“Pomp and Circumstance – Not!” – March 25, 2018

Pomp and Circumstance – Not!”

March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday – Year B

 

Many of you have attended the PNE or Expo 86 or other large gathering of people.  There is something about the hoards of people crashing in around you that leaves you feeling off base.  Such was the scene 2000 years ago in Jerusalem during the Passover.  Thousands and thousands of people were entering the Holy City from every entrance way possible.  The Passover was a big deal.  It was a “must go to” event for the Jewish people.  And so, Jesus and his entourage headed into Jerusalem so that they too could share in that sacred feast.

Imagine a roadway lined with people craning their necks to get a look at the sights.  You spot a man on the back of a donkey.  You look again.  What a peculiar sight!  There are a group of about a dozen men and some women huddled around this man on a donkey.  Is he the promised King?  Surely not!  Not riding on a donkey.  He would be riding on a magnificent steed.  Surely!  But the folk around you are shouting “Hosanna!  God save the King!  Hosanna!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Now – you have to admit – this stranger has your attention.  Is he the one prophesied by Zechariah?  Remember what Zechariah said: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Yes, this stranger certainly fits the profile.

But why such a public demonstration.  Jesus is this quiet, private prophet and healer.  He is not one for show and pageantry.  The Jesus on the back of a donkey seems to be drawing attention to himself.  It is as if he is the Parade Marshall.  And talk about excitement amongst the crowd.

Instead of balloons tied around the arms of the crowd, they strip branches off of the trees and shrubs and spread cloaks on the ground.  A century and a half before, when Judas Maccabeus delivered Jerusalem from the Greeks, the people waved palm branches.  That is what is done for a king.  Hosanna!  Save Now!  O God – break in now and save God’s people now that the Messiah has arrived!

We are entering into Jerusalem with Jesus.  I can’t speak for you, but I really don’t want to go.  You see, I know the rest of the story.  I know that Jesus will come and visit Simon at Bethany and will have his feet anointed with costly oil.  I know that Jesus and the disciples will go to a guest room and will share the Passover meal.  I know that Jesus will go to the Mount of Olives and will pray, but his friends will all drift off to sleep.  I know that Judas will betray his friend.  I know that Peter will deny knowing Jesus.  I Know that Jesus will appear before Pilate and he will be condemned to death.  I know that we will gather again on Friday morning and we will sing and tell the story of Good Friday.  This is a week that is heavy.  We are called upon to feel.  We are called upon to enter deeply into the Holy week experience.  We do ourselves a disservice if we skip to Easter Sunday, without going through Holy Week.

Why?  You ask.  To not enter into the fullness of Holy Week cuts us off from the depth of the spiritual experience that is crucifixion and resurrection.  It is the core of our faith.  So, to walk the Palm parade prepares us to open our heart and spirit to the fullness of God’s drama.  It is a holy mystery, to be sure.  But, God walks hand in hand with us.  It is a time when prayers seem more intense.  Our openness to the everyday miracles seems heightened.  And the profoundness of life is sharper.

I invite you to utilize this upcoming week to deeply feed your spiritual senses.  Pray daily.  Take time to contemplate the faith story.  It is identified in our order of service.  Go to your Bibles and open to the Gospel of Mark and read chapters 14 and 15.  If you don’t have a Bible, there are copies of the reading on the welcome table.  Read it in full each day this week.  Then, when we gather on Good Friday you will be well prepared to experience the depth of Christ’s love for us.  And next Sunday – Oh my, what a celebration we will have!  Amen.

 

 

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“Depression, War and New Possibilities” – March 18, 2018

“Depression, War and New Possibilities”

March 18, 2018 – Lent 5 – Year B

 

 

September 10, 1939 is a date that has forever changed the course of history.  The Battle of the Atlantic and the outbreak of WW 2 saw Canadian men and women engaged in conflict that would last 6 years.  During that time our congregation was faithfully singing the National Anthem immediately following the doxology.  We were proud of our home and native land.

