“Bigotry and Racism is Overcome” – August 20, 2017

“Bigotry and Racism is Overcome”

August 20, 2017 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

“I am woman, hear me roar

In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much

To go back and pretend

‘Cause I’ve been down there

On the floor

And no-one’s ever gonna

Keep me down again.”  Sings Helen Reddy in 1972

 

That anthem for the women’s movement holds a power and truth for women throughout the ages.  All we have to do is really hear the scripture text of today to hear a woman roar some 2000 years ago.

The Canaanite woman certainly knew how to stand up for herself.  Some might even say she was persistent and tenacious.   With all that said, we can’t help but be astounded at her faith.  She is incredibly clear that Jesus is the One who can cure her demented daughter, a child likely living with epilepsy.  And wow, is Jesus ever impressed by her faith when he says to her “Women, great is your faith!”

In todays world, the Canaanite woman might well be one of our displaced Aboriginal women who dearly loves their child but have found it difficult to find a job, adequate housing, sufficient food, and proper schooling for her precious child.  The woman was called all sorts of names, including ones I can’t use in church, or anywhere else, for that matter.  Yet, in spite of all the deprecating understanding of this uppity Canaanite woman, there is no doubt that she is gutsy.  She is told that she is not worthy of food –  food that children throw to the dogs.  And even more outrageous, dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their owners table.  But there is no food for this hungry Mother.  This marginalized woman only wanted scraps.  And she wanted her daughter to be released from her horrible agony.

Todays Gospel story describes the only recorded occasion on which Jesus was outside of Jewish territory.   Some commentators suggest that Jesus was taking a break – a holiday, so to speak.  Perhaps that explains his reluctance to respond to the needs of the Canaanite woman when she initially requests help.  Jesus just wants to chill out.  If that is the case, what makes this account so startling is that Jesus was initially hesitant to respond to this Gentile woman’s need.  A Gentile is an outcast – a foreigner – a person not to be associated with.  Yet, when Jesus does respond to the woman and her child, he breaks down the barriers of bigotry, sexism and racism.

I decided on the sermon title “Bigotry and Racism is Overcome” back in June.  Little could I have imagined the horror that has occurred in Charlottesville Virginia.  The extreme racial tension and violence that has been sparked by allegedly 1000 neo-Nazis, skin heads and Ku Klux Klan members, which has widened the racial and ideological divide.  This college town finds itself in the midst of “take America back” chants, “anti-immigration” placards, and white Nationalists parading down their streets.  All this is happening while Gerry Neilsen and I were at a birthday party for one of our Syrian refugee families.  Shaad had turned 5 and Gerry and I and approximately 12 other members of the refugee committee were helping her celebrate her big day.  We were living out that racism has no place in Penticton.

2000 years ago a brave yet desperate woman,  persistently nagged  Jesus, until he came to the aid of her daughter.  45 years ago Helen Reddy sang about the strength of women, born out of pain.  35 years ago The Right Rev. Dr. Lois Wilson has this to say about the Canaanite woman and all of us:

“This is a story about a woman who refused to “know her place.”

She was poor, a foreigner, and a Gentile.  In the eyes of many she had no legitimate claim on God’s grace.  Yet she demonstrated self confidence, dignity, and self-assurance in her encounter with Jesus.  She is insistent, demanding, and unafraid.

The nub of the controversy was whether an inclusive table sharing of both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians was justified in the new Jesus movement.  How ‘open’ should the Christian community be?  How open should it be to women like this Canaanite?

This remains an issue for the contemporary church.  What restrictions, laws, customs do we ‘lay on’ those who come seeking God’s grace?  Is ‘a mighty fortress is our church’ ever justified?  The major theologian and spokesperson for inclusive table sharing was a woman, and a foreigner at that!”  says The Rev. Dr. Lois Wilson, in a speech during the time she was Moderator of The United Church of Canada.

