Water into Wine

            Before we dive into our readings for today, I want pause and appreciate the fact that the bible contains a story where water becomes wine. It’s pretty amazing really. Then you add to it the fact that Jesus is the one who turns the water into wine – mostly because his mother, like mothers of every time and place, says to. Then, perhaps my favourite part of the whole reading, not only does Jesus turn water into wine but it is the best wine of the night. This is a story of the abundance of grace. What could have been a disaster become isn’t. It is generous. It is overwhelming. It is more and better than we could ever have imagined and isn’t that what God’s grace is like. 

            It stands in stark contrast to the world we live in where fear and sacristy seem to be taking hold in every corner of the world. We have school aged children and youth with anxiety and mood disorders – 1 out of 12 are on medication of some form.  (https://www.cihi.ca/en/child-and-youth-mental-health-in-canada-infographic) Turn on the news and we hear about increasing rates of racism, sexism, and homophobia and not just in the United States here in Canada too. People are worried about where their next meal will come from or how they are going to cope from day to day or what bad news a phone call will bring or about their family or having enough money or how their relationship is going to survive or about a loved one who is sick. There seems to be a never-ending list a of reasons to be afraid.  

That’s why we need to lean on that abundance of grace that Jesus offers – when it seems like every possible door is closed and there is no way to move – that’s when we need grace. It seems to me, that all too often in my life, I forget what grace and mercy are like. Our reading today helps us to remember what God’s grace looks like and feels like. 

This reading from John is the first act of Jesus public minister. The wedding at Canna is the first of the “signs” or miracles in John’s gospel. Our reading for today follows Jesus’ baptism and the calling the disciples with the invitation “come and see.” Wedding in Jesus’ day were not like the weddings of today which are a day long affair. A wedding in Jesus’ day lasted a week and was a community celebration. Jesus was there with his whole family, disciples and the entire gathered community. 

Over the course of the celebrations, the hosts ran out of wine. Now this may not sound like a big problem to our modern ears. Today we’d probably think nothing of it. If the wine runs out, we pop up to the store and buy another bottle. Not a big deal. But it was major social faux pas in Jesus’ day. Wine was considered a sign of God’s abundance. If the wine runs out what does that say about God’s love? What does it say about this particular couples future? 

 Upon hearing the news about the wine, Jesus’ mother turns to him, with an expectant look in her eyes. I think it’s the look only a mother can give and says, “They have run out of wine.” Can’t you just hear Jesus saying back to her as he rolls his eyes, “Oh Mother, why are you worried about that. Besides which, this not my time, it is not the hour.”  Do you notice how Mary pays no attention to Jesus’ objection about it not being his hour? Son of God or not, she knows best. She is the one whose watched him learn and grow. She simply turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”  

            Jesus has no choice and he somewhat reluctantly tells the servants to fill six huge containers – each holding 20 to 30 gallons of water and to take them to the wine steward. The wine steward tastes the wine and is amazed. He calls the bridegroom and compliments him for saving the best wine for the last days of the celebration. 

Letts but the this amazing sign into context. In ways that make sense for us today. Today wine can be mass produced and shipped easily from one place to another. Not so in Jesus day. In today’s measurements it would be like Jesus gave them about 900 bottles of wine. But not just any wine – the good stuff. This surely never happened on the 3rdday of a week long party. That is just like God’s abundant grace. It is unexpected. It is good wine when you are expecting the cheap stuff and it is more wine than we can imagine! Dr. Karoline Lews writes, “The details of abundance cannot be overlooked in this text -- six water jars, each 20-30 gallons, filled to the brim, of the best wine. The amount in and of itself is extraordinary. But the best wine? At this point in a wedding celebration? Unheard of. Back in the day, weddings typically lasted a week, where the host would serve the better wine when the guests could actually taste what they were drinking, a nice Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Chardonnay, perhaps. Only after a few days of drinking and determined levels of inebriation would the guests be served the Franzia box Merlot or Gallo jug Chablis. Where have you experienced this kind of grace?” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1556

In the words of the psalmist, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36: 7 – 9) 

I think it makes all the difference in the world when the starting place each of us is that abundance of unexpected grace. Grace doesn’t insulate us from life’s tragedies or cure us from disease or give us jobs or banish depression or give us money. Grace gives a starting place that reminds us that we are deeply loved. 

This week the Pulizer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver died at 83. Her poetry delves into the heart of faith. She writes, “You can have the other words – chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.” Like Mary Oliver, we may know what exactly what grace is, but every now and then we catch a glimpse of what it’s like – an abundance of the best wine when we least expect it. With grace as our starting place anything and everything becomes possible. Whether we know what it means or not grace is ours. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

School Of Love

“School of Love”

Laura Hunter and Lauren King

Scripture References:   

Deuteronomy 6:1-5

Mark 12:28-31

Intro to Scripture readings:

·     Indigenous elders, teachers have repeatedly said, “Our people were given our original instructions by Creator.  We are to protect the lands and the waters, and work for the good of all. We still remember our original instructions.  You settlers have forgotten yours.”

·     Nagged at me for years.  Came up again this summer at a gathering and so afterwards I decided to “take into prayer”, really sit with the question.

·     “As white, North American, Jesus followers, what are our original instructions, or “sacred instructions”, as one Indigenous writer calls them.  

·     Allowed a generous block of time for contemplating this question, but an answer came to me within minutes. A well known passage from our sacred stories.

·     So obvious I laughed out loud, I cried, then laughed some more.  The answer was hidden in plain sight.  Certainly some of you can guess it right now.  

·     Somehow, I felt reassured to be reminded that I was not the first one to miss what was in plain sight all along.  

·     Let’s hear what two of most “woke”, attuned teachers of their times had to say when pressed about “instructions”.  First, an account of what Moses said around 1400 years or so before Jesus was born. And then what Jesus himself answered when he was asked a little less than 2000 years ago, as told in the book of Mark.


Scriptures are read.

·     See what I mean! So obvious,  I probably have quoted these very passages as the central message of the entire Christian and Jewish traditions.  But that day I heard and felt it differently. 

·     LOVE    GOD   HEART        MIND   STRENGTH NEIGHBOUR           AS       SELF   

·     EVERY SINGLE WORD had new depth, new implications for me on a personal level, but also for our mission as church in the world.  We could explore each of those words alone for weeks at a time, for years, in fact.  

·     It illuminated for me a notion I had been carrying around for several months about the potential of the Church as a “School of Love”.  ( Introduced by Brian MacLaren in his book, A New Kind of Christianity)

·     Not talking romantic love.  But that gritty, tenacious, love that you DO, when it is not easy.   

o  The kind of love that gets you through the turmoil of a family member living with dementia, or another type mental health crisis.  

o  The kind of love that causes your heart to break at the stories of families torn apart as try to find safety and hope by seeking asylum in another country – strangers to whom you have no explicable connection, but yet you care. 

o   That counter-cultural love that pulls us together to help each other in a disaster, despite the dominant messages that would tell us to be suspicious and afraid of our neighbour. 

o  The kind of love that keeps a community working together on a huge project like renovating their church to include affordable housing, and new kinds of gathering spaces, overcoming differences and obstacles. 

·     Everything that Jesus was teaching was about increasing our capacity to love one another, love our neighbours.  

·     And thus, everything we do as church, should also be about increasing our capacity to love!

·     For Jesus, that played out as healing the sick, as reaching out to the lonely, the hated, the shunned, AND in a military occupied territory it sometimes looked like challenging the powers that were keeping the people down.  That’s what the curriculum included at Jesus’ School of Love. 

·     What should a School of Love look like here and now?  In this time of political chaos, of growing divides between rich and poor, of wrestling with the uncomfortable realities of racism and white privilege – what should OUR curriculum look like? What skills, and values, and practices do we need to equip ourselves?

·     What should it look like here in St. John’s, at Cochrane St. United Church?  

·     What does it look like for Youth and Young Adult ministries? – Lauren



Church at its best allows young people to show up as their whole selves – questioning, messy, wrestling through the muck of it all. Church at its best allows all of us to show up fully, which helps us to feel brave in the world. We are able to take risks, knowing we have a safe home base to come back to. A kind of touchstone. The only way we can be our best as the church is by grounding ourselves in love – deep love that stands up to injustice, embraces the stranger into our midst, and doesn’t shy away from pain. 

Young people are hungry for this kind of place – a place that acknowledges the chaos of our world and hears the despair. Youth and young adults are navigating coming into themselves in a world with a looming climate crisis, witnessing the largest mass migration of refugees and asylum seekers in history, coming up against a struggling economy, and feeling the effects of hateful attitudes just across the boarder. In the face of extreme uncertainty, it’s tempting to want things to be clear so that we can maintain illusions of safety. Young people see right through the smugness of certainty. The youth I have the privilege of working with know that we all possess a deeper level of being, one that loves paradox. One that knows God is found in the places where opposing ideas are held side-by-side. A place deep in our bones that knows that when we sit in silence, we hear the roar of existence. That healing is found in the deepest places of pain. Knows that our hope as Christians is found in the death and resurrection. Young people are drawn to places that drop concrete answers in favour of asking better questions, and offer experiences to grasp hold of. It is experiences that tap us into deep love, bringing faith from our heads into our hearts. Some of the most powerful youth programs in our church are those that offer experiences in community with others, stepping beyond the walls of the church and beyond faith as something that we think. There’s a beauty to working side by side with new & old friends, then sitting down together at the end of the day to reflect and debrief, wrestling with big questions of injustice, dreaming up the world we want to live into. We are called to action in a world that longs for healing – the young people I work with are keenly aware of the heartbreak and love that is required to transform our world. 

A few years ago I travelled to an international Christian festival with a group from the United Church. One of the evenings, a number of us attended a service called Queer Communion. We were a rowdy cohort of United Church folks – bringing joy and laughter into the space, dancing to the songs and celebrating with the joy of belonging to a church that affirms and celebrates gender + sexual diversity. It didn’t take us long to recognize our energy was very different from the rest of the room -  it was a sombre mood, with a number of folks in tears, and we realised that what we took for granted was a deeply moving experience for others, as they came from traditions that didn’t affirm their identity, and for some even barred them from the communion table. We received communion at the rail that evening, and the last to go up was a woman carrying a young child in her arms. The child was clutching a bunny tight to her chest, it was a stuffed animal that you could tell was well-loved and cherished, the white fuzz fading to grey. The woman drank from the cup offered to her, and then raised it to her child’s lips. After drinking, the child confidently and without hesitation dunked her beloved bunny straight into the cup. This child knew that the table was open to all. 

As a church, let us draw community into our love story, a place where whole selves are celebrated and love grounds all. 


Laura, again:

·      What role can Justice and Mission play in this “School of Love”?

·      I have become convinced that these instructions to love God, our neighbours (humans and all beings), and further… love our enemies,  help the poor, feed the hungry, be with the prisoner – these instructions were not so much for the benefit of the neighbour, or the prisoner, but rather these actions are important because of the ways they change us. The ways they open us, soften our overly simple judgements of good and bad.  The ways they fuel us with courage to stand for what is right not just what will be popular. 

·       Over and over through the years I have had the experience, and other people have told me the same thing, of thinking we were going to help others in some way, but instead we were helped, and humbled in the process.

·      It also goes back to the very first part of our “original instructions” that we heard in the scripture reading.  Love God.  In order to love anything you must have an experience of it.  You must know it.  Surveys report that the most common times that people report experiencing a sense of a Divine presence, or a profound connection to something beyond themselves, whether or not they would call God, are in nature, in times of deep despair, AND in times of serving others or a meaningful cause.

·      So here’s the thing.  You don’t need to be a Christian or go to church ever, to care about the Earth or want to make a difference in people’s lives.  Millions of people with no connection to this spiritual tradition work for positive change in the world day in and day out, year after year, and always have.  So why do it? Why give attention to what this guy, Jesus, had to say?  Why come to church?

·      Because if we, together, as church are doing our job well, if we are practicing our tradition as Jesus taught, you should be able to confidently tell your friends,“I go to church because it makes me a better lover!”