During the war years Rev R.C. McGillvray served as our minister.  In 1944 it was determined that 2 ministers were needed and Rev. Bob Stobie and Rev. Ernie Rands were called to serve in our midst.  Sermons such as “When God Seems Hiding”, “What is Man?”, and “Getting the Best Out of Life” were proclaimed from this pulpit.  Mrs.  Monica Craig Fisher was our faithful organist for our morning and evening services.

We were a busy church, especially post war.  In addition to our Board of Stewards we had a Sunday School, a Mission Band, 40 girls in CGIT in 1944, Young People’s group, a Boy’s Club, Red Cross Unit, 5 Women’s Circles, The Couples Group, and As One That Serves (a men’s group) consisting of 40 men in 1940.

Some interesting tidbits gleaned from our archives include: in 1940 a motion was passed to support more temperance legislation.  That same year the Senior Choir organized a fundraising concert featuring Luther King, a black tenor.  In 1941 the Women’s Auxiliary raised $1,387 at their bazaar.  They organized socks, sweaters, and clothing to send to the Red Cross.  In 1943 a Fellowship Committee was established to visit homes and support the young wives of absent soldiers.  In 1944 the lot immediately north of the church was purchased.  Room was needed for the Sunday School, with attendance averaging 185 children.  Plans were discussed.  Membership was 471.  There were 30 child baptisms, 8 adult baptisms, 43 marriages, 25 funerals.  In 1945 The Sunday School registered 269 children with 29 teachers.  In May 1946 the Young People held a bike-hike to the Summerland Experimental farm with supper at the farm.  In 1947 the M&S covenant was $1,600.  By 1948 a Building Committee was formed to evaluate the condition of the premises and to carry out any needed refurbishing.  Such a committee has been active ever since.  In 1949 the AGM called for $50,000 to be raised for the construction of the Memorial Hall (Narthex)

In the minds of many, the 1940’s were the glory years.  We thrived as a church in-spite of the hardship of war.  We had a cause and we were determined to support our men and women in the very best way we could.  Post war we grew and thrived.  Marriages and births were celebrated in numbers we had never seen before.  We were a faith community that had found its legs.  20 years old and all was going well.

Like today, Sunday worship was an important constant in a greatly changing world.  The reading of scripture and the sermon was vital to a strong faith, was the understanding of our large congregation.  And so, scriptures like we heard were offered and expounded upon.

Jeremiah warned the people of the catastrophe that would befall their nation.  This was news the people didn’t want to hear.  Just like the outbreak of the Battle of the Atlantic, fear fell over God’s people in the 6th Century BCE.  Yet, it was in this context that the prophet Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant.  Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah during the last days of that nation’s sovereignty around 627 BCE.  He had been in conflict with the official theology of the nation for much of his ministry.  While many around him saw the covenant as broken beyond repair, Jeremiah saw God creating a new way.

The conditional covenant theology of the Exodus was rejected by Jeremiah as untrue to God’s nature.  God the creator would create something new that would better express the nature of God’s relationship with God’s people.  Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant written on the heart, not in books or precepts.  With this new covenant the law will be within God’s people and they will know God’s way within their very being.

This new covenant has been interpreted by Christians from the earliest days of the church to refer to Jesus.  So it is that you and I seek to live our lives in such a manner that God is revealed in all that we say, do and are.

To have God’s way written on our hearts and lived out faithfully in our lives is surely grace.  I can just imagine that on September 2, 1945 when war was declared over there was not only cheering and hugs and kisses.  I imagine that God was saying, “learn from this, my way is in loving relation with all my people from now on!”  We have not done a very good job in living out that directive.

Like the people of Jeremiah’s day, Jesus’ disciples and followers were not pleased to hear predictions of doom – they did not want to hear about Jesus’ impending death.  In the Gospel text, Jesus uses the visit of the Greeks as an opportunity to tell them again about what lay ahead for him.  Like Jeremiah, he also gives them a word of hope through his comparison of his death to the planting of a seed of wheat.  “Only if a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies will it bring forth fruit,” he says.

The image of the seed lies at the heart of John’s understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death.  The death of the single grain brings about the growth of many new seeds.  Through Jesus’ death on the cross, something new will enter and transform the world.  Through this amazing truth, you and I are forever made new.