What does this story say to us in 2017? Does it have relevance today?  I believe that the learning for us is that of standing up for what is just and necessary.  I am not proposing the Charlottesville kind of speaking out, but instead working toward what is fair and life giving.  I am referring to wisdom and conviction that comes from deep prayer and profound faith in Christ’s life-giving way.  We need people who will write to companies that destroy our environment and urge them to reform.  We are called to be persistent truth-tellers who confront the people who degrade, abuse, and hurt.  This is done when, with love and kindness, we call inappropriate behaviours.   We need people who are tenacious and purpose driven.  But that tenacity must be tempered with mercy and compassion.  That is what Jesus learned from the uppity woman from Tyre and Sidon.

Let’s hear the words that Helen Reddy made famous in 1972 and see if they have something to say to us today.

I Am Woman

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
(Strong)
I am invincible
(Invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

“What a Lifeguard” – August 13, 2017

“What a Lifeguard”

August 13, 2017 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

The sea is rough – the wind is howling – the waves are breaking over the side of the boat – it is early morning and it is difficult to see clearly – someone is coming towards the boat – it looks like the person is walking on top of the water – just a few words were spoken and those in the boat recognized it was Jesus.  Oh My God!

Peter is a leery sort and directs Jesus to prove his identity by guiding Peter to come –  and also walk on the water.  All was going well until Peter lost his focus and fear overtook him.  The wind and waves frightened poor Peter and fear replaced faith.  “Save me,” he screamed.  And like all good lifeguards, Jesus reached out his arm and pulled Peter to the boat.  But a word of reprimand came with the rescue.  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  With no answer recorded, it took a miracle to truly reveal the glorious nature of Christ.  The wind ceased and the disciples in the boat recognized Jesus as the Chosen of God.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “even if you have never tried to walk on water, you know how Peter felt.  Maybe you were crossing a stream on a fallen log, inching your way across its rough, rounded surface, doing fine until you looked down – or maybe you were learning to ride a bicycle, and had gained enough speed so that suddenly you stopped wobbling and started flying – when just as suddenly you lost your confidence, dropped one foot to the ground and brought the whole experiment crashing down on top of you.  Or maybe you were addressing a crowd, standing up in front of them to say something you believed in, and at first the words just flowed from your mouth, exactly the words you needed at exactly the moment you needed them, and then you looked at all those faces looking back at you, and you lost your nerve, and your brain turned to mush, and you sat down as quickly as you could, your cheeks burning, your ears humming – ‘Lord, save me,‘ Peter cries out, and Jesus does, reaching out his hand and catching him, hauling him out of the cold water like a big, frightened fish.”

The well-known poem, “Footprints,” (which we have printed on the back of our bulletin) describes the experience of not being aware of God’s presence until after the fact.  Isn’t this the way it usually is?  Only in retrospect are we able to discern God’s “fingerprints.”  And then, sometimes, we are never able to see them, or, if so, only faintly.  Certainly, that has been my experience.  I think of one church I served that was in the midst of extreme conflict when I arrived.  Unable to deal with the issues in a straightforward, direct manner, many in the congregation started to criticize and undermine me.  It was an awful few years.  And, for much of it, it was hard to discern God’s footprints or fingerprints.  However, as I look back on that time, I recognize the many ways that God reached out to me and gave me solace and direction.  I truly was pulled to safety and cradled in arms of love.  I learned much from the years I served that congregation.

There is a story about a man who asked a Mississippi river-boat pilot how long he had been at his trade.  The captain replied “26 years.”  “Then,” said the man, “I guess you know where all the rocks are, all the shoals and sandbars.”  “No,” said the pilot, “I just know where they ain’t.”

After Jesus reached out his hand to Peter to help him back up, they both climbed into the boat.  That reminded me of the story of the little rural church that was breaking ground for a new building.  Instead of using the traditional spade to turn over the first bit of sod, the minister arranged to get an old- fashioned plow with a rope and said, “Now I am going to break the ground.”  Of course, he couldn’t move it.  So, he said, “I’m going to get the chair of Council to help me.”  The two of them together couldn’t budge it.  So, he asked the whole church council to join in.  Still they couldn’t move it.  And on and on, until the whole congregation got hold of the rope.  Finally, they were able to move the plow.

