spiritual

The Good Shepherd

The fourth Sunday after Easter is always “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The image of the good shepherd is central to our faith. Just think of all the times the image of the shepherd is used in scripture. There is the young David who goes into battle against the giant Goliath. He tried to wear the battle armour belonging to his brothers but it just didn’t fit. Instead he goes out into the field with nothing but what he’d take in the field as a shepherd – a sling and five rocks. There is the book of Revelation that reminds us that we will hunger no more and thirst no more for the Lamb who is at the centre of the throne will be our shepherd and guide us to springs of water and wipe ever tear from our eyes. (Revelation 7:17) Think of the shepherds on that first Christmas who left their fields to follow the angels promise of Good News. 

            Woven throughout the book of Psalms is image as God as the shepherd who leads us. The best known are the words of 23rdPsalm, “Then Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” There is the wonderful but confusing parable of the shepherd who is missing one sheep and goes out searching for it and when he finds it comes home rejoicing. Then there is one of my personal favourites, John 21, just after that beautiful breakfast on the beach with broiled fish and bread. Jesus turns to Simon Peter and says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21: 15) And Peter always keen to please says, “Yes, Lord, you know I do.”  Jesus says, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15) Jesus turns to Peter a second time again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16) Now Peter is starting to wonder if Jesus is doubting him or didn’t take him seriously the first time. Peter says, “You know I love you.” Jesus looks Peter in the eyes and says, “Shepherd my sheep.” (John 21:16). Just when Simon Peter thinks it’s time to go, Jesus turns to him a third time and asks him if he loves him. Peter can’t understand what Jesus is talking about now. He stands up and cries, “You know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.” (John 21:17) One last time Jesus says, “feed my sheep.” 

            And if you flip back a few chapters in John you get our reading for today, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. …My sheep recognize my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life.” (John 10: 14, 27 – 28). When we imagine the task of the shepherd I think we imagine gentle pastures and flowing brooks. The life of the shepherd in 1 century Palestine was grueling. There are no gentle green fields and water is scarce. Danger lurked at every turn. When we hear the promise of the Good Shepherd it is the promise of one who will guard our lives – who will seek out food and water even when it is hard to find and who will find us when we are lost or separated from the flock. It is the promise of the one who will never leave us behind. 

Dr. Karoline Lewis writes, “Jesus does not all of a sudden or out of the blue decide that describing himself as a shepherd is a good idea. He’s on a mission. A John 3:16 mission. A John 10:16 mission. He’s brought the blind man into his fold. And with only one more miracle left in his pocket, the disciples need to know that they are his mission, too. Jesus as shepherd in John is the one “I AM” that holds intimacy and apostolicity together. That holds the extraordinary tension of John 20:30-31 together -- this book is meant both to sustain your believing and invite new believers. That holds “come and see” and “as the Father has sent me, so also I send you” together. That is, in Jesus as the Shepherd is revealed both our identity and our calling.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5326

            This why, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, every year, we take time to reflect on the Good Shepherd. It is the heart of the Easter Story. When we are lost we will be found. We are fully known and fully loved. We are invited to share that love with others. We do this trusting that our Good Shepherd leads the way and we are never alone. In the words of our opening hymn, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I am drawn anew! Let that grace now like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to you. Prone to wander, I can feel it, wander from the love I’ve known. Here’s my heart of take and seal it for your very own.” (Voices United #559 Come, O Fount of Every Blessing). Amen. 

Peace Be With You

Every year on the Sunday after Easter, the lectionary sets our gospel reading as the reading for the Sunday after Easter. Every year as I read it, I think, why do we keep calling him doubting Thomas? It’s like he is tarred with thousands of years’ worth of speculation about his faith. I’ve always thought Thomas was the person who said and thought the kinds of things I did. He asks the questions no one else dares to ask. Like when Jesus is telling the disciples he is going ahead to prepare a place for all of us in John 14. It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Thomas is my kind of person of faith. He wants to know more and we are given that permission by John through Thomas.

            As we delve into John’s Gospel, here are some things to keep in mind. John’s gospel was the last of the four gospels to be written. The first people reading or hearing the gospel of John might not have living knowledge of Jesus. They may know someone who did, but they, like us, rely on gospel narratives to know Jesus because they’ve never heard him preach or teach. They didn’t witness his healing miracles. It is also important to keep in mind the timing. We are a week away from Easter. But they were days. All the disciples have been through and ordeal. They don’t really know what is going on who or they can trust. They’ve heard about the empty tomb. They know that Mary says, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

So it isn’t surprising that our reading this morning begins with the disciples locked in a room because they are afraid of the Jews. In these days of division, where hate-based crimes are on the rise, it is important to understand who John is talking about when he refers to the Jews and why the disciples are afraid. John is not talking about all Jewish people. Mary Luti says it so well, “It is critical for us to be clear about what our sacred texts mean when they make reference to “the Jews,” …When the crucifixion narratives speak of “the chief priests and leaders of the people,” they are referring to officials who collaborated closely with the Roman systems of oppression, and were viewed with contempt by much of the Jewish community in their time. They should not be identified with the Jewish people of the past as a whole, and certainly not with Jews in the present.” (https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/easterc

            The disciples are locked in a room. Terrified of those Roman collaborators who might come for them as they came for Jesus. They don’t know what to do now that they can’t follow Jesus. Jesus steps into their fear, and says “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) And then, Jesus shows them his hands and his side. The marks of crucifixion still on his body. Then Jesus says, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) Jesus sends the disciples out into the world, he commissions them. After that Jesus breaths on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) 

            For some reason, we don’t know  and John doesn’t tell us, Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus stands in that locked room offering peace. When Thomas arrives, the disciples are still in a room with the doors locked tight. They received their commission but haven’t gone anywhere. Thomas is barely through the door when they start talking all at once. “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas doesn’t know what to do with this information. He can’t quite make sense of what is happening. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) 

            Since that day, he’s been called doubting Thomas. I heard two things this week that help me dig deeper into the story. Maybe they will help you too. The first is on a podcast called Pulpit Fictionwhere they pointed out that the problem wasn’t that Thomas needed proof of the resurrection. As if it something that can be proved. The problem was the other disciples. Thomas couldn’t believe what they were telling him because they had been wrong before. The gospel accounts of the disciples are full of their stumbling. Also the disciples were not living as though they received good news.  They were given a commission to go out into the world just as Jesus had and there they were, were still locked up in that same room where Jesus offered them the peace. It is telling that when Jesus offered to let Thomas touch his hands and his side, it doesn’t say that Thomas did. (https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/easterc

            That gives a new perspective on Thomas. Then I read Karoline Lewis’ column Dear Working Preacher where she writes, “But that is how we tend to interpret Thomas, that he is trying to reason this whole thing out. That his ultimate goal is to put all of the pieces together into some sensible whole. When, in fact, all Thomas wants, all Thomas needs, is what everyone else had and, if we are honest, what we want -- to see Jesus. One more time. Mary saw the Lord. The disciples saw the Lord. Because the Word made flesh isn’t – if you can’t see and feel Jesus one last time. When we insist that Thomas needs proof, we assume that resurrection can be proven. We assume our own deepest desire for evidence of an empty tomb. We assume that resurrection can be validated against the world’s ideas of what resurrection means. We assume that resurrection is only a one-time event and not something that changes all of life’s events.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5319

            The resurrection changes everything. It changes the way we see the world. Post resurrection we know there is hope. There is new life. The disciples are living in an uncertain moment. They know everything is different but they don’t know how to live into the risen life. It is Thomas who pushes them to ask the questions and move beyond the present moment of fear, to accept the peace that Jesus offers and share the good news. John 21 was a late addition to the gospel of John. If you only read to end chapter 20, this is John’s conclusion, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, an through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30 – 31)

Today Jesus stands with us in our grief, in our fear, in our despair, in our joy, in everyday moments and says,“Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) That peace, is not a magical In this season of magical cure all – faith doesn’t work like that, it is the reminder that we are never alone. I love what Brene Brown writes on faith and church. “I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, like it would take the pain away, like I would just replace research with church. And then church would make the pain go away…. Faith in church was not an epidural for me at all, but it was a midwife, who just stood next to me saying, “Push, it’s supposed to hurt a little bit.” https://vimeo.com/164049575

Easter faith is risky. It asks us to push past our fears and go out into the world to proclaim hope even when it looks bleak. Eater faith is a gift. We have life in the name of the risen one who says, “Peace be with you.” Easter faith is an invitation to live with hope. Thanks be to God. Amen

I Have Seen the Lord

No matter how many times you read something – and I’ve read our Easter story from John many times, there are little details that jump out you in new ways. This year it was pointed out to me that only in John’s gospel both crucifixion and resurrection happen in the garden. I missed it all these years! John 19:41” Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.  And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:41 – 42)

            All week I’ve been thinking about gardens – they are important. My mother’s garden was always the place of childhood Easter egg hunts but it was also a source of food and beauty. I was always amazed by the roadside gardens dug out of the marsh just outside of Newtown – somehow, these roadside gardens produce best potatoes and carrots I’ve ever tasted. Then are gardens like the MUN botanical gardens that you can walk through and enjoy a huge variety of flowers and vegetation. We need gardens not only for the food they grow but for the beauty they lend to the world. It seems fitting that resurrection takes place in a garden where seeds flourish and grow. 

