sermon

My Love Colours Outside the Lines

The story of the walk on Emmaus Road is one of my favourites. I confess that I had to write this sermon twice! I started telling the story like I always do – focusing on that first seven miles. The one where the two they talk non-stop about what’s happened. The lead up to Jesus’ death. Peter denying Jesus. The cross. The empty tomb. Mary’s bold proclamation that she has seen the Lord. How some of the disciples thought the women were telling an idle tale and Peter went to the tomb and found it just as the women said. There was no shortage of things to talk about. Then I moved on to them talking with Jesus and finally knowing him in the breaking of the bread!


But what I really wanted to talk about was that second seven miles back to Jerusalem. Do you ever wonder what it was like to fly as fast as their feet could carry them to Jerusalem? Their hearts burning from the joy of understanding. If they really thought about their walk to Jerusalem they would have realized it was anything but ordinary. It’s not that often a perfect stranger says, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26) And then goes on to teach you about all of the prophets starting with Moses.

It is only as they get to end of the day, when they are tired from the journey that they finally truly see Jesus as he takes an ordinary loaf of bread and breaks it. And just as they finally see Jesus, he vanishes. I don’t even think that they ate the bread before putting on their shoes and heading back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples the good news. Their hearts were burning. The joy. The wonder. The amazement. Did they ran all the way? Did they ever stop and wonder if they had imagined seeing Jesus as they broke he bread? Or maybe to reassure one another that they really did see Jesus. That journey back to Jerusalem is uncharted and without precedent. It colours outside the lines of what’s expected. People who die on crosses simply do not rise to life. It was amazing and unreal and exciting. When the two finally arrive, they proclaim boldly, “The Lord is risen indeed, and he as appeared to Simon!” Luke writes, “Then they told what happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35) That’s when the journey for the disciples really begins. How do the follow Jesus now?


For us here at Cochrane street we are also charting a new path and colouring outside the lines. You’ve never had a minster on Sabbatical and I’ve never been on sabbatical. I don’t know what it’s going to be like to not come to this place with all you wonderful people each week. I’m going to miss being part of this community that’s been an integral part of my life for the last 8 years. Added to that, I haven’t been in school for over 18 years so I’ve got a steep learning curve ahead of me. So I would ask for you to pray for me on this journey. And I for my part will pray for you on yours. I know that you will navigate the road ahead with dignity and grace, working together to lead services and support the work of your church council. I know that when it comes to celebrating the lives of your loved ones or you need care in hospital you are in excellent hands with Rev. Bruce.

Today marks the beginning a new journey for all of us as we each in our own way colour outside the lines. When I come back in May, we can share with one another the things we’ve learned on the way, we can share the struggles as well as the joys. The story of the two on the road to Emmaus is a resurrection story and we are an Easter people. So we trust that our God, who in Jesus gives us everything – love, grace, new life will guide us in the journey that lies ahead.

And we trust that with God’s grace and with God’s help, these next few months are going to fly by as you follow your journey and I mine. As we say in our creed, “We are not alone. We live in God’s world.” And when we find our courage waning, we can gather at the table, for gifts of bread and wine that reminds us that we meet Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Nourished, we find renewed energy to follow the one who invites us to colour outside the lines sharing love, hope, grace and new life with all those we meet along the way. We are not alone. We live in God’s world. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Why be a church Member

Our question this week, is in a way linked to last week’s question. Last week we talked a about why come to church? There are other options and things to do on Sunday morning that don’t involve going to church. People said everything from we go so that we know we aren’t the centre of everything, to needing it to get through the week, to finding joy in the people, the music, the service and for some it is the feeling of home. This week the question is, what does it mean to be a member of a church in today’s? 

            Confession. Until this question, I didn’t really spend much time thinking about the meaning of membership. It gave a chance to think of my own journey. I first became a member of the United Church when I was 13 or 14. I remember meeting with our minster Rev. Ted McCleod. I remember his asking us thoughtful questions and I remember celebrating becoming part of the church. The church that my parents of and the one that their parents before them belonged to. My mother loves telling me about her Presbyterian grandfather who not become a member of the United Church after Union in 1925. I’ve visited people here who tell me that they are Methodists and not United Church. As clergy, I am no longer a member of a congregation, but a member of a region. Over the years I’ve talked to people who want to be members and others who are deeply committed to their church don’t believe that the church is a club that requires membership. 

Our relationship with church membership has its roots in our beliefs about God and is also affected by the generation we were born into. Generationally speaking there is a different sense of denominational loyalty. Generations ahead of mine, chose one denomination and that’s what they were. There is a shift in the millennial generation. This generation Whereas my generation and the ones that follow mine, are less concerned with denominational loyalty and more concerned about the feeling of the local church community. The same is true when it comes to brand loyalty. Previous generations there was a high level of brand loyalty whether it was to car or to the company that you worked for. (http://discipleshipresearch.com/2017/03/millennials-dont-do-denomination/)  

I don’t usually bring up The Manual in sermons but there is a first time for everything! In the United Church we have a designation of full membership – you belong to a specific congregation as well as a denomination. We have what is called full members this happens through confirmation (reaffirmation of baptismal faith) or adult baptism and profession of faith.  (The Manual) We can transfer that membership between congregation. We have another group called adherents. They are people who attend worship and contribute regularly to the life of the congregation. In our daily worship together, we don’t often make a distinction between members and adherents. At our Congregational meetings those in full membership can make a motion allowing everyone to vote on all matters related to the life of the congregation. 

