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.
Sermon, March 24, 2019
Luke 19:1-10 Luke 13: 1-9
“Excuse Me, Did you know him? Zacchaeus’ story
Today, we get to know Jesus thru Zacchaeus who needs the redemptive power of God and thru the Parable of the Fig Tree told by Jesus who calls himself a Rabbi today and The Son of Man. Last week he called himself a prophet. This morning we might ask…
Redemption: just what does it mean? Redemption is act of atoning (reconciling) for a fault or mistake; being rescued from the repercussions of that mistake. We don’t talk about mistakes being sins so much anymore but back in the day; redemption would have been thought of as deliverance from sin. And so, on our pathway to the cross, we must think of redemption as a gift of God.
In the story of Zacchaeus, he is a man in need of redemption. In the story, of the Fig Tree, we metaphorically see our need of redemption. Reconciliation comes to us as a result of God’s grace; a gift of God. Zacchaeus took the tax office and began wheeling and dealing at the behest of the grand Tetrarch and Governor Pilate to extort taxes from the people and making himself rich in the process. One day Zacchaeus heard this Nazarene Rabbi, Jesus, was on his way toward Jerusalem and he and the whole town turned out to see him; an instant parade happened. Unable to see, Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree to see. Zacchaeus starts to argue with the man who owned the tree since he climbed it without permission, and he yells to the owner that he will repossess the house and tree for back taxes. And just about that time, the Rabbi comes up in front of the tree. You know the story, Jesus, in a strong and unmistakeable human voice says “come down from that tree”; I am going to your house for a meal. The Pharisees whisper together. Rabbis don’t eat with tax collectors; they eat with other Rabbis. And so, we journey closer to the cross. One can only guess correctly that Jesus is going to seek redemption from Zacchaeus. Jesus is going to make him atone for his extorting unfairly, taxes from the people.
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem in the Parable of the Fig Tree. The parable warns against fruitless existence in the light of God’s grace given to us. God’s grace gives us another chance in life to reconcile our wrongs. From the parable we understand that whatever good experience comes to us, is by the grace of God. In giving us grace, God has purpose; we are to be fruitful. When we live taking advantage of God’s many graces, yet bear no fruit – that is, simply living for ourselves with no known benefit for God and others – we are fruitless. The parable also tells us God’s giving us ‘room to grow and produce’. The Parable tells us, it does make a difference how we live to God.
The world is going crazy for some of the followers of Jesus in this week’s gospel reading. Speculation bordering on gossip seems to be in the air as they related stories of Pilate’s brutal murder of some Galileans who were worshiping. Their blood had been mixed with the blood of the sacrifices. The how’s, the why’s and the what’s of the happening are brought to Jesus. Jesus says, unless you rely on God and turn to God in need then you will surely die. To drive home the point, he tells this story of the fruitless fig tree. If we as individuals, as followers of Christ have been given life, then aren’t we responsible for making the most of it? Likewise, as the Body of Christ, what are we doing to bear fruit, to bloom where we’ve been planted.
Think of it this way; fruit grows outward from the plant into the light. So, too, a healthy church grows outward while still maintaining its deep-rooted connection to Christ. If a church is inwardly focused, then its growth is stunted and can die. We are called to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us – our time, our talent and our resources. Even plants have fallow seasons, and so do churches have seasons when they are less than fruitful. Transplantation happens and plants grow again. Perhaps with a new minister coming July 1 then from the rest from the past year, you can replenish and you can find successful growth and production in your ministry together…
Jesus was with Zacchaeus a very long time. Jesus showed Zacchaeus his need for redemption. His need to make right the wrongs he had committed. Zacchaeus reports that he will pay back those he cheated four-fold. He came out of his home and set up a table, called for his books, called for his money bags, and began to give away. He counted to a Pharisee; gave compassionately to a widow; explained knowingly to a fisherman; and finally, when it was all over, he gave a sigh of relief and a cry of exaltation…
What had the Rabbi told him? Here is what he might have told him, “A man never stands so tall as when he kneels to God in prayer.” And Jesus said, ‘It’s not what’s on the outside but what is on the inside that counts when bearing fruit.’ The real growth from redemption happens on the inside of a person; in faith, in understanding; in hope and love. These are the real things that matter in our life. For Zacchaeus and his redemption; in-order- for, him to keep his commitment to Jesus, he had to let go of greed and guilt. Maybe there is something we can all let go of in order to make a commitment to Jesus and grow and be fruitful… Jesus turns and goes on his journey to Jerusalem.