            Gardens are important in the Bible too. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I learned on Friday from Rev. Bill that the paradise that was promised to one the two thieves hanging with Jesus was a garden. Then there is the beautiful garden promised in the book of revelation. 

            On the first Easter, when the sun had barely peaked out over the horizon, Mary, wanting to be close to Jesus, went to the place, the garden, where he was buried. When she got there, the tomb was empty. Today we have the advantage of knowing what comes next but not Mary. She didn’t understand. All she could thing was that grave robbers had come and taken her Jesus away and the grief was too much for her. She runs to get Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved saying, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:2) The two come running and they find the tomb empty just as Mary said. The linen wrappings lying on the ground neatly rolled up. But still no one understands what’s happened.  The two disciples leave. But Mary can’t. She sits there in her grief, crying and remembering. 

            Mary wipes the tears from her eyes and looks in the tomb and she can’t quite believe what she is seeing…. Angels sitting where Jesus once laid. They say, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20: 13) Before she knows she is alone again. All she can think is they have taken Jesus away and she doesn’t know where he is. Another voice interrupts her, saying again, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15) Mary thinks it’s the gardener. At last someone who can help her. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15) 

            How many times has that happened. We get lost in our grief and we can’t see what is right in front of us. It makes sense that Mary sees a gardener. She knows what happened to Jesus. The horror of good Friday was still with her. She couldn’t erase the image of Jesus hanging on the cross from her mind. She watched as he was buried in that new tomb beside the garden. She expected to see a gardener so that is what she saw.

            One simple word changes everything. “Mary!” and in that moment she knows who it is. No one else says her name that way. She knows everything happened just as he said it would. She cries out, “Rabbourni! Teacher!” Jesus says, “Go to my brothers and tell say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17) Mary gets up and makes a bold proclamation to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” 

            Mary is the first one to share the good news and she hears that good news in the garden – a place of new life with echoes of that first garden paradise form Genesis and to that eternal garden paradise where God dwells with us eternally. Today is the day we celebrate that promise of new life, the hope that cannot be put out even by death, that joy which is ours. Today we boldly proclaim with Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” The Tomb is empty. Christ is Risen! Alleluia. Amen. 

Love Received, Love Returned

Our Gospel reading is set at a dinner party!  You will remember not long before these events, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was sick. By the time Jesus arrived at Bethany where they were, Lazarus had already died. Jesus calls him out of the tomb of death to life again. 

Lazarus, Mary and Martha would have gone over the top to express their gratitude to Jesus. I well imagine the  house was filled with people – likely the disciples were there, some neighbours and other friends. The house wouldn’t have been large so it filled quickly. They didn’t eat at tables and didn’t sit on chairs or couches, people just sat on the floor so they would be really up close and personal. I imagine I’d hear all kinds of conversations and laughter. Intermingled through it all would have been the delicious smells of the food - lamb stew flavoured with mint, the freshly baked bread being broken, the wine being shared. 

It was a great dinner party that was interrupted by the unexpected. That interruption came in an unusual way. It was when the sweet fragrance of perfume permeated everything. It floated all through the gathering – pulling people out of their conversations, taking them away from the meals. Many would have smelled something before they saw its source. It was Mary anointing Jesus’s feet. Everyone’s focus was in that one place on that special act of love and adoration.

Then there was the awkward tension between Judas and Mary. Why did you do that? Why waste that perfume pouring it on Jesus’ feet? It could have been sold for a lot of money - a year’s wages. We could have used the money to give the poor! Immediately I think, “Judas is right!” why waste it in one action. After reflecting on it I came to realize is, the Kingdom of God provides for a deeper, more profound way of life than the simple solution based world in which Judas and we live.

If Judas’ thinking was followed, the perfume would be sold, the money distributed to the poor which would have addressed their physical needs for a time but would have done nothing to lift them from a sense of worthlessness, nothing to move them from the margins of society. 

As opposed to Judas’s way, Jesus is the very embodiment of extravagant compassion, grace and love. He carried out a ministry that healed people who were lame, people who were blind, people who had leprosy all who were pushed to margins of normal daily life.

[Story of Winnipeg soup kitchen – soap not food]

Jesus crossed boundaries showing abundant welcome when he ate with tax collectors – those normally avoided by most people. Abundant grace was shown when he asked a Samaritan woman for water – Samaritans and Jews had a history of not getting along but Jesus crossed the barrier to help the woman know abundant life. 

John’s Gospel is filled with signs pointing to God’s abundant grace and new life in the Kingdom of God. Like Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana – there was lots of it and it was the very best wine. Jesus shows this abundant grace and love time and time again. That abundant love and grace did far more than fix their physical needs. It gave them new beginnings and new life. Mary’s anointing of Jesus shows she is returning the love she receives from him. There is a relationship formed between them – love received and love returned.

We can learn from Mary. Lent is a spiritual time, holy week even more so a time when we reflect on and deepen our faith and our relationship with God.  Jesus freely gives us daily an abundance of new life and grace. How then do we receive and return that abundance?

At this dinner party Mary anoints Jesus and he alludes to his death, alludes to his final abundant act of love for the world. We know the next stories of Jesus are his entry into Jerusalem and the journey through Holy week to his crucifixion on Good Friday. We know that Jesus will not be physically with us always. The early church created an image which reminds us that Jesus is alive but not limited to the physical. In Corinthians, for example, we hear the church being referred to as the body of Christ and individually, we are members of it – an active body alive in the world. 

To fully live into that role, we need to be like Mary, to give that same devotion to Jesus and return the abundant love we received from him. We cannot reflect it back  to a physical Jesus as Mary did, but we can show that abundant love to the world in need.

After Judas chastises Mary for pouring the expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. Jesus defends her saying, “Leave her alone […], “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” This is not Jesus saying as long as you worship me you can ignore those in need.

Lindesy Trozzo, Associate Director of Digital Learning at Princeton Theological Seminary says there is something lost in translation here. Just as there are some 50 words for “snow” in the Inuit language and we cannot express exactly what each one means in our English language because we have fewer words for snow. The words “You always have the poor with you” were originally written in Greek. In the Greek, the words could mean, “you always have the poor with you’ – a statement of fact or “Keep the poor with you” – a command to carry out. It seems to me that this second interpretation is more in keeping with Jesus’ ministry, way of life and purpose. 

That is our imperative to claim especially in this week leading to the Good Friday when everything was poured out to show God’s love for the world. We live into our responsibility as part of the body of Christ that we are mindful of the poor which is really anyone hurting because of inequality and injustice  -  communities oppressed because of skin colour, gender identity, religious beliefs. Individuals struggling with addiction, mental illness, homelessness… 

Like the abundant fragrance of the perfume which filled that house in Bethany and drew everyone’s attention to Jesus, the Holy Spirit infuses us as the body of Christ to be disciples of Jesus. To build relationships based on love and grace with all who are on the margins – love received, love returned. Full and abundant life for everyone of us. Amen. 

