Sermon, Nov. 4, 2018
“The Saints Give Us Security”
As many of our saints that have brought us to the faith are now passed on to their glory; I realize the sorrow at this moment that may be in your heart. Death, of course, is inevitable, and its pain, its loss, its cause for anger is all true and real. And the hard part about death is that we are in the business of tending its consequences; i.e., how our life has changed, without, I suspect, taking enough time for our personal sadness and grief. Death has many small deaths within it; like the loss of a phone call, the loss of a hand to help us; the loss of a shoulder to cry on. The mini deaths go on…
We live in, exist in, this constant state of in-betweenness, don’t we? The certainness of death and the grieving process and how to live the most of life here and now, how to give witness to the promise of the resurrection without it dismissing the reality of death in our midst here and now. Believing that loving our neighbors is never for the sake of eternal life after death, but always because it is a means by which death itself is overcome here and now…
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is a fitting testimony for All Saints Sunday. According to Jesus, a mark of discipleship is this very act — loving your God, your neighbor as yourself. While All Saints Sunday reminds us of and remembers those who have died, it is also a call to present day saintly behavior. I make no claims to be a saint. But I think we come pretty-close when we act out this commandment. So that those who observe how we choose to live and be in the world will catch a glimpse of the sanctity of God’s love, the holiness of God, and that a life of sainthood does not mean perfection or having your own feast day. There can be another way of being in the world besides self-service, self-aggrandizement, autonomy, and narcissism. And yet there is hope when communities come together to help a child dying with cancer or a family burned out of their home.
When loving your neighbor becomes the first way to be in the world, the primary lens through which to view the world, the choice that you consciously make to live your life in your world, that is a radically different way to be than what our world of love self only adheres too on the most part.
Loving your neighbor is a saintly activity. The choice to love the neighbor does indeed set us apart from those who know only what it means to love their own selves and stop there. Others will know what sainthood looks like, not because we are better or holier than thou, but because we have been called to see outside of ourselves for the sake of seeing the world as God does; ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ — means your neighbor is as worthy of love as we are.
This passage from Mark, this Sunday, as we celebrate All Saints Sunday invites us to get outside of ourselves to sense what it feels like, what it means, to love the neighbor. This is our security that our loving saints have given us; this is church…
Naomi and Ruth’s story is especially refreshing because it is a story of love between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. This love brought Ruth to her new Hebrew religion. Theirs is not a story of struggle and power over another like Hagar and Sarah; Rachel and Leah; Miriam and her sister-in-law. Their story is about loving your neighbour despite differences in age, nationality, and religion. A loving relationship that stands the test of time. It is the persistent love of Ruth for Naomi that helped heal her grieving for her lost husband and sons and the inability to bear another child. Naomi sees new reasons to live because of Ruth’s gleaning the fields for food and other responsibilities of care for her.
What do you remember of the events that first brought you to church and into a family of faith? Take a moment this week and reflect upon your faith journey. My sister Ruth Ann who died last September 20, first took me to Sunday School and taught me that there is a world outside my family of origin. At three, I didn’t understand the impact that our faith would have on me. Throughout my life the yearning of belonging to God and becoming a member of the United Church and being a servant for God has never left me. I would love to hear your story and listen to your faith journey. My sister and I and our relationship is a love story that held us up through many traumas in our life. She was always there for me and I, for her. Grieving is, in itself a journey where we too need the care of someone who will guide us to healing.
To care passionately about the quality of another person’s life, to respect each other’s choices, and to allow for each other’s differences: these are the lessons embedded in the Book of Ruth. These are the gifts that our saints have taught the church from which we have security today.
“Christians who celebrate All Saints’ Day do so in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in heaven and the living.”
We know that our neighbour is actively mourning and needs your comfort and a word of hope. Maybe someone needs a call to action to those who are looking for new meaning in the midst of the death-dealing force. “See, I am making all things new,” says the one on the throne in Revelation. This statement contains comfort to those learning to live without a loved one, to those seeking a new job and means of livelihood, to those seeking new relationships after abuse, to those seeking new meaning in the midst of despair and depression. All of us in the faith community are the saints of God. Those saints we have known who are deceased inspire us as we remember them for they too faced the death-dealing forces of culture in their lives. One does not become a saint by being mild-mannered and timid. Through the lives of all saints, living and in heaven, there runs a strong thread of hope in God’s assurance of radical and complete transformation in the love and justice of God.