·      Seriously, everything we do, from chairing a meeting, to protecting rights to clean drinking water, to holding the hand of a grieving friend, should be growing our skills, knowledge, and opportunities to practice increasing our capacity to love and to receive love.  Even every little thing we do here on a Sunday morning from sing together, tell a story to the children, hear one another’s stories of love and change –all of these things should be opening us to love -  and if that’s not the case we should be asking ourselves how to make sure it does. 

·      So let’s review:

o  What are our original instructions? (Scripture)

o  As a church what will we aspire to be? (school of love)

o  And why come to church? (better lovers!)May it be so. 

Misfit Magic

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany, it really is that same word, as in, “I heard myself say that and had an epiphany—I am becoming my father.” Epiphany—a realization, a revelation, a moment of insight, when what was previously muddy or confusing, becomes crystal clear. On this Epiphany Sunday and the beginning of another calendar year, you and I receive a lot of invitations to seek—seek to be better, to improve ourselves, to finally make that change we’ve been meaning to make in our lives.

Today is the first Sunday in January, the first Sunday of the New Year. And while those of us following the liturgical calendar said, “Happy New Year” six weeks ago, on the First Sunday of Advent, we still have plenty of reminders that the rest of the world operates on this other calendar. Vitamins and dental floss are on sale at Shopper’s Drug Mart. Co-workers, friends, and extended family will ask you about your New Year’s resolutions. And for the next few weeks, you’ll have to wait in line to get on the exercise bike at the gym. 

It should also not surprise us that the first Sunday of the New Year gives us a text about a few worn-out travelers. I wonder how wise they are. I wonder how wise we are when it comes to our mental and physical health this time of year. It seems that everyone travels over the holidays, everyone goes on some sort of journey. Samantha and I are no strangers to this – by the end of our Christmas “holiday” on Tuesday, Sam and I will have spent time in four cities spanning three provinces. Despite two full weeks of that holiday being spent here in Newfoundland it seems like there still was not enough time to be spent with friends and family.

What is it about this time of year? As we furiously prepare for Christmas, it finally comes to us, those of us who are already exhausted, we come back a few days later ready to tackle a fresh New Year and rather than being rested by our “Vacationing” we are more worn out than ever from our “time away,” battling as some might be coughs, sniffles, and sore throats. Perhaps next year for Christmas I’ll get what I really want – and I’m guessing what some of you – really want, not presents or more shopping or a Rock em’ Sock em’ New Year’s Eve, but just a few more hours of relaxing by the fire and some sleep.

But perhaps that’s just not the way that the Christmas season is supposed to be. I’d like to tell you that the Bible gives us the rest we need, but it doesn’t. The Christ-child is born in Bethlehem and before you can say seven swans a swimming and six geese a laying, we are on to the next scene in this cosmic drama, and we see precisely what Karl Barth meant when he says Christmas begins an uprising against the powers of the world. Matthew throws us into an eternal story of epic heroism, a politically charged religious battle of life and death. Brutal King Herod rightly sensing that another one, a little baby, has been born who will challenge his strong-fisted government, sends these odd wise men, probably astrologers of some kind, on a quest to find the Christ-child. I’m always amazed at how differently the Bible depicts Christmas than how we see it in our homes, or in the world around us.

I saw an image on Facebook this past week. It was a beautiful scene of a desert, in the lower right hand corner were the three wise men on camelback, their eyes fixed on the upper left hand corner of the picture where the Star of Bethlehem is shining brightly. But in the middle of the image, right between the wise men and the star for which they had traveled so far, is a 30 foot wall, a wall that is snaking its ways along a border. On each side of the picture is a flag. One American. One Mexican.

So much for the notion that religion and politics don’t mix. You turn on the news, check Facebook, or go on Twitter this week and all you hear about is the US government shut-down and the border wall. All the Canadian networks have panellists discussing what this could mean for our country if this continues to go on south of the border for much longer. So much for finding some quiet hours in the New Year. So much for catching up on rest in the New Year, for King Herod’s New Year’s resolution is to slaughter Mary’s infant boy whose tender new-born hands pose a threat to the rule of the government. 

And so it is that this epic tale of life and death, of good and evil, of light and dark come these minor characters, the magi, who are about to play a major role. Now we do not know much about these travellers from scripture. We often call them kings, though they were far from royalty. In fact the bible does not even say how many of them there were. We assume three because of the three gifts that they brought. We do not know their names. We do not know where they are from, all we know is “from the East” and nothing more. 

And yet, the life of the Christ-Child rests on the unknowing shoulders of these mystery men, these Magi, not religious people at all, but rather these weird, misfit, out of the mainstream astrologers, with little to no knowledge of scripture or religious conviction. They just happen to walk across history’s stage at the right moment and find their feet scripted into a journey of darkness – a journey illumined by the bright light of God’s grace shining in the Eastern sky, shining into their misfit lives.

They are often portrayed as bumbling fools of sorts. They get lost. They are depicted in Christmas pageants wearing funny hats and bathrobes. They just don’t fit in and one has to ask the question why in the world would God allow the life of God’s own son to rest on the journey of these mis-fit men? And yet the Bible tells story after story about how God uses the misfits of the world to accomplish God’s purposes in the world, even non-religious astrologers like these can help bring about God’s good work in the world. Ironically, it is these mis-fits who have gifts they bring to the Christ-child.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit Frodo is the most unlikely candidate to carry the ring to its destruction, and yet he is given the task. “I wish I had never seen the Ring,” said Frodo. “Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?” “Such questions cannot be answered,” said Gandalf. “You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess; not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and wits as you have.” 

Like Frodo, all of us, in our own unique and misfit way have been chosen, we have been created to offer our gifts to God and God’s work in the world. Contrary to much mainstream thinking, when we try to follow Christ in our lives we do not begin to mirror the values around us, but rather we discover that our lives are increasingly at odds with the surrounding culture. Sometimes these moments of mis-fitness are easy to spot and sometimes they are not. 

I’m sure we all have felt that way as well, even though we try to live good lives, there may still be times when we feel like we do not belong, like somehow we don’t fit it. Whether we’re single or married (or somewhere in-between), whether we’re retired, working, or a student – every one of us, in some way or another can feel like a misfit at sometime, like we do not belong, like we do not feel at home in the world. Our lives can feel off-balance, maybe just be a few degrees, but enough to make us pause. And in that pause we might ask with Frodo, “Why me? I didn’t choose this quest, this script that I find myself in.” It is easy in that moment of pause for us to respond by saying, “Oh I want to fit in so badly, I’m just looking for normal.”

But the hope of the gospel is that God is not very interested in the normal and the mundane. God reveals time and time again that God can and will use anyone, even mis-fit magi, that God can and does love everyone, even you and I. There is no one that can escape that embrace. There is no one “too mis-fit” to be excluded by God.

This Epiphany story, is an improbable and ridiculous one. It is a story about wise magicians from a foreign land travelling to some far off country to bring a boy born in a back-water town gifts that are fit for a King. This story is absurd. But it only becomes more absurd from here – the poor will be blessed, the first will be last and the last will be first, and the son of God will be nailed to a cross. But this absurd story is an epic tale. A tale where we are all part of God’s work in the world.

In this New Year, in 2019, you and I – we can declutter our houses, eat better, and establish healthy habits this year. But we have an invitation from God and that is to travel with the misfit magi – it’s an invitation to seek something different, something besides self-improvement or goal achievement – it’s an invitation to be in relationship with God, revealed to us in the most ordinary and inconvenient moments of our lives, with forgotten, imperfect, misfit people in improbable and ridiculous circumstances. This invitation is one that says that “you are worthy” even when you feel that you are not. For in God’s story, you are valuable, not because of what you do or who you are or what you say or what circumstances exist in your live, but in God’s story you are valuable simply because you are a beloved child of God. You are worth knowing. You are worth loving. For that epiphany, thanks be to God. Amen.

The Best of All Gifts

            Gifts come in many forms. There are the ones that you can go out to the store and buy –sometimes deeply thoughtful. Then there are those gifts made with love – the homemade cards, cookies, cakes, wine, and crafts. Sometimes, maybe even most times the best gifts are a total surprise! They can’t be bought in stores and only come from the heart. Like the one Bill, Olivia, Pauline, and Tony got today with their children home for Christmas Eve. 

There are other kinds of gifts too. Help when someone needs it. A caring hug when life seems to be turned upside down or food when your cupboards are empty or a map when we’ve lost our way. There are times when I am tempted to believe, and maybe you are like me, that our gifts – what we have to offer each other and to God – are not enough. We swarm the malls looking for designer brands and great deals that we can wrap up in fancy bows. We second guess our purchases and we mull over our decisions – and it’s not just around the holiday season – in our work, in our friendships, and in our family life – we often doubt whether or not what we have to offer is enough. We listen to those voices in our heads that tell us terrible things like, “not good enough, you will never be good enough.” And then comes this night and this ancient story that reminds each and every one of us that all our gifts, no matter how big or how small, make all the difference in the world. 

Think about Mary and Joseph. They had nothing and the government tells them that they must travel all the way to Bethlehem – 157 km to get registered. Mary is great with child all because an angel came to visit her and tell her that she was favoured and chosen by God to bear God’s only son into the world. And somehow Mary summoned up the courage to say, “Yes.” Then, there is Joseph who is trying to accept the news that Mary is going to have a baby and somehow God most-holy is the father? Joseph found the courage to not only to stay, but also to be the earthly-father of the Christ-child. Both in their own ways gave gifts beyond our wildest imaging. 

            So the journey begins to Bethlehem. There is no public transit, no cars, and no easy way to Bethlehem. Mary, according to Luke, was “great with child.” So walking all that way was out the question. They were not rich enough to afford an animal to make the trip with. Perhaps someone along the way saw Mary’s struggle and gave the couple a donkey to make the journey easier. Maybe a family member was able to give them a loan of their donkey. This simple gesture was a gift that made the journey to Bethlehem possible. 

After a long and tiresome journey, that certainly must have lasted several days, they arrived in Bethlehem and the place was abuzz with people. Not only was it a major metropolitan centre, but because of the census people had flocked from all corners of Judea and further to be registered. Every corner of Bethlehem was filled with people and all the hotels and inns put up their “No Vacancy” signs. Mary and Joseph knocked on door after door. There was no place for them to go. Mary wondered where the baby would be born. Joseph wondered how he would keep his family safe. How would this baby that is coming survive without some kind of shelter? Door after door closed; door after door shut in their faces. Mary and Joseph were losing hope. Finally, one innkeeper offered the weary looking couple the stable out back. It was nothing much but it was sheltered. The animals kept the air warm. One “yes” made all the difference as Mary carefully wrapped her baby and laid him in the manger. 

            Seemingly insignificant acts can multiply into something greater than we could ever imagine. Did Mary and Joseph know that their courage was a gift? Did that stranger who offered Mary and Joseph the donkey know that they made it possible for the Messiah to arrive safely in Bethlehem? Did the innkeeper second guess himself before offering the couple the stable out back? Why would they want that? It’s a stable! It would be of no use to them? Perhaps, your simple gifts of time or presence could seem to another like a heaven-sent angel. 

            In our decisions every day we are like the innkeeper in Bethlehem that night. We decide whether or not there is room in the inn. Will we let those negative voices dictate what we have to offer? Or will we choose, like the innkeeper to give what we have trusting that it is enough. The beautiful simplicity of our gifts can touch others’ lives in ways far beyond imagining. It wasn’t much but it was all he had and it made all the difference to Mary and Joseph as they lay their tiny baby in that manger.  That small gesture may have seemed so simple, but it’s impact was so great that we gather here, over 2000 years later to remember it.

The most meaningful gifts are simple. They don’t come wrapped in fancy bows. They don’t have designer names or expensive price tags. They don’t come in 12 easy payments of $19.99. // The best and most meaningful gift is a baby, born in a manager. A gift so simple, but so profound. For that manger holds something inside of it that is bigger than our entire world – it is the gift of Emmanuel: God-with-us. It is a gift that is priceless. A gift that’s for you. A gift that’s for me. 