            In the past number of years the United Church has done several studies on membership. Some people want stronger regulations for membership and others like me want looser definitions of membership. I am on the side of wanting everyone who shows up, shows an interest and wants to be involved being considered members. This was shaped by my first congregations. Many of the most involved people in the life of several points were not in full membership. They were there every Sunday to turn on the lights and fix what needed being fixed or organize church functions. It didn’t seem to be that the polity of the church was in keeping with the practical day to day functioning of that congregation. I’m guessing that there are many other churches like this as well. It also likely that this is why the most recent survey on membership wasn’t conclusive – there was an almost 50/50 split on how to define membership.

            So what does it mean to be a member of a church? Why be would you be a member?  I think we need to move past polity and into how it shapes our faith. Years ago, I heard ago I heard a beautiful story about a man whose loved one passed away. I can’t remember if it was his mother or father or someone very close to him. All his life he’d attended church, singing hymns and praying/saying the creeds. On the day of his loved one’s funeral he came to church, it came time for the first hymn and he couldn’t sing. The words got stuck in his throat. Reflecting on this experience later, he shared that he was thankful that there was a congregation behind him who could sing the words of faith when he couldn’t. Someone else was believing and singing for him when he couldn’t.

            Together we are stronger because when I don’t have the words of faith and doubt or sorrow creeps in, you will believe for me. I will do the same for you in your time of need. The community of believers brings meaning to membership. There is something spiritual that happens to us when we sit together, sing together, pray together, and eat together from one week to the next. It reminds me of that great quote from Hebrews, “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,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1)

            In our reading from 1 Corinthians, we have Paul’s reminder that we are all members of the body of Christ and each one of us brings our own unique gifts and every gift is important. The thing I appreciate about Paul’s letters is that he writes when there is trouble in the community and the community at Corinth was arguing about whose spiritual gifts were the best!! It happened then and it happens now. Paul says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 – 31) That still more excellent way is the way of love that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13. 

            Membership in a church community gives a place to live out our faith, to work with one another and work things out when we do not agree. Membership in a community gives a place to express our doubts and explore our faith. It reminds us that we are not alone grown, learn, question and doubt. It gives us brothers and sisters in faith who will believe and sing for us when we cannot find the words of faith for ourselves. Membership is a way of supporting each other and hold each other accountable for a living faith. 

            In our gospel reading, Jesus invites the first disciples to drop their nets and follow. Membership in a church community is one way we live out our invitation to discipleship. It is not the only way. As members of the body of Christ, we follow in Jesus way of contemplation and action. Jesus often took time to pray and he also took time to make everyone feel welcome. Following in the way of Jesus is not easy. We need to the time to worship, sing, pray, and learn so that we can go out care for others, our community and our world. Belonging to a gathered, worshipping community helps to live into Jesus’ final commission. 

            In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ departing words to us were, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18 – 20) Let us go from this place to be the body of Christ in the world. Amen. 

Why Go to Church

Why go to church? It’s a great question! Especially in a time when people are choosing increasingly not to go church. There are some Sunday mornings I wake up and I long to do what people who don’t go to church on Sundays do. Read a book. Sit and sip a good cup of tea in my backyard. Meet friends for breakfast. Finish one of those half finished projects. Even as I’m saying it sounds relaxing and nothing like the scramble we sometimes face going to church. I know for many families it is their only day at home together. So why would we, why do we bother going to church?

I asked some friends on Facebook and here is some of what I got:

1. For spiritual and cultural reasons

2. For music – even it is not always fulfilling

3. For the people – not going to church would have meant missing out positive relationships.

4. Because it is the place where we are loved and welcomed

5. For the spiritual knowledge, spiritual uplift and connecting with others

6. So you can get through the week.

7. To be reminded that worship is about God. “

8. For the rich theology of hymnody.

9. The quiet contemplation of prayer.

10. The studious sharing of the sermon.

11. The gathering of the saints of God, warts and all, which affirms that I belong.

12. It is intentional community revolving around the deep mysteries of faith which are foundational to all that I have been

13. This one I can’t summarize so I quote, “I go to worship God. I think often of the quote I read, in a book that I think may have been written by Marva Dawn, of a colleague of hers who was greeted at the door with a parishioner who said they didn’t get one thing out of that service and the officiant replied, “Well it wasn’t for you, it was to worship God “. Our society’s addictions to capitalism and ME, ME, ME...are hard on a soul. Worship is one way of reminding myself that I’m not the centre. God is. In my life, in my family, clan, church community, town, my national identity as a Newfoundlander or as a Canadian, a dweller on our fragile earth. Being the centre means you have to carry it all, but being reminded that She who always was, can and will do it all with or without me is such freedom.”

For those of you who want to read more, check out Rev. Rob Cooke’s reflection “Why do we need to go to church and some response by congregation members. Links provided in my sermon on our website! (https://stmarksanglicanblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/why-do-we-need-church/?fbclid=IwAR02FRey0qBpMEkyl-RHpewU720tDBIEWd-BczF2Qfrg8U-AawjEYrF14eE and responses: https://stmarksanglicanblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/?fbclid=IwAR1kwJREzZScW__PSDH8Z0qIkqoO3PSb2ur6aackyCmuOk7sM4xPORqlIPo)

No one shared why they don’t go to church but I’m guessing that my Facebook friends group is heavy on the church attenders! I’m guessing that there as many reasons as there are that people come and the some of the reasons have to do with difficult experiences at church. One person said they go but they are barely hanging on to church attendance.

Now it’s your turn. You are here this morning? Why do you come?