You have visions of planting a community garden; you are digging up a space for growth and may you flourish in your fruitfulness. And so, it is that I can completely understand the action of the farmer in the parable where he gives that fig tree one more year. On the other hand, of course Jesus isn’t speaking of a fig tree, he is, actually speaking of the people God so loves and God’s unending patience with all of us. So much so that even when this patience appears, we might never bear fruit and even when we show no sign of making amends for our wrong-doings and asking for God’s grace; a God who has given us, all we could hope for in the first place, even then God would give us one more year. This is God’s great unending love. Amen.
Mark 8: 1-10; Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand
Luke 13:31-35; Jesus’ Sorrow for Jerusalem
Message: Excuse me, did you know him? Levi’s Song!
Here we are at the second Sunday in Lent; this time in Lent will be a time of getting to know Jesus’ humanity, for only a human can suffer as he did on the cross and it is on the cross that we see the transition from humanity to a person filled with the spirit of God. Throughout scripture we see Jesus himself alternates from being human to being divine. Our faith tells us that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. In Lent it is only too clear that Jesus is being human so let’s get to know him through the story of Levi.
Levi hummed his favourite song as he walked toward home from the marketplace. The tune to the psalm matched his mood on this wonderful sunny day. The breeze was warm, but not too warm. The sun was bright, but not too bright. The air was scented with the aroma of the marketplace. Three copper drams and mother is very precise; barley bread and dried fish. As Levi walked toward home, he looked up against the hillside and he saw him. He watched as family after family; one man after another; women and children, all walking toward him as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the Passover, trying to get to know him on that hillside. Levi isn’t sure who he is but a man said, come on, boy, come along. So, Levi with his basket of bread and fish climbed the hill to listen.
Meanwhile at home his mother was very agitated and angry but knew behind the emotions was a dread too deep for words. She said under her breath, please let him be safe. On the hillside Levi sat enraptured by this teacher. Never, never ever had he heard the will of God put so beautifully, so simply. The adults were hanging on every word. This rabbi taught that God was as close as your own father not far away. Levi kept moving closer and closer to Jesus as he talked, gathering a peace as he went. You see, his father had died recently.
Luke tells us another story, a short story about an encounter, a warning on this same road to Jerusalem, the road out of Galilee, where the petty tyrant Herod runs roughshod over the people. Herod Antipas, successor to the evil Herod of the nativity stories and equally ineffective as that Herod was at hindering God’s plans, is motivated by fear and a deep hunger for power and security. His vision of how things should be obviously clashes with the things Jesus is saying and doing as he travels around, right there, on Herod’s own home turf! The tension is this; Herod’s plans to conform the people to the values of the Roman Empire, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the mission of Jesus, who called the people not only to repent but to remember, and be faithful to, the ancient promises of God. Here, on the road to Jerusalem, the same road Levi walked with his basket of bread and fish. Jesus brushes aside the warnings about Herod’s evil scheming as only so many words (which they are, of course), futile efforts that are not significant in the big picture, the plan of God. God’s word has power; Herod’s words are useless.
