect websites.                                                                          
So, when you go to a church website, what would you expect to see?  You would probably expect to see lots of information about who we are and what we do.                                                 

So if you were building our website, what would you put on it?                                                

Let’s have a look at OUR website.  What do you notice?  

(tag lines, pictures, information, logos, links)

Churches can become very creative when making such websites.  Sometimes they are eye-catching, or very enthusiastic.  Because we hope that people will come to our church, we put encouraging things on them in order to let people know that we do some exciting things and important things here.  This is a great place to go to church because we have exciting worship services, or sing upbeat songs, or we get to hob-knob with a wonderful group of people.  We visit, we have fun; this is THE place to be.                                                                                               


Those are the things that you would likely put on a church website.  In fact, notice the tag line:  Live and Share the Love of Christ.   That is a nice saying and pretty encouraging.   But would you change the tag line on our website to say:   St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Come Suffer With Us!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            How would you respond to that?  Wouldn’t your website talk about the great people, the wonderful building, the music; the minister’s sermons?  Come to think of it, the minister’s sermon is a poor example.  Sometimes when the minister gets up to preach, we really suffer.              

Regardless, do we advertise and promote the fact that we are here to suffer? Come to think of it, do WE want to come here and suffer?  Is that our mission and ministry?  In the gospel of Mark, the writer makes no bones about the mission and ministry of Jesus.  To Mark, Jesus was all about suffering and Mark wanted to make that perfectly clear.                                                  

Biblical scholars think that one of the reasons that people like Mark wrote gospels, stories about Jesus, was to clarify who Jesus was, and what he was all about.  It is felt that this writing was done to address issues and controversies that were flaring up in this fledgling religious community.   The thought is that people were arguing about how to follow this Jesus. 

For Mark it is an easy decision.  Mark saw the mission and ministry of Jesus as one of suffering.   This Jesus was not about glory and power and prestige.  That was the way of the world to Mark.  Rather, this Jesus was about suffering: identifying himself with those who lacked, aligning himself with the have-nots, bringing relief and comfort to those who were struggling.  Mark tells us in his gospel that Jesus is all about suffering and today’s reading from Mark, “marks” a turning point in that focus.

This reading takes place about half-way through Mark’s gospel.  Just before this reading, a few verses earlier, a momentous confession takes place.  After all of the great things that have been happening in the ministry of Jesus, after all of the healings, and teachings, and large crowds, the disciples make the determination that this Jesus must be the Messiah, the Christ.  This had huge implications.  This meant that political power was going to be wrested from the Romans and that religious power was going to be taken from the priests and the scribes and the Pharisees.   This meant freedom from military and oppression and taxes.                                                              


But instead of that reality taking place, the disciples learn that this Jesus, the one whom they are beginning to believe in, is here to suffer.  His mission and ministry is not one of political and religious redemption, but of human redemption.  And that human redemption involves suffering.                                                                                                                                                  
This Jesus is going to suffer.

Not only is HE going to suffer, but Mark suggests through the words of Jesus, that those who follow him, should suffer as well.  According to Mark, the disciples of Jesus have to get involved in this suffering, by carrying the cross of Jesus, by losing their lives for his sake.

The disciples struggle with this.  They do not see this as an effective recruitment campaign to gather more disciples.  They do not see this as even adequate for themselves.  They are worried about power and prestige and who will sit at the right hand of Jesus.  Suffering is not a concept that they want to deal with and it almost seems as if they shut Jesus out, they quit listening.                                                                                                                                                 

But they will continue to struggle.  They will eventually watch this Jesus be captured and die and they will wonder what the point was.  Why all that suffering?  Why follow Jesus, if it involves suffering.                                                                                                                                     

Why suffer indeed?

For Mark, this suffering of Jesus was very important, because it changes people.  Mark wanted his community to realize that because Jesus suffered for them, they were a changed people.  They saw another way of living, a way of living that focused on God’s ways and thoughts, rather than the conventional ways and thinking of human beings.                                      


Because Jesus suffered and died, their lives and their futures were changed.  No longer did the carnage of the world have a complete hold on them.  No longer was sin and death the final word in their lives.  They were free, free of all those things, and free to suffer for others, free to bring that suffering and message to a needy people, whose lives would in turn be changed.   As their lives were changed by the suffering of Jesus, so they would change the lives of others by their suffering.             

WE have to remember that Jesus suffered for us.  His mission and ministry was a suffering that communicated to us that we were free from all the garbage of this world, that it does not have a hold on us.  His suffering was a redemption of the world.  We are called to respond to his suffering, by redeeming the world, by suffering with the world.

So, do you want to come to church and suffer?  Would you invite your friends to come to church and suffer?  Instead of talking about suffering, maybe we need to talk in other terms.  Maybe we need to talk about something like, following Jesus. 