I come to church because for me it is home. When I first moved to Newfoundland and Labrador, I was often homesick. I was living for the first time away from my family and friends. Sometimes I longed for the bright lights and busy streets of Toronto because that’s where Scott was and sometimes for my home in Nova Scotia filled with family and friends. I remember very clearly driving home from Nova Scotia, getting off the boat at Port Aux Basque and beginning the drive back home to Newtown. I was missing Nova Scotia already. It was Sunday morning and I was longing to feel at home. As I came up to Deer Lake I could see the church steeples and hear the church bells. I wondered – is there a United Church there? It was still early – 10 am maybe but I thought, I’m going to church. I walked through the doors and I felt that warm peace of home. I can’t tell you what we sang or what was preached but I can tell you it made the rest of the trip back to Newtown easier.

For me, I go to church for so many reasons: it is the people, it is the music, it is those fleeting but beautiful moments where it seems that God has come close, it is for the music that lifts my spirits and it is for the reminder that I am not alone in this journey through life.

As I thought about what passages from the bible to include for this week, I kept coming back to the story from the book of Acts. Church was different – in fact they probably wouldn’t have called it church. For some it was the way of Jesus. For some it was a new revelation about God. Our reading from Acts follows right on the heals of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes like a flame and gives birth to something new. After some heard Peter’s Spirit inspired sermon people asked what to do next. Peter said to repent and be baptized. Here is what is says about the early church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to breaking the bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42 – 47)

Somethings have changed and some have stayed the same. We still break bread together –whether it is at the communion table or in our fellowship time after church. We continue to pray as a community and learn from the apostles teachings. While we don’t hold all things in common, we still do our best to ensure the welfare of people in community. The food was so important because in that early community there were people who had plenty and people who had nothing. They had different social and economic backgrounds and they had to learn to how to be one in “Christ’s body” It says it so well in Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)

This is the strength and the beauty of the church – we come from different backgrounds, different generations, different life experiences but we come here to be one in Christ Jesus. Why come to church? Because here we are all beloved children of God and together we bear Christ’s light in to the world. Amen.

What About Grace?

            Our question for today is one I struggled with. The initial question wasn’t “What about Grace?” The question was about the meaning of sin and salvation and every part of my body got tense. I don’t want to talk about sin. Mostly because the word itself  comes with so much baggage. All too often at least for me sin has been defined a set of moral behaviours that you must avoid in order to get you into heaven. Just think of the so called seven deadly sins – pride, greed, lust, envy, sloth, gluttony, and wrath. I see in that list sins that I’m well acquainted with.  Like pride, greed and envy. It reminds me of terrible song we learned in Sunday School. “Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little eyes what you see. For the father up above is looking down in love. Oh be careful little eyes what you see.” The suggestion of course if we aren’t careful some version of a vengeful God will keep track of what your little eyes have seen and your little ears have heard and what you little hands have done. And for me none of that fits with the God I love that I know. The one whose carried me through the most challenging times in my life. 

Not to mention the fact that it makes the second word – salvation an impossible goal. If sin is a list of moral behavioural code that we must fit ourselves into, then salvation becomes something that we must work towards.  We can strive and strive to do all the things on the good list but we will always all short because we humans make mistakes. Frances Spufford writes in his article on sin in the Huffington Post, “The human propensity to [mess] things up, because what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff — “stuff” here including moods, promises, relationships we care about and our own wellbeing and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch.” (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-sin-really-is-the-hu_b_4164852_

It seems to me that we’ve spent too many theological hours focusing on sin as moral behavioural code and not enough time talk about grace as gift from God.  truest sense of the word is about the things that separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. And to many hours focusing on somehow achieving salvation, that we’ve lost sight of Grace. Salvation isn’t about striving for that unattainable perfection. Nadia Bolz-Webber writes, “…the Greek word for salvation is sozo, which means “to heal, bring wholeness, preserve.” (Shamelesspage 18) 

            This is what Jesus was about. Healing. Bringing wholeness. Preserving our lives. For me this is what grace is all about and what Jesus wants for us all. Our parable of labourers in the vineyard is all about grace. Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven. There is a landowner who needs labourers for his vineyard. So he does what everyone does and goes to the town square and hires those waiting for work that day. The first workers agree to the usual daily wage. Then he landowner goes back to the square at 9, 12, 3 and 5 and sees workers still waiting to be hired for the day. The landowner says to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay whatever is right.” (Matthew 20:4) 

            At the end of the day, when the labourers are getting paid, the landowner pays everyone the usual daily wage. The people who were hired first thing – and got paid last and the same as everyone else were furious. I think they got their hopes up that they would get more because they’d worked longer than all the others. But God’s kingdom is not about what we consider fair. God’s kingdom is about grace. The life a day laborer was precarious. Not get hired meant not eating. When the landowner says to those hired first, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13 – 15) 

            God’s grace is getting paid a full days wage when you worked only an hour. Grace is the prodigal son being welcomed home with open arms and a party. Grace is the lost sheep who gets brought home safe. Grace is not about what you earn or do or striving for perfection or a moral behavioural code, it is being loved just as you are. Grace is a gift, just for you. And it doesn’t matter whether you laboured all day in God’s vineyard or for one minute. We are all given the same amazing gift – no questions asked. No strings attached. 

            Today we celebrate baptism. Sacraments are that visible sign of an invisible grace. We pour water and offer blessing. So that we can remember the gift of grace that comes to us each day. It is a daily gift and no amount of living can wash it away. So on those days when you are haunted by the voices that tell you terrible things like “not good enough or not loved or failure” we have Gold’s grace that whispers, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Amen. 

Who Am I?

