Sermon, June 30, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
“Every Morning is a New Day”
Every morning is a new day and every new day is a resurrection from the past. I am using this image as a transition from the old to the new. Day to night; old wine skins to new wine skins, old ministry to new ministry. It is all about letting go of what we knew to make room for something new.
Things change. Someone once said the seven last words of the church are these: “We never did it that way before.” It is a fact of life: people resist change.
- A Chevy driver is not interested in test driving a Ford
- A John Deere man wouldn’t think of getting an International Harvester Tractor
- A Blue Jays fan who was raised rooting for that team isn’t going to root for the Yankees. The same thing is true in the church. Those who have had their hearts lifted by Juanita’s worship will resist new forms. Those who have found comfort and strength from a, particular version of the Bible will remain suspicious of modern translations. Those who have been raised in a different denomination will find it difficult to get used to the grace-governed church family in the United Church. When we hold something dear and precious, like our religious faith, we resist change. The more precious the tradition, the more we dig in our heels against change. Sunny is coming with a different background which is similar in many ways as to our tradition; however, there will be differences.
This new ministry that begins July 1, tomorrow might help you understand the difficult time that the Pharisees had with Jesus. They had been raised in the church and steeped in its tradition. The routine was majestic and comforting. There was security in the familiar. Ritual and faith, were seen as one and the same. They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking and he told this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
There are people all around us who would like us to also conform to their standards. Here are some examples,
- the way we dress (do Pastors need to wear robes or a collar? do men need to wear ties to worship? Do women need to be in a dress? Should women wear make-up? Should women wear hats? Should they wear gloves . . . at one time or another these were all accepted practice.)
- the kind of amusements we enjoy (is it wrong to play cards, is it wrong to dance, is it wrong to watch a movie, is it wrong to play sports on Sundays?)
- the way we express our worship. (Do spirit-controlled believers always raise their hands in worship, never raise their hands in worship, only sing choruses, never sing choruses, have an altar call, never have an altar call)
There is nothing wrong with giving thought to your style of worship, your attire in the house of God, your practice of the sacraments, your preferred Bible translation, and on down the list. It is good to think about these things. Sunny will no doubt change the format of worship. I kept your format because my job was to keep the status quo and not rock the boat.
Jesus points out that it is foolish for those who are recipients of grace and joy to spend their time in mourning for the past. It is silly for those who are with the wonderful Savior to spend their time seeking God. He is in their midst! They should enjoy Him!
When Sunny comes into your life many things might change:
- Your relationship with God might change. She will no doubt have her own relationship with God and bring it for you to examine.
- Your view of yourselves might change. We are people who have been wonderfully forgiven. We are children of God! We know that we are loved. We know that we are forgiven. We know that we are headed to Heaven. That changes our view of who we are. God sees value in us. We should not mourn past expression of God we should be joyful in Sunny’s new expressions of God.
- Your motivation for mission might change. Now we are not seeking to gain God’s favour, we are living in gratitude for God’s favour and love. We should not mourn . . . we should be joyful. New community endeavours might arise. Your approach to hard times might change.
Jesus tells us that New Life in Christ is inconsistent with worn out tradition, old wine skins. New ministry is inconsistent with the way it has always been, thus the parable new wineskins. In those days new wine would be poured into animal skins rather than in bottles or barrels like they would be today. As this new wine would mature or ferment, the gases in the skin would cause the skin to expand. These skins had the requisite elasticity. However, if you used an old skin it was already stretched out. When the wine began to ferment it would eventually burst the worn skin. Jesus wants us to understand that the way it has always been here at Sicamous is incompatible with the gospel of grace. A new kind of relationship with God demands a new way of doing things. Understand, that your life will change. But it will change as a result of the relationship that you have with Sunny.
Next Sunday, you might adapt Sunny’s methods. In other words, may your goal be to teach the truth of God to those around you, as Sunny brings her ministry to you. You might find the most effective way to do that rather than trying to force yourselves into a familiar mold is to listen to a new way of being a church. Traditions come and traditions go. We need to know when to let go.
The questions we must ask of any form of being church is not “Is it new?” or “Is it old?” Those are irrelevant questions. The questions we should ask are: “Is it honoring to God?”, “Does it point to Jesus?” and “Is it effective in communicating Jesus’ truth?”
The Pharisees and the Disciples of John the Baptist missed the point. They focused on the traditions and missed the significance of the one who stood before them. They lectured Jesus when they should have been listening to Him. They tried to get Him to conform to their ways rather than seeking to conform to Him. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do. God help us to learn from their mistakes. I believe that Sunny will be a wonderful minister for you folks and now, our day has ended. May God’s grace abound as you get to know each other. Amen.
Sermon, June 16, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
3×1=1 is a formula for the Trinity. How can it be? Christians have always been taught that this is so. It is very easy for me to understand if I think of it as a love story between God who is love and Jesus who is God’s lovechild and the Holy Spirit within whom is loves power. The Trinity is about a love relationship that we get to enter-into by the Holy spirit.
My favourite story for Trinity Sunday is a story of three priests and a lay brother who welcomes pilgrims at a monastery. The story unfolds by revealing how the gentle monk and gatekeeper, Gregorio, chooses which priest to send on a pilgrimage seeking inspiration and nurture. As pilgrims come and are welcomed, we discover that each of the three priests seems to embody one of the persons of the Trinity. Robert Wilhelm tells the story of “The Lesser Monastery on Mount Athos”. This is a beautiful story that illuminates the idea that one can enter-into the heart of God through any of the “faces” of the Trinity. Three priests and a lay brother are the only inhabitants of the monastery in Greece. Yet it is known for the quality of spiritual guidance a pilgrim receives within its walls. Listening to the oral telling can be a meditation and prayer experience for our soul if we ever go to Greece for a retreat. We can be any-one of the faces of the trinity; God, a creator, a child of God and love’s power in the world.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a human construct illuminating our understanding of the three “faces” of God we encounter in the New Testament God the Creator, Jesus, Son of God and the Holy Spirit. There are numerous theological explanations and constructions of the Trinity. Personally, my image of the Trinity is a circle of light rather than the triangle image of doctrinal history. It comes from my own theological imagining that these three “faces” of God that generate the Love that makes up the very fabric of the universe and all creation. The circle of light is always flowing with Love between Creator, Christ and Spirit. And overflowing into all creation. We can enter the circle at any point, through any of the “persons”, to be held in this Love. It is a never-ending flow of communal Love that creates, redeems and sustains ALL. I think that trying to explain a mystery of the faith is a bit like trying to explain how electricity works or why a plane can fly or a boat can sail even though both are heavy and should not be able to go in the air or the water without falling or sinking. There are just some concepts of the faith that are inexplicable. They just are.