Derek Osmond -- Faith Story

                                                                               Faith Story   

                                                                   April 7th.  2019 Cochrane Street

When Rev. Miriam asked if I would share my Faith story I first thought about why me and after a brief thought process I said  why not me. I told her almost immediately yes I would like to do it. She then sent me the following questions that were used by other individuals who were invited to share their stories previously. They were a little daunting when I read them first:

1.    What is your best earliest memory or image of God . Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

2.    When have you had an experience of God’s presence in your life?

3.    What do you remember about going to Church?

4.    What does your faith mean to you?

5.    What is the Bible story or passage of scripture that resonates or inspires you?

6.    When do you feel closest to God, Jesus the Holy Spirit?

7.    When you think of your faith what senses are evoked ( smell, touch ,hearing, taste)?

8.    Why is church/community of faith/congregation the place you express your faith?

Wow I started to think how in the heck am I going to able to do this and all in 6 to 8 minutes. The next thing I did was to look up Webster’s Dictionery definition for Faith.

Faith is defined as meaning:

1. Belief without proof.

2. Confidence.

3. Belief in God.

4, Loyalty.

Anyway I started and here is my story and it will take less than 8 minutes.

As a young boy and teenager I attended several different churches but  I found them to be a very cold 

Church both physically and spiritually.

I was forced to go to Church each Sunday with my mother and sister and I was baptised and confirmed 

there and attended Sunday school.

After my wife Roberta and I were married in 1972 we started going to her church which is St.Thomas and our two daughters were baptised and confirmed there and attended sunday school as well. Our 2 grandchildren were also baptized there.We have both been attending since then, but I did it because I felt I should attend and I would check it off my to do list each week. I was just going through the motions and not going for the right reasons, but only because I felt obligated that this is what I should do.

We did this regularly until 1996 when my life completely changed and I invited God into my life. Wow it took 50 years for it to happen. It happened at a 3 day Cursillo weekend a short course in Christian living at Lavroc Centre on the Salmonier Line. Roberta had done the weekend about 6 months previously and when she came back after that weekend I saw something in her demeanour that attracted and intriqued me. I thank her for encouragement and support to attend the next scheduled weekend. The decision that I could make that weekend had the potential to change my life completely either very positive or very negative. I took a major leap of Faith.

During that weekend we had an opportunity to pray and invite God into our lives. I took a huge leap of faith and prayed on my knees by myself and asked God to come into my life and fill me with the Holy Spirit and asked Him to become a major part in my life. As I prayed my whole body felt like it was on fire and when I opened my eyes the overwhelming feeling was one of peace and happiness. It was an absolutely incredible life changing experience. I felt like a new person with a new life.

That has happened several times since then.

1.    At our wed. morning Men’s Ministry at St. Thomas’ where men share and pray for one another.

2.    At Living Waters prayer, praise and inner healing service at Wesley on Tuesday evenings.

I drove home after that Cursillo weekend on top of the world. That was the weekend that made me realize that there really is a God and it was a life changing wake up call for me. It was at that time that I realized God had a purpose and a plan for me. Lowly  Me. 

 

             SHARE Young Man’s tragic story -   A RECENT MAJOR TEST OF MY FAITH IN TORONTO

Roberta and I still go to St. Thomas’ because we want to go and commune with other believers and give thanks to God. It is not about the bricks and mortar and glass windows that attracts us, but being in the presence of God with other believers and to step out in Faith. The financial resources should then be used for true Outreach Projects and to help others that are in dire need. I have served at St. Thomas’ as Treasurer on 3 occasions and been a member of Vestry as well as the Stewardship and Strategic planning Committee. We also both serve on the prayer teams for people needing prayer each Sunday. 

My faith means everything to me. I don’t how to people can go through all the constant stresses in life and the tragedies that they incur in life , without knowing God and not asking Him for help and inviting Him into their lives.

It is very easy when you we are on top of the mountain to feel we are in control, but when you are at the bottom of that mountain and not knowing what to do, or where you are going, that is when you need to admit that you need help and take that big Leap in Faith and ask God for his help. Take the pride completely out of it and it will be one of the most important decisions you will ever make..  

We all have to make very important decisions during our lives and depending on which road we take , either the right way or the wrong way , could change our lives forever. If I had made the wrong choice in 1996 and taken the wrong road, I would not be standing here this morning for sure. I shudder to think how my life would have changed and I have no idea how I would have turned out. Thank God I made the right choice.

After I retired from NL Hydro  took several months to consider where I would like to volunteer and I prayed about it. I took time to discern what God wanted me to do for Him and how to approach it and seek guidance. I felt hearing and being drawn to the poor, the needy, homeless and working poor and those in need of housing as well as those incarcerated.

I quickly learned that I don’t have the answers, but God only wants us to introduce him to others and if necessary use words and listen to him. This has led me to getting involved with the Homeless Network, Social housing Faith and Action.( that is where I first met Rev. Miriam).

In subsequent years I have been involved as a Board Member of Home Again Furniture Bank, for 3 years and which is now very soundly established and helping in meeting the needs of others who have little or nothing, not even a pillow for their head.

Four years ago I was invited to join the CCOPC Board, who at that time were looking at how can the parish stay in the Church where it was and pay their fair share of the fuel and operating costs as well as build 10 supportive housing units. To date the parish is still able to stay in this location, plus we have now completed an additional 5 seniors housing units, an enhanced performance centre and a community centre all managed by First Light. 

Anything is possible if we are willing to listen to where God is leading us and have faith in Him.

Right now I am also a Board member of Anglican Homes Inc and St. Luke’s Homes and the associated cottages and apartments. 

 A total of 177 units and 117 patient beds.That is also a very special and rewarding Ministry.

We just finished at St, Thomas’ a 7 week course called Christianity Explored. All based on the Gospel of Mark. It is a course designed for people seeking Christ and who have a lot of questions, doubts about God, but are willing to listen, ask questions and participate.

I am closest to God when I am on any Salmon River in the early morning. No one but Him and me 

 and the sound of the river and peace and quiet. 

  Also when I go for a jog or a run.  A great time to say my prayers and not worry about time 

  or Personal bests.

  At our Men’s Wed. morning Ministry for one hour where we share and pray together in complete   confidence.

In summary I thank god for giving me a wakeup call in 1996 and coming into my life and leading me to opportunities to reach out to others, unconditionally. I found this very difficult do prior to 1996. I now have complete Faith in Him. 

Also listen to God when you sense he is urging you to do something. How often have we seen a person on the street, or at Tim’s asking for some change for a coffee, or for food and quite often we tend to judge them and think what are they really going to use the money for,  that we give them. Take a minute to speak with them. Also think about if we give someone a Gift it is given unconditionally with no strings attached as to how it is to be used.

                                         READ MY FAVOURITE BIBLE STORY MARK 10:15

Thank you for listening to my Faith story this morning and thank you Rev. Miriam for asking

 me  to share my story. God bless you all. Derek Osmond 

Brenda Rishea -- Faith Story

The Connection between Lent and Passover

By Brenda Rishea, March 31, 2019. Given at Cochrane United Church, St. John’s, NL

Thank you for inviting me here today. It’s wonderful that you are interested in other faiths so that you can make your season of Lent more meaningful. I hope you will find it fascinating today as I delve into the roots of your faith, which is Judaism. 

Is there a connection between Lent and Passover? Does anybody here think so? I’m going to show you, but first, I guess you want to know a bit about Judaism before I begin. I was raised Orthodox Jewish in Montreal, Quebec, where the majority of the Jewish community is Orthodox. This is one of several streams of Judaism that is more observant than some of the others. In Christianity, there are many denominations, of which some are liberal, conservative, orthodox, and more. The same thing occurs in Judaism, only there are not nearly as many sects as there are in Christianity. Among other things, to be “modern orthodox” means understanding the Bible in a literal sense but also take into account rabbinical interpretations and writings of our sages. The Orthodox are also strict about the dietary laws of what are considered kosher foods, and keeping dairy and meat dishes separate (Deut. 14:3-21). 

Being Jewish is not generally a matter of choice. Unlike Christianity, whereby one must choose to follow Jesus in order to be saved, Jews are born Jewish and can choose to followor not to follow a particular stream of Judaism, yet still be considered as “Jewish”. According to Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, one is considered fully Jewish if they were born to both parents who are Jewish; or, to a Jewish mother, (based on the fact that a woman always knows how many children she has, but a man does not); or has undergone a conversion according to Jewish regulations AND is not a member of another religion. If a person’s father was Jewish but not their mother, they are considered half-Jewish. 

Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism, which adhere to a liberal theology, accept both matrilineal and patrilineal descent. It gets even more complicated than what I am telling you today, but to simplify things, I am keeping this part brief. Just remember, as the saying goes, “When you have 2 Jews, you have 3 arguments”. Enough said!

Judaism is more than just a religion. It’s a matter of ancestry and culture. In other words, it’s a way of life. One could be totally secular, yet still be a Jew. I, for one, gave up on the Orthodox interpretation of Judaism and I prefer to read the Scriptures for myself, asking God’s Holy Spirit, the Ruach haKodesh, to guide me in understanding and not to rely on the writings and commentaries of the Rabbis and sages. Being brought up Orthodox meant that we had to follow the 613 commandments – wait, what did I just say? Did you think there were only 10 commandments? The 10 commandments are just the first 10 of 613!  The 613 are called the Torah, the written law, and then on top of that, there’s the oral law, called the Talmud. And each and every commandment has multiple rabbinic interpretations that get really bogged down in details. Then there’s the Gematria, the Mishnah, the Shulchan Aruch, the Targum, the Midrash… it goes on and on. I get a headache trying to figure them all out. One thing for sure in Orthodox Judaism was that we had nothing to do with Jesus, and that we had nothing in common with Christianity. But is that really so?

Many people are surprised to learn that Jesus is a Jew. Since the New Testament is written in Greek, You know Him by the Greek version of his name, which is Jesus, but did you know that His name in Hebrew is Yeshua?  It means “salvation”. Joshua is a variant of the same name. I hope you don’t mind if I call Him Yeshua. How Jewish is He? Well, he was born to a Jewish mother. I just explained to you that it means that one is automatically a Jew. 

He was circumcised on the 8thday according to Jewish law (Lev. 12:13 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised) and we read that in Luke 2:21 (On the eighthday, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus). 

He had a redemption ceremony (Ex. 13:12. Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal) and we read about it in Luke 2:22 (When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lordas it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”). He lived His life as an observant Jew.

The genealogies that are listed in the books of Matthew and Luke clearly show that He is descended from a line of Jews. 

Yeshua also celebrated the Jewish holidays. For example, John 10:22 says -Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. Hands up who knows what festival that was? Hanukkah, right! And how about this one? John 7 (2 and 10) But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near…he went also, not publicly, but in secret. What is that holiday called? Sukkot. He most certainly celebrated Passover, one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar. Look at Matthew 26:18 -He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” Mark 14:16. I won’t take the time to go to John 2:23, but Yeshua observing Passover is mentioned there as well.Even when he was a child, it says in Luke 2:41 -Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. And of course He represented the Passover lamb which was to be slain for the redemption of our sins. 

This brings us to the subject of Lent. Atfirst glance, Passover and Lent seem to have little in common. We find the parallels, however, when we look at them more broadly. Passover is that feast which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This freedom occurred after the Almighty spared the first-born sons of all humans and animals when the blood of a slain Passover lamb was applied to the doorposts and lintels of our houses. You know the story. You’ve probably all seen the movie, The 10 Commandments, right? Lent culminates with the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua, the sacrificial Lamb of God who took away the sins of the whole world. 

The traditional Passover meal is called a Seder. We have to eat unleavened bread, called matzo, during the 7-day period. Yet traditional Jews do not see the symbolism and fulfillment of Passover through Yeshua. They are spiritually blind. This is thesamefeast and the samemeal at which Yeshua the Messiah took the cup (which symbolized the blood of the lamb) and said “This is the New Covenant established in my blood.” (Luke 22:20) and broke the matzo, the unleavened bread, calling it his body (Luke 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and brokeit, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”).Both Lent and Passover are a time for meditation on the one, true God and reflection on our sins, His ultimate sacrifice, and what we do about it in our personal lives.

For Jews observing Passover, the preparation is just as important as the meal itself. We prepare our houses by getting rid of all leaven. It is forbidden during the week of Passover to eat any foods made with leaven, for leaven, according to the Bible, represents sin. We prepare by studying the Exodus story and retell it from generation to generation to recall how God worked miracles on our behalf. We prepare through self-examination. 

Lent prepares Christians for Easter, or Resurrection Day, as I prefer to call it. Observers of Lent prepare by “fasting”, which entails giving up certain foods or desserts, or habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, using profanity, or video games, and so on. It’s a way to clean up our act, so to speak. Many Christians don’t fast anymore, but the Bible doesn’t say, “if you fast”; it says “when you fast”. It’s a command. Jewish fasts, on the other hand, involve a total abstention from all food and water, so Lent is a little easier to bear than a Jewish fast. Lent also involves praying and giving of alms, as does Passover. Both observances prepare our bodies and our souls in a spiritual checkup for the coming big event. 

Numbers are important in the Bible. Why are there 40 days of Lent? The number 40 can sometimes represent a period of probation, trial, and chastisement, so it’s appropriate that Lent lasts for 40 days, based on the amount of days Yeshua spent fasting in the desert after his baptism by his cousin, John, whose Hebrew name, by the way, was Yochanan. After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. The rain that caused the flood in Noah’s day fell for 40 days and nights. Moses spent 40 days and nights fasting on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone upon which were written the 10 commandments (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18). After the Israelites sinned against God by worshipping the golden calf, Moses fasted another 40 days and nights to beg for God’s forgiveness (Deut. 9:17). If someone committed a crime, and was sentenced to a beating, the limit was 40 lashes. The 12 spies sent by Joshua to check out the Promised Land took 40 days to do their reconnaissance work (Num. 13:25). It was 40 years from the crucifixion of Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman hands. I could go on and on with more reference verses, but I think you can see that a time period of 40 years often means probation, trial, and chastisement. 

The time of year for Lent and Passover is significant: both take place in spring, which is a time for hope, rebirth and renewal. Like a baby in the womb that takes time to grow, so 40 days is an appropriate and symbolic time period for Lent. Passover represents freedom from physical slavery, and culminates in the symbolic resurrection of the Israelites through the birth of this new nation, a new land, with a new set of laws. Lent is that period of preparation, climaxing in the resurrection of Yeshua that epic Sunday morning, representing our freedom from spiritual slavery, caused by sin and the power of sin. 

God wants us to celebrate His feasts so that we don’t forget what He did for us. The Torah, or the Old Testament, isn’t just rules and regulations to spoil your fun in life. The flesh is a mess and that’s why Yeshua had to pay the penalty for our sins, which is death, but also for the power of sin. Fasting during Lent is a symbolic way of identifying with Him on that cross when He suffered, bled and died for us. He gave His life for us- can we give a small part of our life back to Him? The heart of God is for us to have a pleasant, beautiful life, a blessed life. That life comes with a desire to be obedient to God. 

As Jews prepare for Passover, and as Christians prepare for the Good News of the Resurrection by observing Lent, let us appreciate the saving grace in both faith traditions. For both are blessed by God, in ways we cannot fully fathom. The survival of the Jewish people, as a prophetic and priestly community dispersed throughout the world, is an amazing miracle. Without the Jews, there would have been no Yeshua. Without Yeshua, there would be no church. The global witness of the Church, as a vessel of sacrificial service to humanity, is a manifestation of God’s mercy, love and forgiveness. Yeshua is the union that binds Judaism to Christianity. In true fellowship, we rejoice in our similarities and celebrate our differences in love.

I’ll leave you with this question. How can we use this time of Lent and Passover to inspire us to send more light into the world? 

I will conclude my time with you by singing a traditional Hebrew song that comes from  this wonderful verse from Psalm 133:1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

Join hands and sing along!

Thank you all for being here!

Liz Ohle Faith Story March 24th

Bio of Liz

Liz Ohle is the convener of the local Quaker group.  She came to Newfoundland from the USA in 1995 and is delighted to have found her forever home!!  Liz had a career as an educator, but in nontraditional places.  Teaching carpentry and wilderness skills at summer camp with children, and adults lasted for 25 years, and then she helped develop a unique instructional program at the MUN Medical School for 15 years.  The vast majority of her paid work was with not for profit organizations which is reflective of the values she learned in childhood.  Liz is now retired from paid work and continues her service by organizing women’s hockey and the Out In Faith group.