Tonight, as we celebrate the best gift of all, we must choose how to live in response to best of all gifts – our God with us. Will we close the door and say no vacancy here or will we be like the innkeeper and the donkey and shepherds and angels and Mary and Joseph who all gave their best?


Fruit of the Kingdom

It’s hard, but don’t get distracted by John the Baptism crying out, “You brood of vipers…” I know it’s hard because when I first read the scriptures set for this Sunday. I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Why do we always have to preach on John the Baptist two weeks before Christmas?” This close to Christmas we don’t know want to hear about sin and repentance or a man in the wilderness crying out, “You brood of vipers.” Especially on this third Sunday of Advent which is Joy Sunday. I was going to change the readings set for today and find something that seemed in keeping with Joy. 

            But I reconsidered. John the Baptist is the one who points the way to Jesus. He is the prophetic voice in the wilderness who points us in the direction of good news. Everything he is saying can’t be bad news. That means we must dig a little deeper. Repentance literally means a change direction. And couldn’t our world and even our own lives use a little change in direction? 

There are so many things right now that are frightening in our world. How many of you heard about the 7 year old refugee who died of dehydration while in the custody of US immigration. How is this possible? How is it possible in this world where so many have so much that there are people who do without? Who don’t have food or shelter or a safe place to live? Rachel Held Evans in her blog post on the Magnificat, which we read this morning, sums it up so well. “When sung in a warm, candlelit church at Advent, it can be easy to blunt these words, to imagine them as symbolic, non-specific, comforting.

But I’m not feeling sentimental this Advent. I’m feeling angry, restless. 

And so in this season, I hear Mary’s Magnificat shouted, not sung: 

In the halls of the Capitol Building…. 

"He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

In the corridors of the West Wing… 

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” …

With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces a birth, she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom—past, present, and future—that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve “greatness.” With the Magnificat, Mary declares that God has indeed chosen sides.And it’s not with the powerful, but the humble.” (https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/unsentimental-advent

This is the heart of John’s message to us. Repentance means a change in direction for our lives and our world. John isn’t preaching bad news and that is why the crowds came from far and near. They were looking for something. Hope? Joy? A new way of living in the world? Many of the people who made the journey to the world wilderness for the baptism of repentance were poor. There were also soldiers and tax collectors in the crowd. John invites them all to begin the journey by “bear[ing] fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8) John’s advice to us on turning our lives around, changing directions is remarkably simple. It’s something we can all do. 

            Listen to what John says, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11) Not so hard really. Isn’t what we all learned from our parents and at school? Share what you have with others. Now the tax collectors in the crowd are thinking, well what do I need to do to bear fruit worthy of repentance. John says to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” (Luke 3:13) In other words don’t cheat or lie so you can pocket the extra money. Notice what John doesn’t say. He doesn’t tell them to stop doing their job or collecting money for Rome. He says don’t cheat. Do your job with integrity. Now the soldiers want to know what they must do. John says to them, “Do not exhort money from anyone by threats or false accusations, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:14) So really don’t threaten people and be happy with what you have. 

            Bearing fruit worthy of repentance can change our world. Imagine what our lives and world would look like if all did what John said – share what we have; don’t cheat; don’t threaten people and be happy with what you have. I’m not going to tell you that this is always easy but it is something we can all do. Any change in direction and turning around will have its challenges. But we never do these things alone. God is with us. 

            John, even with his harsh words, points us to the good news that is coming to us on Christmas Eve. John’s words echo Mary’s words, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. His Mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. … he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, an sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46 – 47, 50, 52 – 53)

As we get ready for the joy of Christmas and the birth of the child who changes everything, we too can point the way to a world remade in God way. That is good news for us all. Amen. 


Today the countdown to Christmas begins. It is busy season in so many ways for people. We come to the place ready for some quiet and renewal for our souls and for the first Sunday of Advent we have two challenging readings. At first glance it seems that our readings are have completely different messages. Our reading from Luke sounds ominous and scary.“‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25 -28)

It doesn’t sound anything like Christmas. It doesn’t sound like hope and it is certainly different than our reading from Jeremiah which says, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lordis our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:15 – 16)The reading from Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, was written during the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah is being held hostage. What reason does he have to hope? And yet, he knows that they will be saved by that righteous branch that will rise up and execute justice.

It seems to me that we need both of these messages today. Things our world can sometimes seem like the passage from Luke – a bit scary.  Whether it is ever increase levels of carbon monoxide which is destroying habitat and changing our weather or the divisive rhetoric that is makes up our political landscape or the fact that hate crimes are on the rise. 

Dr. David Lose says that the root of all our troubles is fear. “Think about it. From Pharaoh in the first chapter of Exodus (v. 8-10) to today’s despots, fear is the means by which we turn those who are in some fashion different from us into an enemy, a people against whom we should war. Fear causes us to horde, assuming we will never have enough and seeing those around us as competitors for scarce resources. Fear drives wedges of distrust into our communities that fracture solidarity and compassion. Fear causes us to define ourselves and those around us not by what we share but by what makes us different. …Fear, in short, drives us inward, hardens our hearts, darkens our vision, and stunts our imagination.” (http://www.davidlose.net/2018/11/advent-1-c-courage/)

So how do we live? How do we set that fear aside and live in hope? The bible shows us the way – angels and prophets alike tell us, “Do not be afraid.”  Jesus invites to live in hope. After the people faint from tear and foreboding of what is coming, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up, and raise your heads, because your redemption is downing.” (Luke 21:28) 

There are signs of people standing up and raising their heads. On October 26that 1:30pm the service started at Bethel Church in The Hague and hasn’t stopped – not for one minute. All to protect an Armenian family whose asylum claim was denied. “The Tamrazyan family, including three children Hayarpi, Warduhi and Seyran, fled Armenia and have been living in the Netherlands since April 2010 while their claim for political asylum was being decided. But their case was rejected, and they've now been told to leave the country.” https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/29/europe/netherlands-church-service-deportation-intl/index.htmlThe congregation offered sanctuary to the family of five in order to protect the well-being of the children. Dutch law says that as long as the worship service is going on the police cannot not disrupt the service. “Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers in the Netherlands, told CNN the service will continue "as long as it's necessary.""We want to love God and our neighbor. And we thought that this was a clear opportunity to put the love for our neighbor into reality," he said. https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/29/europe/netherlands-church-service-deportation-intl/index.html

            Volunteers and clergy step in to lead the continuous service around the clock. Groups, choirs, and clergy from all across the Netherlands come to take their turn leading the service. One of the children, Hayarpi Tamrazyan who is 21 writes this of her faith and her experience of living in sanctuary: 

In these difficult times
Of darkness and grief
I lift up my head
And feel Your love in my heart.

In these difficult times
Of desperation, of anger
I lift up my hands
And praise You in my heart

In these difficult times
While I seem to be paralysed
I feel Your peace in my soul
And open my eyes to see Your grace…

No power and no devil
No grief and fear
Can separate You from me

I surrender myself
Let Your will be done
Your work is unimaginable
Your ways are in the light
How happily I walk with You
The Light of the world
The world… doomed and dead
But risen and renewed with You

My words fail
No words, no sentences
Can describe Your love
How thankful am I
How jubilant am I
While I am so tired
Hallelujah    Amen



 And here we find hope and the promise of a world made in God’s image. For now, we live in the in between times. Between that which was – the angels proclaiming the joyful birth of the one called “Emmanuel – God with us” and for that which will be – God’s coming reign of peace. In this in between time, we take courage from those stories of hope, stories of people who refuse to give into fear as we work for a better world. How shall we live? We live with God’s promise in one hand and hope in the other and that makes all the difference. Amen

Reimagining our church

5 Practices for Fruitful Congregations in a Post-Attractional Era By Robert Schnase

Robert Schnase is Bishop of the Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is the author of many books, most recently Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Revised and Updated (Abingdon Press, 2018. Available through Amazon).

“Most congregations operate with attractional assumptions. They imagine that a person, couple, or family becomes aware of their church, perhaps through the invitation of a friend, an advertisement on a billboard, or by driving past the sanctuary. Churches then hope that what the new persons hear or see will draw them toward the congregation. They assume that the visitors will share a common interest in the purpose of the church or feel a desire to form an affinity with the church. A yearning to learn, grow spiritually, belong, and serve will cause them to visit and will lead them to greater participation. We assume this is the pathway for entry into the church because it matches the experience of many people who currently belong.”

Schnase argues that in the past the culture expected people to attend worship and people wanted to be members of a church. He asks: “What happens when people no longer trust institutions in general or the church in particular? Or when next generations don’t share a taste for the style of music we offer in worship and don’t appreciate the one-way verbal communication of a sermon? Becoming a member of anything is unappealing to many people and does not motivate them to deepen their spiritual lives They are not seeking to join anything.”

‘What happens when generations of people living around us have no experience with worship, no vocabulary for understanding faith, no familiarity with scripture, and have never once stepped inside a church? The culture provides an ever-increasing number of competing activities on Sundays that are more compelling than church attendance. When people do not find the idea of church appealing, they are not attracted to what we do, no matter how well we do it.”

A significant Shift

What is required, according to Schnase, is a significant shift.

• “Come to us” ideas must be balanced with “go to them” initiatives.

• Strategies for doing things “better” must be strengthed with ideas of doing things “differently.”

• Teaching people to “do things our way” must be intermixed with “learning new things” from others.

• Doing ministry “for” becomes doing ministry “with.”

• Welcoming the guest expands to becoming a newcomer among others.

• Increasing activities “in the church” shifts toward offering ministries “beyond our facilities.”

• Making our church more interesting to others expands to becoming more interested in the spiritual needs and real-life issues of others.

• Receiving people in the spirit of Christ expands to being sent to people around us in the spirit of Christ.

The New Five Practices

Schanase argues that attractional models are helpful and necessary but not enough. “We need to develop ministries that derive from missional assumptions, activities that primarily benefit people who are not members of the church, often in places far away from their facilities. These ministries require a different posture toward our neighbors, a more deliberate outward focus, and a willingness to carry Christ’s love to where people already live and work and play, rather than hoping for people to come to us.” Cochrane Street United Church (CSUC) can build on what we are and extend our ministries to enclose these five practices.

1. Radical hospitality

CSUC is already a hospitable church. We welcome all to coffee and fellowship after Sunday worship. How can we carry this hospitability with us into our neighborhoods, work life, and our lives during the rest of the week? Can we form relationships with people who live next door?

2. Passionate worship

What happens Sunday morning is important. But, how can worship beyond Sunday morning to also become “mobile, portable, on the move, going where people live, and work, and play”?

3. Intentional faith development

Can we focus more on “experiental learning, mentoring, spiritual formation, and forming relationships” in addition to offering content-based education in Bible studies and Sunday school classes?

4. Risk-taking mission and service

How can we do ministry with those in need? What are the needs?

5. Extravagant generosity

Can we help people learn to love generosity as a way of life and not just a way of supporting the church

Selection from A Song of Faith

We are called together by Christ, as a community of broken but hopeful believers,

loving what he loved, living what he taught, striving to be faithful servants of God

in our time and place. Our ancestors in faith bequeath to us experiences of their faithful living; upon their lives our lives are built. Our living of the gospel makes us a part of this communion of saints, experiencing the fulfillment of God’s reign even as we actively anticipate a new heaven and a new earth.

The church has not always lived up to its vision. It requires the Spirit to reorient it,

helping it to live an emerging faith while honoring tradition, challenging it to live by grace rather than entitlement, for we are called to be a blessing to the earth. AmenSCRIPTURE RELATED TO STRATEGIC PLANNING

Paul wrote letters to the early church. These selections pertain to the need for planning, or what to include in planning.

1 Corinthians 14

• God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (verse 33)

Ephesians 2: 4

Verses 1-16 is entitled Unity in the Body of Christ.