This week’s topic was hard to form around a question. She writes, “I personally think a lot about what it means to be a woman and mother.” It’s a good question. One I think about myself. As I pondered how to even begin answering the question, I realized that I could only say what it means for me in the context of my own faith. It’s tricky because all too often women are supposed to fall into two categories – saintly virgins like Mary, mother of God or those evil temptresses like Eve. As we delve in – it important to acknowledge that men are also boxed by ideas that men can’t show emotion and must be the macho bread earners in the family. That’s a topic for another day.

What does it mean to be a woman and a mother? Who am I? I’ve been reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming that tells the story of her life and her own struggle to find meaningful work and balance that with being a good mother. While not everyone becomes the First Lady, I think most women struggle to figure out their place in the world.

It is struggle because for too long women’s histories were not written about or talked about. So we don’t know their stories how they’ve shaped meaning. The Bible is largely silent when it comes to women. You have to work hard to find them and many don’t even have names. There is the widow of Zarephath or the story of the widows mite or the woman caught in adultery. There are some whose names we know, like my name sake Miriam – who led the people in dancing and in their wondering in the desert. There is Deborah who both prophet and Judge. There is Sarah who went when God called to seek that land of milk and honey.There is Dorcas who was an early apostle and preached the good news alongside Paul. There are Jesus friends Mary and Marth. There is Ruth and Naomi and Rachel and Leah.

But the women in the bible whose stories have become the archetype for women in general are Eve and Mary, mother of Jesus. The traditional interpretations that have been handed down from one generation to the next are narrow ways for women to be in the world. There is evil temptress Eve and there is the Saintly Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. What woman do you know that can fit neatly into either one of those images?

I can’t. I’m neither the temptress Eve nor the saintly Mother Mary. I wear many hats. I’m a woman. I’m a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a minister. I get this wrong. I make mistakes. I struggle. I love children and I love being a mom. My children bring me such joy. But it was hard for me when I first became a mother. I thought it would be something I just knew how to do. They let me leave the hospital with a baby and there were days I wasn’t sure what to do. There were challenges with breastfeeding and no sleep. I thought it was supposed to come naturally but it didn’t. I had to read books and talk to other women. I never called my mother so much as in those first few months of Will’s life. I missed my work and adult conversations.

As women we need to hear the stories of others so we can learn about making mean for ourselves. If you read Genesis carefully Eve isn’t evil. She is curious and she listened to the wrong voice. The serpent instead of God. I’m guessing Eve isn’t alone in doing that. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the three was desired to make one wise, she took the fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6) Adam didn’t need much persuading. He’d seen that fruit on the tree of knowledge of good and evil and he wanted try it just as much as Eve did. I think Eve’s gotten a bad rap over the years. Adam and Eve both have their eyes opened and both stand naked before God – not just Eve.

Then we have of Mary – mother of Jesus. In every statue and portrait, she stands there in so serenely in her blue gowns. But she was so much more to her. She was young when the angel came to her asking her to bear God’s son into the world. Where did she get the courage? She boldly says to God. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.: let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Mary had the courage to say yes. Her first identity should be as child of God.

As women, we need to reclaim the fullness of Eve and Mary’s stories. We also need other role models. Our last reading is the story of Mary Magdalen. She was a follower of Jesus. Before we go any further, there is speculation that Mary was a prostitute. This is simply not supported by the biblical record or that available historical records. Mary was an independent woman. Some say she was a dealer in purple cloth. It is clear that she was a big supporter of Jesus because it says that she provided for him out her own resources. There are some who believe that Mary was Jesus wife. What we do know, Mary was cured of the seven demons who haunted her. We know that, even though it is not part of our bible, there is a Gospel of Mary. We know that is was Mary Magdalene – in every gospel account – never left Jesus. She was there for the crucifixion when all the others had fled. And it was Mary who was the first witness of the Jesus resurrection. Mary was the one who told the rest of the disciples the good news that Jesus was risen. “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18)

Here is why Mary makes a good role model for me. She is complex – she had seven demons cast out of her. She knows what it is like to have troubles. She knows what it is like to feel whole. She knows what it like to love someone and lose them. She knows what it is like to be a follower of Jesus and boldly proclaim, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18) After Jesus’ resurrection, Mary was one of the people who shared and helped to the good news.

As I wrestle with how to tie the many hats I wear together, Mary is someone who reminds me that women have an important story to tell. What does it mean to be a woman and a mother? What makes me who I am and what gives meaning to my life is faith. For me, before I am anything else being I am a beloved child of God and follower of Jesus. That is my starting place as both a woman and a mother. It is because God loves and Jesus invites me to follow that I can be a mom and be minster and be a wife and daughter and sister. It is God’s love that gives me strength and courage when I need it. And when things seem to go terrible wrong, it is God’s love that comforts me. Jesus gives me a path to follow and the reminder that I am never alone. What gives shape and meaning to my life is my life of faith. It is my starting place.

I am thankful for the generations of women who’ve gone before me showing me the way. For who Eve reminds me to be curious and asking questions but not to listen to those devious voices that don’t sound like God’s. Mary, mother of Jesus, reminds me that before am a mother, I am invited to be about God’s work in the world. When God calls, we too can say, “Here I am. Let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Mary Magdalen reminds me that even though the voices of women in the bible are few, they are so important. She reminds me to bold proclaim my faith, “I have seen the Lord.” Amen.

Is It Really All Part of God's Plan?

