“Ready or Not” – November 27, 2016

“Ready or Not”
Advent 1 – Year A – November 27, 2016

The stars twinkle, house lights sparkle, and the delight in children’s eyes reveal the unmistakable anticipation for the Holy season of Christmas. But as people of faith, we know that we cannot jump to Christmas without journeying through the 4 week period of preparation of Advent. Advent is that time of analysis, reflection, and anticipation. We utilize our Advent study booklets and reflect on this year’s theme “Unto Us a Child is Born” by Henri Nouwen. Perhaps you plan on spending more time in focused prayer. Possibly you support the needy of our community and abroad in an intentional way. All this, and more is part of the Advent preparation leading up to Christmas.
Are you ready? Are you prepared for the journey toward Bethlehem? I ask this because ultimately, we all must journey in our hearts and our souls to the side of our Redeemer and friend. Many years ago I had a Minister remind our group of lay preachers that every sermon must either begin or end in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and must also be grounded here at home. So, we do journey in our hearts to Bethlehem and we see the unrest between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. And we realize this tension has been going on since before Jesus’ birth. And we wonder “how long, O God, How long?” We move our attention a little north to Syria and we think about the fighting going on in Aleppo. We ask, “how many more lives must be lost before we hear Isaiah’s cry to turn our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks?” We look at the ads in our newspapers and on TV and we question if the coming of Christ into the lives of non-believers will break this senseless cycle of greed. But we listen to the gospel writer Matthew who encourages us to be ready, for Jesus comes at an unexpected hour.
“How might we be ready?” you ask. From both scripture texts, we are called to live each day faithfully doing deeds filled with love, forgiveness, and peace. If we do so, we model ourselves after Christ. Well – that sounds easy enough, doesn’t it. Love – forgive – peace. The short word for all of this is “shalom.” That is the vision that is heralded in the oracle of Isaiah 2. It is more than just a cessation of hostilities between nations or individuals. This Hebrew word means wholeness, completeness, and peace. When the world is whole in the way God intends, hostilities cease, prosperity abounds, and people experience safety and security. Peace in this complete sense is dependent on God’s righteousness being established. When God arbitrates between nations, weapons are needed no more. What was once a sword raised in hostility is transformed into a plough to till the earth and feed the people. Walking in the light of God is to walk toward a world so transformed by love.
I hear these two scripture texts alongside the anxiety of the world as we wait and see what will happen when Donald Trump takes over leading the United States. There is no doubt that the fear and anxiety about the United States and Russia heading into power struggles is cause for concern. We find it hard to imagine that behind all the rhetoric will be sane heads and a spirit of (dare I say it) “shalom”. For, ready or not, the word needs leaders who are conciliators, not retaliators. Surely the deep longing in our hearts is addressed by Christ’s shalom, not a false prophet! We are at a time when nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Will sane heads prevail? Will the Advent and Christmas message of hope in the midst of despair guide world leaders? We must keep them in our prayers.
“Are we there yet?”, is the question of children on a long car ride. “Ready or not” is the cry of the hide and go seek game of by-gone years. “I can hardly wait” says the impatient fidgeting one, as they yearn for the coming event. Surely it is all of this and more that we feel as we wait for the wonderful celebration of Christ in our lives. Advent seems like a long 4 weeks of anticipation when we are bouncing in the pews anxious for the Christmas celebration. Can’t you just picture Amber and Steve’s home as Damian gets more and more excited about Christmas with each passing day. The count down is on. There are cookies to be made, presents to be wrapped, and hearts to be made right, before the big day of celebration is upon us. The waiting period is now. May we use this time well. For, ready or not, Advent is much more than school concerts and a spending frenzy. May our prayers be sincere – our hearts open and ready for Christ’s light – and may peace be deep in our bones. Amen.

“All’s Right With the World – Or Not” – November 20, 2016

“All’s Right With the World – Or Not”

November 20, 2016 – Reign of Christ Sunday – Year C

sing VU # 148 – Jesus, Remember Me

Linda is Mom to 3 teenage girls.  She worked for a car dealership.  I say worked, for she was caught embezzling money from the company and ultimately was fired from the dealership and was incarcerated for a period of time.  The family’s financial struggles were known by the neighbours and friends, alike.   She was a devoted Mom and would do anything to help out the struggling family.  And she got caught.  Linda and her husband farmed in the community that I lived in and I got to know them as they became regular church attenders.  As I got to know this kind, strong, determined woman, I grew to really like her.  In Linda, I saw Christ, hanging on the cross – head bent, with criminals on either side. Christ was ready to redeem Linda.

sing VU # 148 – Jesus, Remember Me

Many nights we have people sleeping on our front steps or under one of our fire escapes.  Last Saturday Sue Butchard came in to the church to prepare for a funeral.  She encountered a very ill woman and her 2 German Shephard dogs huddled under our back fire escape.  Sue reached out with grace, compassion, and love and sought assistance for the woman and her dogs.  Thanks to the help of Critteraid, the dogs are being looked after, and I was able to take the woman to hospital and get her the medical care she needed.  Each of the people who use our property as shelter are the living Christ.  Sue too, was the compassionate Christ for the woman who needed medical care.