• I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all, and in all. (verses 1-6)

• To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it …. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets. Some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…. Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (verses 7-16)

Verses 17-32 is entitled Living as Children of Light. The advice is a code of how to work together. I encourage a full read of this section. I include a few examples:

• Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body….Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Colossians 3: 12-17

The first section in this chapter is entitled Rules for Holy Living. It stresses the need for unity, as this selection reveals:

• Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Lest We Forget

This week, Carrie’s school, like many had their annual Remembrance Day Assembly. The grade four and five choir sang “Take One Minute to Stand.” Since then the words have been floating through my mind. “Take one minute to stand all across this land, just one minute to stand an remember. The 11th month, the 11th day, the 11th hour we stop and say. We remember, we will never forget.” And as the words of the song floated through my mind, I could see the faces of the young men from honour included in our book, I remembered standing next to the Vimy Ridge covered with names of young Canadians, I remembered the haunting grave stone with the Caribou of the Newfoundland Regiment inscribed with the words, “Known only to God”  and standing in front of the danger tree at Beaumont Hamel knowing that in 30 minutes more than 700 hundred were people were killed. The countryside of France and Belgium is dotted with cemeteries filled soldiers who died on both sides of the war.

And my heart breaks when I think of the loss. Not just in WWI but in WWII, the Korean War, in Afghanistan, and in the many places Canadian peace keepers have died. So many have given their lives for a world of peace and we must remember their sacrifice. The act of remembering is a holy. Holy because we are doing two things at once. We are giving thanks for the veterans who gave so much at same time as we also look for ways to ensure the peace that they fought for lives on.  Our reading from the book of Isaiah holds the promise of what our world would like if peace abounded. It is this kind of peace that we must strive for in communities, in our country and in our world. Isaiah writes: 

“ In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:2 -4)

One commentator writes, “Isaiah draws attention away from the gaze on military might and toward the reign of God. Jerusalem is not the beleaguered people under threat, but the center of life-giving teaching, the flourishing of life, and a source of light for all people. When our gaze shifts from a horizon of fear to a horizon of hope, trust in God grows deep roots that sustain life.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2236 

That is what we are about as a people of faith. Today the holy act of remembering is also an invitation to live into that world where swords become plowshares and spears are pruning hooks and no one will learn the art of warfare. It is our job, it is our calling as followers of the way of Jesus to do the holy work of remembering so that we can strive for that day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation” (Isaiah 2:4) In the beatitudes Jesus is teaching us how to be about God’s work in the world. He says in verse nine “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Theses blessings turn the world upside down because Jesus invites us to follow a path that puts others first. 

Today we take one minute to stand and remember and give thanks. Today and every day we live into the calling to be peacemakers in our world. Amen. 

The Ties that Bind

The course I did a couple of weeks ago was in Hamilton, Ontario. For me it was a bit like a homecoming. I grew up in Halifax but I was born in Hamilton. I spent almost all my summers as a child making the long drive from Halifax to Hamilton to visit my paternal grandparents. As I sat on the bus from Toronto to Hamilton, I was transported back in time. I felt like I was sitting in the back seat of the blue Dodge Aspen beside my brother watching for the Dundurn Castle, the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Hamilton Spectator building. These were the signs that we had almost arrived at my grandparents’ house. I still remember their address on St. Clare Avenue. We loved it there, even though the attic where we slept has stifling hot and my grandmother jumped every time the screen door slammed shut. There was always something special about these visits.

My first morning in Hamilton, I called a cab to take me to see my grandparents’ house. I took pictures and remembered my grandparents and those childhood summers and gave thanks. Somehow, we are bound together over time and those connections don’t fade away with the passage of time or death. Those who’ve gone before, like my grandparents and people I don’t even know, all leave a mark on us. We are bound in ways that I can’t explain to the previous generations and the generations that will follow us. This is the beauty of the great cloud of witnesses – those saints who’ve travelled the path of faith before us. Paul writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1 – 2)

Those connections, those ties that bind are woven through scripture. That is certainly true of our gospel reading. Jesus wasn’t telling the scribe anything he did not know or hadn’t heard before. Jesus was quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding your today in your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:4 – 6) Jesus learned these words as an infant. He touched them every day on the way in and out of his house. … hear O Israel: The Lord is our God… Jesus had these words written on his heart in the same way we have the words of the Lord’s prayer or the 23rdPsalm written on ours. They were passed down to him from generations of the faithful just like Jesus commandment has been handed down to us.

Normally when scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees are introduced into a gospel story we think that they are out to set a trap for Jesus. That is what happened moments before today’s gospel. It says, “One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked, “Which commandment is first of all?” (Mark 12:28) Jesus tells him that the greatest commandment is to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength and that the second is just like it, love your neighbour as yourself. Then the scribe agrees with Jesus and then adds “this is much more important than all whole burn offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33) Then Mark writes, “When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34)

It’s not often in the gospels that we have Jesus commending a scribe. But here you have it. This scribe understands the heart of God’s message to us. Love God with all that we have and love our neighbour as ourselves. When we carry this message in our hearts and live this message each day we are doing what all the faithful who’ve gone before have done. It is binds us together as one people.

Today as we gather for gifts are bread and wine, we are connected with so many who like us gather at God’s table. A friend of mine shared this quote with me about the communion rail, "Some church structures have a communion rail inside that completes a circle with the graves of the saints awaiting resurrection on the outside of the building. I love the imagery that we commune with that great cloud of witnesses. This meal is both for the strengthening of those living and for the sure and certain hope of the blessed dead."


It is when our souls nourished by gifts and bread and wine that we can do the challenging work of loving our neighbours as ourselves. Because, when we love our neighbours as ourselves the things that are often seen barriers come tumbling down. When we love our neighbour as ourselves race, social status, sexual orientation, wealth, poverty, position can no longer divide us. We are bound together as one people loved by God. The suffering of others becomes our suffering and we must help. Paul says it best in Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer salve or free, there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

We are one. Bound together from one generation to the next following in that way of love. Together we can transform our world as we live into the promise of loving our neighbours as ourselves. By God’s grace all things are possible. Amen.

Mandy Penney and Miriam Bowlby talking Jesus, Healing and Disabilities


I am thankful that Mandy agreed to help out today. A few months ago the text set for the day was one the healing stories. I started wondering what it was like to hear those healing stories and have an illness or disability. Whether it is the promises in the old testament that on the day that God comes the blind will see and the lame will walk or Jesus healing the man born blind or healing Lazarus after being dead or the hemorrhaging woman – there are many stories. But I know that in our daily lived experience miracles don’t always happen. There are people who born with or develop illnesses that don’t go away. I asked Mandy to help me out and to share her thoughts. I sent her a list of miracles stories from the gospel of Mark and she picked the one we heard today. My job today is to ask questions and share the biblical context. Mandy is going to share her insights and impressions of the story from Mark and her lived experience.

Before we begin talking about Jesus, healing and disabilities, I thought it might be helpful to learn a little bit about Mandy.

MandyShares her background.

· Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) in Psychology and Sociology

· Bachelor of Social Work

· Training Support Facilitator/Inclusion Crew Coordinator with Inclusion NL, which is a program within Empower, the Disability Resource Centre. We work with businesses/employers on becoming more accessible, inclusive and comfortable working with persons with disabilities.

· Enjoys volunteering at long term care, events within Cochrane Centre, Raise Up Fundraising, learning American Sign Language class, working out at the gym, and rock climbing, among other things.

Miriam:Can you help us out with some context. Can you give us a definition of disability and maybe the difference between disability and barrier free?


It might be best if we tell the difference between disability and accessibility. Disability focuses on healing the individual, whereas accessibility is about removing barriers in our communities that limit peoples’ participation. Accessibility is for everyone because as we age we will experience barriers within our daily lives. Additionally, if the world was fully accessible “disability” would not exist. For example, if each book had a line of large print, braille, and an audio CD in the back the world alternate format would not exist. Some groups we might assume as having disabilities do not see themselves as having a disability but as belonging to a culture. Those who use ASL see themselves as knowing another language. In fact, there is a movement to make ASL/LSQ Canada’s third official language.

Miriam:Give me some sense of how many people experience barriers?

· It is 14% of the population and 75,000 in NL

· Who experiences barrier in their daily living?

· Who wears:

o Glasses?

o Contacts?

o Hearing aids?

o Dentures?

o Orthidic footwear?

o Canes?

o Arthritis?

o Colour-blindness?

· Did you know that the onset of disability is age 40 – 45?

Some of you who are at that age or beyond might agree with me.

o As we age we develop conditions that create barriers to our life

§ When we are younger we might be able to run up three flights of stairs but we might always be able to do so.

· Who has ever used the accessibility features at Cochrane Street United Church?

o The lift

o Elevator

o Automatic buttons

· This highlights the accessibility movement, where we focus less on the individual and more on removing all barriers so that everyone can be included

· Which is why I picked this story because it focuses on fixing the barrier not the person.


This story happens very early in Jesus ministry. Jesus has just called the first disciples and has started teaching and healing. The word about the amazing ways that Jesus changes peoples’ lives is spreading from community to community. By the time chapter two starts there are so many people surrounding the door where Jesus is teaching that no one could get close to Jesus.

Four many brought a paralyzed man to Jesus but when they arrived they could not even get close to the door. So they removed the roof above Jesus was teaching, dug through the sod and lowered the paralyzed man so he was right in front of Jesus. When Jesus sees his faith, he says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5) The scribes started muttering and complaining among themselves. “Why does this fellow speak in this way? Its blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7)

Jesus doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. He says to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgive,’ or to says, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” (Mark 2:8 – 11) The man does just as Jesus says.

Mandy, can you share a little about what stands out for you in this story?


· They did not quit when they could not get their friend through the front door

· They worked to make it possible for him to access Jesus because they valued their friend

· Friends really must have cared about them so the individual must be valuable and have strengths

· Did not complain about having to do that, they did not blame the man for needing their help. Sometimes, we see accessibility as being too much work or too expensive. However, it is too expensive not too.

o If is right to become more accessible

o If members can continue in their faith as they age then the church community can continue

o The spending capital of individuals with disabilities and their families is 55.4 billion dollars annually

Miriam:What does it mean to hear in this story that sin and disability are considered the same thing?

Mandy:I do not understand the connection between disability and sinning because this has always been my lived experience. However, as we age, we often experience health concerns that limit our daily lives even if we believe we are good then how does that relate to sinning? I think that was used a way to cope with the fear of developing an illness. “Oh, that person must have sinned to become like that! That won’t happen to me because I am a good person!”

The thing about faith is that not everything has to be understood and our understanding is always changing. My faith may be strong one moment and weak the next.


The connection between sin and disability was different in Jesus’ time. Two thousand year ago, any type of disability whether it is being born blind, leprosy, a hemorrhaging woman, or being paralyzed meant that either the person or someone in the family must have sinned. In order to get forgiveness and healing you had to go and present yourself to the priest at the temple. I’m guessing this would not have been easy. The temple probably wasn’t accessible.

In many ways Jesus defied expectations by offering healing on the spot. That’s what made the scribes so mad. Throughout the gospels, Jesus spends his time with are the sinners and tax collectors. These are all people who are on the margin of society. Jesus tells the scribes it does not make a difference whether he says “get up and walk” or “your sins are forgiven”. For Jesus what matters most is restoring people to their community. I think that the kingdom of God that Jesus speaks of is barrier free because everyone has a place in the kingdom. Healing can take on many forms. Maybe it is being able to walk again or sight being restored or maybe it is having a community or the resources you need to live a full life.

What does healing mean for you?


We all wish for healing, not just persons with disabilities. We ask “why me?” Why is this unfortunate event happening to me? I do not ever remember wishing to be healed, but I do remember wishing for a pony then looking all over my house the next morning, so I am curious as to when my pony is going to appear.

Healing to me is healing or fixing society’s barriers and not the person. Removing barriers so that everyone can participate in the community and church. Making churches accessible so we can stay connected as our life situations change.

Miriam: How is your lived experience helped you to grow person:

Disability as teacher




Makes you motivated because it takes more effort

Good at planning


Miriam: Where do you find hope?