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  Beyond suffering, it may mean that we follow jesus out into the world.                                                                                                                                       



Later on this year we are going to have a lot of conversations, a lot of talking.  We will ask ourselves two questions:   “What is God is doing in the world, in our neighbourhood?”, and “How are WE going to participate in God’s activity?”    

The consequence of those two questions might tap into this suffering business.   We may not necessarily suffer, but we may end up on a journey with others in our community.   We may walk in the shoes of another, if only briefly. We will in effect carry the cross of Jesus into that neighbourhood. 

A good example is some of our outreach ministries.   When we staff the street ministry truck for the Salvation Army, or serve lunch at Glenwood Elementary, we don’t deprive ourselves of food.   We go to our homes with a roof over our heads and a warm bed.   We don’t suffer in the ways that some of those street folks suffer, or some of those children suffer.               


BUT we suffer in a way because we follow Jesus.   We suffer in the manner that we are exposed to the world.  We look into our world, we see what God is up to and we understand that following Jesus means going out into the world to offer that cup of water to a thirsty individual. 

We follow Jesus and we try to do the things that God wants us to do.   Because Jesus accepts up and chooses us, we are changed.  We are changed, we follow Jesus, we carry the cross into our neighbourhood and we serve others.

Our website does not say, “Come Suffer With Us.”   Rather, our website says, “Live and Share the Love of Christ.” 

I kind of think that means the same thing; it is all a part of following Jesus.                          



Thanks be to God.  


Amen. 

 

December 7

12/07/2014

 
Picture
Advent 2
Mark 1: 1-8

Have you ever heard the expression, “Our word for today is…..?”  Regardless of where you might have heard the expression, the thought is to highlight a word which may capture the theme or the essence of the day. 

As I consider today’s Scripture readings, “our word for today is….. WILDERNESS.”

….or you could say, “DESERT.”

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As was written by the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'"

So begins our introduction to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, the one who was to introduce us to the coming one, the one who would come with the Holy Spirit and fire.  John does all of this from…. the WILDERNESS.     Some biblical translations call it the DESERT.   

There are few wilderness places on the face of this earth more INHOSPITABLE to life, than a desert.  Those of us who live in lush and accommodating places like “Rainy Haney,” are still aware of the harsh and mysterious desert and we probably all claim to know something about the desert. 

I THOUGHT I knew something about deserts.   Many years ago while our family was vacationing in the Okanagan, we visited an interpretive center on the desert, near Osoyoos.  I had never contemplated the fact that there is indeed a stretch of desert, from Osoyoos, on up through the Okanagan.  One came to realize just how harsh and inhospitable the desert can be.   

Yet.... as harsh as it looks, there is still LIFE.  You learn about the vegetation and how it lives and gives life to its environment.  You learn there are animals that actually co-exist in the desert.  As you bend down and turn over rocks, you discover life underneath.  The desert is a SURPRISE, there is LIFE in the desert. 


There is LIFE in the desert.  John the baptist knew that and so did all those who went out to meet him.  There IS life in the desert.   There is life, because the desert, the wilderness, has meaning.

The desert, the wilderness was a place of rich imagery and meaning for the Israelites.  The desert was a place of wandering and a place of desolation, yet the desert was also the place where God was experienced, where Godly living occurred and the desert was the means by which God would deliver Gods people.

The stories and imagery of the Israelites was vast.   Of course, the greatest story of Israel was the Exodus, and the wandering in the wilderness, after Moses led them from slavery in Egypt.

Moses, had to encounter God, in order to be sent by God.  Where did Moses encounter God?  He experienced God in the desert, the wilderness of Sinai, as he stood before the burning bush. 

Elijah, one of the great prophets of Israel, delivered Gods sobering messages to King Ahab, who promptly threatened to kill Elijah.  Elijah immediately fled into... the desert, where he was fed by ravens and eventually fed by the widow of Zarapheth. 

The people of Israel structured some of their national festivals around the desert.  . Radical groups like the Rechabites and Nazarites sought to live in wilderness fashion either permanently or at least temporarily.

The desert was the means by which Israel would again be cleansed and restored.   In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, the desert, the wilderness, is viewed as the means by which the exiles from Babylon will be sanctified, or made holy, for return to the Holy Land.

The exiles in Babylon, heard the voice of Isaiah say to them,

"Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." 

The desert is a SURPRISE; there is LIFE in the desert.   And that life gives them hope.  The people in exile hear that,

"Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

God will give them life in the desert.  God will feed God’s flock like a shepherd; God will gather the lambs in God’s arms, and carry them in God’s bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

There is life in the desert, and such imagery gives hope. 

