spiritual

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

 

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.

Hope

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

Hayarpi

https://gedichtenvanhayarpi.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/in-these-difficult-times/

 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

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."

https://www.luthersem.edu/godpause/?devo_date=8/17/2018

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

Miriam:

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?

Mandy

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.

Miriam:

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?

Mandy:

· 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.

Miriam

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?

Mandy:

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

Problem-solving

Empathy

Resiliency

Makes you motivated because it takes more effort

Good at planning

Friendships

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. 

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. 

Today we’ve come full circle in Lent which began on Ash Wednesday. There is a beautiful hymn in our hymn book called, “Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes.” It sums up so well this day of contradictions. The palms that we wave as we sing our hosannas become that ashes that remind us of our human frailty.

            “Sunday's palms are Wednesday's ashes

                        as another Lent begins;

            thus we kneel before our Maker

                        in contrition for our sins.

            We have marred baptismal pledges,

                        in rebellion gone astray;

            now, returning, seek forgiveness;

                        grant us pardon, God, this day!” (Voices United #107)

It is like the Palm branches that turn so easily into crosses. Today is a day of contradictions. A day of joyful music. But we also know what this week holds – we are on the road to crucifixion and death. Even Jesus knew what was coming. In Luke’s Gospel it says that Jesus, “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) That particular phrase isn’t in Mark’s gospel but it is woven in the story. In the days and weeks leading up to Palm Sunday, Jesus talked openly about what was to come next. He says to the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”  (Mark 10:33 - 34)

            Now they are finally near Jerusalem. Jesus sends out two of his disciples saying, “Go into the village ahead of you and immediately as you enter it, you will there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it to me. If anyone says to you ‘Why are you doing this just say this ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately’” (Mark 11:2 – 3)

            I’m guessing that the disciples were used to following directions that seem a bit strange because they did just what Jesus asked. They put their cloaks on the colt. Large crowds gathered, spread their cloaks on the ground, cut branches from trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark)

            It’s not a scene I imagine happening today. People lining streets because a prophet is coming to town. Perhaps now it would be more like filling stadiums with crowds crying out “Hosanna” which means “save us.” The expectation rings out in every word and with every wave of the palm branch or leafy branches as Mark says. The crowds believe that Jesus is the one who will save them from the cruel Roman rulers.

The disciples hoped? Knew? that Jesus was the one to save their people from the heavy hand of the Romans who ruled the land. They hoped Jesus was the one who would end their misery. The same is true for us today. Scott Black Johnson writes: “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom... Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears. Please God take the broken places that will tear us apart and make them whole. We beseech you, God, jump into the water and drag our almost-drowned selves to shore. "Save us." "Hosanna." (www.sermons.com)

            Palm Sunday is more than the sweet band of children waving palm branches. It is an invitation to let Jesus come into the broken places in our lives. As I think about Palm Sunday and the story that unfolds during holy week. I can’t help but think about hands. The hands that waived palm branches while singing “hosanna”. The hands that became fists with angry shouts of “crucify.” We use our hands in so many ways. Hands create beautiful works art or music. We can use our hands to comfort, to pray, to care. With our hands we craft weapons of destruction, with our hands we can hurt, with our hands we can destroy. That is the contradiction of Palm Sunday and Holy Week – beauty and destruction, life and death, hosanna and crucify.

            The good news for us all is the hands that matter most are God’s hands. In this somber week, as we stand in the shadow of the cross we offer into God’s hands all our broken and hurting places, hoping, trusting that on Easter Sunday the tomb is empty and there is new life. Amen. 

Sunday School Faith Story

Today we are sharing our faith stories.  We have worked hard over the past few weeks to write down what we believe about God.  We have put together out responses to create one faith story to share with you.  We hope that in sharing our faith story with you that it will help you to think about your own faith.  

To help us think about our faith, the first question that was asked was, “Who is God for you?”  For us God is, loving because he loves people and doesn’t hate people.  God is Lord, Helper, Creator of the world, someone who watches us and helps us.  God is also holy and loving and sometimes feels faraway.  We know that God cares for people

We have bible stories that we love that speak to our faith.  Here is a variety of stories that we like and why. The story of Jonah and the whale because God teaches Jonah a lesson to never disobey God and that when God asks us to do something difficult that God never leaves us and will always journey with us. This is also a favorite bible story because it simply makes no sense.