Mandy:Hope in actions! Seeing people work towards creating an accessible work, where people with disabilities can find work and live in safe, affordable and comfortable homes like the ones at Cochrane Centre!

When I graduated university for the second time and could not find an affordable home and I could not find a job because I could not find a home I became hopeless. This cycle was extremely frustrating. I do not like to sit and wait for things to work out, I like to take action. My hope was restored when I found an apartment and started coming to CSUC. Now when I experience frustrating situations I loo back on that situation and remember that things will work out.

For God All Things Are Possible

Even though it is a challenging reading, even Jesus is blunt and even though what Jesus asks seems impossible. I really like this reading from Marks gospel. It begins with someone looking to go deeper into his faith and looking to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to sell everything he has, give it to the poor and follow him. It’s a hard request – especially when we have so much in this part of the world. But even though it hard, there is something special about the it.  Woven through the challenging parts is good news for us. We hear the same story in Matthew with one important difference. It happens in verse 21. “Jesus, looked at him, loved him...” The starting place for Jesus’ challenge is love. That’s what makes the good news good. Jesus looks at him … looks at us and loves us. Everything after that is somehow manageable even it is hard, even if it seems impossible. 

            In Mark’s version of this story, Jesus is leaving – likely at this point a reference for Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and crucifixion. When a man comes up and kneels before Jesus and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) Jesus reminds him that only God is good and then says, “‘You know the commandments: You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:19) I imagine the man in our reading creating a check list in his mind, going – do that, do that, do that. Then he tells Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” (Mark 10:20)

            It is then that we have the all important verse 21. “Jesus, looked at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21) I’m guessing that Jesus knows before the words are out of his mouth, that the man is not going to be able to follow through. I’m guessing that Jesus knows his big ask is going to diminish this man’s desire to take the next step in his quest for faith. What Jesus asks is counter cultural and demanding. And it doesn’t even matter the time period – then or now it is hard.

            Then and now wealth and prosperity are viewed as blessings from God above. If you have a lot then somehow God is smiling down upon you. You don’t need to look very hard today for signs this understanding of God. I’m sure you’ve heard it. “If you work hard enough, if you pray hard enough, then God will grant you the gifts of success and wealth.” In the world of the spiritual but not religious you hear the same kind of messages, people say things like, “You just need to visualize success and it will come to you because you’ve focused your positive energy on success and wealth.” 

            It’s a nice theory. But we’ve all met people whose faith is deep and abiding whose lives aren’t filled with success and wealth. We’ve met people who’ve visualized a better life and it never happens. So there is a problem with seeing wealth and success as a sign of God’s blessing. God’s love is for everyone not just a select few.

            What Jesus does in this reading is turn the idea of wealth as blessing upside down. Instead of being a blessing, wealth is what is keeping you from taking the next step in faith. I’m not sure that Jesus’ problem was necessarily with young man’s wealth so much as with what happens to people who choose wealth as their master. When something like wealth becomes your master then the priority becomes accumulating more, instead of looking inward at faith and looking outward to the people who need help. Jesus’ teaching in the previous chapters have focused on storing treasure in heaven and reminding people that you cannot serve two masters.

            When the rich man walks away shocked and grieving, because he has many possessions, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “How hard will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23) And the disciples can’t understand what Jesus is saying. Perhaps they are thinking if the wealthy – in their mind the blessed ones—can’t get into heaven then what chance do we have? Jesus, notices their confusion says, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:26) You can imagine what the disciples’ reaction is going to be. “What are you talking about Jesus?” Especailly when you remember that many of the disciples left everything behind to follow Jesus. So they ask “Then who can be saved?” 

            Jesus then gets to the heart of the story. Jesus looks at the disciples and says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (Mark 10: 27) Jesus is pointing us to something bigger. It is God who makes the impossible possible. When Jesus looked at the rich man and loves him before he tells him what he must do, changes the story. Jesus doesn’t tell the rich man to go and sell everything because he is testing him or because he is trying to make a point about wealth or set an impossible task for him. Jesus loves him right then and there as he is. Jesus knows that grace will be offered and that even though he walks away grieving, God is still at work. And if this man is willing to keep asking deep questions of faith, who knows what will be possible in the future. 

            Jesus then offers one last teaching. He says, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive hundredfold now in this age houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecution and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Mark 10:29 – 30) Sometimes I’ve heard the news of the first being last and the last being first as challenging or unfair. When I was listening to the Pulpit Fiction podcast this week,  I heard something I’d never heard or thought about before. Even if you are last in the kingdom of God, you are still in the kingdom of God. It opened my eyes to the amazing good news that is offered to each one of us. Jesus says to the disciples, whether you are first or last everyone has the gift of eternal life in God’s kingdom. It is not about who is getting left out because everyone has a place in God’s kingdom. 

            There are no exceptions to this. It doesn’t matter if we walk away grieving because we can’t seem to go the next step in our faith. It doesn’t matter that we can’t quit seem to give up everything to follow Jesus. The most important thing is that we strive to follow Jesus by caring for the world and helping others. As we travel the road of faith, we have the promise of grace which makes all the difference. The good news is for us all – the first, the last, for you and for me. God’s grace makes the impossible possible. And it is by God’s grace means we all find our place in God’s kingdom. What remains is to give thanks for this grace each day. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

Don't Worry... Consider the Lilies of the Field

            All week, from the moment I read our gospel reading for today, well really from the moment I read the title to our reading, “Do not Worry” I’ve had ear worm. I’ve been humming Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t worry. Be happy” either out loud in mind since Monday. The tune is catchy and makes you want to dance. “Here's a little song I wrote. You might want to sing it note for note. Don't worry, be happy. In every life we have some trouble. But when you worry you make it double. Don't worry, be happy.” 

            I’m not sure that Jesus message is as simple as don’t worry be happy. But there is no mistaking Jesus point. He says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” I hear the words Jesus words, “Don’t worry” and I smile to myself because I know that even though Jesus told me not to. I’m going to worry. I’m a professional multi-generational worrier. Jesus saying, “Don’t worry” has had little impact on my ability to cease worrying. 

When it comes to worry, I know I’m not alone. I talk to people who worry about everything from the state of the world to their children to their parents to how they are going to make it through the day. This got me wondering about what Jesus was trying to teach us if at some point all of have spent time worrying. Maybe Jesus teaching is not so much about not worrying ever period. Maybe it is more about the power we give to those worries. This morning’s reading from Matthew follows some of Jesus most powerful and memorable teachings. Chapter 5 opens with the beatitudes… “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:3 -4) and closes with the imperative to love our enemies. Chapter 6 offers teaching on prayer, in particular the prayer that is written in our hearts – the Lord’s Prayer. 

            It is in this context that Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat or what we will wear. Instead of worrying, Jesus invites us to “Consider the lilies of the field. How they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28 – 29) “So do not worry,” says Jesus, “instead strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:33 – 34)

            I think, and it is only my best guess, that Jesus also lived in a time when people worried. Then it was about being free from oppressive Roman rule and likely for many who followed Jesus having enough food to eat. Then, like now, there are a lot of things competing for people’s attention and people’s hearts. Jesus is not trying to say food is not important, Jesus is inviting us to put things into perspective. We can’t spend every minute of the day worrying because if we do, there is no time for the work of the kingdom. There is no time to comfort the grieving or care for others. 

            “So consider the lilies who neither toil nor spin” says Jesus. Jesus isn’t talking about the regal white lilies we often see in flower shops. Jesus is talking about beautiful red flowers that are much like our dandelions. They are weeds. They grow in cracks in the concrete. They fill fields with their vibrant colour. They grow everywhere and like dandelions even in places they aren’t supposed to. As we consider these lilies we are reminded that God’s love is tenacious and grows everywhere. 

            Jesus invites us to consider those lilies so that we can open our eyes and see past the worry to the beauty that is around us in the world and give thanks. Each day is a gift. Each day is filled with unexpected moments of grace. And if we spend all our time worrying we miss what God is doing in the world. 

I’m not likely to give up worrying completely. It’s not really in my DNA. But I can lay those worries aside to take time to give thanks for the world and people around me. I can pause to give God thanks for the abundance of gifts that are ours. God’s gifts are given to us freely with no expectation of return. Diana Butler Bass in her book Gratefulwrites, “…far more often, Jesus speaks of a wildly untargeted God – one who lavishes drunken wedding guests with even more and finer wine, who throws seed around with abandon, who issues invitations to the unnamed poor to dine, who throws a party for a profligate son, and who multiplies fish and bread so that thousands might eat not once but twice. On a massive crowd relentlessly pursuing him, he showers blessings, “Blessed are the poor! Blessed are those who hunger! (Matt. 5:3, 6) Standing up on an ancient hill, Jesus yells out; “Presents for everyone!” These gifts are not targeted. They simply are.” (Grateful. Diana Butler Bass page 26 – 27)

Jesus tells us, “Do not worry… consider the lilies” because God’s gift of grace to us means we can lay aside those worries that consume our time for a moment to give thanks for the gifts given to us each day. Gifts like bread and wine to nourish our souls. Gifts like grace and mercy. Gifts like beauty and wonder. Gifts like community and friendship. 

Take a minute today and every day to consider the lilies – those parables of God’s grace that help us know that God’s love is a gift that is always with us. Amen. 

Esther's Courage

The Book of Esther remarkable in so many ways. First and foremost, it tells the story of a woman in a time when women’s voices were not considered important. It is one of the few standalone books of the bible. God is not mentioned once in the entire book and yet ever present as this tale unfolds. It is a tale of intrigue and social politics. In order to understand our readings for today, we need a little background to understand how Esther becomes the Queen Esther. The book of Esther takes place in Persia under the reign of King Ahasuerus.

            King Ahasuerus is in the mood for serious celebration, we don’t know why. He declares that there will be a seven day celebration for all the people in the palace. And the king knows how to throw a party. It says in the first chapter of Esther “Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished in accordance with the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired.” (Esther 1:7 – 8) Queen Vashti did the same for the women.

            Queen Vashti was very beautiful and the King on the seventh day of merrymaking decided he wanted to show her off his beautiful wife. And by show off, the King meant show up at the party wearing nothing but her crown. In anytime this was a terrible and crude request. The Queen may have hosted a celebration but she still had a sense of dignity and refused the Kings command. 

            This was a big problem for the King. This was a time when women were considered property and they had to do what is asked of them. You could not refuse a command even if it was crude. The king was both annoyed because she refused and not sure what to do next because he was so used to getting his own.  He consulted with his royal advisors who were also terrified that their wives would follow Queen Vashti’s lead and stop listening to them. Then the country would be in a real mess. They advised the king to depose Vashti and choose a new, more obedient Queen. 

            The king ordered that the most beautiful virgins in the country are paraded in front of the king as though it were a beauty pageant. One of those young women was Esther. Esther was a Jewish girl and an orphan. She was raised by her cousin Mordecai who adopted her and raised her as his own daughter. The Jewish people living in Persia at this time were part of the diaspora who were captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Esther quickly won the kings favour and he gave her special cosmetic treatments, her share of food and seven servants. Esther did not tell the King that she was Jewish because Mordecai advised her not too.

            After a period of testing, the King decided that he loved Esther best of all the virgins and made her Queen. During this time the King promoted Haman and gave him more responsibility. Haman did not like Mordecai because he refused to bow down to him. Mordecai followed the ten commandments. You shall not worship other gods. Mordecai was faithful to God alone. Haman decided he wanted all the Jews in the land killed. He persuaded the King that this was a good idea. When Mordecai heard about the devastation that was to befall his people he begged Esther to do something about it. 

            At first Esther refused. She knew that if she went to the king without being called she would die unless he raised his royal sceptre. Mordecai replied to Esther saying ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’ Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’” (Esther 4:12 – 16)

            Esther was wise and courageous. After the fast she went to the king and he raised his sceptre. The king asked what she wanted. He would give her anything, even it was half of his kingdom. Esther invited the King and Haman to a banquet she was preparing. The King enjoyed the banquet and asked Esther what she would like. Again, Esther invited Haman and the King to another banquet. 