Let us take a moment and reflect upon the saints in our lives…..
Sermon, October 28, 2018
“What is Peace?”
In calling upon Jesus as “Son of David”, the blind beggar Bartimaeus demonstrates that he does indeed see who Jesus is. Today, we are meditating upon the very word ‘peace’ and just what it is for each of us. Peace could mean something different for each one of us. For Bartimaeus ‘peace’ seems to be in seeing again. He no longer begs for his food; seeing frees Bartimaeus from oppression. Peace is therefore, life-giving and holds freedom.
The story about Bartimaeus, is about freedom. He won’t shut up. Even though people tell him to. And that’s hard. We are so quick to fall into silence in general, worried about offending or hurting feelings or being rejected or whatever. And so, when folks tell us to shut up, we’re all too quick to oblige. But Bartimaeus won’t. He is free. Free to defy his neighbors. Free to call for help. Free to make his needs known to Jesus. Free. Perhaps he’s suffered enough, or feels like there’s nothing left to lose, or just doesn’t care anymore. Or perhaps he just senses — or, really, sees — that in the presence of Jesus all the rules change, and he is no longer “Blind Bartimaeus” but instead “Bartimaeus, Child of God.” Whatever the reason, he knows he is free and seizes his faith and his courage to live into that freedom and Jesus says that’s what made him well. Peace is about freedom. Freedom from turmoil, anxiety, hatred, prejudice…
A friend of mine who recently had his first cataract removed, is in turmoil over not being able to see at all out of his bad eye and with his good eye he sees clearly at a distance but can’t wear glasses yet for close-up work on the computer; he yearns for peace to come and settle his turmoil. Being able to see, that aha moment in our lives does bring peace to us. It can be a fleeting moment, or it can be a lasting peace.
“Peace” can sound merely sentimental or cliché. But deep down, it’s what most of us long for. Consider the proverb: The highest happiness is peace.
Not a peace inside that ignores pain in oneself or others or is acquired by shutting down. This capital P – Peace is a durable peace, a peace you can come home to – even if it’s been covered over by fear, frustration, or heartache.
When you’re at peace – when you are engaged with life while also feeling relatively relaxed, calm, and safe – you are protected from stress, your immune system grows stronger, and you become more resilient. Your outlook brightens, and you see more opportunities. In relationships, feeling at peace prevents overreactions, increases the odds of being treated well by others, and supports you in being clear and direct when you need to be.
I think there are four kinds of peace, and I’ll point out where each might be found. The first two kinds are pretty straightforward, while the third and fourth take a person into the deep end of the pool. It’s helped me to notice, appreciate, and (hopefully) practice each of these. It’s OK to focus on just one for a while; any peace is better than none!
In particular, enjoy your peacefulness, wherever you find it. In our culture of pressure, invasive demands for attention, and jostling busyness, inner peace must be protected. When you experience it, enjoy it, which will help it sink into you, weaving its way into your brain so it increasingly becomes the habit of your mind.
The Peace of Ease is number one.
This is the peace of relaxation and relief, and it comes in many forms. You look out a window and feel calmer and can talk through a problem with a friend. You exhale slowly, activating the soothing presence of your nervous system. You finish a batch of emails or dishes. You were worried about something but finally get good news.
Whew. At rest. It’s easy to underestimate this sort of peace but it really counts. Take it in when you feel it.
The Peace of Tranquility is number two.
This is deep quiet in mind and body. Perhaps you’ve felt this on first waking, before the mind kicks into gear. Or while sitting next to a mountain pond in prayer, something of its stillness seeps into your heart. At the end of a workout, meditation, or walking, you might have felt serene.
When mind and body are this settled, there is no sense of disturbance, and no struggling with anything, or grasping after it, or clinging to others. There’s an inner freedom, a non-reactivity, that is wonderful.