Still, the powers that be, whether it’s Herod in Galilee, Pilate in Jerusalem, the religious leaders there and scattered throughout the land, the wealthy and prestigious, or the mighty Roman Empire itself, can cause havoc in the meantime. So, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem fully aware of the awful danger that lies ahead. These are all powers of one kind of another, some of them admittedly dependent on those more powerful than themselves, all of whom dislike Jesus’ talk about the first being last, and the last being first. Indeed, that’s what Jesus was talking about right before this encounter happened. Of course, this is not the first time a prophet has stood up to the powers that be in Israel. The language and imagery in this short text recall not only ancient promises of God’s tender care, but also God’s holding Israel to a high standard of faithfulness to a covenant carved on their hearts. Jesus stands as a prophet with the faithful of Israel and holds the promised of God within his heart. It’s important to remember once again that on this day Jesus is a self-proclaimed prophet in a long line of prophets in Israel who proclaimed both God’s mercy and God’s judgment. The scattered children of Jerusalem are being gathered together to speak of God’s unwavering love for Israel. The image of Israel finding shelter under God’s ‘wings’ occurs naturally with Jesus’ cry of anguish in this passage. In this story about Jesus’ firm determination to face what lies ahead in Jerusalem – for our sake, not only for the sake of his people, in his own time – we hear a call to stand firm ourselves, no matter what, Juanita and I stand in solidarity, as we condemn the terrorists attacks in the two Mosques in New Zealand this past week in her letter to the editor. Forty-nine of these committed individuals were killed, they knew their God of peace was with them.
Jesus doesn’t back down or run away, not because he knows that he is “safe” from the cross (quite the opposite), but because he knows who God is, and what “the plan” is. This is the Jesus who accompanies us on our Lenten journey, and on every path of risk and faithfulness, no matter what we encounter along the way. And so, we say, Excuse, me, do you know him? as people wonder what this Lenten journey is all about. It is about walking every step of the way to the cross with Jesus who was treated very badly and sinfully…
Levi sat on the tree stump oblivious to the fact that his mother was frantic about his whereabouts. He was living life anew. He didn’t know how to explain what happened to the food and the basket; the food was eaten and eaten, and now he had a full basket of food, although broken by Jesus and that was why he was sitting on the tree stump. How was he to explain? His mother was crying when he opened the door; Levi explained what he had heard and what Jesus had done and what happened to bread and fish; broken and shared. But his mother in her anger did not believe.
It seems to me that getting to know Jesus happens with our personal experiences of faith and hope and determination to be God’s people. To know Jesus on a personal level, I think, we have-to know the human Jesus who shares our pains and our sufferings. We need to know that God is at work for our own well-being and during this Lenten season we see who God is and what it is that God wills and works for. And perhaps as we devote ourselves to doing God’s will, we find the freedom that allows us to live without fear and into the fullness of life that God intends for us. Amen.
Sermon, March 3, 2019
“No Ordinary Mountaintop”
Luke 9: 28-36
Our Epiphany series of “Living in the Light” culminates with the brightest of light seen in the Transfiguration of Jesus. We have had 8 weeks to ponder upon what it means to live in the light of Christ. I have enjoyed digging into the wonder of Epiphany these past weeks having never looked at Epiphany in this way before now. We began epiphany with shimmering hope: the divine light that shines in the child is not a foreign light to the earth. It is the Light at the heart of all life. It is the light from which all things come. Epiphany is the story of the light at the heart of everything; the light at the heart of you, at the heart of me. Christ is our epiphany, our showing, our hope. In Jesus we see the Light of life; in him we have shimmering hope. A great light has dawned, a light that draws all people and calls us to live our lives illuminated by its truths.
Thus, our story of children of God begins with “Living in the Light – Living Water”. This living water is poured on us at our baptism. Baptized with living water, our journey begins and is our first gift from God that leads us on a path of discovery of many God-given gifts.
And so, living in the light opens us to the spiritual gifts of God; living in the light is like being bathed with the light of God upon our souls. This bathing light warms us with spiritual gifts. Our spirit must be open to the invitation to see the light of life. As we use our spiritual gifts and discover them in ourselves and others, we are being bathed in the light of God.