            On the second night the King offered to grant Esther any request even it if it half of his kingdom. Esther said, “‘If I have won your favour, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.’” (Esther 7:3 – 4) The king rose and demanded who would do such a thing and Esther pointed to Haman. 

            And with that Esther saved her life and the lives of all the people of Israel living in Persia. One act of courage changed the course of history. Courage takes on many forms. Esther was raised as a person of faith. She knew the stories of God’s deliverance and through her courage she helped her people. Esther’s faith and courage are celebrated every year at the feast of Purim. We can learn from Esther’s courage. We too can stand up for what is right. We can speak out when we see injustice. It is particularly important to stand up today as All of this takes courage. 

Think of the people who’ve lived with courage down through the ages. Scott and watched the movie Selma this week about Martin Luther King Jr. march from Selma to Montgomery. It took courage demonstrate in peace for the right to vote. It wasn’t just one person – it was thousands upon thousands who stood up for what was right. Think of the courage it for Christian Blassey Ford testifying about her own terrifying experience of sexual violence. Think of Phyllis (Jack) Webstat who shared her experience of residential schools so that we can all remember those who suffered at residential schools and those who died while in residential schools and intergenerational survivors of residential schools. 

Courage takes on so many forms. A while ago I read this story of courage that has its roots in a meal.

“During the Everest climbing season last May, just 1000 feet from the top of the world, 24-year-old Israeli law student Nadav Ben-Yehuda noticed a 64-year-old Turkish man, Aydin Irmak, lying in the snow with no gloves, no oxygen, no shelter as other climbers streamed past him in their quest for the summit. 

Climbers know instantly 26,000 feet is the infamous 'death zone' where the lack of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life for any length of time. Exposure in that zone quickly leads to acute mountain sickness, hypothermia and, most often, death.

In the death zone of Everest, there is no time for inaction. In an instant, Nadav relinquished his summit bid and put all efforts into Aydin's rescue. Nine hours later, Nadav arrived at base camp having saved the life of Aydin. 

What makes this story remarkable is that Turkey and Israel have long been nations with relations icier than the slopes of Everest. Nadav's act not only saved a life, but also bridged a distance between inimical countries. When asked why he relinquished his dream of conquest and instead stopped to help, Nadav answered, "Because we had shared a meal together." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-hickman/eating-with-the-enemy-est_b_1916776.html?utm_hp_ref=religion)

            Sometimes courage has its roots is a simple meal. Courage is something countless numbers of people have shown over the generations as they stand for what is right and just. As we live our lives of faith, let us to have the courage to stand up for what is right for our community, for the earth and for our world. God is with us as we proclaim our faith and seek to live justly in our community and world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Kingdom of God

            One of my favourite things about Mark’s gospel is the disciples. They never seem to understand what Jesus is doing or saying. Sometimes they half get it but then do the totally wrong thing in response. They make me feel so much better about the number of times I get things wrong – especially when it comes to following Jesus. If the disciples, the people Jesus chose to follow him, can mess up, fail to understand what Jesus is saying, well that gives me a lot of hope for my own faith journey.

            Our reading for today follows just after the transfiguration – that holy moment on the where God blesses Jesus say, “This is my son the beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7) Most of the disciples may not know what happened up on the top of the mountain, but they do know things are different with Jesus. The way he teaches about God is different than any other teacher and Jesus can heal people in amazing ways. 

            Our reading this morning picks up as they are returning home to the area around the Galilee. Jesus wants time to teach his disciples and that was impossible if there are crowds around. When they finally get to that quiet place, Jesus says for the second time to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” (Mark 9:31) The very next line says it all. “But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask.” (Mark 9:32)

            I’ve been there – maybe you’ve been there. Too afraid to ask the question that was on your mind. There are a hundred reasons why we do this. Sometimes we are worried about how it will look to others in the room if we ask or sometimes we imagine that everyone else understands and we don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t. Sometimes we just assume that it is a stupid question. In this case it seems like a strange response because Jesus clearly wants them to understand what he is saying to them. It’s the second time he’s told them. The first time, we heard about last week when Peter gets mad at Jesus for saying he must suffer and die. Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but human things” (Mark 8:33) This week everyone is pretending to know what’s going on because they are too afraid to ask what this all means. They miss a great opportunity to understand more about Jesus ministry and mission. 

            See what I mean about the disciples. They don’t always get it right. And it doesn’t really get better for them as the reading goes on. After the teaching Jesus and the disciples head to Capernaum. When they finally get in the house, Jesus asks the disciples, “What were you arguing about on the way?” (Mark 9:33) No one answers him. Jesus asks and the room gets that nervous kind of quiet and not because they didn’t know the answer. They know but they also know that somehow Jesus knows and they’ve been caught. The Message translates it this ways, “The silence was deafening – they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.” (Mark 9:34) Yup these are the disciples – the ones Jesus himself picked to follow and to carry on his message. 

            Somehow, I find their missteps as disciples comforting. Who among us hasn’t found themselves in the middle of a foolish argument that totally misses the point of what’s important. Fortunately for us Jesus doesn’t roll his eyes or do shake his head in embarrassment or do what one of my children when I say something foolish – hand to forehead shaking their heads in disbelief. Jesus sits down and then invites the twelve to sit and listen. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:36). Then Jesus takes a child, and holds that child in his arms and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)

            This is what the kingdom of God is like. To our modern ears and even to the disciples ears what Jesus says makes no sense. We all want to come first, win the race, be the best, earn the most, gain the prize in short be the greatest. But Jesus is the one who turns the world upside down. The logic of the kingdom of God and the logic of our world are completely different things. It’s what Jesus told Peter last week, “you are setting your mind not on divine things but human things” (Mark 8:33) Every day, we are bombarded by reminders that the greatest in our world are those who win, those who make the most money, those who are famous. Jesus says no to all of that. Jesus reminds that greatness is found in putting others first. Jesus puts one of the most vulnerable in society in the midst, a child, and reminds them to welcome those who need our care and attention. 

It’s not very often we have someone say to us in order to be the greatest you must not only come last but serve others. If we could all follow the example of serving others, our world would be transformed. Dr. David Lose writes, “In the first-century world, as you know, children were of no account. Oh, of course, their parents loved them, but they had no rights, no influence, no standing. They were utterly dependent, utterly vulnerable, utterly powerless. So how could caring for a child count as greatness? It’s crazy. Or is it? Think about it for a minute: What if Jesus is right? I mean, what if we imagined that greatness wasn’t about power and wealth and fame and all the rest, but instead we measured greatness by how much we share with others, how much we take care of others, how much we love others, how much we serve others. What kind of world would we live in? Can you imagine if people were regularly trying to out-do each other in their deeds of kindness and service? If there were nationally broadcast competitions to see who was willing to be last so that others could go first? If there were reality TV shows that followed people around as they tried to help as many people as possible?” (https://www.davidlose.net/2018/09/pentecost-18-b-a-different-kind-of-greatness/)

            That, my friends, is the life Jesus invites us all to. It is not easy follow live into the promise of God’s kingdom. We won’t always get it right – just like the disciples. But like them we will keep trying. There is something so amazing about the logic of the Kingdom of God where signs of greatness are marked by helping others. Jesus tells how to make it happen. Put others first. Help others. Serve those who are suffering. Care for the earth. It is only when greatness equals caring for the most vulnerable in our midst will God’s kingdom be fully realized. Until that great day we must strive to care for those who need our help in particular those who are most vulnerable. Let us go into the world with our mind fixed on divine things so that together, we can follow in Jesus’ way of greatness. Amen 

Who Do You Say That I Am?

I love the two questions that Jesus asks of the disciples in our gospel reading. Who do people say that I am? And Who do you say that I am? These are two crucial questions for our life of faith. And Jesus asks them at such a crucial time in our gospel reading. Our reading falls at the midpoint of the Gospel of Mark just before the transfiguration. Up to this point, the focus of Jesus ministry is healing and teaching. The transfiguration, the holy moment on the mountain, which we usually hear about just before Lent, follows right after today’s reading. This is the moment that moves Jesus from his teaching and healing ministry to his journey to Jerusalem. The things that Jesus says and does in our reading for today are laying the foundation for what is to come.

At first it seems like an ordinary moment. Jesus and the disciples are on the way to Caesarea Philippi. While they are walking, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) It is almost as though Jesus is trying to get the pulse on what is happening in the community. What are people saying about me? The disciples come up with a great list, “John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. It is a pretty good list. But that is not enough. Jesus pushes a little further and says, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) Peter without hesitation says, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:30) Jesus tells them not to tell anyone. He goes on to tell them that the son of man must suffer and die. This is too much for Peter. The kind of messiah that Peter is expecting doesn’t suffer and die – the lead rebellions and change the political landscape. So Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Jesus. Jesus puts a stop to it saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)

There is so much that is packed into 6 verses questions of identity and expectations. I’ve been watching some superhero movies lately. They are great teachers when it comes to identity because there are always two – the everyday Peter Parkers and then their secret identity as the superhero. One person and yet two faces are presented to the world. Superheroes help us explore not only the nature of good and evil, but how to live in the world with integrity. We are not all superheroes but we all have multiple identities and roles. I’m a mother, a wife, a friend, a minister, a daughter. Each of those identities come with expectations and we must find a way to hold onto the values that make us who we are no matter what role we find ourselves in.

We can see it so clearly in Peter. Sometimes he gets it so right like he did when he proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah. The problem comes for Peter when his definition and expectations of what it means to be the Messiah get in the way of seeing who Jesus really is. Peter hears words like suffering and death and he thinks that Jesus has it all wrong. That is not what the Messiah does. He did not sign up for this when Jesus invited him to follow. It was a complete clash of expectations. Jesus knows who he is and exactly what he is here for and knows the road that he must travel. But Peter imagined a much different road. But Jesus knows who he is and invites Peter to keep following. The final teaching from Jesus in chapter 8 reminds the disciples that part of what they are called to do.

Too often what Jesus says next is used to keep people living in untenable situations. Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) This is an invitation to follow Jesus and help make the kingdom of God a reality. And sometimes that means sacrifice. Peter had to sacrifice his own expectations of Messiah so that he could truly see Jesus and know who Jesus is.

It means answering those crucial questions for ourselves. Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am. If we know who Jesus is, in our community and in our lives, it opens us up to new ways following in Jesus’ way. In the church we have decades of study and history to tell us who Jesus is. We have all sorts of names for him: good shepherd, lamb of God, the Christ, Emmanuel – God with us, Lord, Master, The Word, Son of God, Son of David, Light of the World, Rabbi, teacher, friend, brother, Saviour, bread of life …

The list of the names for Jesus can go on. But that is only the first step. We know what people and the church have been saying over the years, but Jesus asks us all, Who do you say that I am?

I’m going to invite you to take a minute and think deeply about that question. I can’t answer it for you. Maybe todays answer is different from last months or last years. In your bulletin, there is a slip of paper in the bulletin with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” take a minute to answer Jesus question. Maybe you will have so many ideas that they won’t ift on that piece of paper and maybe you won’t know what to write. That’s all okay. This is your time to ponder a little bit about Jesus. You can write it down, close your eyes and think about, talk to a neighbour.

Reflection time with music

Jesus, asks us “Who do you say that I am?” The answer for this question is not fixed. It can change over a lifetime of faith. Knowing who Jesus is for your shapes your faith and guides each of us as we live out our faith as individuals and in this gathered community. It helps us live into that promised kingdom of God. Who do you say that I Am? Amen

God's Infinit Love

Many churches have stained-glass windows just like we do. They are beautiful. Their beauty helps us to remember we are entering a holy place. Many of the windows in churches around the world tell us the gospel stories. Look around us this morning. On my left and you find the Christmas story, baby Jesus at the centre and Shepherds and Magi on either side. After church, come stand in the pulpit or by the rail and you can see the parable of the sower, Jesus healing someone, and the great teaching moment “Knock and the Door Shall be Opened.”  Over to my right, your left we have Jesus as young boy in the Temple, the story of the loaves and fishes and others. Stained glass windows are not only beautiful but they serve a functional purpose. When bibles were few and literacy rates were low, the windows told the stories of our faith. In many ways they acted as cue cards and visual reminds of key gospel messages. There are many different gospel stories told in stained glass windows, but if I were to guess, our gospel reading from this morning would not be one of them. It is challenging. 