The Peace of Awareness is number three.
This is a subtler kind of peace. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of being upset and your mind is racing . . . and at the same time there is a place inside that is simply seeing, untroubled by what it sees. Or you may have the sense of awareness as an open space in which sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, arise and disappear; the space itself is never ruffled or harmed by what passes through it. I think First Responders and Medical Personnel acquire this peace, so they can cope. I’m not speaking of anything mystical here, only what you can see directly in your own mind. As either a bare witness or the space through which the stream of consciousness flows, awareness itself is always at peace. Are you in the deep-end yet?
The Peace of What’s Unchanging is number four.
First, while most things continually change, some don’t; for example, the fact that things change around us doesn’t mean we have to change. There needs to be stability in one’s life. Two plus two will always equal four. The good thing you did this morning or last year will always have happened. Things that don’t change are reliable, which feels peaceful. I think, this is why many people don’t like change in the church. The church must be an unchanging space; a place of peace.
Second, while individual waves come and go, the ocean is always ocean. While the contents of the universe are changing, the universe as universe is not. You can get an insight of this by recognizing that you are a local wave in a vast sea of human culture, human nature, and the physical universe; yes, you are changing, but within an unchanging all-ness of it all. The sense of this, even if fleeting, can really put you at peace. I hope you have kept up with me and haven’t sunk at this deep end of the pool.
Jesus offers “the peace that passeth understanding,” and I understand in a changing world, this quote of Jesus’ is meaningful to many people (including myself).
May we all be at peace.
Believers have an obligation to “let the peace of God rule” in their hearts. This means we have the choice either to trust God’s promises (letting peace rule) or to rely on ourselves and reject the peace God offers. Jesus gave His disciples peace based on the truth that He has overcome the world. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, so, if we are allowing the Spirit of God to rule in our lives, we will experience God’s peace. To be spiritually minded brings life and peace.
The world will continue to have wars and interpersonal conflicts until Jesus comes to establish true, lasting peace, but God will give peace to those who trust God who makes it possible for us to have peace. Once God’s peace rules in our hearts, we are then able to share that peace with others; we become publishers of peace and ministers of reconciliation. Then our eyes will be truly open and we will see!
Peace truly is a gift from God. Amen.
October 21, 2018 Sermon by Gloria Christian – World Food Day
“Recognizing that Food is Sacred”
Recognizing food as sacred is not something uppermost in my mind, I must say. I see the bread and juice as sacred during communion, but my everyday lunches and dinners are just gobbled to fill hunger. We as a community of faith, as a denomination, and as earth creatures are called to understand seeds as sacred.
We have been celebrating God’s creation for some weeks now and this is the last Sunday of the time for creation. We have been celebrating God’s creation of a self-sustaining web of life in which plants, animals, land, water, air and us as interwoven.
Many traditions affirm that food is an element in spiritual celebrations. Maybe we can adopt the practice of affirming that eating is a sacred spiritual practice which celebrates the delicate connectedness we have with the seeds that make our food we eat possible.
So, I ask, what should we do to be more mindful of the sacredness of food while dining? Living alone, eating doesn’t feel very sacred. I think, when we are eating, eating might be all we think about; the only thing we are honouring with our attention. No phone or iPad within reach, no TV or radio on in the background. Preferably not even speaking to others for a few minutes; just eat with our full attention to the food. Just maybe, each bite might be approached with reverence, with full appreciation of where the food came from and the effort that went into preparing it. Maybe we would pay attention to subtle flavours, textures, how each bite makes us feel, or the subtle differences that exist depending on the morsels that come together with each fork-full making each dish as appetizing for all the senses as possible and imagine the nutrients flowing through our bodies, nourishing every cell. Would we then recognize food as sacred? All we have to di is look at a malnourished child or adult to understand their pain and sorrow. Perhaps then we would recognize food as sacred.