My Quaker Journey

Hi everyone, Thank you so much for this opportunity to be with you and share my life journey through a spiritual lens.  The last time I stood in front of a church congregation like this I was in High School.   

My parents were devoted church-goers, and participated fully in the life of their church.  They were very moral and ethical people, and believed that being of service was a high calling. Numerous aspects of their social lives were born out of the church.  Women’s service society, potluck dinners, their bridge club all originated in the church. But their specific religious beliefs weren’t part of our family life, except as demonstrated in a few rituals including saying grace before dinner and saying bedtime prayers with my dad when I was young.  

For us kids, the church also became a focal point for activity. It wasn’t bible study or prayer services, but a place to hang out with our ‘church’ friends.  In fact, as a young person, what mattered to me most were my interactions with my peers. I don’t remember a single sermon, or many Sunday School lessons.  But I loved going to church for different activities.  I sang in the choir with friends, went to youth group with friends, and we had our own peer conversations about racism, the Vietnam war, the hypocrisy of some church goers, dating, taking on ethical leadership.  This is what I valued about church on Sunday morning, Youth Group on Sunday evening, and Choir rehearsal on Wednesday evenings. It was all about spending time with people that were experiencing life at the same stage that I was. We were all grappling with the same issues.   

I do recall a few key Sunday School lessons.  In High School, we had two guest speakers representing different religions.  One was from the Church of Christian Science.  We were fascinated by the concept of believing one’s faith strongly enough to pray rather than have medical treatment for illnesses.  (My apologies for my limited teenage understanding of the Christian Science religion.)

The other speaker I recall was from another religion I’d never heard of.  He talked about having Conscientious Objector status and doing alternative service rather than fighting in the army in Vietnam.  I remember that the boys had discussions after that speaker about whether they should join that church.  Exactly what did it take to prove that you believed in peace and not war?  Was it too late for them to adopt that ‘conviction’ and avoid the draft? This speaker was Quaker.  

What impressed me about both of these speakers was that their religion permeated their lives, not just when they were in their church building. They lived with conviction, trying to be true to their religious beliefs.  When I think back to that pulpit I spoke from in high school, and the message our youth group often had for the adults, we spoke frankly about the ways it seemed that grown-ups stopped thinking about living a faithful life when they drove out of the parking lot.  How could church members call themselves Christian if there was unaddressed poverty or racism or inequality in our city and neighbourhoods?  

 What was missing for me in my church was a belief system that allowed for questioning, for searching for personal answers to difficult questions, for looking critically at my life and how to bring it in line with my ethical beliefs 24 hours a day.  The way the Christian Scientist and the Conscientious Objector spoke about their lives and their faith stuck with me.  

Sometimes a journey makes more sense when you look back at its path, rather than following along a specific road to get to a destination. It is in looking back at my early church years that I can see these threads, the seeds that were planted, unbeknownst to me.  

Given that conversing with long time church friends was what I loved about church, it is no wonder that when I left home at age 17 to attend university, the new church I went to one Sunday morning was sorely lacking.  I didn’t see people there that I could envision as friends.  After that one Sunday, I never went back and didn’t feel a spiritual emptiness without church.  

 The next years at university were filled with all kinds of upheaval, in society and within me. The Vietnam war carried on with all of the associated campus protests, the sexual revolution was in full swing, feminism was unfolding in public demonstrations of bra burning, and I discovered a new definition of relationships and of family within the lesbian community.  I fully embraced these ideas and concepts that were so very new to me.  My main connection with spirituality at this time was being touched by acts of human compassion and by the miracles I could see when out in nature.  I never thought I would be connected with an organized religion again in my life, but it is not surprising that when I did find a church, it was one that had space for all of these new ways of thinking and being.

At the age of 24, I began working at a New England Summer Camp called Farm and Wilderness.  My sister was working there and invited me to join her.  Somewhere in the application process, I learned it was a Quaker camp, but had no idea what that meant.  My sister was pretty cool so I figured that a Quaker camp must be cool.  And it was!  This began my official Quaker journey.  I spent 15 summers at Farm and Wilderness, some of them as director of the girl’s camp.  It was about 6 or 8 years before I searched out a Quaker Meeting at home during the nine months between summer camp sessions.  

There are a couple different forms of Quaker Worship, but the form most common in North America and Europe is unprogrammed worship.  It involves sitting together in silence.  We gather together and actually listen to the silence, each person open to the possibility of ‘hearing’ a message with their heart.  It could be a message so powerful and insistent that it begs to be shared verbally with the group.  In the course of an hour, one or two people might speak such a message.  Or it is possible to sit the full hour with no verbal message at all.  

In a summer camp with 120 youngsters, there isn’t a lot of sitting perfectly still.  And our Meeting circle of benches was outdoors in the spectacular Vermont mountains. Though surrounded by fidgeting and squirming of 9 to 14 year olds, the gathering in the circle was peaceful and powerful.  It held a quiet sense of purpose that grew on me.  I loved having the daily experience at camp acquaint me with a spiritual practice I have carried with me ever since.  

Quakers have no ministers or clergy.  All people are equal in the church and everyone is just as likely to ‘receive’ a spiritual message from God and be moved to share the message during Meeting for Worship.  Quakers have just one core belief:  there is God in every person.  It seems so simple, but the implications are enormous.  If there is God in everyone, every human life is important and precious.  The Peace Testimony of Quakers is born out of the one single belief that there is That of God in Every Person.  This is what the Conscientious Objector in my Sunday School class had been talking about, a belief so strong that he could not lift a gun towards another person, even to fight for his country.

There are other implications of this core Quaker belief. Equality of all people. Simplicity in living, Integrity in how we conduct ourselves, Community sharing and caring, and Stewardship of the earth and all material things in our lives.

These 6 characteristics, or as Quakers call them, Testimonies, are not dogmatic beliefs.  Each of us finds our way, finds our answers, finds our truth.  We determine how we will live our values and other Quakers can ask questions to help us contemplate our choices and decisions. It is very personal and we all choose our own ways of living lives faithful to these Testimonies.  Not all Quakers make the same choices, though we do tend to lean in similar directions!

I have mentioned God a few times.  Quakerism developed as a Christian faith in the 1600s.  I am not a theologian or a historian, but I know that Quakerism has broadened considerably over the centuries.  There are now many Quakers who are also Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, and Buddhist.  Most find that because Meeting for Worship does not include shared prayers, or scriptures, or sermons, it is welcoming of those with other religious beliefs.  Many understandings of God are welcome, often referred to as the Spirit or the Light.

I had been part of Quaker communities in 4 cities before I came to Newfoundland in 1995.  Without the wonders of the internet and search tools, it took me two years to find the Quaker Meeting here in St. John’s.  They had been here for quite a while, meeting in people’s homes, and I was very glad to finally make that connection.  As many in that group moved to other provinces, I have had a role in continuing to convene the local group.  

Over the past four years, we have been moved to take public action by establishing the Out in Faith group, a multi-faith committee that organizes several annual events for LGBTQ2S+ people of faith, or formerly of faith. These are opportunities to celebrate the meaning of personal faith and also the hardships that have been experienced by many LGBTQ2S+ people in religious settings.  We also reach out to local churches to grow the presence of faith groups in the Pride Parade.  It is great that Cochrane Street United Church has been in the parade in recent years.

Your work and activities here at Cochrane Street United Church are so important.  We all do our part to provide safe and meaningful places for people to come together. And as individuals, finding a place that fills our heart spiritually, and inspires us to be our best selves helps us to live lives of purpose.  Finding Quakerism provides that for me

Thank you for this opportunity to share my journey.  

Dani Fry Faith Story March 17th

Before discovering the United Church a little over 3 years ago, I grew up in the Anglican Church and attended with my family every sunday. My father was anglican, and my mother was roman catholic. I dutifully went to Sunday School, and when the time came, I was confirmed. I believed in God but I had very little interest in Church. I found the hymns boring, half the time I was daydreaming, and as I got older I noticed there really weren’t many people my age attending. In order to truly share my faith story with you, I have to tell you a fact about myself. I am a transgender person, which means that I identify as a gender other than what I was assigned at birth.