To switch back to the first metaphor, everybody has to be in the boat together, along with God, in order to get the job done.  That is the way it is with miracles.  God seeks us – but until we quit fighting against, until we stop thinking we can do it alone, until we place our trust in that power that is far greater than ourselves – we are going to keep being stuck.  Or as Peter found out, we will sink.

Whether the miracle story happened as it is recorded, really doesn’t matter.  There are many lessons for us to learn.  The first is that our God is like a well trained and diligent lifeguard.  When we put our very being into God’s care and trust, then God reaches out to prevent us from drowning in fear.  There is a peace that surrounds us as if we are in a bubble.

The second lesson of the miracle story has to do with faith.  Jesus often spoke in parables to explain faith.  Using mustard seeds and rocks and light under a bushel basket, Jesus points out that even the tiniest amount of faith is all that is needed to be a follower of the way.  This time, it took a miracle to show the disciples what faith is all about.

There’s a story about an acrobat who used to travel with a small circus to the villages and towns throughout the countryside.  This guy walked the high wire, and so he would ask, “Do you think I can walk across the wire with a ball on my head?”  Everybody says, “Yes, yes” and he does it.  “Do you think I can push a wheelbarrow across the high wire?”  “Yes, yes!”  The cheering is growing louder and louder.  So, he says, “Okay, who’s going to get in the wheelbarrow.”  Now, that is faith.

Perhaps you are wondering what all this has to do with you and me, and all the many people who are facing the storms of life.  Perhaps you are living with cancer or heart disease.  Possibly your family is in crisis.  It might be that financial worries are keeping you up at night.  Perhaps a past trauma is like an anchor around your neck.  You might be anxious about more advanced housing needs.  Maybe you are living with a mental illness, or poverty, or a history of abuse, or neglect, or …..- and the list goes on.  I assure you that the compassionate hand of God is reaching out to all of us, inviting us to hang on – tight.  Keep your eyes focused on that which gives you comfort, whether it be the cross, the lakes and hillsides of Penticton, your favourite item of clothing, or whatever else that is the sign of God.  Pray diligently.  Hold on tight.  Talk to your spiritual Director.  Go for a walk with Jesus – on the water.

Let’s draw this message to a close with one more story:

The search committee was interviewing a new minister.  “What are we going to do?”  asked George.  “It’s a woman!”

“Let’s take her fishing,” said Pete.  “We can figure out if she’s any good.”

Out fishing, Pete cast his line and immediately snagged on a log.  The female minister got up, walked across the water and unsnagged the line.

“Just like a woman,” muttered Pete. “Can’t swim.”

 

 

 

 

 

“5 + 2 = more than 5000” – August 6, 2017

“5 + 2 = more than 5000”

August 6, 2017 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

Glory be!  There is Jesus and his special tribe – his disciples.  I’d give anything to hear one of Jesus’ parables.  I hear some of his stories are pretty incredible.  I wonder what is going on. I’m going to tag along with the group.  There are getting to be quite a crowd.

Unbenounced to me, Jesus was grieving the death of this cousin John the Baptist.  John had been executed by Herod.  Seeking solitude and grieving time, Jesus heads to the lake.  Jesus wants some alone time where he can find refreshment and solace, so off in a boat he goes.  But as he nears the shore Jesus realizes a large crowd has gathered.  Talk about complex feelings.  He wants to be by himself to grieve, but Jesus is filled with compassion for the crowd.  So, to the shore he goes.  Healing many, Jesus knows he made the right decision.  But the disciples get antsy.  It is getting late and the people should be sent away to find food.    Just imagine what they are thinking when Jesus suggests that the disciples provide it.  What can they do with 5 measly loaves and 2 fish!   However, as you and I so well know, with Jesus, amazing things are possible.  So, they give what they have and it is transformed through Christ’s blessing.  The crowd was feed and 12 baskets were left over.

Why 12 baskets you wonder?  If you have attended church for some time, or if you have read the Hebrew Scripture, more commonly called The Old Testament, you would be aware that there are 12 tribes of Israel.  We also think back to the stories of manna in the wilderness and the miracle feedings of Elija and Elisha.