Noah and the Ark: God tells Noah to build an ark and to bring animals on board.  It basically tells us that if you believe in God he will protect you and “I like rainbows”. 

A couple of other stories that were favorites were the story where Jesus was born because it is our favorite holiday and the creation story because of our love of Animals. 

Jesus teaches us many things, he teaches us to be a good person and not to do bad things.  Jesus helps us to be nice and helpful, to forgive and how to follow God.  Jesus also teaches us how to pray. 

God and our church are very important to us.  God is important because without God there would be no church.  That would be really sad because there are many things that we love about our church; it is the place that we come to learn about God and Jesus.  The place where we pray and sing to God and learn that God is loving.  We also love the food.  We have some good cooks in this church.  Meeting our friends are also important things about our church

For us there are many places that we feel close to God.  We feel close to God when we sleep.  Maybe we could have good dreams about God as we sleep.  We also feel close to God when we are at church.  The church is one of the places where we share and hear the stories for our faith. 

Thank you for listening to our Faith story today.  Please join us as we sing Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary printed in your bulletin.  We will sing it 3 times.  

Faith Story: Judy Kay

Thank-you Rev Miriam for creating this opportunity for the sharing of our faith stories again this year.

The beautiful contributions of the 3 story tellers before me, have been so thought provoking; thank-you all for inspiring us through this Lenten season.

Patent leather shoes, inner calm, heart break, snowballs - what could they possibly have in common? They all represent some stages of my faith journey.

I was born in Botwood and lived there until I was in grade 4. Our house was just across the street from the United Church. My first memories surrounding the whole experience of church was that it was a place that required you to dress in your Sunday best !-  little white gloves then, dresses and those lovely patent leather shoes. Unlike Oliver who seemed to have a deep understanding of faith at a very early age- I afraid mine was a much more concrete view; a child’s perspective looking in on an adult world that seemed somewhat mysterious- with words everyone knew, small drinks and small pieces of bread, though not every week for some reason, and then also this lovely sense of a special quiet that I couldn’t quite identify then, but certainly recall enjoying.

There was also though an early opportunity to experience the tolerance of an adult group for a child’s mistake that is also an important memory. In other venues of adults, children’s outbursts were not always dealt with so patiently as this next situation.  For those in the congregation who are old enough to remember a certain jingle that went with a beer ad back then,… you will have an even greater appreciation for this story. All 5 of us Antle kids were sitting between mom and dad in the pews one Sunday- when my younger sister Bev was suddenly struck by the thought that she knew one of those bigger adult words- she was  probably 5 years old at the time. She called down the row as soon as she heard the minister say it – “ Dad, he said Dominion, chug a lug a mug of Dominion”!! Goodness you could certainly hear a pin drop for a moment as the minister paused for a second during the prayer before continuing on. I realize now there were a lot of suppressed smiles- but I wasn’t sure at the time if that outburst, not necessarily the words as I was only 7, but the outburst would cause the adults to be upset. Yet all that happened was the feeling that that beautiful “church quiet” was a little more noticeable for a moment. And without missing a beat, Dad just had a small smile and picked her up, quietly managing both her excitement and the need for continued head down position for prayer.

The association of calm presence and church impact continued on for me as we came to St John’s. We became members of Cochrane Street United Church. It was a welcoming place with beautiful music and Sunday school. For those who didn’t know me then –it might be hard to believe I was shy and quiet, yes quiet, in the presence of others! This is true! A little bit of a paradox for someone who at the same time like to push the limits and try new things- just nervous when doing so. So as a teenager my faith expression was very much an introspective experience. I was more apt to not reference the church, God or their impact on my life in any way- that was just a “Sunday thing”, those feeling were private and they were definitely not cool. It was embarrassing to be one of those how framed their lives with reference to Jesus. Ultimately, this extended to something I never spoke about with my friends then for many years.

Yet as I left home and went to University in Kingston ON at the age of 17, to start my degree in Physiotherapy, there was a silent pull that drew me one early Sunday morning when I was feeling a little out of place there. I went for a walk to the edge of the campus which was bordered by Lake Ontario- just a short walk from my residence. I could find no solace in the quiet lap of the water. It was just not the satisfaction of the sound of waves from the North Atlantic that I loved whenever I needed to sort things out.