The following reflections of how and why seeds are sacred are given by two United Church folk:
Adrian Jacobs says Aboriginal people have a ceremony in spring to bless the seeds before the planting season. They also called corn, beans, and squash their ‘three sisters.’ This is in keeping with our view of creation as relatives, says Adrian e.g., elder brother sun, grandmother moon, grandfather thunder, and mother earth. The sustenance provided by food makes Haudenosaunee people happy. This is how they celebrate seeds as sacred.
From my other readings for this World Food Day, a seed contains in itself all the DNA necessary to produce a full-grown plant and fruit containing seeds for the future. In essence, in a seed is a universe of plants that expresses the wisdom and miracle of the Creator. Adrian Jacobs is Cayuga First Nation of the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. Jacobs is the Keeper of the Circle/Principal at the Sandy Saulteaux Spiritual Centre, in Beausejour, Manitoba.
Patricia Vickers another member of our church says, “Where I come from, our soil is comprised of rock, sand, silt, and peat. There was no cultivation of medicinal plants in the past or present. The seeds must thrive without the assistance of our intervention. Plant medicine knowledge is passed on through the mother’s line. For females, one is shown by an aunty how to gather the plants that were once seeds. She must search for where the seeds have grown into cedar, devil’s club, and spruce to assist others or self with purification.
“All life is sacred. A seed, in particular, is significant because a seed needs to be connected, in contact with all elements to grow, to become. We speak of thought as a seed, says Patricia, and the heart as the place where the seed grows. When one’s heart is not clean, it will not produce good thoughts, good seeds. The seed is the beginning; it is already the nature, the essence of what it will become. May our hearts hold good seeds.” Patricia Vickers’ heritage weaves ancestry from the United Kingdom and the Eagle Clan from the village of Gitxaala, British Columbia.
I’m not a gardener, although my father-in-law tried many years ago to help me with a garden; but you gardeners know of the sacredness of a seed and the miracle of its produce. Going back to Patricia’s faith and belief that thought is a seed and the heart is the place the seed grows fits with our gospel reading this morning.
Jesus has something crucial to say in the Parable of the Sower. The parable is about different types of soil that receive the seed. The seed is the word of God. The point of the story is that the sower, sowing the seed, obtains different results from different soil.
Whenever God’s Word is communicated the results depend on the fertility, the soil, of the hearer’s heart.
There were two methods of sowing seed in Jesus’ day. One was to balance a bag of seed on the back of a donkey, cut holes in either side of the bag and let the seed run out as the donkey walked over the ground. The other method was to throw the seed by hand. This latter method seems to be the picture Jesus had in mind.
The reason some seed “fell by the wayside” was that farmers left paths for travelers through their fields. This ground naturally would be hard-packed by the traffic. So, birds would quickly eat the seed which fell there.
The hearts of some folks have become so hardened by the world’s traffic that the seed of the Word cannot penetrate and the young plants, being rooted only in shallow soil, had no subsoil supply of water to draw upon. Therefore, the hot, midday sun dried up and killed those fragile sprouts.
it. They have heard too many false advertisements, bought too many lemons from fast-talking used car salesmen, been jilted by too many fickle lovers. Having been burned in the past, they are bitter and cynical and say People are no good; they are all liars and hypocrites. The preacher’s sermon is just one more sales pitch and the preacher just another con artist.
With such people the message goes in one ear and out the other. Nothing can get through the protective shell they have built around themselves.
Shallow hearers quickly drop out. Galilee is underlaid with limestone rock. In some places this rock is covered only by a thin layer of soil. The early spring sun would warm this rock, which in turn kept the soil warm. Seed which feel on this soil would germinate quickly. But this warm soil contained little moisture Jesus remarked that God’s Word cannot take root in shallow hearts. Their unchurched friends mocked their newfound faith. It became a chore to get up on Sunday mornings. Suddenly these easily-won converts dropped out of sight as though they were in the FBI’s witness protection program! As Jesus said, “they are offended” when they find out it isn’t all a bed of roses; there are a few thorns too.
Even in the good soil the harvest varied, depending on how good it was. A hundredfold may seem like a bumper crop but ancient records show that in some cases such was possible.