None of us want to look to the future and foresee doom.  We squirm a little knowing that Good Friday is just less than 2 weeks away.  Yet, we know that our call is the way of the cross. The middle verses about those who love their life and therefore will lose it, have a strong resemblance to parallel sayings in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The mention of taking up one’s cross as a part of following Christ is another saying that we hear in all 4 gospels.

Jesus’ horrible death does not release us from having to go through our own death in order to emerge into the fullness of eternal life.  The process of transformation from seed to plant, death to resurrection, this world to eternal life is clearly a difficult and painful process.  However, the gospel of John does provide us with a wonderful assurance that through whatever we must endure, we are never alone.  As we take up the crosses of our lives, we are assured that we have a close and loving companion.

So, what cross are you prepared to take up?  Is it one for the environment?  Is it one to give a little more time volunteering to a worthy cause?  Will you take up the cross of racial justice?  What about committing yourself to contacting 2 lonely people each week?  How about writing letters on behalf of those facing abuse?  Could you do a little extra donation to the church to ensure it continues to proclaim the Good News for the next 90 years?

Well, there you have it.  We have looked at our 2 scripture texts and reflected on the call to bring forth fruit.  The 1940’s was a decade that bore much fruit.  We have a history to be proud of.  We honour our veterans.  Please take time to view our memorial Plaque in the narthex on your way down to coffee hour.  The men and women who helped to build this country and this church deserve to be honoured.  May our celebrations continue.  Amen.

 

Rev. Laura J. Turnbull

Penticton United Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Bite of Freedom” – March 11, 2018

“The Bite of Freedom”

March 11, 2018 – Lent 5 – Year B

 

Two monks, on a journey together, came across a woman who was standing beside a river.  The woman was very beautiful, and the water was too deep for her.

One of the monks lifted her on his shoulders and carried her across.

The 2nd monk was astounded.  “How could you do such a thing?” he demanded.  “You know our vows.  It was sinful for you to carry that woman.”  And the 2nd monk went on and on about the sins of the first monk until finally the 1st monk stopped.

“Brother,” he said gently.  “I set that woman down by the edge of the water.  Why are you still carrying her?”

Todays scripture passages are rich with preaching possibilities. I could talk about the promise of eternal life – or the wondrous healing offered by God – or the light and darkness imagery presented in the Gospel. But instead of any of those rich themes, I want to explore that which bites us.

Sometimes we are like the monk and we carry around with us a whole lot of burdens.  It has been said that the burdens in our heads are far heavier than the burdens on our backs.  We find it difficult to set them down and leave them in God’s care. Some of the burdens that we are carry around, are the weight of judgmentalism,  fear, anger, helplessness, anxiety and loneliness.  For some of our neighbours there is the burden of poverty, homelessness, and indifference.

When we are burdened, we crave healing.  What kind of healing do you seek?  You see, today we have heard about 2 different kinds of healing.  We heard about Moses and the snakes.  We also heard the famous John 3:16 passage about Jesus.  The comparison is drawn between Moses lifting up the snake and Jesus being lifted up on the cross.

The Israelites simply had to look at the bronze serpent and they had life.  For us, though, seeing has nothing to do with it.  We must have faith in Jesus, then we get eternal life.

The bronze snake only gave more physical life – physical life that had to be lived out where you were, in the same circumstances and problems and challenges.

The snake’s cure is really only temporary.  It is a Band-Aid solution.  On the other hand, Jesus is a permanent cure.  Unlike the snake, we aren’t just cured to go back to our regular grind in the same old way.  We are freed to live the same old grind as new people, with new possibilities.

We don’t even have to see the old grind as the old grind.  Now we can see it as a place to meet Christ and a place where God waits for us.  A place of God’s opportunities.

Marion Best, our friend and neighbour from Naramata, wrote the following, while Moderator of The United Church of Canada, “The Israelites were grumbling and complaining and I suspect their leadership didn’t always know what to do either.  And yet God did provide.  Sometimes the way God provides isn’t what we’re looking for, so maybe we have to be open to surprises and not be too anxious.  It’s hard not to be anxious.