Because of what I do, I have spent a fair amount of time in hospitals and at funeral homes and sitting with people in their sorrow. Sometimes, I’ve overheard good hearted, well meaning people say things to people facing loss that make cringe. I’m guessing that the people grieving are wondering why someone would say that? Its things, “It’s all part of God’s plan. God just needed another angel in heaven.” Or how is this one, “God doesn’t give you anything you anything that you can’t handle.” Perhaps the worst one, “If only you’d prayed harder, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.” Somehow all those sentiments make it seem as though God planned our suffering and made these things happen. As though God is up in the heavenly realm doling out suffering to see if or how we mortals handle it. In an article called, “What to Say (and not say to say) to someone who is grieving, David Pogue shares, “In support groups for parents, ‘God never gives you more than you can handle’ is universally known as one of the cruelest comments for devastated parents to receive,” added Wendy Prentiss, whose 6-year-old nephew was diagnosed with a deadly cancer. “It suggests that the parents are weak for being crushed. It comes across as judgmental and tone deaf. It also suggests, wrote Kathryn Janus, “that God had a hand in the death, and that’s just awful. And, P.S., sometimes the death is more than the bereaved can handle.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/smarter-living/what-to-say-and-what-not-to-say-to-someone-whos-grieving.html It is hard to imagine Jesus saying this to someone in their time of need.

Jairus comes to Jesus, falls at his feet and begs him, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” Can you imagine Jesus saying? “It’s all part of God’s plan.” The woman in our gospel, the hemorrhaging woman, who’d spent everything she had on getting better, who can’t go to worship or be around people or have anyone touch her because the purity laws of the day say that she is unclean. For twelve long years she suffered. Some so called miracle healers came her way, took her money and she is only worse. Would Jesus say to her, “Maybe you should pray harder, God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.”

And yet we find woven through scripture the notion that God knows us and knows all our days – the very hairs on our heads are counted. I believe that plan that God has for us, is not about what we eat for breakfast or the minute by minute details of our days. God’s plan for us is wholeness in mind, body and spirit. And when things go wrong, which they do all too frequently, God’s promise is to be with us in our pain and suffering. To be with us until that wholeness is restored. It says in our Psalm, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalm 56:8) Turn to Revelation 21, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear for their eyes.” (Revelation 21:3 – 4a)

When Jairus throws himself at Jesus’ feet and pours out his about his daughter, Jesus doesn’t say anything to make it better. He simply goes with Jairus. Following him to his home. Staying with him in this difficult time. As Jesus goes with Jairus, the crowds follow him. In the crowd is a woman whose suffering is beyond our imagining. The bleeding is just one part of her pain. The other is the social isolation and the loneliness of her condition. She shouldn’t be in the crowd that day. She knows she shouldn’t touch Jesus, but she thinks, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:28). In that moment the bleeding stops.

And so does Jesus. He feels the change. He says, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30) And the disciples can’t imagine what Jesus is talking about because they are in the middle of a crowd – of course someone is touching you! Jesus ignores them, keeps looking around the crowd to see who touched him. I can’t begin to imagine the courage it took for the woman come forward and tell Jesus her story. Jesus pulled her out of the shadows and placed her back into the heart of the community saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34)

While Jesus is talking to the woman, some tells Jairus his daughter has died and there was no point in troubling Jesus further. Jesus turns to Jairus and says, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus, Jairus and the disciples go to Jairus’s house. Jesus enters the room and says to the little girl, “Talitha cum,” which means “little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about.” (Mark 5:41 – 42)

Jesus actions are not about being with people in their time of need. When Jairus comes to Jesus and tells him about his sick daughter – Jesus goes with him, offers him hope, and restores his daughter to him. When a woman who’d suffered for 12 long years, reaches out and touches him, he restores her to community. And he does this over and over again. Jesus way of love and compassion shows us God’s love at work.

This morning’s news is awful. In one night, two mass shootings. One in El Paso, Texas with 20 people dead and more than 2 dozen injured and another in Dayton, Ohio with 9 killed and 16 injured. These are tragedies for the mothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends and communities. This is not some part of God’s plan. There is no amount of prayer that could stop this. There are no more angels needed in heaven.

It is hard to understand tragedy and suffering and pain. It comes in so many forms and is different for each of us. It doesn’t matter if caused by sickness, or relationship break down, or depression, or loss or loneliness or grief or abuse, or addiction or unexpected tragic accident, we all carry these burdens differently. What I do know that God does not cause it and faith doesn’t give us a “get of out pain free” card. Faith reminds us that when the pain comes, we are not alone. Jesus stays with us in our sorrow. God counts our tears, God wipes away our tears and walks with us in our time of need. Somehow with time, with help of friends, and God’s sustaining love we too can say with the Psalmist, “For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping, So now I can walk in your presence O God, in your life-giving light.” (Psalm 56:13)Amen.

Shh.... Not in Polite Company. Why can't we talk about Sex, Politics and Money?

This week’s question is mine. I’ve always wondered why there are some subjects that fall into the forbidden topic zone whether you are at church or work or a party or in community gathering. It’s like these few words are a flashing stop sign. And I understand why. The question is mine but that didn’t mean that I didn’t spend the whole week avoiding doing the bulletin because I was nervous. I posted the topic and my heart started racing because I was nervous. Should I broach this in church? Then I remembered the stories of the bible. None of them shy away from talking about money or sex or politics … and you don’t have to look very hard to find them. A few years ago, I attended stewardship. They gave us this definition for stewardship – it is everything after we say yes to God and that means no topics are off limits with God. In her new book Shameless Nadia Bolz-Webber writes, “…our sexual and gender expressions are as integral to who we are as our religious upbringings are. To separate these aspects of ourselves – to separate life as a sexual being from a life with God – is to bifurcate our psyche, like a musical progression that ever comes to resolution.” (Shameless page 4) And she is right, when topics that are central to our lives like sexuality, like our faith, like money, like politics are off limits they hide in the shadows, can produce shame, anxiety and fear. None of this is what Jesus wanted for us. Jesus invites us to wholeness and abundant life.