If you were paying attention when the Gospel story was read, you would have noticed the text states that there were 5000 men fed, not counting the women and children. We might more accurately call this miracle story the feeding of the 20,000.

This story – an amazing parable – a dramatic tale – is all about God’s incredible love. There is enough for all – enough nourishment, enough hope, enough love.  Love multiplies when it is shared.  It reminds me of the old camp song, “Magic Penny.”

 Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.

Willa Cather suggests that “Where there is great love there are always miracles.”  Today’s story is a clear example of this truth.  It describes Jesus’ compassion with such clarity.  The most basic need, food for hungry stomachs, was accommodated.  While I was at seminary we learned much about Liberation Theology, with its preferential option for the poor.  That was not simply a vogue and timely topic, but rather a lens by which we can understand Jesus’ ministry priorities.   Be compassionate is what Jesus models for us.

We have modern day feeding of the 5,000 when the Canadian Food Grains Bank provides one tonne of food, and the Canadian government (through CIDA) adds 4 more.  Sadly, it’s not enough, especially when it’s so hard to get to where it’s needed. But, it is a good attempt.

 When I served a church in Stayner Ontario, one of our farmers each year, planted one quarter in wheat designated for the Food Grains Bank.  When harvest time came, area farmers brought their combines and trucks to the field and in an afternoon the field was harvested, the seed taken to the elevator and a community wide BBQ was held.  It was a great time of celebration, knowing that the hungry of the world would be fed 4 times more than that field produced.  The Canadian government quadrupled the worth of the crop.

Go and do.  That is the message we see lived out by the disciples.  Rather than standing back fretting over the lack of food, they gave what they had to Jesus and he bless it.  Then the disciples dispersed it among the crowd.  The call to go and do is expressed in concrete acts of love, justice and compassion towards others.  There is a common Texas saying – “Long as I got a biscuit, you got half.”  Is there a better goal than this for a global food distribution policy? 

A woman from an American congregation leads medical missions several times a year.  She constantly asks drug companies for samples to take along.  Before her last trip to Vietnam, she asked a vitamin company for some samples.  One day, a UPS man came to her in the clinic and said, “I’ve got a ton of drugs for you.  Where shall I put them?”

“Just put them on my desk.”

“No, lady, I have a ton of drugs for you.”

She is still giving away vitamins to shelters for the homeless and sharing with other doctors going on mission trips.  She doesn’t expect to be able to give them all away until some-time next year?

We as a community of faith have been trying to live out the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.  We donate to the Mission and Service fund of the United Church of Canada. Last year over $20,000 was donated by Penticton United Church for projects like First United Church in Vancouver’s eastside, funding 7 Canadian theological colleges, youth programs through the Vision fund, chaplains at University of Victoria, Right Relations initiatives with indigenous people, and supporting global peace and justice programs.  We join with other United Churches in raising over $25 million each year for the Mission and Service fund.  

God loves us deeply and passionately.  Out of that love we experience the compassion, generosity, and grace that Jesus Christ modelled.  While we bathe in such infinite mercy, the Holy One promises us “life in fullness.”  Experiencing God’s call, we accept the invitation to be disciples.  May you be fed for the challenge.  Amen.

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“Receive Mercy and Find Grace” – June 25, 2017

“Receive Mercy and Find Grace”
June 25, 2017 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

After Easter, I spent 2 weeks in beautiful Costa Rica enjoying a fabulous biological and environmental tourism holiday.  I then came home and had a week of study where I explored and dipped into the theology and history behind the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  My reason for delving into this popular hymn was as a result of attending a United Church colleagues group gathering held in the week immediately following Easter.  We took about an hour to discuss the familiar opening line: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

Hold on – I am not a “wretch” and I have not sung the word “wretch” in relation to that hymn for over 30 years.  Yet many of my colleagues spoke eloquently about the importance of acknowledging that we humans are wretched.  I had neither the words, nor the emotional strength to speak against this position.  I knew I needed to do some research and some spiritual work.  I set up a session with my Spiritual Director and told her I wanted to take the hour time to talk about my feelings and where my spirit was at concerning this troubling first line.