The idea of the Holy Trinity is a bit like that. Some like to think about God the Father, as an old man in a big chair and he has a long white beard and white hair and he is very stern. You cannot get anything past him. Then, Jesus is a young man with long brown hair and a brown beard, and he is very pleasant, and kind looking and smiles a lot. The Holy Spirit is right there with them, but she is a bird, a white bird, hovering in the air above the other two. Sunlight shines on all of them and they sit, stand, and fly always as they look over humans and the mess they are making of the world, wanting to do something about it but not able to because of the free-will they granted everyone at creation. If your idea of the Trinity is a bit like this, then it is because we have all been shaped by the paintings that artists made of religious figures during the Medieval period or afterwards. Religious art and, also, religious media that followed in the age of technology has made many of us think about God in humanistic ways. We have made God in our own image, in other words. One might really think that God is only one being, the Holy Spirit, of which all three persons are a part, actively involved in the lives of humans on, a daily basis. Jesus taught his followers that the Spirit would come to be an Advocate, a Comforter, a Guide, to assist all who would call on God to find healing, hope, and help in their time of need. I think that Jesus is already here, not sitting on a cloud waiting for the cue from the Heavenly Father to come to earth to bring about some cataclysmic era that needs to happen. I think that Jesus came already in the form of the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost and all of those things that Peter preached about happening in the universe happened as the Spirit brought energy and a divine spark where it was needed for humans. The Holy Spirit is involved in the daily lives of human beings who ask for divine intervention. The Spirit is the Spirit of Truth whose mission it is to remind us of all that Jesus said and taught while he was a human being on earth. The Spirit is meant to bring peace to persons who need peace in their lives in the midst, of distress. The Spirit is present to everyone, everywhere on earth all at once taking the place of Jesus who was bound to a human body, as we are, so that we can all find help in our time of need, even if it is in the middle of the night in China or in the lunch hour in New York City or here in Sicamous. God is an ever-present help in the time of need.
So, the idea of the Trinity is bound up in the working of the Holy Spirit, bringing to our lives what we need to live and learn and grow and help one another on our paths of life. The Spirit is a mystery, not to be understood but to be trusted to show us the love of the Father and Son when we need it most. So perhaps a trinitarian community bears witness to the peace of God in Christ and responds to the needs of the neighbour. God doesn’t need our good works, our neighbours do. When we turn our eyes outward and extend the peace of God that allows us to transform suffering – into endurance, character, and hope because we experienced God’s love, then the Spirit of Christ is surely present.
Think of the Trinity as a love story in which we can enter. As this is Father’s Day, Father’s who love like Jesus might enter-into the Trinity. Think of the Trinity as a circle of light that shines in the darkness of suffering. In this circle of light love’s power is ever-present. Welcome the Holy Spirit, Holy Mystery into your lives so that life can be richer and filled with healing. Amen.
Sermon, June 9, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
John 14: 15-17
“We’ve Got Spirit, Yes We Do!”
Here is Peter’s story in the act of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit set the church on fire. The cobwebs of grief, that Jesus is no longer a human body with them, are blown away with the wind. The wind of change refreshed them in mind and body and spirit. The spirit shows them how to teach true love. Peter claims the prophecy of Jesus is fulfilled in that moment in time. The advocate, the Holy Spirit has come, Jesus’ promise is fulfilled; His spirit will be with us always. There is a certain sense in Peter’s story that the past promises of Jesus, the present out-pouring of the Holy Spirit, and the future interact in the event of Pentecost. This event gives rise to Christian ministry and is the moment in time when the Christian church was formed in history.
It is no coincidence that the formation of the United Church happened in 1925 on a Pentecost Sunday. I thought in the spirit of the day, it might be fun to play a game of trivia to see how much historical information you have retained during your time as a United Church member. Just shout out the answer when it comes to you.
- Do you remember what year and date the United Church was formed? June 10, 1925
- What anniversary would we be celebrating today? 94
- Do you remember what the churches did across Canada on the 90th birthday of the church? Rang church bells all at once across Canada 90 times.
- Do you remember a publication edited by Jim Taylor at the 75th Anniversary? Fire and Grace (show book)
- The United Church was formed together with three mainline churches and one small prairie church, who where they? Presbyterian, Methodists, Congregationalists and a small prairie church, Local Union Churches of Western Canada.
- Which denomination instigated the movement to have a union of churches? A Presbyterian, William Patrick, principal of Manitoba College and delegate to the Methodist Conference in 1902, on a spur of moment thought. He made the dramatic proposal at the Methodist Conference for church union. Joint Committees were established in 1904 for church union and the Congregationalist joined in, later the Local Union Church of Western Canada.
- Is the United Church constituted by the government of Canada as the only church of Canada? Yes. Our change in format had to be approved by the Senate of our government. Other churches are in Canada not of Canada.
- Does anyone have a story from their parents about what happened in 1925?
- Has anyone been baptized into the United Church at birth? Me
- Was there opposition to the churches uniting? Oh yes. Stories abound.
There was also much joy. Judy Brewer tells here story in Fire and Grace. She tells a story of how she remembered church union at the age of 8. Before her parents married, her mother was Presbyterian and her father was, a loyal Methodist. The whole family worshipped in the newly formed Chalmers United. What a joy she writes in their home, her parents were delighted to have a place of worship where they both had roots.