sing VU # 148 – Jesus, Remember Me

Hugh is an artist who challenges the viewer to see the devastation facing the world.  Much of his work is 3 dimensional.  A superficial look at the art piece and you might miss the stirring message.  Environmental destruction, war, and injustice are just some of the topics he addresses in his high quality work.  Hugh has taken a number of exposure trips around the world to learn from people whose traditions, experiences, and values are different from his own.  He is richer and wiser for these opportunities.  He would worship at the church I served in Swift Current Saskatchewan.  Through him, I met Christ, the advocate for the planet.

sing VU # 148 – Jesus, Remember Me

Scripture is full of many different images of Christ.  We are introduced to the frustrated and angry Jesus as the market square when he overturns the tables.  We see the tender Jesus taking children upon his knee.  We meet the compassionate Christ healing blind Bartamaeus .  We encounter the wise Christ teaching the disciples about the blessings that come with mercy, peace, and forbearance.   We experience Christ as we journey with Apostle Paul and other early Christians.  Each situation and vignette introduces us to the Christ who we remember with thanksgiving and gratitude.

I invite you to open your eyes and your hearts, so that you will encounter Christ in every person you meet.  Christ comes in surprising forms, but always with righteousness.  May your hearts be open so that you will recognize Christ.  May your eyes be open so that you will see Christ.  May your Spirits be open so you will unite as one with Christ.  Amen.

sing VU # 148 – Jesus, Remember Me

 

 

 

 

 

“Oh! Such times!” – November 13, 2016

“Oh!  Such times!”

November 13, 2016 – 26th Sunday in Creation

Did you hear the words that describe the vision and possibility for a new creation that Isaiah envisions?  If you listened closely you would have noticed that the completion of creation is detailed from the perspective of God.  What great joy this will bring all people.  This new creation offers a place of peace and prosperity, suggests Isaiah.  Isn’t that what you and I long for?  Isaiah’s proclamation of God’s intent to create a new heaven and a new earth sounds downright idyllic.  In this glorious creation, we are all going to live longer, happier, and more peaceful lives.  All of that sounds wonderful!

The image is one of wholeness, healing, and reconciliation.  I believe this is God’s deepest desire, to live in right relationship with us.  And despite our wild absurdity and warring madness, I believe human beings have a primal desire for that relationship also.  Along with that desire comes responsibility.  Wholeness in relationship requires that all parties are engaged and active in making it work.  We are not passive recipients of God’s dream; rather, we are active participants in bringing it to fruition.  In other word, peace is possible.

I believe that God is doing a new thing, continuously.  I also believe that the glorious new creation is not something that will happen to us, but rather, God’s glory will be revealed in time by us.

Let’s jump to the Gospel text and see how it ties in with our Hebrew scripture.  The setting is after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.  Like all of the gospel’s, Luke reflects the persecution which the early church experienced, as well as the people’s strength and continuing commitment.  Luke tells us of Jesus declaring at an earlier time that “the days will come when not one stone (of the Temple) will be left upon another.”  Those around him want to know times and signs for this great event.  But Jesus offers only a warning:  those who claim to know that the time is at hand are false messiahs and not to be followed.  The desire to know the future is human but the attempt to determine is misleading.

Jesus encourages his disciples to trust, rather than to look for signs and predictions.  No fortune teller here.  To follow Jesus includes arrest, trial, and betrayal.  They will have many opportunities to testify to the truth they experience about God’s reign.  They are encouraged not to worry in these anxiety-provoking situations because Jesus will give them both words and wisdom to answer their accusers.  Luke’s first hearers were experiencing conflict and persecution because of their faith, and were buoyed up by these powerful words.  They don’t need to worry about what comes next, because they always have Jesus with them.

As modern Christians, we too live in a world that is hostile in general, and sometimes even hostile to us in particular.  We need to hear this passage the way the first listeners would have heard it.  If we are truly living the way Jesus taught us, we cannot expect everything to be easy.  However, we do not have to face the difficulties alone.  Christ who was with the church from the very beginning will be with us too.

We hear these 2 scripture texts in the shadow of the American election.  Some of us are surprised at the results and wonder what relations will be like with President-elect Trump at the head.  We heard much rhetoric and veiled threats in speeches leading up to the election.  Will they be acted on?   It is clear that the American people wanted change.   The Hebrew people of Isaiah’s time also yearned for change, and they heard a promise of future times when God will be in control.  Will the change that Donald Trump suggests align with the cry of Isaiah and the announcement of Luke?  What are the consequences for us as neighbours and trade partners? Will we, as a melting pot country, be put to the test?  Will we as a country that values diversity and justice, continue to be in close relationship with our nearest neighbour?   Time will tell.

As we reflect on the 2 scripture passages, we are assured that God continues to create the world even in the face of war, famine, plagues, or conflict.  We may not know the specifics of what’s next but we do know that God meets us there.  We are also reminded that we experience God now and we are working with God, co-creating the future.

Over this past week I have meditated on these 2 scripture passages while I do my daily swim.  I found myself wondering about the imagery we might use today if we were to write the 2 texts.  Might we suggest that there would be an end to wars, refugees, and possibly even telephone scams?    Would we see an end time where prophets herald the end of abusive relationships?  Would we encounter an end time where greed is no more?  Will we encounter Christ in a defining way, that we are forever changed, and those around us are also changed?

C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity” writes, “Hope… means…. A continual looking forward to the eternal world…. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.  Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

May we hold firm in our hope.  May we trust in the incredible vision that God has for us, in this world and the next.  And most of all, may we live our lives in such a way that others may encounter the ever-living Christ.  Amen.