Continuing on I found myself in front of a small United Church and went in. There was a lovely couple who introduced themselves after the service and when they found out that I was from NL with no one I knew in the area, well I was invited back to their house for what became my home away from home for the 4 years I was there. Again the common experience was that wonderful sense of physical calm that would come each time I sat in that lovely church with that congregation- I could block out the noise of the stress of my very busy student life.

Back in the province and working in a job I loved I thought I would feel very satisfied, yet something felt incomplete. So I reconnected with Cochrane Street Church and found the congregation was invited to help with a social action project. Interestingly enough it turned out to be a housing project for those with some disabilities that was being started elsewhere in the city- so I offered to be on the Board of Directors….maybe a little foreshadowing of things to come??

Then sudden heartache as I received a call from my husband, while working on Remembrance Day– he met me at the hospital to tell me my younger sister had been killed in a car accident in Toronto. It is the first time in my life that I felt the energy just drain out and began that inward struggle of dealing with the sadness while also trying to make sense of it all. How could it be that someone so young, so giving to others could be taken so suddenly? I had lost one of my beautiful solemates. There was a period of time that those very usual questions and feelings surfaced- I still don’t have answers as to why but somewhere along the way the focus shifted from questioning why, to seeing the good she did while here, the impact she continues to have through awards in her name and memories she created, that have caused others to aim high/do their best in their field. I don’t know exactly when this happened- it was gradual. But the most important part of this transition was letting go having to have all the answers. That somewhere, somehow I felt I was learning to let go of my usual need to make sense of all things, to have a clear understanding of purpose and facts. This shift opened me up to listening more acutely to the world around and to be receptive to different opportunities daily. It was such a relief and soul satisfying to know I didn’t have to have all the answers but instead leave myself open to being present with people, with everyday life events and to experience god’s purpose each day.

At the evening Lenten reflection session last week, I was referencing an example of how I just no longer think of some things as a coincidence – just accept there was probably an element of divine intervention. I was coming down from the ICU with the intention to pick up a piece of equipment and head right back up. Instead I over shot my floor by 1 level when walking down the stairs and instead ended up in the lobby of the hospital just as an old colleague of mine was coming out of the elevator. Her husband was back in for evaluation of a lower leg problem that has surfaced again and was causing them great upset- partly due to not fully understanding what was happening. He was visibly upset and angry. He was disappointed that something that had taken a long time to settle enough for him to start getting back to things he enjoyed doing, was now a problem again. Taking a moment with them to explain a few things, answer a few of their questions- gave them some greater understanding and perspective they both indicated was very relieving. They then headed out the door, indicating they felt so much better. This is not an isolated incident- in terms of timing and moments. I’ve come to accept I don’t have to know why but that it feels right sometimes that I don’t need to question the purpose.

The fellowship I’ve found in the church, the restoring of energy from Rev Miriams reflections,  the choir and their awesome musical contribution to the service and the beautiful moments around tea buns and snowballs in the after service tea time continue to fuel me for the week ahead. I always feel no matter what surprizes we encounter, we will find a way to reframe the moment and move forward… though the path may have a number of speed bumps and potholes on the way!

From patent leather shoes, to questioning the meaning of a sad loss, to opening up/shifting from a need to make sense of everything to just accepting being ready to see the world differently…. My faith journey has reached a point that I see many events that occur as opportunities to live out God’s grace in helping others.

It has been and continues to be an awe -inspiring, at times frustrating – yet always a rewarding beautiful journey. I am so glad to be here with all of you to be a part of this

…. So many interesting and surprising opportunities await- I hope I will always be ready to see them.    