Rae Grant a former member of a church I served in rural Ontario, Mimosa United Church, now in the rural area of Rockwood. In 1925, it was known as a Presbyterian Church. This church is 18 miles, northeast of Guelph. The vote for church union carried and became known as Mimosa United Church. Rae’s maternal grandfather had immigrated from Scotland and was not in agreement of church union. So, in 1925, he and his grandmother transferred their membership to The Fergus Presbyterian church. They never attended there and maintained their local activity at Mimosa. Rae’s parents were in favour of union and adapted but were grumpy when the Methodist minister didn’t do things the way the Presbyterians did them. Sound familiar.
The United Church at its formation and at present is the largest protestant denomination in Canada; even in our decline as all churches are feeling a decline we are still the largest. We have been on a roller coaster in the life of the church. In my memory the first was the theological revolution of the New Curriculum. It was not the first however, the ordination of the first woman minister in 1930 was the first uproar. This in a world of where The Vatican announces that controversial subjects before the church are not to be debated; where the Baptists declare that the bible must be obeyed, women must be subject to men; where the Anglicans interpret the scriptures to condemn and prohibit homosexuality, John Spong, a contemporary theologian rejoices that there is one body of Christians, The United Church of Canada that is willing to feel the tension of conflict and to acknowledge that they are led by the Holy Spirit who promises to guide then into all truth. He says of our church that we don’t arrogantly claim that we have the infallible truth which is refreshing in church circles today. Bishop Spong sends his congratulations on-the-occasion of our 75th anniversary.
Jim Taylor a member at Winfield United Church is the author of many books, all dealing with religion in everyday life. The United Church allows an openness to possibilities, including the possibility that God’s spirit may speak to us in new and familiar ways. He says that is why I have found a home in the United Church all these years. He says, I have been allowed to dream dreams and have visions. No one told me I must not dream those dreams or have those visions or ask those questions. No one told me I couldn’t colour outside the lines. The church said, maybe; maybe, that is what the united Church believes, after all when creeds and statements of faith are said and done. Maybe the Holy spirit can move us to new life. Amen.
Sermon, June 2, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
“Just Don’t Stand There, Get Busy!”
The central point of the ascension is that the Holy Spirit will continue to empower our ministry as a church, as it empowered the ministry of Jesus. The big question is “Why are the disciples standing looking toward heaven? We can stand in awe at miracles around us but that doesn’t get the work of the church done. Go out and baptize with the Holy Spirit. A baptism that proclaims forgiveness. Thus, the forgiveness that we experience and the same forgiveness that we are called to proclaim, comes to us by the power of God, as simultaneous gift and task.
It is a sad day in the church today. I haven’t seen an infant baptism in the church since I came to First United in 2011. I know you have baptized here but on the most part baptisms are a thing of the past, just as is confirmation of youth, and young adults present in worship at First United. So, per ratio of membership with larger churches, Sicamous is doing very well. I could say the Holy Spirit is alive and well here and you are doing your task as a church well.
Maybe I am avoiding talking about the ascension, so here goes. They say that the first sentence of a novel is the hardest to write. The first thing is to avoid the hackneyed start: It was a dark and stormy night…” But endings are even more difficult. The question is, how to end a long story? George Orwell ended 1984 ominously: “He loved Big Brother.” Virginia Woolf ended her novel, To the Lighthouse, with “Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.” Perhaps the most suggestive ending for today is the last line of Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable: “…you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
For Luke, the ascension is the last line of the Jesus story, for it is where his gospel ends. It occurs to me that, in over 25 years of preaching, I have preached very few sermons on the ascension. I suppose that is because I have always seen this strange account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven as strangely otherworldly—especially for the normally worldly Luke. Was the ascension a literal event, or was it the only way Luke could imagine Jesus’ departure? After all, you couldn’t have the Christ riding into the sunset, Lone Ranger style, with the bystanders asking, “Who was that masked man?” You couldn’t have Jesus die at the end of the story, for he had already died once and defeated death. And so, Jesus floats upward, presumably toward heaven thus ending the story of the life of Jesus.
Moreover, it is an uncomfortably strange text, and that’s probably why I’ve shied away from it. Even biblical scholar William Barclay, thinking of all the strange artistic depictions of the ascension, wrote, “No one has ever succeeded in painting a picture of the Ascension which was anything other than grotesque and ridiculous.” The ascension is hard to depict in art, let alone in sermon. So, the point of the ending is not how Jesus ended his earthly ministry but how we are ‘going on’ without him. Don’t look up, look around you and get to work.
Getting to work has nothing to do with duty or responsibility, but with sincere devotion to the truth that Jesus conveyed and the deepest desire for that truth to continue being spread throughout the world. The ending has to do with the way the church and the people of the church pattern their lives after the life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ life testifies to Jesus’ faithfulness to God and confirms him as Christ. The absence of the earthly Jesus leads us to search for a God who is present in the world. I don’t think many preachers talk about the ascension in our church. I remember as a child that I thought Jesus was still here on earth and wondered, why isn’t he dead. If I had heard that Jesus went to his glory, I would have had less fear about Jesus watching my every move. Maybe the birth of Jesus began with dazzling light and the resurrection of Jesus with shining light in the tomb opens the door for the end of the story. Maybe the ascension is that moment when the light itself recedes into the background so that Jesus becomes the one through whom we see the rest of the world.
Here, then is the payoff. Because the future is now safely in Jesus’ hands, I have more courage to face the challenges of today with hope and dignity. We all do, really, I suppose. The ascension is the assurance that the battle is over and has been won. We live in the in between time: between our final victory and the consummation of the reality that is already present in Jesus Christ.
How many stories have we heard of the aftermath of World War II. Some Japanese held soldiers were cut off from any word that the war was over. They continued to fend for themselves and hide from others, particularly the enemies that nearby, out of a sense of duty to a future freedom. One by one, the ones that survived stumbled out of the forest only to discover that the war was over, and they were free!