I suspect the grumblings and the murmurings were based in Israelites’ fear and sense of loss. Thad that’s familiar to us.  Maybe we’re only at the beginning of what will be a long period in the wilderness for our church.

It’s not that you do nothing during that period.  But how do we decide what to do.  It seems to me that one of the things we do is stay in touch with the source of our strength.  For the Israelites, that was clearly God.  This is a really important thing and so I think prayer and remembering who we are will be essential to our survival.

We didn’t just come from nowhere.  We have roots.  We have ties with these Israelites, and all the others since, who have found themselves wandering in the wilderness.  So, I have this yearning to stay rooted.  But at the same time, I have to realize that a lot of what I’ve called familiar and a lot of what I’ve counted on may not be what God wants for us right now,” says Marion Best.

Our text from the Gospel of John provides an insight into the way in which Jesus and the early church used the Hebrew Scriptures – which of course were the only scriptures they had.  Most of us have heard and even have memorized the famous John 3:16 passage (“For God so loved the world that God gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”).  Yet, how many realize that these words are placed in the text immediately following the descriptions of Jesus as one who is lifted up by God in the same way that “Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.”  Just as when Moses help up a staff with a bronze snake on it and all who were dying from snake bites were mysteriously healed when they looked on it with eyes of faith – so does Jesus’ death on the cross provide a similar gift of healing and wholeness for those who believe.  “By his wounds you have been healed,” said one early Christian writer (1 Peter 2:24).  By looking upon – and facing – an image of our greatest fear – death – God is able to release us from it through eternal life.  Thus, when we gaze upon the cross, we face our own fear and are reminded of the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.  For us as Christians the death and resurrection of Jesus puts a permanent seal upon this promise.  Talk about Good News!

How might you and I experience the bite of freedom?  How do we experience the healing message that sets us free?  Being on medical leave from November through to January taught me many lessons about God’s healing pathway.  I turned to as many different healing practices as I could, and built them into my daily pattern.  I swam which is both physically helpful but also a meditative practice.  Yoga is a particularly helpful breath work practice with meditation a central part of each session.  I utilized the skills of a counselor and Spiritual Director. I used tuning forks several times each day, to help centre myself.  I asked for prayer from friends and I know I was on several prayer lists.  I did a lot of reading.  That is some of what was helpful for me.  What you might need is possibly different.  Reading sacred books, long meditative walks, reading scripture, drumming, singing, walking a labyrinth, all are possible resources in your spiritual journey.

In his book “Running to Paradise”, R. Maurice Boyd tells of a sign which he noticed in a nursery one day.  It read “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago.  The 2nd best time is today.”

The best time to have said “yes” to God voice was the 1st time we heard that voice.  The 2nd best time is today.  Let us say a clear “Yes” to our God.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

“Remembering What Was Said” – March 4, 2018

“Remembering What Was Said”

March 4, 2018 – Lent 3 – Year B

 

The other day I was looking at the list of swimming pool rules. It begins with “Thou shall not….”

  • run
  • dive in the shallow end
  • Swim with open wounds

And the list goes on.  Having grown up around swimming pools I long ago memorized those pool rules.  They are standard from swimming pool to swimming pool.  They are what keeps everyone safe and happy.

Such is true of the 10 Commandments.  10 simple statements that help to guide life.  If we all follow them, then life goes along smoothly.  To put it another way, we have been given 10 freedoms to grant us full life.  In the ancient Hebrew language these statements were likely 10 words.  The first 4 – 1) only 1 God – 2) no idols – 3) honour God’s name – 4) Sabbath – speak to our relationship with God and our bondage to self.   We are free to relate to one another with love, care and respect.  The remaining 6 freedoms speak to our relationships to others. 5) parents – 6) killing – 7) adultery – 8) stealing – 9) false witness – 10) coveting

Every faith tradition has some form of rules of life.  They are a list of how to live in a orderly and lovingly manner. The commandments offer a glimpse of the world that, in accordance with the promise, God will one day bring about.  One day there will not be murder, or stealing, or idolatry.  What a fabulous vision of the future.  What a way of freedom for all humanity.