Faith Story: Karen Critch-Chaytor

First I would like thank Rev Bowlby in allowing me to share my story of what faith means to me. I will take you back four years ago on my trip to Universal Studios on my honeymoon. It was the first day in Florida and we decided to start with Universal Studios and of all rides first we rode Dudley Doo Right a water ride. Now I did not know anything about the right but Charles insisted that it was a fun and easy ride and I went with it. We were on the ride and going around the track and every now and then we would go down a slope and that was fun but as we kept going the drops were getting bigger and bigger. I looked at Charles not that’s not so but until we started climbing more and as a looked around because we were outside I saw that we were pretty high up and the words were not out of my mouth “My were are high..” swoosh I never saw it coming but it was like we were shot out of a cannon and down what seemed like a 90 degree angle. Wow what a rush,  I have never felt so alive and pumped to ride another one and we rode many more that day. This is how I feel about faith both the highs and lows and that big swoosh at the end, now let me take you through my experiences of what faith means to me.

It first began when I was about 5 or 6 when I was asked to take part in the service, Rev Hiller was the minister here at the time. I was asked to lead in the Prayer of Approach, I was so excited to do this. I can remember being so little (not much has changed) that I needed to stand on a stool to read from the pulpit. This was the first time I read in church but would not be my last because as years went by I became much more involved in the church. Still in my younger years I became part of what was called “Explorers”, here we would meet after church was  finished and have a little bible study, make crafts and I will always remember singing  “This is my Father’s World, Mrs. Bradbury would always sing this hymn at our meetings. I still have some of the decorations we made and I hang them on our tree because it reminds me of the times we had making them. Later on I would graduate from Explores and would join CGIT know as Canadian Girls in Training in my teen years. The CGIT purpose is: As a Canadian Girl in Training, under the leadership of Jesus, it is my purpose to Cherish Health, Seek Truth, Know God, Serve Others and thus, with His help, become the girl God would have me be.

Here I would meet two lovely women whom became such an influence in my life, Elizabeth Purchase and Joan Soulier. As our leaders and mentors they showed us how to lead a service, help out in the church for example we would help with the turkey teas, I looked forward every year in working on the assembly line bright and early of course because we would have so many to do. It felt great to help with fundraisers whether big or small because I knew it helped the church. Our group also went on many road trips together,  one in particular I remember a time when we travelled to Musgravetown and met up with their youth group, we had a lot of fun that weekend shared stories, singing familiar hymns, and we made poster with all of our hands on it sympolizing our friendship bewttween the two groups. There are many more stories but these women gave me the guidance and support to continue my journey in faith.

Now, these were some of the better times that I can remember there were times when I thought my time was wasted or I did not feel like doing events. There was a time in my life that I did not want to do anything at all. I just wanted to be alone. At 17, last year in high school doing it all, school council, student council, editor of the year book, volunteer with church functions and road block. I had reached my limit of helping everyone but now someone had to help me. I had spent three months in hospital, but a familiar face would show up from time to time and it would be my minister Rev Edgar now Bursey. We would have lovely chats about life and how I felt and slowly I started to feel better and slowly introduced back into reality again. I was diagnosed as Bi Polar something I will have to live with but did not know how to come to terms with but Rev Edgar believed in me and my faith in God was mending. I finished school that year and continued to volunteer at the church but for the next 10 years it is a bit rocky. There were times I would not go at all, while other times I would be there with bells on. During these 10 years I served on the church council as the East District Representative when I learned a lot about how our church works a. I met so many people now and I even got the opportunity to go to British Colombia and representative Newfoundland as the Youth Representative I thought my faith back road block my sister passes suddenly away, I felt like shouting WHY, I was doing everything right so I thought I was helping out again. Gone again my hope was gone again. A year after that, my father passed away. I was done. Whatever spiritual feeling I had was gone. Six months after dad passed I found myself in quite a situation I was in hospital myself with a blood clot, luckily they had found it because I would have been the third person in the family in two years not my time. I had a visitor from the church while I was in hospital this was Rev Bowlby. She had made some first impression on me that day and I wanted to hear more from her. Once I got better and went on that following Christmas I knew I wanted to come back and that I had missed my church family. I then got involved on the Church Council but this time as the Treasurer, that was scary at first just like the roller coaster not knowing what was coming next. I made the best of what I knew and helped out to the best of my knowledge for 2.5 years until my work life was more challenging and my time needed there became much greater than for church and I had to make a decision to resign. I never lost my faith but I put it on hold, I did not want a repeat of 17 all over again.