Because of the ascension of Jesus, we too now see a future in which we are no longer slaves to a community and a war that still needs to be fought. We are free to live in a new reality, where death and the threat of death no longer have dominion. We are free to live for others in a world that has yet to hear this good and wondrous news. We can live courageously, even in a world where the fighting is still going on around us, perpetuated by those who have not yet heard that the battle has been decided. We are free to experience the Jesus of the future, who still breaks into our present world giving himself to us anew in the washing, the teaching, the eating and the praying. We are called to live this future into the present as well. We don’t know where Jesus IS, so much as we know that Jesus is WITH US. We don’t know what the future will bring, so much as we know that the future is safe in Jesus’ hands. And finally, we too can return to the world after our encounter with the Risen One, hearts and heads held high, rejoicing and worshiping and blessing God. Amen.
Sermon, May 26, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
John 14: 23-29
John 5: 1-9
During the time between Easter and Pentecost, the disciples were living between memory and hope; Memory of Jesus walking with them, healing and hope for the promise of peace within a life filled with regret and turmoil and fear in their troubled world. During our in-between times of memories past and hope for the future, peace is so important to find. Peace is a state of mind when our hearts are not troubled, and we are not afraid of what is to come. How do we find peace in such times? Sometimes life turns us upside down and inside out. We may be worried about family concerns, health issues, problems at school for our grand-children, or any number of troubling events in the world today. How can we find personal peace in a troubled world? Whether our lack of peace comes from events outside our control or from things we can influence and change, here are some ideas to help us find peace.
If we focus on the big picture; it’s easier to see that short-term worries will heal. If we focus on the big picture, of happiness to come, we can find peace in knowing that what hurts right now won’t last forever and we can let go of control. When something outside our control takes away peace, it’s tempting to feel hopeless or angry. It doesn’t help to linger on things we can’t change. Instead, draw closer to God to find inner peace even when life deals us a bad hand. Have you noticed that when you are at prayer that peace is wrapped around you? Often, the hardest thing to let go of is the negativity we feel when someone wrongs us. We will receive the joy of forgiveness in our lives when we are willing to extend that joy freely to others. As a result, the Spirit will fill our souls with the joy accompanying divine peace. Turning to God in prayer can help us be free of emotional burdens of guilt and regret and be filled with peace.
Peace, after all, would mean the cessation of all this conflict, the end of all this turmoil, the conclusion of all our waiting and wanting and worrying. Right?
I wonder. I mean, I’ve usually thought of peace as the absence of something negative — the absence of war, or strife, or fear, or anger. And, indeed, the first definition in the dictionary corroborates this view: “peace: freedom from disturbance.” But it occurs to me on reading and re-reading Jesus’ words to the disciples that maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe peace isn’t an absence of something, but instead is its own presence. Maybe peace is something, all on is own. Maybe it creates something positive, makes something wonderful possible, not just curtails something negative. Maybe this is what Jesus means by saying, “My peace I give to you. I do not give it as the world gives.”
Water is a source of peace and healing for the folks at Jerusalem by the churning pool; the spirit of water bringing life. God, water and healing; God trickling through our lives as in a dream unfolding, promising revival and rebirth like a healing stream. Spirit water comes to nourish us. Spirit water, a love deep and wide; God working in our hearts to shape tomorrow. Like a churning pool; like a gentle rain; like a healing stream, bringing peace to us. These are the visions of Bruce Harding as we sing, “Like a Healing Stream”.
Jim Hannah writes of living water giving us birth, for living water sings and brings the love that makes our spirits grow. Living water makes us free. Peace comes when we are free and loved. Life is an amazing journey; we experience epic highs, crushing lows and of course all things in between. Life moves us fast, and it is important to hit the pause button every now and then so we can celebrate successes and contemplate those times when we need to adjust our course. When I need to hit pause, I almost always gravitate to the water’s edge. There is something so peaceful about sitting or walking along the edge of a river or ocean, camera in hand, completely alone in my thoughts. Sometimes I am taking the time to quietly celebrate a success, sometimes I am taking time to work through something that I am struggling with and other times, I am simply tweaking plans for an event. I benefit from alone time with my thoughts. The older I get the more I realize how important it is to be at peace with myself and the world around me; how important it is to do the things that nurture our mind, revitalize our body and rejuvenate our Soul.
May we not forget how to be human. May we not forget what it means to be alive, and feel alive. May we not forget how to value and treasure this beautiful and precious gift that is called life. May we not forget how to enjoy and make the best of the present moment, the only moment that truly exists. May we not be so busy chasing after all sort of things, things that we believe will make us happy; living in a constant state of waiting – waiting for something magical to happen, waiting for our lives to begin, that we completely ignore the present moment for this is where peace is found.
I have a friend, Anne, who says, there’s this magical island in Thailand called Koh Lipe and she honestly tells us that in that place she has met the wealthiest people alive. People whom some of us might call poor just because of the conditions they live in, and because they don’t have as much money and beautiful things as some of us do. But she says, in their presence, she felt poor. And you know why? Because she realized that material possessions, money and all these things we perceive as wealthy aren’t wealthy at all. They are just things that have no value except to the one we give to them. In their presence, she realized that true wealth consists in having peace, love, joy, and bliss run through your veins. True wealth consists in having a heart that is overflowing with love, love that is flooding the places around you, making all things and all people shine brighter and brighter. And when we have these things, then we can call ourself a wealthy person.