I never questioned my beliefs until I started questioning my sexuality in grade 9. While I thought God was an all loving being, the internet and people in my community made it clear that Gods love didn’t include the LGBTQ community. All these hateful comments I was hearing, were all made in the name of God. So I lost my faith. I wasn’t going to spend my time trying to please people who preached about love for God and others on Sunday, but were full of hate and judgement for anyone who was different every other day of the week. So my dad kept asking me to go to Church with him, and I always gave the same answer. No.

Fast forward a few years and I’m attending college. By this time I’m proudly out of the closet, identifying as a lesbian and overall happy. One day I’m in class, and I overhear a comment. “Why would someone live in sin and go against God?” Although this wasn’t said to me, it was very obvious that it was directed at me. I held my tongue, sat back, and carried on with my day.

It was at this point however, that I wasn’t just a non-believer anymore. I was the one who became hateful and intolerant of any mention of Christianity and organized religion.

But most things in life eventually come full circle, and now my eyes have been opened to how God truly works in mysterious ways. A little over 3 years ago I met my partner Katie. You know her as the Sunday School teacher here at Cochrane, and she is also attending university with the goal of becoming an Ordained Minister. When we first met I was shocked and couldn’t understand how a member of the LGBTQ community could be so passionate about Jesus and the Church.

A couple of months into our relationship Katie asked me to go to Church with her. Hesitantly I agreed, and that first Sunday I walked into St. James United Church, was the start of the happiest years if my life. There were pride flags on the doors, and I was greeted warmly by everyone I was introduced to. They even tried to get me to participate in a play that was happening during the service.

I attended church more and more, and slowly I began to regain my faith. I started to believe that God could love me. I opened myself up to the United Church community because if I wanted to support my partner in her life goals as a leader within the United Church I had to stop letting hate poison my life.

I gradually began to to help out and take on a more active role myself. I helped out with fundraisers, and with the Youth Group, and Sunday School as well. I began to enjoy the community around me.

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About 2 years ago I became an official member of the United Church. I attended my first national event in Montreal called Rendezvous, where people from all over the country come together to attend workshops and celebrate their faith. I met other members of the LGBTQ community, some of which are ministers, and heard their stories of how they accepted and define their relationship with God. I also had the opportunity to walk in the Montreal Pride Parade with the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, who is the previous Moderator of the United Church, and her partner. Which was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I have also begun to take on more leadership roles within the Church. Last winter I was a homegroup leader for a handful of youth during the Winter Gathering Youth Forum that took place in Paris, Ontario, which helped to prepare them for General Council 43 in Oshawa this previous summer. It was a challenging experience. To put your needs aside and provide youth with a safe space to share about their day, to talk through their feelings and their struggles. But it was so rewarding to provide them with that mental and emotional support, to know that while they are miles away from their families, they are looking to you to provide them with comfort and stability.

It was through these events that I met some of the most inspirational people. People from all over the country that I can now call my friends. It was with their help that when I came out as transgender, I received unconditional support and love from them, than I have from even some members of my family. And for a while, it was the Church community that provided me with comfort and stability, while I endured hardship with some of my closest relatives. These people are the ones who truly opened my eyes,

with their help I was able to stop listening to hateful comments, made by so-called Christians, and my heart was opened to the Holy Spirit. I truly believe that by placing Katie in my path, which led me to the United Church, that God was trying to tell me that I was loved unconditionally, and I too had a spot at his table.

While you know how I came to be part of a Christian community, it doesn’t explain what having faith means to me. Although the United Church is open and accepting on a national level, not everyone is going to be as welcoming, there are still going to be homophobic and transphobic people. People are still going to think I’m an abomination because I’m trans, and they’re still going to think that I’m not living my life the way God wanted me to.

So how did I learn to block out those voices while exploring my faith? The easiest way to explain is from something I read online. Jesus said follow me, he didn’t say follow Christians. People have a way of inserting their own feelings and prejudices into things, and if they want to hate you, they’ll find a quote from the Bible that can be loosely translated to fit their needs. Just remember that the Bible has been translated into hundreds of different languages, and interpreted time and time again. Meanings were bound to be lost. At the end of the day when we all leave this earth, we are going to face the same judgement, and I refuse to believe that living authentically means that I’m any less devoted to God.

People also say that because we are all made in Gods image, I’m doing him an injustice by changing my voice and my body. Yes we are all made in Gods image, but we are all different. There are billions of people on this earth and each one of us is

unique. I think that as long as we try to do good and spread positivity to others and our communities then our souls are pure, and we truly live in God’s image and likeness.

Faith can be found in many different ways, it doesn’t have to mean going to church every Sunday. It doesn’t even mean having to believe in God, you can have faith in the goodness of people. My journey of faith has been rocky at best, I went from being a non-believer to finding acceptance in a community that I am proud to be a part of.

When Rev. Miriam asked me to share my faith story with you today, she also told me to pick a hymn that I would like for us to sing. I chose Spirit, Open my heart from more voices. I first heard this hymn while attending Rendez-Vous in Montreal in 2017, I feel as though this hymn is a good reflection of my faith journey and how my heart has been opened to the United Church and its amazing community.

Holy Moments

It is hard for me believe that this is roughly my fifth time going through the 3 year lectionary cycle of readings and probably my 15th time preaching on the Transfiguration. As I was getting ready for today, I took some time to read over what I’ve written before and I found a pattern. Just about every year I’ve preached on this holy and mysterious moment, I say that I don’t know what to say and then spending ten minutes telling you something. I think it reflects my struggle to explain something that at is heart is mystery. I both love and dread preaching on this passage. I love it because it is a mystery and I can’t explain what happens in those holy shining moments and I dread it because I can’t explain what happens in those holy shining moments. 

There is a beauty in mystery, in what we know to be true but can’t explain. We know these holy moments happen. Both back them and today. We don’t talk about those special times very often. But I now many people have encounters with God that leaves them changed. They are moments leave their mark on their lives. It is perhaps those stories of faith we share only with those closest to us for fear of being ridiculed or told it just couldn’t haven’t happened. The same was true for the disciples in our gospel reading, they didn’t tell anyone what happened on the mountain with Jesus. Whether it was fear of telling others or just wanting to keep that moment special. 

 For the disciples, it started out as an ordinary day. Jesus invites the disciples to come with him to pray. This was nothing new. Jesus often took time away from the crowds to pray to recharge his batteries. Peter, James and John went with him up the mountain to pray. While Jesus is praying something amazing happens. Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white and the appearance of his face changes. In that moment, Jesus comes face to face with the eternal and living God. Jesus face was changed in front of the disciples’ eyes. It says in our scripture reading that Jesus stood on the mountain top praying and as he prayed not only did his face and clothes change . Then Moses and Elijah appear. 

 Luke says that as Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah they “were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31) Luke is pointing us to Jerusalem and reminding us that without Jesus’ death and resurrection none of this means anything. The miraculous event on the mountain top marks the beginning of Jesus journey to Jerusalem. The focus of Jesus ministry is now on what he knows he must do. As he heads to Jerusalem Jesus carries with him the wisdom of the prophets and God’s deep and abiding love.

And the disciples nearly miss it all because they almost fall asleep! Somehow, they managed to keep their eyes open to see Moses and Elijah and Jesus turn dazzling white. Then Peter has an idea. Luke writes, “Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"” (Luke 9:33) Then they are overshadowed and surrounded by the clouds and they hear these words, “This is my son, my chosen. Listen to him.” (Luke 9:35) A blessing for the road that lies ahead. 

We know there is deep truth in the story because when God comes so close we are changed – we are transfigured. Frederick Buchner writes, “It is as strange a scene as there is in the Gospels. Even without the voice from the cloud to explain it, they had no doubt what they were witnessing. It was Jesus of Nazareth all right, the man they'd tramped many a dusty mile with, whose mother and brothers they knew, the one they'd seen as hungry, tired, footsore as the rest of them. But it was also the Messiah, the Christ, in his glory. It was the holiness of the man shining through his humanness, his face so afire with it they were almost blinded. Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking his child in the park, of a woman picking peas in the garden, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it's almost beyond bearing.” http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2017/8/7/transfiguration?rq=transfiguration

            God’s healing, helping, grace filled, loving, abiding presence comes at the most unexpected time and yet somehow exactly the right time. They are brief moments of wonder. Sometimes it is a dream that brings peace. Sometimes it is the feeling of not being alone. Sometimes it being surround by a warms light. Sometimes it beauty. Whatever and however it happens there’s a sense that God has come close and life is changed.