 

I came back on Easter Sunday when the church reopened their doors since the renovations from the new Cochrane Centre. Wow to see all the people there it felt amazing and to hear the choir and how they sounded so good,  I missed being a part of this family ,definitely one of my swoosh moments, I wanted back so I approached the choir and asked when was practice, found out and been back ever since.  So I am back on the roller coaster feeling great road block mom passes away suddenly same day as my sisters passing. This time the feeling is different for I was there when she passed and was holding her hand as she rode on to the next life, I felt something that day that I can’t explain that her strength entered into me, and even a little birdie told me that you have your mom in you I can see it. This time I was prepared I trusted in God that this was meant to be, I was upset and angry but I felt assured that this was God’s will. This moment for sure was a test of my faith but swoosh like the roller coaster out of the cannon here I am Lord. Coming every Sunday singing in the choir and seeing & talking with everyone helps me keep my faith strong and I have hope for the future for you are as my church community have always been there and has built my faith from a very early age and will continue to do so. Faith is like a roller coaster, a ride where you do not know the outcome, where there are stops along the way, and the highs and lows of that ride; whatever the next ride brings here I am Lord.

Amen

Faith Story: Francis McNiven

I was born unwanted. The fourth child of an already too big family with an illness that stacked the odds against me. There were ten babies born with the same illness that I had, five died, four was developmentally delayed and then there was me, the only one who was passed for school. So I guess I was blessed from the very beginning. My father's mother took me in and became my Mom.

My church life was a bit different than most. We lived too far away from the church that my very religious mom was raised in but she did not know what church she wanted us to go to so we went to them all. It was the Anglican church on Sunday morning and United Church in the evening to sing in the children's choir. So it was pretty much a normal childhood until I turned 12.

Then everything changed. Mom wanted to move closer to her church. So we packed up and moved to Bay Roberts. Then slowly I began to lose everything I loved. First it was the TV and the radio. We weren't allowed to be in the girl guides or sing in the church choir anymore. Then we were not allowed to wear pants or cut our bangs any more. We were not allowed to give out candy for Halloween, or celebrate Easter. The last thing we lost was Christmas. I will never forget the sadness in my mom's eyes when they told her that their church do not celebrate Christmas. It had always been a joyous occasion for us but no more.

Turns out that my Mothers church did not celebrate anything. Their only message and goal was to prepare for death. At the tender age of 12 I was told that we are all going to die and the only way to get into heaven was to give up everything I loved, and I might not even make it in then. 

It was a heavy message for a 12 year old to take in. So as you can imagine I became very bitter resentful and angry. 

My teenage years were very difficult. I was an outcast on every side. At school I was too different and teased relentlessly and at home and at church I was not different enough and had trouble following the rules without question. It seemed that I was always fighting for what I wanted and the whole world was against me.

I was not a pleasant child. It was not until, after many years of fighting with guilt and a mental illness that lead me down many a dark road. I rejected my mom’s religion and that’s when things started to get better for me. But for a while it meant I rejected God as well. It left a hole in my life that I needed filled.

I don't know what made me come to church for the first time I think it was the sign out front. I used to walk past it and say 11 o'clock service . Gosh that isn't too late I could sleep in and still go to church. Ironically now I have to get up at 8 in the morning and take two buses. I spent years walking past the church saying to Gerard I should go to church, and him saying no you shouldn’t. He was afraid. He knew that religion and my mental Illness did not go well together.

Now he is the one who reminds me you should go to sleep you have got to go to church in the morning. He now sees the change the church has made in my life and knows it is good for me. It was the first Sunday after Christmas when I came here for the first time. I remember two things. 1. and this was to my great surprise, Christmas was not over. And 2 I was terrified. I did not know if I was allowed to be there. Was church a private club you had to sign up for to be a member?  The last time I went to a church was a long time ago.

I kept expecting someone to see me and kick me out. I sat in the last row closest to the door in case I had to make a quick escape. I was way off not only was I not kicked out I was invited to coffee time after.

That New Year’s Eve, I made the best new year’s resolution I have ever made. I was going to go to church every Sunday. Although I still will sit in the seat nearest to the door, a quick escape may still be needed. I love words. I understand them and know how powerful they can be. The words you use are very important. I was hearing words I never heard before like love and acceptance. I began to learn about peace and forgiveness. It replaces all I learned about fear and hate. It has brought me joy. I am always grateful for what I receive from this church and am glad to call it my home.