Our journey through epiphany continued with “Living in the Light – As one Body”. Sharing our spiritual gifts bring us to the belief that we are then One Body in Christ. We must be one body for inclusion is what we believe. Exclusion is a terrible disease in lots of ways. Inclusion is paramount for peace, hope, and love to thrive in each of us.
And so, we arrived on Epiphany 4 with “Living in the Light – The Gift of Love”. We were called on this Sunday to chose love over rejection; respect over turning away; love over hate, peace over conflict. It is not as easy as we would hope it could be, as pray it would be. Love is always risky, because we cannot enter-into it without being changed. Beauty shines as we are living in the light with the gift of love.
“Living in the Light is about becoming followers of Jesus.” Being called to become and belong to a community of faith seems to be the stepping stone for a faithful life with the love of God ever-present in our life. Remember the woman who loved all her children but loved the one the most when they were down, or weak, or hurt. This is my God and yours.
Living in the Light with many blessings comes to us as followers of Jesus. To be blessed is to know you have God’s attention. To know that wherever you go you will not be alone. To be blessed is to know that you are valued and important simply because God has made you priceless. Even in our brokenness, we have the faith that God is our safe-haven.
Living in the light is loving our enemies. Loving those who hate can bring a reconciliation for all. To love your enemies then is knowing that our behaviour is not determined by the enemy. The Jesus we worship does not respond with hate in response to hatred. Jesus does not react, Jesus acts in love and grace and forgiveness toward all and such ought to be the way of Jesus’ followers. We are called not to judge or condemn but rather give and forgive. In other words, we are called to non-retaliation, generosity and mercy. To know God’s forgiveness and generosity means that we are ourselves God’s forgiving and generous children.
And so, today we come to see the splendour of God’s glory bright. We see Jesus radiating on the mountaintop which is no ordinary mountaintop. All the light of the Epiphany season is gathered together to rest upon Jesus this morning, standing in a blaze of glory on this mountaintop.
Mount Tabor is the site said to be the location of the Transfiguration of Jesus. I have only seen Mount Tabor from a distance, from the position of other sites throughout the Holy Land. On the one hand, it is a mountain like any other in the landscape of this section of the world. It is a diverse topography marked by hills and valleys, fertile plains and arid desert, mountains and wildernesses. On the other hand, Mount Tabor is extraordinary.; it stands alone it it’s uniqueness. Then you remember that such is their nature — mountains, that is. Talk about mountains we have them in all their splendour with the Rockies down the road and the majesty of the mountains surrounding us here. And so, mountains are particular and poignant for us. They rise up from the plains of our lives to invite majesty and awe; wonder and fear; to call to mind the heights of the heavens and yet the reality of the valleys below.
Mountains have a way of transforming you. As Peter, James and John look upon Jesus they remember the two men in their scriptures who shone so bright and blazing. Moses when he came down from the mountain with the ten commandments and Elijah when his chariot soared to heaven. We bring our experience to any given situation and when we can’t believe what is before our eyes; we look to what we know. So, the natural question would be, are you…Moses… Elijah?
The Transfiguration of Jesus must be a moment of splendour that extends and exists beyond the mountaintop experience and into our faith story. God has chosen to reveal God’s self in ways that are breathtaking, miraculous, wondrous. Why? Because we have a tendency, to tame God, to think that God will adjust to our many needs, to think that God will conform to our ideals. This day we see no ordinary mountaintop experience. We see our majestic God! Amen.
Sermon, February 17, 2019
Living in the Light – Many Blessings
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” I want to talk to Jesus and say, that sounds great, but when I weep, I don’t see laughter as helpful to hear at that moment. Perhaps I am in a space where I truly wonder when I will laugh again?” Today, we are promised that weeping and sorrow are healed with laughter.
Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” begins the same way as the Gospel of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, by painting a picture of a world turned upside down. Remember, at the start of his ministry, when he read from Isaiah in his hometown synagogue, Jesus promised that the poor would receive good news, the captives would be released, and that the blind would see. That crowd turned pretty-ugly that day attempting to push Jesus over the cliff. But here on the plain, this is a different day and a different crowd. The great multitude gathered around him are exactly the kind of people Jesus came to proclaim favored by God. And here is Jesus, not high on some mountain talking down to them, as he does in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, but he is right there among them; in-the-midst of their pain and suffering, promising laughter.
As a matter of fact, he might even be below them. The one detail in this passage that has always intrigued me is that even as he is busy healing the crowd’s diseases, Jesus literally must “look up” to see his disciples before he can teach. Are they somehow above him, for Jesus had to come down? Have they removed themselves from the seething mass of suffering? Is this why Jesus must make sure that the disciples really take notice of these poor, sad, discarded folk? “Don’t you realize these are the blessed of God,” he seems to say, “This is where we should focus our attention because it is these people who have God’s attention. God sees them even when no one else does.”
To be blessed, after all, is to know that you have God’s attention. To know that wherever you go, you will not be alone. To be blessed is to know that you are valued and important simply because God has made you priceless. And suddenly the separation between the disciples and the crowd is removed. Everyone is connected because the only possession anyone really has is the blessing of God.
In Luke, Jesus is also clear that wealth and privilege are real dangers that have the power to separate one from God and from the human community. Jesus spells out the “woes” of which the comfortable and wealthy better beware. The kingdom of God belongs to those who have nothing except God. There seems to be two categories here, the blessed and the woeful. The warning is this; when we sit with wealth and comfort and priviledge, we might ignore our brokenness.
After all, we are all broken. Some of us have lost health or lost relationships or lost jobs. Our brokenness is personal, it’s unique, it’s truly ours, it’s no one else’s. And yet it connects us with one another because we are all broken in some way. But when Jesus says blessed are those who weep, he’s pointing out that this sadness is also a sign of something deeper, that all of us mourn because the world is so far from God’s purposes. Instead of separating us into some kind of hierarchy of need, we are brought closer in our shared weeping over this world; thus we are all blessed.
We look around, we see injustice, we see exploitation, we see violence, and the faithful cannot help but mourn. I think that includes all of us, no matter our economic status, our gender, or our ethnic background, we are all mourning. We hear of borders closed and walls being built and we know, we know this is not how God works. We hear of Hispanic and Islamic brothers and sisters living in fear, and we mourn. We listen to spiteful words coming to us from all sides, and we wonder from where is our comfort to come?
Well, here’s the good news. Blessed are those who weep. God hears you. God knows you. God comes close to you. And God will not let you go. We all deserve to weep, we are all blessed. We are not alone. How would we look at our neighbors if we saw them as both broken and blessed? Would we see our brother or sister more than a nuisance, not a threat? Would we hear Jesus say, “Come, you are blessed!. Join me here on the plain.”
There’s a wonderful little video that I came across years ago that I keep thinking about. It begins with a businessman going about his usual day, except the day isn’t going very well. It seems as each minute passes, the day gets worse and his frustration level rises. He starts to pull out of the driveway, and almost runs over a child on a bike. He gets to his favorite coffee outlet, but a woman steals his parking place. The man in front of him in line places an order for his entire office building. When he finally gets to the counter, he’s told that it will be a few minutes because they need to brew a fresh batch of coffee.
Sitting in a corner, seething in frustration, a man walks up and hands him a pair of sunglasses and then disappears. Confused, he puts the glasses on and all of sudden little bubbles, like in the comic strips, appear above everyone’s head. Instead of dialog however, he can read what is really going on in everyone’s life.
The woman who cut him off is distracted because her child is sick. The man who placed the huge coffee order is worried about a medical diagnosis he just received. The server in the coffee shop is struggling with addiction. And finally, returning home a bit shaken, he sees the child again with a bubble above his head which says, “Just need someone who cares.”