First,  I needed to research the story behind the hymn.  I was introduced to the writer John Newton, born in 1725 in London England.  He was raised by a stern sea captain father, due to his mother’s death when he was nearly 7 years old.  Newton sailed to West Africa and became a slave trader.  During a horrendous storm off the coast of Ireland the ship nearly sank and Newton prayed to God and the cargo miraculously shifted to fill the hole in the ship’s hull and the vessel drifted to safety.  Newton took this as a sign from God and marked it as his conversion to Christianity.  His behaviours changed slowly and after some time he began to view his captives with more sympathy.  In 1764, he was ordained as an Anglican priest and wrote 280 hymns to accompany his services.  He wrote the words for “Amazing Grace” in 1772 and in 1835 William Walker put the words to the popular tune “New Britain.”

It is interesting to note that the abolition of slavery did not occur until 1788, 34 years after Newton left the profession.  He declared that the subject of the slave trade was a humiliating one for him.

The hymn “Amazing Grace” is a biography of Newton’s life.  He wrote with tremendous clarity his life story.  It was grace that saved a slave-trading, womanizing, drunkard.  He was lost in the ways of rowdy, vulgar behaviors and blind to the impact his behaviours had on others.

During the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, this hymn became a message of social redemption.  Reformers like Joan Baez offered this song as a prayer of reformation.

Why have I chosen to take time to reflect on this hymn and particularly the first line?  It goes back to my early awareness of issues of abuse and the devastation to self esteem that goes with abuse.   I hear survivor after survivor saying that they are “sinners,” are to blame for the abuse, are the cause of the abuse – in short are a wretch.  And that is simply a lie.  It is not true.  Abuse survivors hear “that sav’d a wretch like me” and internalize it.  And that is just plain wrong.

Couple this with the number of folk who sing this hymn who struggle with low self esteem and we are setting them up to not hear the whole hymn in context.  It is too easy to miss the “grace” and only hear the “wretch.”  To hear “lost” and not hear “found.”  To hear “blind” and not hear I “see.”

When I sing the hymn Amazing Grace, I substitute the word “soul” for “wretch” or as our hymn book suggests “that saved and strengthened” me.  Perhaps you might want to consider such a change.  Possibly there is no reason to make any change.  But in knowing the back story, grace takes on new loveliness.

I reported to my United Church Colleagues group the process and results of my research, soul searching and conversations with my Spiritual Director.  I was able to thank them for the rich conversation of the previous month, and affirm my commitment to not perpetrate the understanding of oneself as a wretch.  A glorious child of God – yes!  A person of grace – Yes!

Rick Warren, an American writer, states; “What gives me the most hope every day is God’s grace; knowing that his grace is going to give me the strength for whatever I face, knowing that nothing is a surprise to God. Amen.
 

 

 

 

“Mystery Loves Company” – June 11, 2017

“Mystery Loves Company”
June 11, 2017 – Trinity Sunday – Year A

            In the name of Lover, Beloved, and Love” I stand before you to share the Good News on this Trinity Sunday.  Scattered around the sanctuary are pictures and descriptions that reflect the Trinity.  The Trinity triplets are before you to spark your imagination.  God is revealed in so many ways!

And yet, when you are in the midst of treatment for cancer, you are not likely to care that this is Trinity Sunday.  If you are a teenager and are pregnant, you likely don’t care that this is Trinity Sunday.  If your son or daughter has just been laid off work, you likely don’t care that this is Trinity Sunday.

Let me assure you that God is greater than we can imagine and God somehow knows who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and what you need.  God, who is mystery, cares so deeply about each of us, that care and compassion was lived out in Jesus.  Hungry were fed, crippled healed, lonely befriended, and followers were taught.  God blows into our lives like wind.  The creative rustling of God’s breath is such a life-giving force!  We are bathed in the glory of God breathing hope into creation.