In Thailand she learned that each and every one of us needs to start caring more about feeling at peace, feeling content, feeling love and feeling alive, than we do about doing more and having more. And if we do this, then we will all go back to feeling fully alive. We will all go back to feeling refreshed, renewed and rejuvenated, and the world around us will do the exact same thing. Because this world is us. Amen
Sermon, May 12, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
Acts 9: 36-43
John 10: 22-30
“Shepherds and Mothers and Sheep”
Those of you who are mothers I want you to think back with me for a moment to that time when you first realized that you were going to be a mom. For most of us it was the dying of a rabbit…for others it was the ultra-sound as the outline of your child’s body got clearer and clear…. As I saw my grand-children’s ultra-sound and saw that tiny heart beating as if to scream out… LIFE AS YOU KNOW IT IS OVER!!!! You are officially a mom. For mothers…Some things come instinctively, caring for the newborn, how to hold the baby… but what really scared us was questions like, ”What are we going to do when they learn how to walk??? Or even worse, what will we do when they learn how to drive!?!” Being a parent was a really big deal… God is entrusting us with a life! I remember leaving the hospital and thinking… do they know us, we new mothers? Is it legal just to let us carry this baby home???? Do they know that we can hardly balance our check book??? And you know… those scary moments occur throughout our life. The first real illness or accident; immediately you head for the emergency department. The first day of school… as your little girl or little boy steps on to that bus and you feel like a part of your heart is being torn out right in front of you. The first date… when you have-to entrust your little princess to a savage idiot. ( these savages should be given an application to date my daughter) When they go off to college, When they get married, When they call you and ask if you prefer to be called, Grandma, nana, or nanny. Life as a mom is a constant roller coaster of emotions. Maybe Psalm 23 becomes a source of comfort for many mothers.
As psalm 23 moves away from the peaceful scenes with which it opens, the psalmist speaks of his absolute assurance of safety even in a valley of doubt. God’s presence with us saves us from fear. In particular, the psalmist’s comfort is drawn from the shepherd’s rod for subduing or driving away his flock’s enemies and the shepherd’s staff, which the shepherd would both lean upon and use as a means for keeping the sheep in line. The psalmist is not speaking merely of an emotionally registered nearness, but of his comfort in knowing that God is actively present in our situation, guiding us and frustrating, all of the threats of those who seek the destruction of our family. We are (rightly) accustomed to singing or praying this psalm as a private expression of God’s goodness and our trust in the shepherd and our mothers.
Scripture also teaches that God makes God’s home with us here and now. But the great promise is of the home in which we’ll have unencumbered access to God’s presence without any of the suffering, losses, and pains we know. We persevere through them with God’s help. It saddens me to know that home is not a happy concept for some people because of the pain they have experienced or do experience there. As a single parent for most/almost all, of my parenting years, my only negative experience of home is the fear that I’ll lose it. But that did not come to fruition. I did lose my parents as many of you have and that is a bit of home lost.
There is a community that gathers when someone dies, a community of mourners, a community of loved ones. When the good mother, named Tabitha died all the women that she had helped, her community of friends that were like family, gathered to mourn her. Many of these mothers were widows who would have had no community except that Tabitha welcomed them into her home. She welcomed Jews and Gentiles alike. The Greeks called her Dorcas instead of the Hebrew name, Tabitha. She did not mind…both names meant “gazelle.” And hadn’t Dorcas always been swift and graceful in welcoming a new mother, recently widowed, into her home? Hadn’t Tabitha always been gentle, quiet and quick in bringing aid to anyone who needed it? For that is what mother’s do; they care for and about others. Tabitha is the only mothering woman ever named in scripture as a disciple, not just a follower, of Jesus! Peter made his hurried visit to the deathbed of Dorcas. Yet when Peter stepped into her house, he was surround with those gathered to mourn Dorcas. They were the “sheep” Jesus spoke of in John 10. They were part of the flock who knew the voice of Jesus, who believed in the ways of God he taught, whether-or-not, they had ever met him in person. It seems to me that whether we think about being a shepherd or a mother, it is very much the same thought and in turn, we, all, are sheep who have followed the teachings of others. Some may not have been a mother, but we all have our mothers who we are thinking about today.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day, so I thought you’d enjoy this list of things our mothers taught us:
My Mother taught me LOGIC: ”If you fall off that swing and break your neck, you can’t go to the store with me,” as well as, ”If everyone else jumped off a cliff would you do it too?”
My Mother taught me HUMOR: ”When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.”
My Mother taught me GENETICS: ”You are just like your father!”
My Mother taught me ANTICIPATION: ”Just wait until your father gets home.”
My Mother taught me about RECEIVING: ”You are going to get it when I get you home.”
My Mother taught me RELIGION: ”You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”
My Mother taught me about STAMINA: ”You’ll sit there until all that spinach is finished.”
My Mother taught me THE CIRCLE OF LIFE: ”I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”
And the all time favorite thing my Mother taught me, JUSTICE: ”One day you will have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you. Then you’ll see what it’s like! I can’t wait!”
The only, problem with that one is that we live it all again. Happy Mother’s Day to all of our Mothers. Amen.
Sermon, April 28, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
Acts 5: 27-32
John 20: 19-31
“The Seeing Heart”
The presence of the risen Christ comes in a miraculous manner and grants to the disciples the peace of God. Jesus does not rebuke them because of the fear that has paralyzed the disciples and driven them into hiding after his crucifixion. Jesus appearance is purely positive; it brings peace. The disciples are over-joyed at the sight of Jesus. Their joy is far more than a selfish experience; it is a joy that comes from Jesus’ commission to service filled with the Holy Spirit, thus making them real Christians or they would have said, “Little Christs”. Now Jesus’ disciples as then and throughout the centuries do the will and work of God. The light still shines from the darkness of Good Friday.
In the next scene this morning, we discover through Thomas that reasonable doubts do not disqualify us from discipleship. We have never known Christ in the flesh. We have never seen him crucified, die and be buried. Today, we know of the world-wide belief in the Resurrection and of Christ’s real presence in the world. For us, the reality is that lives of faith gather in abundance to worship because of the presence of the living Christ in our lives. We are blessed because we believe but have not seen.