Not all Christians have the same gifts, abilities or potential. Some produce more fruit than others, though all believers are commanded to bear some fruit. The point is that we are to bear as much fruit as we can with our individual talents. This happens as we move from being merely hearers of the Word to doers of it as well. For that is the mark of a responsive hearer. As Jesus cautioned, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear”
Today as we think of World Food and the countless here and abroad who starve, might we think about the seed as sacred and how we sow our seeds, our faith and our generosity, are small ways we can help in the community to feed the hungry with Mission and Service dollars and with monies for outreach into the community from the Thrift Shop. Amen.
Anyone get nervous when you read the sermon title today? You will be relieved to know I won’t say it all this morning, but I did want to say something that would really bring in a wonderful crowd of people. Who knew the crowd-bringer would be, “I’m retiring!” J Truly – thank you all for coming; I feel amazingly blessed to have worked with Sicamous United Church over the past five years, to have connected with each of you here today, and to have ministered with the United Church of Canada for 31 years – 32, if you count my year-long internship at First United Church in Vancouver. I count it, but the pension department has other ideas!
With reference to 1st Samuel 16:1-13, and Mark 4:26- 32
The first thing I want to say is, Thank You! Thank you for the honour of asking me to baptize you today, just before I retire from a ministry that has been such a huge part of my life for the past 31 years. The thing is, the seeds of this ministry go back much further… but I’ll tell you more about that a little later.
The seeds of your baptism go back a way too. You have wanted to take this step in your life since before I met you – about four years ago. Somehow, the timing was never just right, but you did not lose the feeling, and for that I am grateful, and I am also assured that God’s spirit is at work in you, in ways both you and the world shall yet discover.
2 Corinthians 4:1, 7, 13-5:1 Our inner nature renewed – day by day.
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Eternal in the heavens … As a denomination, the United Church of Canada is not given to gazing heavenward – waiting for pie in the sky when we die by and by. So how is it that we spent an entire weekend looking at this strange little bit of scripture that seems to focus on that very thing?
This passage from John Chapter 3 is so familiar, that we must wonder if there is anything more to discover. “For God so loved the world…” But does anyone remember that happened in Chapter 2?
A quick recap – Jesus goes to a wedding and turns water into wine in Cana, then goes on to Capernaum with his mother, brothers and disciples and stays for a few days. From there he travels to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, arrives at the temple and immediately causes a ruckus by chasing out of the money-changers in the Temple courtyard. Now, the other gospels put this event near the end of his ministry – and you can be pretty sure he only did it once! So, what’s going on here? Why is John’s gospel so different?
The book of Acts tells the story of how the fledgling church began; how the disciples transitioned from feeling lost and scattered to developing their own ministry in the world. This ministry included reliance on the Jewish faith the disciples were rooted in, but it moved beyond the `authorities’ of priests & scribes and lawmakers to living out the `kingdom of God at hand’. They found ways to teach what they had experienced or understood as they tried to follow the way of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Pentecost story Peter says, ‘This is the outpouring of the Spirit as the prophet Joel foretold: “… I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, your elders shall dream dreams. Even upon those enslaved – both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit and they will prophesy.” The Holy Spirit, is not just for some, it’s for everyone, and it’s active and ongoing.
Although I am one of the few Canadians that does not have a smartphone, I am a tiny bit tech savvy – posting on the church website and using Facebook, mostly to keep up with what my adult children are doing, and now to see little videos of my adorable grand-baby. Some time ago, on the Facebook wall, there was a post, featuring a picture of the lovely Johnny Depp. And, while I am truly in love with my dear Jim, I confess that Johnny does have a certain… `hotness’ factor. So I appreciated the picture and read the poster. It said:
There are four questions of value in life…
What is sacred?
Of what is the spirit made?
What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for?
The answer to each is the same.
Only Love. Johnny Depp.
Four letters and a psalm…
Welcome to Earth Day 2018. Today, I would like to offer four letters and a psalm as a way of honouring this day when we look openly, honestly and compassionately at our relationship with the Earth. We begin with reading someone else’s mail – actually, all the letters are someone else’s mail. That’s o.k. Actually, we read the first letter already – but just to highlight…