So John the Baptist carries on with that very important imagery.  Where does John the Baptist come from?   Biblical scholars think that John was a member of the Essenes, a community of hermits that lived in the wilderness, the desert. 


What did John do?   He stood in the desert and proclaimed his message, because the people of Israel UNDERSTOOD the location. 

John the baptist stood in the desert and proclaimed his message and the people came OUT to him because they knew what that meant.  In the midst of their trials and tribulations, in the midst of their oppression and persecution, in the midst of their own suffering and desert-like experience, they recognized that their salvation was coming, out of the desert.

Salvation was coming out of the desert, for in the midst of that dry and arid location, God was moving and acting.   Once again, God was acting, as God had always done, using the desert as a location to begin Gods work of salvation.  From the desert they heard that God was sending a powerful one, who would bring salvation to Gods people. 

The desert, the wilderness, is a SURPRISE; there is LIFE in the desert. 

There IS life in the desert, for that is where God lives and acts.  Even in OUR deserts. 

This season of Advent, BEFORE the Christmas season, we return to the desert, the wilderness.  We remember the desert and Gods saving acts in the desert.  We remember the stories of people like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and even Jesus and we remember how they lived through their desert experiences, walking out of the desert, saved, redeemed and vindicated by God.

This season of Advent, we remember our OWN deserts.  We consider our own desert experiences, whether they be desert experiences of health, job, relationships, suffering, death, doubt and faith.  We may be sitting in the midst of our own desert, wondering if we have been abandoned and forsaken, left to wither in the arid heat. 

Yet the message for us today, the message of John the Baptist for US, today, is that there is LIFE in the desert.  God is in the desert with us, God meets us in the desert. 

In the midst of our own deserts, God reminds us of the coming of salvation, the coming of Jesus. 

Jesus IS on the way. 

Yesterday I had the privilege of officiating at a burial for a family that had lost their father; he was only 63 years old.   In the midst of their struggles, their wilderness, I had the joy or reading them the Christmas gospel.  

In this Advent, in their wilderness, came the message that the Christ child will come to us again.   The birth of Jesus will be celebrated again, to remind us that God gives the gift of eternal life, which I trust gave them hope as they buried their loved one.  

The birth of Jesus also reminded them that God still walks with them in their wilderness experience.   Very early in our gathering, they related ways in which they felt God was walking with them and giving them strength in their wilderness.

God is in the wilderness, giving energy and faith and hope and life.   The desert, the wilderness, is a SURPRISE; there is LIFE in the desert. 
                                                                                                                                                      This past Friday, a group of us were serving at the street ministry.   Every 4 weeks we gather downtown and staff the Salvation Army Crisis response vehicle.  We serve the soup, coffee and sandwiches provided by the Salvation Army.   To that we add more sandwiches, sweets, clothing, toiletries, blankets and bananas. 

Coming to the park to receive these mercies, are a vast array of people, all of whom are struggling in one way or another.  Talk about your desert/wilderness experience!  

Yet, in the midst of the desert, God is there.  There is still LIFE.  Our team greets them and serves them, doling out the things they need, as well as a smile, love and acceptance....

....and hope.  God is in the wilderness, giving energy and faith and hope and life

Sometimes you wonder if all of that is enough.  Can any of these few things bring life?  It can, because God promises to be in the midst of the wilderness..  God meets us in the desert in order that we might receive life.  God sends Gods people out into the desert, to give life. 

There is life in the desert this Advent.  We proclaim through our words and deeds that there is one who is coming to this world, who is more powerful than any force we have yet seen or imagined.  He is again, into the deserts of this world, to give life to all.  



Amen.


 

November 30

11/30/2014

 
Picture
Advent 1
Mark 13: 24-37

So now what?  Have you ever asked that question?  I think lots of people have been in situations or have had an experience that has left them asking, “So now what?”

So now what?  What do I do now? 

Years ago I knew a young woman named Sheila who at the age of 35 years, was diagnosed with cancer.   At the conclusion of her doctor’s appointment, she said, “So now what?” 
“What do you mean?”, asked the doctor. 


“What do I do now?” 


The doctor replied, “Go home.” 


“Go home?” 


“Yes, go home.”  The doctor continued, “If you were not here and if I had not given you such news, where would you be and what would you be doing?”


“I’d go home,” she said, “and do the the laundry because this is laundry day.  Then at 2:30 p.m. I would pick the kids up from school.  After that we would get home, go to the kitchen table, have a snack and do our homework.   And after that, I would get dinner started.”

“There you go,” said the doctor.  “Your family needs you.  Now go home and do all those things you need to do and intended to do.”

“So now what?”

The doctor’s advice didn’t seem all that good to her, but she went home anyway and began to do all those things that needed to be done.   Sheila discovered that despite her illness, the question of “So now what?,” was answered with all those things that needed to be done which she planned to do. 