And so, the disciples in their belief, go out and do the will and work of God. The setting of our reading from Acts is of the disciples before the Jewish leaders. The arrest in the first place of the disciples happens because of their teaching and healing in the Temple; the arrest happens because of the jealousy of the Sadducees. Peter and the apostles miraculous escape from prison happens with the aid of an angel who opened the prison doors and brings them out. This reading this morning is the exchange between the High Priest and Peter, at the time, of the second arrest, after the escape. The disciples were flogged and were told not to preach anymore but they did not stop. The disciples saw the scars on Jesus’ hands and feet; they heard the commission to serve; and disciples to this day do not stop doing God’s will and work. I keep thinking about scars and how our scars depict our identity having them, on this Doubting Thomas Sunday.
I was twelve, maybe thirteen years old. I had been assigned to the back of the camper to push and my dad was waiting to guide the camper into place over the trailer hitch. Only the wheels were caught on some kind of grade and try as I might I couldn’t seem to get it to budge. My dad shouted at me to push just one more time and I gave it all I had and felt it give.
Before I could fully understand what had happened, our mother was driving him to the local emergency room with a towel wrapped around his bleeding hand. I was left to sit and wait around a now cold campfire — I remember carrying the guilt heavy in those waiting hours for I knew it was my extra effort that had hurt him.
A few hours later they were back. His wounded hand now sported a couple of stitches and a big white bandage. He was quick to assure me that it was his fault, not mine, for I was only doing as I was told. And then he went on to say that he was glad it was his hand that took the blow… for he knew the damage to my much smaller hand would have been far worse. Like any loving parent, he would willingly take the pain in place of his child any time and every time if he possibly could.
He bore the scars of that particular afternoon for the rest of his life. I sometimes think the mark on the palm of his hand said as much about who he was as anything else did.
Indeed, I suppose it is so for all of us. Our scars tell part of the story of who we are, what has mattered to us, what has happened to us, the risks we’ve taken, the gifts we’ve given. And as we are reminded in the story before us in John’s Gospel, this was surely also so with Jesus, too.
Which is why Thomas insisted he needed to see, no more than that, feel the scars in his hands and put his own hand in Jesus’ side to be sure that it was him. One would think he would have recognized him with from the features of his face or the sound of his voice, but no, for Thomas, Jesus had become something more since that long walk to the cross a week before. Jesus’ very identity was now defined by his scars. A death made most visible in those wounds that by then could have only begun to heal.
Doubting is not necessarily a terrible thing. To be sure, doubt is not comfortable, and depending on the circumstances can be downright terrifying. And yet, for me, it’s only when I’ve allowed myself to stand still in my own doubt that I have discovered answers and meaning and hope again. In fact, in a little book, Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is, Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams name doubt in the second chapter as something for which we should give profound thanks. For as they write,
There is simply a point in life when reason fails to satisfy our awareness of what is clearly unreasonable and clearly real at the same time — like love and self-sacrifice and trust and good. Data does not exist to explain these unexplainable things. Then only the doubt that opens our hearts to what we cannot comprehend, only the doubt that makes us rabidly pursue the truth, only the doubt that moves us beyond complacency, only the doubt that corrects mythologies not worthy of faith can lead us to the purer air of spiritual truth. Then we are ready to move beyond the senses into the mystical, where faith shows us those penetrating truths the eye cannot see. This quote is powerfully written; reason and faith, both unreasonable and both clear at the same time.
Oh, it is so that we do sometimes recognize one another by our scars. Thomas thought he needed to see and touch Jesus’ scars to be certain it was him. In his quest for the truth he was not afraid to ask the hard questions which led him to an ever-deeper faith. But, in the end, as the story is passed on, he didn’t need what he thought he did to believe. When Jesus simply stood right before him, Thomas was able to embrace the truth of who Jesus is with all-of his being. The scars told part of the story, but only part of it, it seems. I wonder though. Would Thomas have gotten to that point in his faith if he hadn’t asked the questions, if he hadn’t ‘doubted’ first? What do you think? Have you ever been a doubting Thomas in your faith?… Amen
Sermon, Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 by rev Gloria Christian
John 20: 1-18
“The Essence of the Story of the Resurrection”
Emily Dickinson once wrote a poem:
I measure every grief I meet I wonder if it hurts to live
With narrow, probing eyes And if they have to try
I wonder if it weighs like mine And whether if they could choose between
Or has an easier size. It would not be to die.
The truth must be confessed on Easter morning – it often does hurt to live, and there are times when some of us might choose to die. Over the years brave people have spoken to me of their pain and suffering, sorrow and grief, and have wondered aloud if they could go on living.
I have seen brave people in hospital beds, hoping against hope, fighting against all odds in their determination to live. Their courage and firm resolve were exemplary beyond comparison. On the other hand, I have known people whose pain has become untreatable and unbearable. There are times of great physical and mental anguish when many of us have thought favourably of death. Many of us have so much pain and anguish in this life we wonder if we ever could rise to the challenge to live again. Maybe these people can say to us; Excuse me, did you know him? Did Jesus have the profound wish to be done with the pain of living.
Today is Easter morning and Easter is just the opposite of what came before for Jesus. Easter is the bold proclamation of the life-wish, the startling announcement of victory over death in all its forms and the startling challenge to live again. As the angel said to the women on Easter morning long ago; Why seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen. He is living again. Therefore, when on Easter Christians are faced with the challenge to live again, it might be said that we stand with the majority to live anew. The resurrected Jesus challenges us to live for the causes he died for; peace and justice, hope and faith, compassion and to challenge all the forces of darkness.
Some see the Easter Resurrection as a challenge to look forward to the world yet to come as described in Isaiah this morning:
Watch! I am creating new skies and new earth!
Earlier things will not be remembered,
nor even rise into the mind!
But you must delight and be glad forever
about what I am creating:
Just watch! I am creating Jerusalem a joy,
its people a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, delight in my people.