Just before we dive in – this is a beginning. There is no way we can cover all these deep topics in one sermon. But maybe if we dip our toes in to the waters of the challenging topics, it will help us to keep explore, talking and learning. And maybe as we have these holy conversations, we will catch a glimpse of the kingdom that Jesus talked about so much.

How many of you have read the full book of Song of Solomon? If you have you will know that it is the bibles erotic love poetry – filled with passion. Our reading this morning is just one small part of that poem and a PG rated reading. Listen: “My beloved is like a gazelle or young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for the now the winter is past, the rain is gone.” (Song of Solomon 2:9 – 11) There is a long tradition of Christian mystics, like St. Teresa of Avila, whose prayers mimic that language we use to describe a lover. There is strong connections between our souls need for God and our relationships with our lovers. Today, we know from research in our education system that the teenagers who get comprehensive sex education have lower rates of pregnancy and are less likely to get a sexually transmitted disease. They had a space where they could learn, ask questions and have a conversation with their peers. Even if its uncomfortable and the room fills with awkward giggles. I wonder what change if we talked about sex as both gift and blessing from God instead of something that is forbidden or sinful or only for marriage? I wonder open conversation about sex and sexuality change the silence that happens around sexual violence? I wonder if there would be less shame and more joy?

Psalm 139 says, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. …For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” (Psalm 139:1 – 2, 13 – 14)) We are all made in God’s image beautifully and wonderfully made and that includes our sexuality and gender expressions. It includes how we live together in our communities and how we use the resources that God gives us.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus makes just this point. He is teaching the crowds when the Herodian and Pharisees show up. The Herodians and Pharisees don’t agree on much politically speaking but they agree that Jesus is a problem that needs to be fixed. The Herodians are fine with Caesar’s tax, given Herod’s cozy arrangement with Rome. For the Pharisees, the tax is a problem but so is the coin used to pay the tax. The coin proclaims Caesar as a god which runs contrary to the commandment that says “you shall have no other God before me.” So they set the trap with flattery and what seems like a simple question.

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" (Matthew 22:16 – 17) Their goal is to cost him his following or his life. If he approves payment of the tax, he supports the empire and people will abandon him. If says they should not pay the tax, he is committing treason.

Jesus calls them all hypocrites. "Show me the coin," Jesus says. With the coin in hand, Jesus then asks the two simple questions: Whose image is that? Whose title? They say, “The emperor’s” What follows is a well known passage of scripture. The King James Version translates it this way: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22: 21)

Dr. David Lose writes, “All of which sharpens the bite of Jesus’ response: “give, therefore, to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And suddenly the tables are turned, as all in attendance confess that everything belongs to the holy One of Israel. With just a few words, Jesus reveals the truth about his would-be accusers and simultaneously calls them to a higher fidelity than they’d imagined. I wonder if Jesus is doing the same to us? Not trying to trap us, of course, but rather inviting us to declare our allegiance. Perhaps the key issue in this exchange isn’t whose image is on the coin, but rather whose image is on us.”

(http://www.davidlose.net/2014/10/matthew-22-15-22/)

Back to our starting place. Everything after we say yes to God is stewardship – how we live out our faith. Jesus wanted to change the world for the everyone. Jesus talked about the kingdom of God – that place where all find home and welcome. It is our calling as followers of Jesus make this kingdom a reality. And if we can’t talk about how our financial resources get used and if we can’t talk about politics then, then how are we going to help transform our world so it reflects that kingdom?

I think it is becoming increasingly urgent for us to talk about money and politics. I turn on the news and I’m horrified that a world leader would have the audacity to citizens to go back to the country they came from. And in case you think it’s only happening in other countries, just listen to the rhetoric of some of our politic leaders at both the provincial and national level. We need to talk about racism and the kind of world we want to live in. I turn on the news and I hear about the many have no home or not enough money to buy food. We live in a world that has enough resources to feed and shelter everyone. Why can some people spend more money on a luxury item then some people make in 10 years? We need to talk about poverty and wealth. I turn on the news and hear about the planet that we call home and I worry for my children. We need to talk about climate change and how to change our destructive habits so our children can live in safety.

Father Gregory Boyle in a video by Work of the Peoplesays, “Jesus was only about dismantling the barriers that excluded. Jesus was only about expanding the circle of compassion hopeful that no one would be standing outside.” We need to keep talking about those things that make us uncomfortable or considered forbidden so that our world starts to be that circle of compassion where no one is standing outside. Amen.

How Do I Pray?

The first time I was asked about my prayer life was at a session meeting, where I was asking my home church to start the process of becoming a minster. It was the first time I really thought about prayer and I didn’t want to say, “what?” So, I have vague memories about saying something about that I prayed while I was on the move and in all I did. I didn’t really know what to say because I’d never really thought about prayer before.

I think that Frances poem sums up so well the questions I was asking at the time and still ask about prayer.

how do I pray?

in hours of darkness

my heart cries out

please, please dear God

help

crying in my hour of need

sighing with my heart of greed

is this prayer?

how do I pray?

as a child

even before I understood words

I knelt for an hour by my bedside

trying not to fall asleep

trying not to dream

trying to summon words deep in my heart

reaching in the void, the coldness and the dark

was this payer?

How do I pray?

how do I speak to the almighty God

weak and childish as I am

how can I find the right words

when my heart needs so much

how can I be a child of God

when I don't even know the answer

to the question

How do I pray?