On the surface we have two healing stories – the Syrophoenician woman and the man born deaf. Jesus has left his home turf around the sea of Galilee and is traveling in the region of Tyre – a predominately gentile area. We don’t really know why. Marks says that Jesus, entered a house and “did not want anyone to know he was there.” (Mark 7:24) Maybe Jesus was looking for some rest and solitude and hoped to find it in a place surrounded by strangers. Even here, in this place, word about Jesus was spreading. 

One of the women from the community heard about Jesus and came to him to plead her case. Jesus was barely through the door when she arrived. She was desperate. Her daughter was sick. Mark says she has an unclean spirit. She was terrified that her daughter would never recover and was willing to go to any length to ensure her wellbeing. Even taking a chance that the rumours about Jesus are true. Elizabeth Johnson writes, “The woman who approaches Jesus breaks through every traditional barrier that should prevent her from doing so. She is “a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin” (Mark 7:26). In other words, she is implicitly impure, one who lives outside of the land of Israel and outside of the law of Moses, a descendant of the ancient enemies of Israel. She is also a woman, unaccompanied by a husband or male relative, who initiates a conversation with a strange man -- another taboo transgressed. …Any way you look at it, this woman is an outsider.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3761) None of this mattered to the woman. Her daughter’s life was at risk and she knew, she believed that Jesus was the one who could cure her daughter. 

This bold and courageous woman found Jesus, knelt at his feet and begged him to heal her daughter. There is no excuse for what Jesus says next. There is no way to translate the words to soften the harshness of his words. Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27) It is terrible. It is amazing really that there is a record of this event. Somehow it is in two of the four gospels. 

Jesus words are harsh and so different from how Jesus treats people in any other stories throughout the gospels. Not only are Jesus words harsh, but he is dismissing her cry for help simply because she is not one of his people. She is other. In that moment, Jesus believes that God has called him only to bring God’s word to the children of Israel. No one else. He wanted to rest in silence not expand his horizons and share God’s grace with a broader audience. 

But she wouldn’t let him rest. She insisted. She persisted. She pushed back and said, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28) Crumbs, those little bits that we brush away, not big enough to be worth keeping. She demands a scrap of the grace and mercy that Jesus came to deliver for her daughter. Jesus says to her, “For saying that, you go – the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:29) When she returns home, she finds her daughter in her bed and the unclean spirit gone. 

There will be no stained glass windows of this story. It is a hard story. Jesus is dismissive and harsh. I find it hard to accept that Jesus dismiss someone just because of where they are from. It is not in keeping with the Jesus I know and love. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. 

       Part of being human is making mistakes. Judging took quickly. Having blind spots. Holding on to prejudices. Dismissing people who we deem to be different whether it is because of where they are from or because of the colour of their skin or because of their gender or because of their sexual orientation or because of their income level or because of their disability. None of this is okay. Yet, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve done it and I’m angry with myself for it. Yet I’m guessing I’m not alone. The only thing to do when you make a mistake is ask for forgiveness, learn from it and do better next time. 

       I think that is what Jesus did and maybe the person who was really healed in this gospel story is Jesus and that’s why this story lives on. She stood up and said wait a minute, surely God’s grace and God’s mercy are not limited to one small group of people. Surely God’s grace is for all of us no matter where we come from. Her insistence and persistence changes Jesus. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28)

       In that moment Jesus is changed. He is reminded that God’s grace is infinite and for everyone – no exceptions. In her column, “Dear Working Preacher” Karoline Lewis reflects on this moment when Jesus mission is expanded, “It is a rare moment when we glimpse how much beyond our comprehension God really is and how much beyond our imagination God’s love extends. And in that same moment, we perceive how easy it is to give in to this world’s estimations of God, this world’s propensity to limit what God can do. How quickly we retreat from zealous proclamation and settle for lukewarm confession. How often we shrink in fear from the bold belief.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5216) 

       It says in our reading from Isaiah, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. … He will come and save you." Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;” (Isaiah 35:4 – 6)

       So maybe there needs to be new stained glass added to the repitoire telling this story. Jesus learning from the Syrophoenician woman. She helped Jesus remember that God’s grace, God’s love, God’s mercy is without boundaries and limits. It will be our cue card, reminding us, in a time when our political life is making everything us versus them, that we are one people created in God’s image. No us. No them. Just God’s beloved children living into the promise of God’s kingdom. Amen. 

Risking Faith, Daring Hope

The theme for General Council this year is “Risking Faith, Daring Hope.” I think it is a theme we need for the church as we look to the future. For the past decade and maybe more, churches everywhere are stuck in that place of lament – I’ve heard them and so have you. The lament is that longing for that time long since passed. “I remember the church was full every Sunday and there were 200 hundred children in Sunday school.” The place of church in the community has shifted. We are no longer the institution leading the way – advising government leaders or setting the cultural norms. I don’t really notice the change because the church the shaped my path of faith  was a small church with a small Sunday school.  

            We need to move forward. The time to lament is over. Now it is the time for Risking Faith and Daring Hope. It is a time to be bold and have courage to live into a new way of being God’s people in the world. We have excellent examples in our gospel reading. Jairus, the synagogue leader and unnamed woman who dared to touch the hem of Jesus rob. Each in their own way risked their faith and dared to hope. 

            The story begins with Jairus. His daughter is sick and he is desperate to help her. He’s heard about Jesus, how teaches with authority and how he heals the sick. It says in the gospel that Jairus begged Jesus repeatedly, not a polite once but repeatedly saying, “"My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live."(Mark 5:23) Jairus was wealthy and probably could have looked for help elsewhere. He could have turned to the local doctor or healer. Instead he risked everything and came to Jesus begging him to help his daughter.

            Jesus sets out with Jairus but so does the large crowd. They are pressing in on Jesus from every side. In the crowd that day there was a woman who had been bleeding/ hemorrhaging for twelve years. She’d seen every doctor and every healer. She’d tried everything to make the bleeding stop. Nothing worked and she’d spent everything she had in search of a cure. Life was lonely for this woman. In Jesus’ day a woman who was bleeding was unclean. She was alone and isolated form the community. She couldn’t touch anyone for fear of making them unclean. For twelve long, lonely years she searched for hope, for a cure … for anything that would make it possible to be part of the community. 

            She’d heard about Jesus –whispers at first, then amazing stories of new life. She didn’t want much. She knew if she could just touch him her ordeal would be over. She dared, she hoped and without a thought about the taboo she joined the crowds pressing in on Jesus, reached out her hand and brushed the hem of his robe. She said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:29) And she was. The minute her hand touched his robe she could feel it stop and so could Jesus. Time stood still as Jesus turned and looked at the crowd and he said, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30) No one could believe what Jesus was saying because there were so many people gathered and pressing in on him. The disciples wondered why Jesus didn’t keep going to Jairus’ house. 

            With fear and trembling she came forward, fell down at Jesus feet and told him her story, her truth. Jesus could have been outraged that this woman made him unclean. Jesus could have ignored the feel of power draining out of him and kept on walking toward Jairus’ house. Instead he stopped. He drew attention to the woman and her plight. He listened to her whole truth – to her pain and to her fear. At the end of the story Jesus says to her, “"Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." (Mark 5:34)

            The next moment a messenger arrives with bad news for Jairus, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" (Mark 5:35) But Jesus, whose is the hope giver says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe." (Mark 5:36) When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house, he leaves the crowds behind and goes to the place where the girl is laid. Hetakes her by the hand and says, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" (Mark 5:41) And she does. 

            Three people healed. They took a risk and dared to hope. It is the kind of message we need as a church both locally, regionally and nationally. The world has changed and the church must change along with it. The time we spend longing for the good old glory days of the church and lamenting the loses are keeping us trapped in the fear. There is no future in fear. We can’t move forward when our eyes are focused in the rear-view mirror. The church can’t remain frozen in time. Now is the time of risking and hoping. A friend posted a beautiful picture of mountains with the words, “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.” 

            There are so many reasons to hope. Jesus message of compassion, caring, justice seeking, world changing love is what our world needs right now. Whether we are big or whether we are small, we are called to share the message of love today. Increasingly, there are people who are suffering from loneliness or isolation and or fear and our church communities cab provide a healing balm. We are called to following in Jesus way of caring and compassion. We are invited to reach out and give hope to the most vulnerable in our community – the people who find themselves lost, or on the margins or hurting. Our churches can be beacons of hope. 

Hope is what made it possible for Jairus to ask Jesus repeatedly to save his daughter. “Come touch my daughter that she might live.”  Hope is what made it possible for the woman in in Gospel reading to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus robe – even though she was taking a huge risk.

            As a church community we could have walked the path of fear. We could have closed our doors or sold our building to a developer. Instead we chose hope and risk. We hoped to help people, we hoped for a future, we hoped to find new ways to follow Jesus and we took risk. We dreamed big and we started something new. Would you believe that it was almost four years since we voted on the new vision to set up Cochrane Centre? Look at what risk and hope have accomplished here. Grounded in our faith, we dared to hope for a new way of being church. 

It hasn’t been easy. The path hasn’t always been clear. There have been set backs. We spent longer than we expected “on the road” and when we came home we needed to get used to new space and new ways of doing church. Every time, I’m tempted to believe that price was too high and the challenges were and are too many, I remind myself – 15 people have homes because dared to hope, and risked living out our faith in a new way.  For us locally the journey continues as we reimagine the ways we can be God’s people at work in our community sharing Jesus’ lifesaving, life giving message of hope. 

As we continue risking faith and daring hope, we don’t do this alone, God is with us. As it says in Lamentations:

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope: 

The steadfast love of the Lordnever ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; (Lamentations 3:21 – 23)
            God is not finished with us yet! Let us risk faith and dare to hope trusting that God is with us each step of the way. Amen. 


One Tiny Seed

Jesus tells two parables in our gospel reading for today. Neither of them is very long. Parables are sometimes challenging to understand. Whenever I tell the Godly Play parables, which come in gold boxes, we are reminded that parables are more valuable than gold and presents given to us long before we were born. We also say, “The box has a lid on it. Sometimes it is as if parables have doors that are shut. You can’t go inside even if you are ready. I don’t know why. It just happens, so don’t be discouraged. Keep coming back again and again. One day the parable will open for you.” (Godly Play, Parable of the Good Samaritan) 

            I find these two parables have doors on them that don’t open easily and I need to keep coming back to them again and again. I read the words and I try to imagine what the message is that Jesus has for us, particularly in the parable of the mustard seed, and I struggle to find it. What’s the good news about seed growing or a tiny seed growing into huge shrub or birds nesting in a giant shrub? What does it tell us about how to live in this world? These are kingdom of God parables and Jesus is trying to tell us something important. 