Just like Jesus and the disciples, we need those holy moments of mystery so we can continue our journey. We can say that God has somehow come to us, to help us as we do the difficult work of living our faith daily. That holy moment on the mountain is just as much for the disciples as it was for Jesus. The moment on the mountain confirms for Peter, James and John that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. It equips them for the road that lies ahead.

            Surrounded by the glory of this holy moment, we too begin the inward journey to Jerusalem. Lent is our time of reflection and going deeper in our own faith. Nourished by gifts of bread and wine we head on this journey. Roddy Hamilton in his poem “Eyes to See Blessing” offers this blessing for the road ahead. 

Not all is as it seems:
there is a glory hidden in everything
waiting to be revealed
to the eyes of those who believe
beyond what seems inevitable
who do not want to live in the status quo
but in the promises of God.

Hold onto the vision
as we turn towards lent
and walk the more difficult path;
there is yet a greater glory
still to be revealed.
Go in peace,
Go in hope,
Go in love. 

Amen

Learning From Jesus

            Sometimes, I would like to sit down with Jesus and just ask him questions about what he means. Today’s reading for example, we get the second half of the sermon on the plane. And it asks us to do some pretty hard, maybe impossible things. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to help those who hurts us, bless the people who curse us and pray for those who abuse us, turn the other check if someone strikes us, give what you have to everyone, if anyone takes what you have give it to them. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27 – 31 paraphrase) And all I want to do is ask Jesus how this is possible? How do you love the one who is cruel to you? How do you love your enemies? Do you really want to us to forgive the person who bullied us or give what have to others if they beg? Because I’m not really sure I’m up to the task. 

            I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when it comes to feeling not up to the task. In many ways it is easier to dismiss Jesus’ teaching. Dr. David Lose writes, “It occurred to me when reading this familiar passage how easy it is to dismiss Jesus’ words. We might dismiss it by assuming Jesus is setting up an impossible command, forcing us to admit our need, sin, brokenness (or however you choose to define it) and driving us to the good news of Jesus’ promise of forgiveness and grace. (I’ll admit I think of this as the Lutheran option.) Or we might dismiss it as the naïve instructions of a dreamer, someone who’s head was always in the clouds, someone who clearly didn’t understand how the world really works. (I think of this as the cynical option.) And sometimes we dismiss it by assuming we actually follow it pretty well (which, of course, takes a fair amount of self-delusion) and taking on the responsibility, burden (and, I suspect, secret delight) of making sure others are following it. (I think of this as the pietist – whether liberal or conservative – option.)” (http://www.davidlose.net/2019/02/epiphany-7-c-command-or-promise/)

But then I think about the world we live in today and it seems to me that we need more loving others and treating others as we want to be treated and less focus on divisions. It seems that there are so many ways to divide up people, communities in and indeed the world. Sometimes the dividing lines are in jest – like townie and baymen. But it also represents real tensions between recourses allocated to rural areas and urban areas. We also live in Canada, part of North America but not The United States of America or South America. We even divide our world up between developed countries and developing countries. There are divisions along racial, religious and ethnic lines. We would like to think that Canada is immune to the rising levels of racism and intolerance. But we aren’t. Many Indigenous communities do not have access to basic necessities like clean drinking water and safe housing. Our prison population is disproportionately filled with indigenous and other minorities. Just the other day there was a CBC news article about someone who was flying a flag in their backyard with a swastika on it. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-nazi-flag-swatiska-jewish-community-upset-1.5030081)

Right here in our own city of St. John’s Hasan Hai, who along others helped raise over 200, 000 with the Merb’ys Calendar talked about how he faces racism on a regular basis. Whether it is being told to go back to the country he came from or being told he looks like a terrorist. Here is some of what he said to CBC news, “But Hai said it doesn't matter how much good he tries to do in his community, he will always live with the knowledge that hatred, bigotry and racism exist. "That's life. No matter what I do, no matter what successes and accomplishments I have in my life, I will be seen by some people as a terrorist and as a hateful being. And it's sad, but it's not a shock for me," Hai said. "It always hurts, but it's never surprising."

 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/hasan-hai-racist-facebook-comments-1.5023426

            It is in the face of these challenges that do so much damage to individuals and communities that we need to find a new way of living because these divisions are causing suffering and pain in our community and world. Dr. Karoline Lewis in her column, Dear Working Preacher, writes, “Last week, this tweet popped up in my Twitter feed:

Jesus didn’t call it “social justice.” He simply called it Love. If we would only Love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race, religion and other differences that we’ve allowed to be barriers, “social justice” would be a given. Love makes justice happen. — Be A King (@BerniceKing)

            And isn’t that what Jesus is trying to teach us today. When we love others the wrongs of this world can get righted. Jesus also lived in a time of great divisions. He was part of community that we ruled by the Roman Empire who were oppressive. Many people thought that Jesus was there to save them from tyranny of Roman rule. Many of the people that Jesus was teaching that day suffered because of Roman rule. 

            Jesus’ teaching is really inviting us to live into a whole different kind of world. Dr. David Lose writes, “Jesus isn’t offering a set of simple rules by which to get by or get ahead in this world but is inviting us into a whole other world. A world that is not about measuring and counting and weighing and competing and judging and paying back and hating and all the rest. But instead is about love. Love for those who have loved you. Love for those who haven’t. Love even for those who have hated you. That love gets expressed in all kinds of creative ways, but often come through by caring – extending care and compassion and help and comfort to those in need – and forgiveness – not paying back but instead releasing one’s claim on another and opening up a future where a relationship of – you guessed it! – love is still possible.” (http://www.davidlose.net/2019/02/epiphany-7-c-command-or-promise/

            Now isn’t this the kind of world we want to live in? We may not be able to sit down and ask Jesus questions, but that invitation to love our enemies and treat others as we want to be treated is life and world changing. Fortunately, we don’t have to struggle with following Jesus words on our own – we do it with our brothers and sisters here and around the world. Just as Jesus gathered with the crowds on that level plane so long ago, he gathers with us today, painting a picture of a different kind of world. Jesus invites us to be the artists of this new world. Changing the world is not easy but it begins with acts of love, caring, compassion and forgiveness. And when we lose our way, which we will, Jesus reaches out with grace inviting us to try again. By God’s grace, with God’s help, all things are possible. Love will change the world. Amen. 

Our Mission

I’m taking a bit of a risk this morning – last week we heard Part One of the story of Jesus’ return to his home in Nazareth and this morning Astrid read Part Two. The risk is of course that I know that there are visitors here today who didn’t get to hear part one. But then Jesus risked getting thrown off a cliff as he preached, so I’m taking a chance because this story is too good to miss. First the recap for so we are all ready for what comes next:

After Jesus baptism and 40 days and nights of being tempted in the desert, Jesus begins to teach and heal. The word about Jesus is spreading and his fame is growing. On this particular day, Jesus goes to his hometown. On the Sabbath morning, as he always did when he was home, he went to the synagogue. When he gets there, he is invited to read from the book of the prophet Isaiah what he reads is akin to Jesus mission statement for his ministry. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18 – 19) He sits down and adds, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:20)

In part one we reflected about how we too are invited to be part of Jesus’ mission by helping others. Today, in part two we get to hear what the hometown crowd thinks of Jesus’ message. When he was reading everyone’s eyes were on him. They were waiting to hear what he was going to say next. After he finished reading Luke writes, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (Luke 4:22)

But something shifts. It’s hard to know what happened and Luke doesn’t really tell us. But it seems that in a moment it went from being amazed at his gracious words to the whispers. “Isn’t that guy, the carpenter’s son? Is that Joseph’s boy? Didn’t we watch him grow up?” Before long the whispers are so loud that Jesus catches on to what is happening. It’s the kind of thing we can imagine happening in our own communities today. The one who makes it big and comes home. Everyone is wondering if they will get a chance to see what he or she can do. Or maybe it’s the extended family gathering where the one who’s been away for a while comes to the family reunion. Everyone is whispering about it. As Jesus sits in the synagogue, as the whispering gets loud enough to hear, there is a scene – eyes roll and blood pressures rise.