The bible is full of directions on prayer. The disciples were confused about how they should pray so Jesus gave them what we now call the Lord’s prayer. When the Israelites were held captive in Babylon, they didn’t know how to pray anymore because they’d always gone to the temple in Jerusalem. How should they pray in this foreign land? In this foreign land – Friday prayers in the home began. The book of Psalms is the prayer book of the bible. We read one this morning and there are 149 others. Each of the Psalms are unique but as a collection can find words of praise, emotional pleas for help and songs of heartbreak and prayers for life to be better or to be sheltered in the palm of God’s hands.

In our reading from Philippians, Paul writes these instructions, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4: 4 – 9)

Prayer is a fundamental part of a living faith. Yet so many of us struggle with it. I’m guessing that there are many reasons. Perhaps we worry about doing it right. Perhaps we think we don’t know how. Perhaps we worry about what we should and shouldn’t be praying for. Should I pray for that new shinny toy? I think sometimes we make it more complex that it really is. So we start with a definition. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines prayer this way:

Definition of prayer

1a(1): an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought

(2): a set order of words used in praying

b: an earnest request or wish

2: the act or practice of praying to God or a god kneeling in prayer

3: a religious service consisting chiefly of prayers —often used in plural

4: something prayed for

5: a slight chance haven't got a prayer

At its heart prayer is a conversation between our hearts and God’s. A good conversation requires someone talking and someone listening and then changing roles. That conversation with God can take as many forms as there are people. When I first started praying, I could only pray while my body was in motion – mostly when I was going for a walk by myself. I would look at my day, if there were hard tasks or conversations, I’d practice what I’d do or say. Passersby must have smiled because they thought I was talking to myself. For a lot of years, I was better at the talking than the listening – and that’s okay. I still pray this way today.

After practicing with the talking I moved to simply reading the bible and journaling about the reading, about my joys, about my struggles and sometimes what I did that day. I’m not alone in wanting my prayer to have action. The ancient labyrinth is a form of walking prayer or walking meditation. There is not starting point and no end but you move through a time of reflection. I realized this year when I started doing yoga that I felt the same way after doing yoga as I did after I prayed. There is no right or wrong way to pray. For some that feeling of connection comes through community, for others it is when they hear beautiful music that their soul soars to the divine and for others it can be through dance or running or writing.

Several years ago, at a retreat, the leader invited us to simply focus on our breath. The first time I did it, it was hard. I was wrestless and self-conscious. But I also liked it. So I started practicing. It took me a long time to come to a place where I could sit and just breath. Not getting distracted by thoughts – simply open to God and God’s direction for me. Part of our weekly prayer group is simply open our hearts to God and listening in silence. It is holy time.

The beautiful thing about prayer is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. The question for you to think about is what works for you connect with God? I think that Mary and Martha are both great examples of different ways of doing that. I know Jesus told Martha that Mary chose the better part, but what did Jesus mean by that? Maybe he couldn’t see that Martha was offering a prayer in service and with the food she brought.

Chapter 10 in the gospel of Luke in many ways presents many ways of approaching faith. It begins with the sending out of the 70 in pairs to every town to proclaim the kingdom of God, followed by what means to be a good neighbour in the parable of the Good Samaritan. As they travelled, Jesus and the disciples were invited to Mary and Martha’s home. Martha provided hospitality to weary travels and a much needed meal. Mary captivated by Jesus’ teaching sat and listened. For too long we’ve dismissed women’s work because or given women the choice between learning and serving.

That’s not what’s a work here. Jesus time is short. Already in chapter Luke 9, it says that “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) Jesu knows what is coming next and it is not going to be easy. After this, everything Jesus does is pointing him to the cross. On that particular day and in that particular context, Mary chose the better part. Maybe Martha was distracted and worried because she’d already started to hear what a trouble maker her good friend Jesus. She couldn’t imagine life without him so keeping busy helped her cope with the road ahead. And Jesus, is inviting her to spend the time left with him – listening and learning. There is a wonderful legend that Martha slayed the beast at Tarascon by sprinkling him with holy water, thus taming the best and then spent the rest of her days in prayer and fasting.

Jesus invites us, to live our faith in prayer and in service. Mary and Marth help us to know that there is a time for each and that we need both. If we can’t reflect on our faith, listen for how God is calling us to live, and offer to God all our cares and concerns our service will fall flat. If all we do is serve, then we will grow weary and loose our way.

This week take some time to think about how you pray – how do you engage in that holy conversation with God whose grace is with us always. Thanks be to God Amen.

Trinity Blessed

            In the calendar of the church year, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. It is one of the doctrines of the church that I struggle with and I’m guessing we all struggle with. Three in one? How does that work? For the strictly rational and mathematically inclined it doesn’t work. St. Patrick tried with the idea of the shamrock – three leaves and yet one leaf. From the Song of Faith 

With the Church through the ages,

we speak of God as one and triune:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We also speak of God as

Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer

God, Christ, and Spirit

Mother, Friend, and Comforter

Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love,

and in other ways that speak faithfully of

the One on whom our hearts rely,

the fully shared life at the heart of the universe.