St. Patrick, a 5th century missionary, was teaching and leaned down and plucked a shamrock from the grass.  “How many leaves does the shamrock have:  one or three?” he asked.  Some said one and some said three, and in the end, all agreed that the plant had both one leaf and three leaves.  “So it is with God,” Patrick explained.  “There is one God, but three persons, all equal, all bound together.

As we heard in the Gospel text from Matthew, Jesus’ final appearance to his disciples after his resurrection is described.  Jesus came to the disciples once more and they worshiped him even though some doubted.  Apparently, such an immediate experience of the resurrection as they had, didn’t answer all their questions with absolute certainty.  In spite of what appears to be a lack of readiness on the part of the disciples, Jesus commands them to go, to baptize, and to teach, promising that he will be with them until the end of time.  Through these actions God’s presence and way will be experienced and made known.  The church in Matthew’s day had begun to use the “threefold” name of God in Baptism.  A new convert would be baptized in the name of Creating God, simplified by the term Father – Liberator, the Son – and Wisdom, the Holy Spirit.

We experience God in many ways and no words are ever adequate to describe those awesome, yet intimate encounters.  God is not contained in creeds or Trinitarian formulas.  However, we still attempt to name our experiences and understandings of God at work in our lives and our world and throughout all time.  Trinity Sunday is one of those times when we struggle to do that while also acknowledging that we can really only stand in wonder and praise.  From creation to the end of the age – God is with us.  And so we herald thanks to God!

An African monk in the fourth century named Augustine let his imagination go a bit wild and thought of the Trinity as a love triangle, although not exactly as you might be thinking of that term today!  For Augustine, God is the Lover, The Son is the Beloved.  And the Holy Spirit is Love itself, the invisible, powerful bond between them.

Jesus’ parting words to his disciples of 2000 years ago as well as to us today is to go, to baptize, and to teach.  Jesus promises that he will be with his followers until the end of time.  All of this we are to do in the name of God who is Provider, Redeemer, and Joy Giver.

The task to which the disciples are sent, according to theologian Tom Long, is not “hit and run evangelism.  What the disciples are sent to do is not to hurl gospel leaflets into the wind or hold a rally in a stadium.  They are called to the harder, less glamorous, more patient task of making disciples, of building Christian communities.”  It is while in community that we truly experience the fullness of God’s grace.

We gather each week as Christian community, knowing the value of being together as a family of God.  We bring diverse experiences of encounters with the Holy One.  In this year’s Lenten study group, each week we shared our “God moments” from the week past.  They were experiences or encounters with the Divine.  Sometimes we would respond, “the Holy Spirit was at work.”  Other times we would acknowledge that Jesus was walking with us.  Each God moment was a happenstance event with Shepherd, Emmanuel, and Breath of God.

Marjorie Suchocki, a feminist theologian of the 20th century, saw in the Trinity 3 basic characteristics of God.  God is power, the power by which all the world is created and governed.  Christ is presence, that is God with us in the world.  The Holy Spirit is wisdom, who gives us the ability to discern and relate to one another.  Though these are not personal images, they do serve to tell us what God does and how God acts as the Trinity.

Our God is essentially a God of communion and embrace.  We are a blessed people who have been touched by Creator, Son and Holy Spirit.  Does this matter to the person with cancer?  Is this insight going to have an impact on the pregnant teenager?  Will the grandparent feel any less concerned for their unemployed son or daughter?  I hope that one short phrase or an image of God expressed in this message may help you to feel the comforting arms of God envelop you.  For our God is tender hearted.  Rest in the assurance that the One God who is Our Rock, Christ, and Dove will give you strength and comfort.

I wrap this message up with a blessing from today’s scripture readings: “Go and teach disciples the Good News, confident that Jesus the Christ is with you always, to the end of the age. The grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  Amen.

 

 

“Sing out Empathy – June 4, 2017

“Sing out Empathy – Sing out Compassion!”