The man gets out of his car and walks over to help the boy fix his bike. How would we treat each other if we could really see what was in everyone’s bubble? I believe that all the walls and all the distance we place between ourselves and others would disappear.
After all, we worship a God who was not content to look down upon us from some safe haven, light years away. We follow a savior who gets down, right down on the same plain with those in the deepest pain, with those who have nothing left.
He looks up, at us, his disciples, and invites us to join him there. He reminds us that this is where God is looking. And by the way, we are not so different. We are broken, too. We yearn for a world turned upside down. And we all are blessed. Amen.
Sermon, Feb. 10, 2019
Luke 5:1-11 – Living in the Light – Becoming a Follower of Christ
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
May God bless us with understanding of these words.
Living in the Light – Becoming a Follower of Christ
We have heard the word for us today. The call of Simon to be a disciple of Jesus and this word beacons us to be disciples too. Jesus, commandeering Simon’s boat, instructs him to put down his net. The results are astonishing. But Simon’s first reaction is ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man’. In our life despite our feelings of unworthiness, we are to place our trust in God who calls us is to be astonished by the results. So, where are we being called to put down our nets? On this annual meeting Sunday perhaps new visions for ‘fish catching’ will come forward.
Simon Peter gets a glimpse of the power and knowledge of Christ, falls before him in the profound grip of his own sinfulness, but even so, Peter is called by Christ to become a fisher of men. Peter’s sin does not disqualify him from discipleship because the same power that caused him to fall on his knees, now lifts him up into Jesus’ service. That is the power of forgiveness that allows a person to live in the light; an epiphany moment. Here is another epiphany story. Simon’s call comes from Jesus’ ministry in Nazareth, an exorcism in the synagogue in Capernaum, healing Simon’s mother-in-law, many healing and exorcisms in Capernaum, preaching tours and such a growing popularity that the crowds were pressing in on him. All, of these happenings speak to Jesus calling disciples. Jesus’ own success made helpers necessary. The disciples Jesus calls are responding to his power to which they have witnessed. ‘Catching men’ really means to take alive, in the sense of rescuing from death; sin was surely thought to end in death in biblical days. Surely Peter never erased from his memory the day he knelt in a smelly fishing boat at the feet of Jesus.
Does it strike you that we just heard a 2,000- year- old story? 2000 years being told and re-told and here we are today, sophisticated, savvy, relatively well-off, still hearing and resonating with this old story from the mid-east. What is the attraction? Well the answer is basically, when you come right down to it, this story tells us why we are Christians. Christians kneel-down before Christ for forgiveness and for love. This story reveals why Jesus captured the people who first heard him and why he captures us today. This story is where Christianity began. Jesus has time for us, and he has time for affirmations for us. Most importantly, Jesus ignores the nay-sayers. This reading reminds us of a deep truth. Too often we feel that in order to be a good Christian we have to try hard and believe this or that, whether we, in fact, actually do believe this or that, that we first have to straighten out our life and get it together and feel this or that in our hearts, in order to be good enough to become a follower of Christ.
But listen again to the story: Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. In other words, forget about the past, with me you have a clean slate. We learn that we are followers of Jesus, because he is so open and accepting, so ready to have mercy upon us. We are important to Jesus even if we are unimportant to the world, no matter how small or minor a figure in society, how overlooked or unpopular – no matter how different we are, we are always noticed and loved with compassion by Jesus.
Here is an inspirational story of a mother who was asked if she loved her children equally. The mother’s answer was stunning: “I loved them. I loved each one of them but not equally all the time. I loved the one the most that was down until he was up. I loved the one the most that was weak until she was strong. I loved the one the most that was hurt until he was healed. I loved the one the most that was lost until she was found.” Sounds to me that her love is like what we know of Jesus and why we are followers of Christ living in the light. May it be so in your life as in mine. Amen.