We can imagine the Hebrew people having spent years in the wilderness and recently escaped from Egypt, needing direction for how they were to be in relationship.  No longer living as slaves, this new way of life calls for guidelines for freedom.

I hear people questioning if the 10 commandments have relevancy in 2018.  It seems to me that they might have more relevancy than ever before.  Living in a world of me first, and disregard for the sanctity of human life, I believe that we need a directive of valuing human life and embracing the dignity of all humanity.  The 10 commandments serve as a basis for non-exploitative relationships among one another.

Rather than being guilt inducing, these 10 freedoms liberate us to let go of consumerism, militarism, racism, and almost any word that ends with an “ism.”  Those gods, and others, truly enslave us by making us more selfish, greedy, and hurtful to others.  Putting God first sets us free to be the persons and community God intended.

I can’t imagine that God was first in the mind of the people in the temple when Jesus entered and saw the mayhem.   This gospel text, commonly called “Cleansing of the Temple,” presents a picture of Jesus, not mopping the floor with Pinesol as the title may suggest, but, turning the tables over.  Flipping out.  Getting royally ticked.  Getting angry.  It wasn’t that he was shocked about the moneychangers in the temple; he’s been to Jerusalem and the temple several times before.  But he saw that the Law of God, formulated in the Ten Commandments, had been reduced to rules and regulations.  So, where it was supposed to foster a right relationship between God and humanity, it had become just another means of exploitation.

 

If you have experienced St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church’s “Walk to Bethlehem,” you have walked the streets of an imaginary Israeli village and engaged with the market vendors.  It is noisy and congested.  Merchants trying to sell their wares, animals rubbing against you, and palm readers beckoning you to learn your life’s journey, all are vying for your money.  It is congested and noisy.  Money changers stand at the entrance of the temple and the poor beggars are huddled nearby seeking your spare change.  As you move further into the temple the stench is almost unbearable and the noise is a cacophony of shouting in multiple languages.  Goods are sold, ranging from straw brooms to beautiful bronze urns.

The Passover was near and Jesus returned to the Temple, with all its bustle leading up to the high holy day.  The corruption he saw there ignited the fires of his anger.

Bureaucrats changed the foreign currency that pilgrims brought from all over the known world into a common Temple coin, so that these pilgrims could then buy their animals for sacrifice at the Temple.  The exchange rate they charged was way out of line.  It was thievery upon the unsuspecting and helpless pilgrim.

Jesus looked wild, as he bodily tore into Jerusalem’s equivalent of our Stock Exchange, bringing it all to a halt.  To enter Jerusalem on a donkey was one thing.  To interrupt Temple commerce was quite another.  He had touched a raw nerve –  he had to die!

Have you ever been that angry?  Harriet G Lerner in her book The Dance of Anger states: “ Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.  Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right.  Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue in our lives, or that too much of our self – our beliefs, values, desires, or ambitions – is being compromised in a relationship.  Our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth.  Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self.  Our anger can motivate us to say “no” to the ways in which we are defined by others and ‘yes” to the dictates of our inner self.”

What causes Jesus to be angry today?  Is he angry when we fail to take seriously the degradation of the environment?  When we buy cheap products ignoring the company’s deplorable working conditions?  When it is still OK that Canadian women are paid 69 cents to a man’s dollar?  When many Indigenous Canadians living on reserves have unsafe drinking water? When sexual abuse destroys innocence?   Is Jesus angry when these situations continue?

Will we continue to support the Mission and Service fund so that these issues and causes will continue to be addressed?  Will we invest time in writing our M.P. letting him know our concern and asking that the government take action?  Will we invest time in prayer, seeking God’s wisdom?  Will we overturn the tables of indifference when we see injustice around us?

On this 4th Sunday of Lent we draw ever close to the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb.  Some of us are ready for Easter right now.  We want the lilies and other pretty flowers.   We are ready to live resurrection rather than introspection.  We would prefer not to journey this 6 weeks of Lent.  We really don’t want to have to examine the challenging directives of the 10 Commandments.  We’d rather not look at the issues that our righteous anger calls us to address.  But, here we are.  The 10 Commandments are our freedom, not our burden.  The temple is cleansed and we are called to follow Jesus.  Let that be so!  Amen.