Pentecost – Year A – June 4, 2017

What more wonderful way could we celebrate Pentecost Sunday than by hearing this fabulous gospel choir!   Marcus, Darlene and Bill have transformed this beautiful sanctuary into an old fashioned gospel hall where you can feel the Holy Spirit fill every nook and cranny.  In the midst of the melodic sound, dreams and visions become real!  The words of prophets and followers of Jesus ring out with clarity and conviction.  It makes us all want to stand up and join the chorus!

In the midst of beautiful music we heard the prophet Micah uttering a challenging directive.  Do justice – love kindness – walk humbly with your God.  One of these alone would be a test, but all three is surely a directive of enormous proportions. However, I am convinced that if each one of us show empathy and compassion towards those we encounter, we have taken a big step towards justice, kindness and humility.

What does the prophet mean by justice?  It is healthy, life-giving relationship between members of the community.  It is also the equitable distribution of goods, benefits and burdens.  Let me explain:  A friend approached John and told him that his neighbour, Mr. Smith was stealing wood from him.  John said, “Thank you for telling me.”  Then John went to his neighbour and said, “Mr. Smith, it has been a very cold winter.  If you run short of wood, just help yourself from my woodpile.  Then John went back to his friend and said, “I just cured Mr. Smith from stealing.” 

What is kindness, we ask?  It involves both affection and ethical love of neighbour.  As we hear of the thousands of drug overdoses and deaths by fentanyl in our country and in this community, there is no doubt that kindness is sorely lacking.  We have let down our high school students, our college students, our street people, our children and grandchildren when we fail to talk openly about the drug scene here in Penticton.  We fail to show kindness when we leave the problem to the health officials, police, and the schools.  We have failed to be good neighbours when we fail to act in solidarity with MADD, Grandmothers for Africa, 12 step recovery groups, and many other justice and kindness seeking groups. 

Paul Tillich, one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians, said in an interview that “Justice is the backbone of love.” We cannot say we love someone unless we act in justice and kindness towards them. This is often very challenging, especially if you are a passionate kind of person. Relationships are not easy.  They call for humbleness.

Humbleness involves reverence and openness, integrity and honesty.  That is a tall order, isn’t it?  A Minister was asked by his personnel committee to evaluate his ministry in comparison to the ministry of Jesus.  His response included:  Jesus walks on water, I slip on ice.  Jesus changes water into wine, I change water into coffee.  Jesus welcomes the children, I have the children’s conversation during worship, often off topic.  Jesus raises the dead, I wake the street people.  And Jesus cleanses lepers, I change dirty diapers.

            My friends, God asks us to “do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  I can’t imagine anything more challenging, nor more important.   This week 90 people were killed in a bombing in Kabul and another 400 people were wounded.  This 16 year long war has hit the Afghan heart.  Our brother and sister Afghani neighbours are crying out to be loved.  Can we do anything less?  God needs you to sing out empathy!  Sing out compassion!
             This takes us straight to the first letter of John in chapter 4, where 14 verses explain that God is love.  How do we know this to be true?  Just look around!  Earlier this spring one of our high school student’s senselessly died.  He was given a substance that he was allergic to and help came too late.  In the midst of this tragedy the teen’s friends, their parents and teachers, and community supports have pulled together and are living out God’s love.  With incredible empathy and compassion there is a very clear sense that God is reaching out and embracing this community of grieving people.

On this Pentecost Sunday we expect the wind of mystery and awe to blow through this place and reveal to us the transformative power of love.  Just as we heard the announcement that the Green Party and the NDP will team up and form a minority government – might we see the supporters for a new National Park and The Fraser Institute form a new coalition based on principals of love and compassion?  Because God is love, will we see tongues of fire dance but not consume?  We see our 2 Syrian Refugee families that we are supporting continue to learn English, enjoy driving, and become more and more integrated into our community.  Being with the families, you see God’s love radiating from each person.  And a new Canadian child is due to be born any day now.  God truly is love.

The dove of peace is a beloved symbol of Pentecost.  If ever our world need peace, it is now.  We cannot afford to lose one more precious person.  We are all God’s beloved.  Whether we be Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, or no faith tradition – God loves you!  And equally as important – God needs you to sing out empathy!  Sing out compassion!