Never again will the sound of weeping or the cry of distress by heard! (Is. 65:17-19)
This is the essence of the story of resurrection. God is creating something new! Not only a resuscitated corpse, but a new way of seeing the world that God has given to us. The old ways we have followed will no longer work. Our important words for this world must now be joy and delight in the face of this fabulously creating God. No longer will we focus on weeping and distress, though all of us know too well that there are copious tears and loud wailing to be found in too many places. But rather than imagine that there are only tears and wailing to be heard, God urges us to face these monumental problems not with despair and hopelessness, but with the joy of hope and the delight of shared work.
When Isaiah mentions that “Jerusalem” will be God’s joy and delight, he does not mean only that physical location, since when he is writing that city is still a smoldering ruin, having been destroyed by the Babylonian aggressors some years before, and has yet to be rebuilt in any recognizable way. Jerusalem has become for him the focus of God’s concerted attempts to make new skies and earth. In other words, we, our world, have become God’s Jerusalem, the center of God’s new creation, the focus of God’s joy and delight. And then Isaiah gets more specific about God’s new creation.
No more will there be an infant living but a few days,
or an elderly one not living a full lifetime.
One who dies at a hundred will be thought a youth;
One falling short of a hundred will be thought cursed.
Obviously, infant mortality was a huge concern 2500 years ago; even in Elizabethan England 400 years ago, barely 50 percent of children survived past two years. One can only imagine in nightmares the figure during the time of Isaiah. I read just yesterday that there are now nearly 600,000 people living in our world who are 100 years old. This is, of course, in a world of over 8 billion! Our odds of achieving what has long been- seen as extreme old age remain low. But while God is creating a new earth, such a feat will not be difficult at all.
Mary Magdalene had good reason to be devoted to Jesus. Mary had been in a poor state of health, a broken person, and Jesus restored her to good health. Being a disciple of Jesus, Mary was able to live a happy life, an abundant life. Feeling all was gone, Mary with eyes full of tears and a mind on the brink of despair was the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus. The appearance of Jesus at her side is very mysterious. We don’t need a story that will hold up in a court of law. Mary’s testimony is just fine. The disciples came to believe and discovered later-on that Jesus did live on, among them, within them. The living presence of the risen Lord came to dwell in the community of faith of the early Christians and even to this day right here.
We have a secret kinship with Mary Magdalene and her love for the risen Christ. We too have been made more- healthy by our relationship with Jesus. Mary comes running back from the empty tomb with great excitement and into our thoughts saying, I have seen the Lord! Alleluia! May her good news is sufficient- for us. Amen.
Sermon, April 7, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
Excuse Me Did You Know Him – “A Pennies Worth of Thanks”
I hope you are enjoying the people we have met on the road to Jerusalem. This Sunday we meet a woman who by all appearances had only life and bread for which to be thankful. The old woman or any woman, often, isn’t given a name which is common in scripture. So, let’s name her Matilda.
The ravages of time and widowhood had taken their toll on her appearance. Her home was small, the law of the Hebrew scriptures was that families ought to care for their widows, so a cousin allowed her live in this abandoned home. She gathered flowers to sell and gleaned the fields for grain to make porridge and bread. Another cousin arrived at her door with a gift of cheese and meat and other foods for the Rabbi said they ought to make sure their widows had food for the Passover. Matilda was thankful for the kindness of her relatives. To we rich North Americans these gifts seem minute as compared to her need in life. Matilda, however, was thankful for the wild flowers she picked to sell on the hillside. She was thankful for her life and breath. She thanked God when she watched children playing. She thanked God for the beauty of the day and she even thanked God for the tattered basket she carried to put her flowers into. She sold the flowers for a half penny a bunch or a penny for three bunches. Now she could buy rice and bread. Now she would have an offering for the temple service. Now she didn’t have to pretend to place an offering. The morning found her up and present at the temple, standing with the others who had something to offer at the service. As the rabbi began to read the scripture and the men began to sing the psalm, she placed her two half-penny coins on the plate, all that she had. A pennies’ worth of thanks doesn’t seem like much by the standards of the rich people present.
As she looked up, she saw the new Rabbi standing with a group of his disciples.
She liked him even though her family saw him as a trouble-maker. He was too something and they would probably get rid of him. She smiled at him. Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury: for they put in out of their surplus, but she put in out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” A pennies worth of thanks.
Another story of thankfulness is situated with Jesus at Bethany, we are still on the road to Jerusalem, just further along; Jesus is at a banquet in the company of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. This anointing at Bethany, the home of Lazarus, isn’t just a nice little story in the middle of John’s Gospel. It’s set at the turning point of that Gospel, literally and figuratively. Jesus has turned his face toward Jerusalem instead of remaining a popular but mysterious and elusive troublemaker in the outlands, out of the reach of the religious authorities and the Roman Empire. His raising of Lazarus from the dead, just a few verses before this passage, in chapter 11, has set into motion the wheels of the machinery that will kill him in just a few more days. The high priest and the Pharisees hear the reports – from eyewitnesses – that this Jesus has really outdone himself this time, not “just” curing a leper or driving out a demon but bringing back to life a man who had been in the tomb four long days. When the word spreads that Jesus has brought his friend Lazarus back from the dead – such a sign, such a promise of what was to come – the religious leaders panic.
We’ve got to put a stop to this, they say, people will believe in him, and that will provoke the powers that be, the Romans, to come in and destroy our holy place and our nation. “So,” the text says, “from that day on they planned to put him to death.”
Right in the midst of all of this anxiety, plotting, and threat, or perhaps in spite of it, Jesus’ friends, Martha the earnest, hard-working hostess and her brother Lazarus, fresh from the tomb, and her sister Mary, the passionate one, throw a dinner party. That’s right. It’s time to have a party, they say. And who can blame them? Lazarus wasn’t just sort-of dead or metaphorically dead, like the Prodigal Son last week – “This son of mine was dead and come back to life” – he was dead-dead. Dead long enough to cause a stench, Martha worried, remember? Long enough to bring the whole family and the town and his good friend Jesus together in grief, but not long enough to deter Jesus and the power of life and love, even if the consequences of all this is Jesus’ own death.