Perhaps the biggest help to me in opening up these parables to me was the weekly blog written by Dr. David Lose called In the Meantime. He reminded me what parables are all about. “Parables are narrative contrasts – Eugene Peterson somewhere calls them, more provocatively, “narrative time bombs” – that are meant to undermine our assumptions of the various “givens” and even “realities” that we accept unquestioningly and offer us a vision of something different. …“parable” comes from two Greek words, para, “beside,” and ballein, “to throw.” A parable is then throwing one thing (a vision of God’s kingdom) beside another (the world as it is) to see what happens. The comparisons are unpredictable” (vhttp://www.davidlose.net/2018/06/pentecost-4-b-quiet-dynamic-confidence/) 

            The second thing he writes is this, “The challenge with that translation is that “kingdom” seems so static, as if describing some fixed place, whereas basileia is far more dynamic, describing the arenas of God’s activity and influence. Some therefore translate it “the reign” or “rule” of God to highlight that more active dimension of the word. …when we see the world as God does, and when we act toward each other as God would have us, we are living in God’s rule. That means that we can experience and enact the kingdom here and now as well as recognize that even our best efforts fall short of God’s vision and so recognize that God’s activity and reign is not yet fully present among us.” (http://www.davidlose.net/2018/06/pentecost-4-b-quiet-dynamic-confidence/) 

Jesus says, “‘The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then then head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickly, because the harvest has come. “He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’” (Mark 4:26 – 32)

The first parable is about us. Our faith. How does God’s word take root in us and in our daily living. “Dr. Fred Craddock, the eminent retired seminary professor who has influenced so many pastors …once told of the teacher who most influenced him. Her name was, “Miss Emma Sloan.” Miss Sloan was an elderly woman, single. She taught him in the primary department, and since there was nobody to teach his group as juniors, she went right on with them, and taught them for years. She gave him a Bible. She wrote in the front: “May this be a light to your feet, a lamp for your path. Emma Sloan.” She taught the children to memorize the Bible; she never tried to interpret it. …She said, “Just put it in your heart, just put it in your heart.” She used the alphabet, and they’d go around the room saying verses. “A A soft answer turns away wrath. B Be ye kind, one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, as God also in Christ has forgiven you. C Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden. D Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. E Every good and perfect gift . . . F For God so loved the world . . .”

He says he can still remember those verses. Miss Emma didn’t explain what the verses meant. She just sowed those seeds of Scripture from the King James Bible in their hearts. … “I can’t think of anything, anything in all my life that has made such a radical difference as those verses,” says Fred Craddock. “The Spirit of God brings them to my mind appropriately, time and time and time again.” (Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories p. 33-34.)

I’ve noticed the same things about scripture. Sometimes those passages and stories which are written in our hearts, sown likes seeds, come to us at just the right time. They remind us how to live following in Jesus way. It helps us to remember who we are as God’s people. This is especially important in a week when passages of scripture were be used to justify separating migrant children from their parents. Thankfully churches of all denominations have stood up and loudly proclaimed that this is not what the bible says. People remember that God calls us to welcome the stranger to care for others in our midst. Some have used the opportunity to remember that Jesus himself was an immigrant. It is at times like this, when the words of scripture are distorted and used to justify cruelty, it then that we need the second parable … the mustard seed. 

In this one tiny seed we are reminded that God’s kingdom is something unpredictable and can take root in the most amazing places. The mustard seed is really a tenacious weed. It grows whether we want it to or not. One tiny seed reminds us that God’s rule, is something right now and something that by God’s grace we live into. And when God’s word takes root in us our world can indeed be a place where all God’s children are loved and cherished. God’s kingdom of love cannot be stopped. God’s justice that flows in the desert. 

And when God’s word take root in us we live with compassion and mercy. With God’s words ringing in our hearts we live our faith daily by show love to our neighbours and one another. When we plant those seeds amazing things happen in our world.Archbishop Oscar Romeo writes, “This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one-day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. (http://rainandtherhinoceros.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/we-plant-seeds-by-archbishop-romero/)

            Just like the tenacious weed, God’s kingdom cannot be stopped. God will work through us and our brothers and sisters in faith to transform the world bringing healing, hope, justice and peace for all. Let us live into that kingdom. Let us live into that love. Amen.   


Sing a New Song to the Lord

My professor of Old Testament at Emmanuel College drilled into our minds that the hymn and prayer book of the Bible is the book of Psalms. It is poetry and music woven together in the most beautiful way. Although the book of Psalms, is credited to David, it is likely that many of the Psalms were passed on from one generation to another. Many scholars believe that some of the Psalms predate David and others follow his death. As the Gospels were being written, they did not need to have a book of prayers, because they had everything they needed in the book of Psalm. 

In this one book you can find prayers for those who find themselves in trouble, payers of celebration of God’s goodness, prayers of lament for when everything seems to be going wrong and even some acrostic poems! Each Psalm is telling its own story of the ways God is at work in our lives. Think of Psalm 139, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.” (Psalm 139:1 -2) Or those familiar words from the 23rdPsalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1 -3) In the mode of confession you could pray Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; accord to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. …Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:1, 10)

The words of the book of Psalms are on the tip of tongues and imprinted in our hearts. I’m guessing that is why it is one of the most widely read book of the Bible.  It is also why I’m pretty sure that most of you could quote your favourite Psalm. From thanksgiving to lament to confession to praise, the book of Psalms tells the story of our faith. I’m always amazed at how the Psalms that are the most heart wrenching, end with words of praise about God’s abiding presence and mercy.

Psalm 102 starts with these words, “God, listen! Listen to my prayer, listen to the pain in my cries. Don’t turn your back on me just when I need you so desperately. Pay attention! This is a cry for help! And hurry—this can’t wait! I’m wasting away to nothing, I’m burning up with fever. I’m a ghost of my former self, half-consumed already by terminal illness. My jaws ache from gritting my teeth; I’m nothing but skin and bones.” (Psalm 102:1 – 4) The Psalmist is in agony. It seems that everything could go wrong is going wrong. And yet somehow toward the end of this Psalm the writer proclaims, “Write this down for the next generation so people not yet born will praise God: “God looked out from his high holy place; from heaven he surveyed the earth. He listened to the groans of the doomed, he opened the doors of their death cells. Write it so the story can be told in Zion, so God’s praise will be sung in Jerusalem’s streets and wherever people gather together along with their rulers to worship him.” (Psalm 102: 18 – 22)

The Psalm remind us of our longing to be in God’s presence and to worship God. In Psalm 42 we sing, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you; you alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you. You alone are my strength my shield, to you alone may my spirit yield, you alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you.” (Voices United, Psalm 42 page 766). The same theme is found in one of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 16. So many lines stand out for me remind me of my need for God’s presence in my life. “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge, I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have not good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:1 -2), “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. I have a goodly heritage.” (Psalm 16:5 – 6) and my favourite, “You show me the paths of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:10 – 11) 

Psalm 40 reflects on themes of survival and discipleship. The writer of Psalm has clearly been through a difficult ordeal.  The psalmist says, “You lifted me out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my fee upon a rock, making my steps secure. You put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” U2 in their song simply called 40 offers this version of the Psalm: 

“I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of my miry clay.
I will sing, sing a new song” (U2, 40)

 The invitation to sing a new song is woven through the book of Psalms.  It is our calling as a people of faith to keep singing the Lord’s song in new ways so each generation can hear of God’s abiding mercy. The Psalmist teach us to sing the Lord’s song in times of challenge and in times of joys. Because, as the words of Psalm 121 remind us, God is with us no matter what. I want you to imagine for a moment, you are standing in a place where there seems to be danger everywhere you turn. You look to the hills – danger. You look to the valleys – danger. You look left – danger. You look right – danger. So you pray, “I life up my eyes to the hills – from where will come my help?” (Psalm 121:1) A good question. Sometimes it is our questions. The Psalmist knows the answer. “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  … the Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:2, 7 -8) In the thousands of years since these words were first written, this truth has not changed. God is with us in going out and our coming in. God is our shelter in the storm and our hope for the future. Let us sing a new song unto the Lord whose love, whose mercy, whose guidance, whose promise will never fail us. Let us sing to the Lord. Amen 

Down to the River to Pray

            When I’m trying to sort things out or I need to go to a place that soothes my soul, I always head to the water. For me it’s the ocean. Mostly because except for a few years in Toronto and one year in Northern Ontario, I’ve always lived by the ocean. For others it might rivers, ponds or lakes. I love the ocean when it is stormy and wild. I love it with the waves wash calmly to the shore. There is something powerful about the sound of water. It doesn’t surprise me at all that significant, life- giving things in the bible happen by the water’s edge. 

            Moses divides the Red Sea and people walk to freedom. Naaman the great commander is healed in a river. And when it seems that all has been last when the people of Israel are held captive in Babylon, the go to river, face their home in Jerusalem and sing a song of lament. Psalm 137 is a lament. There is no temple to turn to for comfort so they sit on the river banks of this foreign land and wonder how they will find God. “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked of us songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1 – 4) Over time they learned. They learned that God was not only with them in Jerusalem but in this foreign land. 

            But people don’t just weep by the river. When God is about to do a new thing it is like rivers in the desert. Isaiah bold proclaims God’s word, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19) That new thing that God does interrupts the status quo and helps to bring healing and home to our world. Which is what happens when John the Baptist is preaching on the banks of the River Jordan. He is talking of the one who is coming who will change the world. That is when Jesus arrives and is baptized in the River Jordan. As Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

Turn to the book of Acts, the book devoted to telling the story of the early Christian community. We learn in Acts how the good news of Jesus spread from person to person and community to community. For Paul, the way of Jesus changed everything. He went from breathing threats and murder to sharing the good news. Paul’s travels take him to every corner of the Roman world. In our reading for today, Paul is asleep on a boat when he has a vision of man from Macedonia. In Paul’s vision, this man is saying, “Come over the Macedonia and help us.” (Act 16:9) It then says, “When he had seen this vision, we immediately tried to cross over the Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Acts 16:10) Without so much as a thought about the logistics or making a plan, or some kind of pros and cons list Paul and Silas head to Macedonia to share the good news of Jesus Christ. They spend a few days learning about the community and then on the Sabbath they leave the city and go down the river to a place of prayer.

It isn’t surprising that they go down to the river to pray. The river is a place where God’s abiding promise echoes in our hearts and our lives. They also went to river to pray because it was too risky to worship within the walls of the city. Being Christian was risky business in that time. Not too long after this account, Paul is arrested and taken to Rome.

At the river, they meet others praising God and that day by the river, lives were changed. At the river, they meet Lydia – a woman who is a dealer in purple cloth. Someone who is a believer in God but it seems that she is new in faith. What Paul said, what Lydia said – we don’t know. Here is what we do know, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” (Acts 16: 15) Amazing things happen with the simple act of going down to the river to pray. Hearts are opened to the stirrings of faith and Lydia and her whole household are baptized. 

            Today, where we live, we aren’t likely to be arrested or persecuted for being a Christian. Although there are places in the world where it is dangerous. It may not be dangerous to be Christian for us today, but we face as followers of Jesus are many. Being Christin is no longer the norm in our community. Probably the new term “Spiritual but not religious” or “nones” or “dons” fits more people than Christian. There is no expectation or social pressure to go to church. It’s a hard change for us in the church. We’ve grew used to having time set aside for church. Now we must make time. 

            An added pressure for the church comes with living in a world that seems to change on a daily basis. It is hard to adapt to these ever-changing realities in our lives and in our church. I am not without hope. Because I know that the people who come each week, don’t come out of obligation. We come because we want to. We come because we need to. We come to be part of the community. We come to hear the stories of Jesus. We come for the music. We come for that moment that will help us get through another week. We come to be surrounded by that community of believers who remind us that we are God’s beloved children. 

We are not without hope. As a people of faith we need to reclaim some ancient skills for new world we find ourselves in. Paul shows us how it is done. Step One: We listen to where the spirit is calling us to be. Step Two: we go to out into the community. Step Three: go to where the people are. Step Four: tell the story of Jesus and how that makes a difference in your life. 

            That’s why Lydia and her entire household were baptized. Paul shared what God had done in his life. Silas shared the joy of being a follower of Christ. It’s an ancient practice but one we haven’t used in recent years. It’s hard to talk about our faith, why we come to church and what we believe or don’t believe. 

It is time as a church for us to go down to the river to pray – to be evangelists. Not like the bible thumpers on street corners. But in the true sense of the word – sharing the good news by offering invitations and sharing our own experience. That is what Paul did in every place he stopped. 

            Brothers, Sisters – let go down to the river to pray. Let those precious words first spoken to Jesus at the river, “you are my beloved” echo in our hearts and lives so that we have the courage to share the stories of Jesus. Let us go down to the river so that our hearts may be touched and lives may be changed. Let us go down to the river to pray and we trust that the good Lord will indeed show us the way. Amen.