While her illness progressed, she came to realize that her relief and refreshment from her illness would come in dying.  It was there that Sheila discovered some important things, things she needed to do in the meantime.   Sheila discovered that she received great joy and fulfillment from all those ORDINARY things she was doing in the meantime.   Her care and her love of her family, all those tasks, took on an added feeling of importance.   All of that gave her a tremendous strength and uplifted her and carried her through the rest of her days.  What she did in the meantime, with the rest of her life became very important and was “life-giving” to her in a spiritual way.

“So now what?” 

I would suggest to you that Jesus answers this very essential question in today’s gospel.  

I think it is important for us to CAREFULLY consider today’s gospel reading and understand what is going on here.   It is so easy to focus on the words that carry a sense of disaster and foreboding:

 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken….  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” (Mark 13:24-25 & 29)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”   (Mark 13: 31-32)

Yikes!

We need to look beyond the fire and brimstone, put down our crystal balls as we try to predict the future end of the world.  Instead, we need to understand that Jesus tells a parable. 

Jesus tells a story to make a point.   This is the essence of the story:

“A man goes out (for a dinner party) during the evening and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch, so that when he comes back and knocks on the door, the doorkeeper may open it at once and let him in.”  The parable concludes with an exhortation:   “Watch then, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the first or the second or the third watch.” 

Why did Jesus tells his followers this story? 

Biblical scholars think that Jesus had been telling his followers that he was going to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.  Jesus kept telling them that he was going to go to the cross to die.   This was devastating news for his disciples; they had been expecting that Jesus would set himself up as king of Israel which would then elevate them to positions of power and status. 

Expecting riches and power and fame and glory, the news that he would die crushed them.  In response to such news, Biblical scholars felt that the disciples then asked the question, “So now what?”

If all their hopes and dreams were being dashed, with the death of Jesus, they wondered what was to happen next.   “So now what?  What do we do now?”

Jesus tells them to keep alert and be ready because when the master returns, he will want to enter into their lives and he will want to be a part of their lives.  

Jesus tells his followers to be ready for his return; he is interested in the attitude of the believer.  He calls for a special alertness that permeates one’s life.  Responsibility and readiness are understood as intrinsic to the life of faith.  It is not a call to anxiety or mindlessness rather it is a challenge to critical adventure.  Be on the alert because there is something real here.             

To be alert, to be ready, is not to focus on predicting the future so that we can be in a certain place at a certain time in order to save our skins.  To e alert, to be ready, has more to do with EVERYDAY living; we do not live in fear and foreboding, we live in joy and in hope.  We might even call it “WATCHFUL LIVING.”  We are alert and ready for EVERYDAY LIVING; alert and ready and watchful is to live the life of a disciple of Jesus.

“So now what?”  

That is a very important question and carries a lot of meaning for us as a FAITH COMMUNITY.

Jesus entrusts us with his gospel, his message.  Jesus entrusts us with his mission of justice, compassion and mercy.  In the meantime, before he returns, Jesus wants us to keep our eyes open and respond to events and troubles in this world.   Jesus wants us, the church, to live out the example he has given us. 

Of course, we know that today is the first Sunday in Advent.   We spend the next 4 Sundays anticipating and preparing for the birth of Jesus.   Jesus is coming again, he is entering into our lives again.  Jesus is like the man in the parable who tells his doorkeeper to be alert and ready for his coming.   When the master comes, he knocks on the door and enters into our lives.

So now what?  What do we do in the meantime? 

We live out the example of Jesus with justice, mercy and compassion.   We begin those ministries an acts of gift-giving that speak of the rule of the coming one.   We put up our Jesse tree and fill the branches with socks, gloves, toques and scarves.   We fill our food bank bin.   We buy gifts for the residents of Beckman house.  We attend the longest night service to remember our pain and struggles as Christmas approaches.  We those things and many other acts of generosity and charity as we wait for the coming of Jesus.

We are engaged in watchful living, responding to the needs of people in every day, ordinary ways.

Those are examples of what we do as a congregation, but what do we do as individuals? 

So now what?

As we individually await the coming of Jesus again this Christmas, we need to be alert and ready and engage in WATCHFUL LIVING.  

So now what?

We go to our homes, we decorate our houses, we buy some presents, we bake our cookies, we clean our houses, we prepare wonderful meals, we welcome our families and our guests.  We tend to all those things because I think that such living keeps us alert and watchful for the important things in life, our relationships and our own hearts and minds. 

So now what?  Throughout, we enter into watchful living, which I might even further define as living with a purpose.  As a congregation, as individuals, we live with purpose, letting our lights shine, doing those things that the master would do; living for the other. 

May such watchful living give us great joy, great fulfillment and great meaning throughout the season of Advent.  



Amen.