Jesus says loud enough to be heard above the whispers, “Doubtless you will quote this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ … ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’” (Luke 4:23 – 27)

And that was it. The crowds were furious. They couldn’t believe that Jesus refused to show them what he could really do. There would be not teaching or healing in Nazareth today. They drove him out of town to a cliff and they were ready to throw him off that cliff when somehow Jesus passed through the crowd.

It’s a big change from being amazed at gracious words to nearly throwing Jesus off a cliff. Here’s my best guess at what happened that day. Jesus knows what his mission is. It is about sharing God’s love with everyone. Not just friends and family but everyone – including the people they don’t know or like. At first Jesus’ words sound gracious because who doesn’t want to hear about release for captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed and the year of God’s favour? It all sounds wonderful.

The challenge comes when it’s clear that these are more than words Jesus is saying to sound good. Jesus is living these words. He is telling them that God’s love is for everyone. No exceptions. And that each one of us has a part to play in showing that love. This is scary for people because it means change. It means giving up something of what you have for others. Fear made them wonder what Jesus message would mean for them and what they would lose. I think they were so afraid that it made them angry enough to want to throw Jesus off that cliff.

There were others there that day too. I think they heard what Jesus was saying and didn’t let fear win. These are the people who could imagine a different kind of world. They are the ones that know that Jesus is saying no to fear and to scarcity and yes to making sure that love, the kind of love that Paul talks about that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things is there everyone who needs it. These are the ones that helped Jesus slip out of that angry mob so he could continue to teach and heal.

Sometimes I think we forgot the power of love. We fail to see how offering release or sight or freedom can make a difference to a whole community. One church in the Netherlands never lost sight of this. At the beginning of December, I told you about Bethel Church that started hold a church service on the 28thof October to in order to protect a family from deportation. Bethel Church held a service 24 hours a day for 96 days until the government changed its mind. Pastor Derk Stegeman spoke to As It Happens on Friday night. He said it that many people helped make this possible include a1000 of pastors and 15, 000 visitors. It made it possible for the service to keep going for 96 days. Ten days ago the biggest party changed its mind. Now 700 refugee cases will be reassessed. Pastor Stegeman says, “So that's really a miracle. It's just by singing, and praying and preaching that this happened.” (https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/it-s-a-miracle-dutch-church-ends-24-7-asylum-vigil-as-family-granted-reprieve-1.5002110)

This church knows the mission that started with Jesus – release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed and they lived it in a powerful way. They stood up stood up against racism and by the power of prayer they not changed the minds of members of the community and politicians but they helped the Tamrazyan family and many others.

What Jesus started that day in his hometown is now our mission to live each day. Let that love that brings release, sit to the blind, freedom to the oppressed be our way every hour of every day because with God, all things are possible. Amen.

Today It is Fulfilled in your Hearing

            Let me set the scene for our gospel reading today. It wasn’t that long ago that Jesus was standing at the river Jordan as John Baptised him. The heaven’s opened up and a voice from heaven says, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) Then filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus heads to the desert for forty days where he is tempted by the devil. Then Luke writes, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4: 13) 

            After his forty days in the desert, Jesus returns to Galilee. We don’t know much about what Jesus was doing. But the first line of our reading says, “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” (Luke 4:14 – 15) The next stop on Jesus’ teaching tour is his hometown. He arrives at the synagogues on the sabbath day as he always did. The attendant hands Jesus the scroll from the book of Isaiah. Jesus unrolls the scroll and reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18 – 19) With these powerful words, Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant and with the eyes of everyone in the room looking at him, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearting.” (Luke 4:21)

            In many ways these are the first words we have from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. The word about him had been spreading him around the community but we don’t really know what Jesus is teaching or saying to the crowds. Our reading today gives a glimpse as to why the word about Jesus is spreading. Jesus is telling people that there is hope. 

As I was reading from Luke, I started thinking that the passage Jesus quotes from Isaiah is much like his personal mission statement. Jesus says it so clearly as he looks at the crowd, “Today these words are coming true in your hearing.” That takes a deep sense of calling. The spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus and he knows what he is supposed to do: bring good news to the poor, release to captives, freedom to the oppressed, recovery of the sight to the blind and lastly to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. It’s a pretty big mission but we don’t get the sense that Jesus is worried about that. Indeed, as we read through the gospel we will find examples of Jesus living out this mission. 

            Here are some highlights 

·     He cures a man of leprosy which meant he could rejoin the community – no longer a captive (Luke 5) Indeed throughout the gospels Jesus heals people and restores them to community whether it is a hemorrhaging woman or someone who is deaf. 

·     Reminds us that best way to treat one another is to “Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31) or reminds us with the parable of the good Samaritan that we are to love our God with all that we have and our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10)

·     He calms the storm on the sea (Luke 8)

·     He casts out demons bringing (Luke 8)

·     With five loaves and two fish he feeds a crowd that is hungry both for spiritual food and real food (Luke 9) 

·     Like the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus reminds us that he is the good shepherd who will always seek us out (Luke 15)

·     Jesus says, “Sell all that own and distribute it the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” (Luke 18:22) He reminds us several times to give what we have to others – because where our treasure is there also is our heart

 

Woven through all these stories is that mission: good news for the poor, sight for the blind, release of captives and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. 

When I googled mission statements and what makes a good mission statement, I found this: “The best nonprofit mission statements are easy to read and inspirational, and they let people know why the organization exists, whom it serves and how it serves them.” (https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-to-write-the-ultimate-nonprofit-mission-statement-2502262) The article also gave some tips for developing the mission statement none of which Jesus followed! He didn’t narrow his focus, or get feedback from many perspectives, hire a professional writer or take his time in formulating his mission statement. Jesus started doing. He has clarity of purpose that never changes. Jesus knows it’s going to take more people to complete this mission. So he passes it on first to the disciples who’ve passed it on to us. 

            The heart of our faith is an invitation to take up Jesus mission. Sometimes it seems daunting to me. Like we’ll never get to the place where everyone has what they need and all are welcomed into the community and surrounded with love. There are so many people in our community who are in need of better housing, of food, of healing, of hope, of love that sometimes I worry that I’m not sure where to start following or what part of Jesus’ mission to take up. 

            Then Will got sick, and to pass the time we watched the Harry Potter Movies – starting with the first one. As I watched the progression of Harry Potters life and thought about our scripture reading, I was reminded that we don’t have to do everything at once. First, we must choose a path. That’s what Harry did on his first day at Hogwarts. A little background for those of you who aren’t Harry Potter fans. Harry, has newly discovered that his is a wizard, that his parents died trying to protect him and now he is off of Hogwarts school for witchcraft and wizardry. For Harry, everything he is seeing and doing is new and unlike the life he lived with his Aunt and Uncle on Private Drive. Then he arrives at Hogwarts.

            Each student that attends Hogwarts is sorted into their school houses – there are four: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin. Harry’s heard that every evil wizard that ever was came out of Slytherin house including the one that killed his parents. When the sorting hat is dropped on Harry’s head, the magical hat has a hard time determining what house he should be in. “Harry gripped the edges of the stool and thought, “Not Slytherin, not Slytherin.” (Harry Potter and the Phillospher’s Stonepage 90 – 91) As Harry waits for the hat’s decision he is silently begging not to go into Slytherin. In that moment he was choosing a path which overtime became his mission. He was choosing to follow that path of good. 

            The life of faith starts with choosing that path of following Jesus. Once we are on the path it sets us on the course for completing Jesus’ mission. Here is the heart of the good news – the mission is daunting but we go there in the good company of all those who’ve chosen to follow in Jesus’ way. The mission is not only in our hands but in the collective hands of all those who follow Jesus and that my friends is millions of people! We go out into the world with our brothers and sisters in this community and communities around the world making a difference in the lives of others. Collectively we bring good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom to the oppressed and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. So as we go about our work and our week, together let us find ways help others.  Amen.

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.