This beautiful story of extravagant love, Mary’s anointing of Jesus with expensive perfume, is set just on the edge of Jerusalem…Jerusalem, soon to be the site of an offering of love, the most extravagant offering of all. So, the family of Lazarus gathers to honor and to try to thank Jesus, and to celebrate the restoration of their loved one. Still, at this party, death itself lingers in the air around them, even here, at a party with friends, in a home that should feel safe, a refuge from controversy and questioning. Lazarus sits and talks with his friend, Jesus, who will soon be laid in a tomb himself. Can you imagine the conversation between them, one so lately returned from the tomb and the other on his way?
Mary’s anoints Jesus’ feet with costly ointment. In turn, Judas objects. The story hits on Judas’ hypocritical dishonesty and Jesus has the last word. Jesus’ words take the focus off Mary’s extravagance, and onto Judas’ malodorous character. Jesus’ declaration that the poor will always be with us is so true. This declaration exposes the hypocrisy of Judas’ objection and points to the cross and resurrection. The difficult reference to the poor surely means that if we are truly grateful to God like Matilda, for the joy we find in our relationship with God then we have a relation with the poor, a clear opportunity to express our own gratitude. Perhaps even like Mary did, that is with extravagance; thus, we are called to take seriously again the real needs of others. A penny worth of thanks from all that we have.
Sermon, March 31, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15: 1-3; 11b-32
Excuse Me, Did You Know Him? “The Ring”
Here we are mid-lent and it calls for a bit of a celebration because lent can be a challenging time for, we who journey to the cross with Jesus. Challenging because we hear the Pharisees grumbling about this fellow who welcomes sinners and eats with them and we know where this leads. The people don’t know who Jesus really is and frustratingly, Jesus calls himself a prophet, a rabbi, a son of man.
We who have read the back of the book, so to speak, know what is ahead. Good Friday isn’t the last chapter. I’m looking forward to Easter more so this Lent because I have been with you on this Lenten journey. We know resentment is all around Jesus, and we know God has the last word.
Anyway, I digress for we are still on a journey to Jerusalem. Our journey continues as Jesus meets the tax collectors and sinners as they draw near to him and as the Pharisees grumble and point to Jesus’ faults known to them alone. Parables are a wonderful way to explain something and Jesus uses them often. In this parable, it was not so much the value of the ring the father gives the Prodigal, although very likely it was the most precious possession the family had in both the monetary and sentimental senses of the word. It was the betrayal the brother felt at the gift. I can totally understand where he was coming from. I cared for my parents in their old age and my brother came and swept my inheritance away to Arkansas. I understand the anger and the betrayal that a sibling can bring to a relationship with the Father.
Jesus is speaking to tax collectors and sinners who are marginalized in society and even shunned by self-satisfied and smug, rigidly religious people. The Pharisees are unable and incapable of hearing Jesus’ radical message of God’s acceptance of sinners.
How do we bring our life into the parable and what is Jesus trying to teach the sinners and tax collectors? How do we bring ourselves into the parable? Religious smugness may be the worst kind of sin, I’m thinking, and the Pharisees are forever lurking in the background gathering fuel for the crucifixion. The parable is trying to tell us about a God who has an all-encompassing love, forgiveness and calls us to ever-pursue this love of God. Neither son in the story, originally has a real relationship with the father (who is depicted as God). The younger son views the father as a source from which he can derive sufficient funds to live as a prodigal who by the way, is an addict to wasteful living; extravagance, bountiful and lavish living. He treats the father as if already dead and takes his father’s goodness for granted and abuses him. I know this action to be true to many who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Ones focus is only on how to feed the habit.
The elder son can relate to his father only in a sense of being duty-bound. He feels more like a slave than a son. He has never really experienced the love and generosity of his father having these duty-bound feelings that are really his own. Many might understand the relationship of the sons and the way that they relate to God, the Father. Is that what Jesus is telling us in the parable? For they probably didn’t have a true sense of who God is for them only a duty-bound one or a gimme, gimme relationship. Perhaps God is calling them and we who hear, away from having a distant unknown relationship to a close intimate relationship.
The younger son came to himself as he pondered the reality of the person of his father. We can hear in the parable that God’s goodness means we are forgiven and invited to celebrate with God a new and loving relationship. Moreover, we can stand with the older son, overly secure in the knowledge of our faithfulness in service to God. Some could see themselves as not in need of God’s grace at all, thinking they do not sin. God calls us into the joyful arms of the father having a new sense of God’s goodness. We might stand apart from God either as a sinner like the younger son or as religiously superior as the elder son. Neither is a comfortable place for me. If I say, no not me, I don’t sin, then I am putting myself in a superior place like the elder son. Lent is about making us squirm in our seat. Lent is about God wanting a new relationship characterized by joy rather than greed or mere duty.
The parable has more to offer than anger over the ring. If we live long enough to have found ourselves ‘lost’ ourselves — perhaps more than once — and if we are fortunate, like the younger son, to have been ‘welcomed home’ with open arms. If we have children of our own who have certainly experienced their own hearts being broken and as beloved children have found ways to get themselves lost and (hopefully) found again. Our hope for them would be that while we may see ourselves in the ‘older son,’ we might also recognize that he was as ‘lost’ — maybe more so — than his younger brother ever was. And that the great yearning of this parable is that we might allow ourselves to be ‘welcomed home’ as well.
For we know this is so, don’t we? One can surely get ‘lost in place.’ One does not have to travel far distances or squander huge fortunes to be as ‘lost’ in our relationship to one another and God as was the younger son in the parable. Only because it is less obvious if you are ‘lost’ in this way, you may never even have to admit it. And never admitting it? You also never know the wonderful ‘grace’ of being found. Of coming home again. And so, it would seem that the younger brother in the story is the fortunate one for he has experienced the wondrous grace of the ‘welcome home.’ Some among us can see ourselves in him. But for many, I expect, we are more like that older brother whose ‘end of the story’ is still untold. And Jesus journeys on…. Amen.