The preacher Nadia Bolz-Webber writes, “So let’s get right down to it, shall we? Here we go:  God is three persons and one being. God is one and yet three. The father is not the son or the Spirit, the son is not the father or the Spirit, the spirit is not the Father or the Son. But the Father Son and Spirit all are God and God is one. … So to review. 1+1+1=1.  That’s simple enough.” (https://sojo.net/articles/some-thoughts-holy-trinity#sthash.WnU2XuS2.dpuf)Richard Rhor writes, “Religious belief has made me comfortable with ambiguity. “Hints and guesses,” as T.S. Eliot would say. I often spend the season of Lent in a hermitage, where I live alone for the whole 40 days. The more I am alone with the Alone, the more I surrender to ambivalence, to happy contradictions and seeming inconsistencies in myself and almost everything else, including God. Paradoxes don’t scare me anymore.” https://onbeing.org/blog/richard-rohr-utterly-humbled-by-mystery/?fbclid=IwAR0S32QTPqTU3_rT4OA4WvaYmlb-P-XqUeoZqBq8929r4M02GJstfDAtX5s

The trinity is beautiful in its complexity as is our reading from Romans which sounds more complicated than it actually is. Our reading from Romans begins with Paul writing, “Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1 – 2) We are justified by God sounds like we have to complete a series of skill testing questions to receive it. But the opposite is true. It means do nothing to earn God’s love. It is a gift offered to us daily. 

Dr. David Lose in his blog “In the Meantime” writes, “…I am also struck by Paul’s insistence that it’s precisely because we have the peace of God through justification that we can endure almost anything, and not just endure but grow stronger and find hope. Justification is nothing less or more than the promise that God accepts you as you are not because of who you are or what you have done, not because of what you might become or do, not because of who you have promised to be or what you have pledged to do, but that God accepts you because that’s who God is and what God does – justify the ungodly in order that we might know peace and turn in love to extend the same grace, mercy, and acceptance to those around us.” (http://www.davidlose.net/2016/05/trinity-c-shh-dont-mention-the-trinity/)

            And because we are justified (read loved and accepted) we can get through times of challenge and suffering. No magic wands. No instant cures. Through faith we are not alone. God is with us. In our most challenging times we are sustained by the prayers of our brothers and sisters in faith and by their acts of kindness and support. A friend of mine is going through a difficult time, he recently shared this, “If any of you wonder whether thoughts and prayers matters as you send messages our way, let me say YES. It creates a wonderful sense of warmth and comfort know that we are surrounded by a host of people who care, love and support.” Part of the reason for joining a community of faith is to be sustained by those prayers – and to sustain others in our prayers. 

Paul says, “And not only that, but we also boast in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3 – 5)

That is the good news on this day of weighty theological ideas of trinity and justification. We have a hope and because there is hope we can find our way through the most challenging times and we don’t do it alone. God is is with us loving us just as we are, we sustained by the Spirit we follow in Jesus’ way of love. On this amazing journey, we have brothers and sisters in faith. Sometimes we are held in prayer and other times we hold others in prayer.

Together we make our prayer, in the words of the hymn Three Things I Promise, “Revive and guide me living God, as day by day until my death, I bless your name, and cling to Christ and listen for the Spirit’s breath.” Amen.

Commissioning and Benediction

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I can still remember it the day clearly. It was toward the end of our 30 day journey in Israel Palestine. The sun was beating down on us and I’d left my hat at the convent where we were staying. We’d just left the sheltered beauty Dominus Pater which is the place we remember Jesus teaching the disciples the Lord’s prayer. The next stop on the journey was the Mosque of the Ascension. 

            As you enter the courtyard there is a small chapel and inside it you will find a square box sunk into the ground. In centre of the box, there is rock in it that is said to be the last place Jesus touched the earth before ascending into heaven. Some said they could see the footprint of Jesus still in that rock. I don’t know if it was the heat getting to me, but I looked at that rock and couldn’t see the shape of a footprint and my only thought was, “really?” I think my younger self was less comfortable with good mystery. I missed the point of the place. It is a place to remember something holy – something mysterious. So much of faith is that tension between concrete proof and the great mysteries which are yet to be unraveled.

            The disciples are in that same kind of in between in our reading. They aren’t really sure what’s going on. We’ve had 7 weeks since Easter. But for the disciples the timeline is so much shorter. We are still in the 24thchapter of Luke. Verse one has Mary heading to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. She still doesn’t know about the resurrection! As today’s reading begins, the disciples are still talking about the news from Cleopas and how Jesus appeared to them on the road to Emmaus. It is into this conversation that Jesus steps in, and says, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36). Luke writes, “[The disciples] were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:37) 

Even though Jesus started with offering his peace they still don’t really understand what they are seeing or what is happening. Jesus says to them, “Look at my heads and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Then Jesus asks them if they have something to eat, and like good church people of all generations, they sit down and eat together. And after they eat, Jesus reminds them of that the Messiah is the one who must suffer and die and then on the third day rise. Then Jesus offers them a promise, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) 

            They walk as far as Bethany, Jesus lifts up his hands and blesses them as he is being carried up to heaven. And this is what is so important to remember – Jesus last act on earth is blessing. It is fitting in the book of Acts, the book that tells us about the early days of the Christian community, that Jesus last act is an invitation to be witnesses of the good news. Jesus says to the disciples, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7 – 8) 

            I love that Jesus two last acts on earth are just how we closes worship every week – commissioning – you are my witnesses and benediction – he raises his arms in blessing. These two things summarize our calling as a people of faith. We are blessed and with that blessing in hand we go to bear witness to that blessing. 

 

Luke doesn’t tell us what the blessing is, but yesterday as I watched the funeral for the well know Christian author Rachel Held Evans, I wonder if this blessing written by Nadia Bolz-Webber might be what Jesus says to us today: 

 

“Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. 

Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. 

Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. 

I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong. 

Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story. Amen. (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/4f63ddf524ac9f2c23f422a4/t/5cf14dfef9a0200001213a84/1559318017238/Funeral_Liturgy_for_Rachel.pdf

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. 

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.  

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.