We have been blessed this weekend with experiencing some fabulous Gospel Music.  Marcus and The Sojourners have taken us on a powerful journey filled with justice, kindness, humility, and love.   They challenge us to hear the message of the music.  They invite us to listen for God’s voice.  Perhaps most of all, won’t you sing out empathy!  Sing out compassion!  Amen.

“Home Builders”- May 21, 2017

 

In the book “Loving God” Chuck Colson tells the story of a Presbyterian Church in Kansas.  In the mid 1970’s the church was growing so quickly that the sanctuary was filled with worshippers twice each Sunday and there was no room for more.  The church was actively equipping its members for outreach as well as regularly inviting outsider speakers to challenge them to grow in discipleship.  Because of their need for space, they raised 1 million dollars for a new worship centre.  Just before the groundbreaking, they held a mission conference.  A missionary from Guatemala spoke the last night, and showed slides from a recent earthquake.  When they saw the damage to the impoverished but growing church, the congregation sat in stunned silence.  Finally, one man seemed to speak for all when he said, “It just doesn’t seem right for us to have a Cadillac when our brothers and sisters in Guatemala don’t even have a beat up VW Bug.”  Immediately someone else chimed in, “I don’t see how we can go ahead with the worship centre when the Guatemalan church is in desperate need of houses and meeting places.”

A business meeting of the church was called.  Plans for the worship centre were scrapped and replaced with a modest $500,000 multi-purpose building.  The rest of the funds were earmarked for the church in Guatemala with an additional gift of $500,000 in guaranteed, interest -free loans.  Further, they sent their pastor and 2 leading elders to Guatemala to assist with the construction of scores of meeting places and parsonages.

This story illustrates the power and possibility of being “Living Stones.”  The church is not a place but a people – whose spirit is life – and whose cornerstone is that One Life whose power was so great that we still call him “that living stone.”

As people of faith, we are called to be the vibrant, alive, ever living church.  In other words, if we are living stones, we will build our church and ministries by the example of Jesus – his loving, caring, and compassion.  And we will point others to Jesus, the “Living Stone,” It is a call for us to realize that we too are filled with new life.  As living stones infused with the Holy Spirit, we can, as Jesus states in the gospel of John, “do even greater things than these.”  We can do things that are beyond our wildest expectations.

What are we going to do with such possibilities?  Are we going to pick up stones and attack people, or are we going to “build” something for God?  Are we going to be passionate lovers?  Are we building the way of justice and peace?  Are we standing alongside the hurting and lonely?

At a choir practice one night, a stone came flying through one of the stained-glass windows in the church.  The minister ran out the side door in time to see Tom, one of the neighbourhood children, running away.

After choir practice, the Minister went to talk to Tom’s mom.  He knew that the family had few financial resources, and suggested that Tom do some odd jobs around the church and manse in order to work off the cost of the damages.

Tom did the required work, but continued to hang around with the minister.  At Christmas, Tom’s grandfather came to the manse with a cheque to cover the cost of the repairs to the window.  “The day Tom threw that stone was the best day of his life,” he told the minister.  “Knowing you has changed his attitude.

It has been said the at the difference between a stumbling block and a stepping stone is your attitude.  In the same way, the difference between a cornerstone and a rock in your path is one’s attitude.  For young Tom, his attitude changed when he got to know the ever-living Christ that dwelt within the minister.  The corner stone of faith took life and a human form.  The stone that Tom threw was transformed into a life-giving relationship.

In the Epistle of Peter God’s people are described as “living stones” within God’s temple and Christ is described as the cornerstone that brings us all together.  In this passage, “living stones” is the author’s image for a dynamic, strong people – learning, growing and changing through relationship with the Living God, Rock of our salvation.

To be “living Stones” and not become rigid or immovable in our beliefs is a challenge.  We and the church universal, must live and breathe with the vitality of God’s Spirit or we will become destroyers of the very life we claim to promote.  Ours is a living tradition that is always calling itself to grow and explore the fullness of relationship with the great “I Am” – Source of all our living and being.

            As the farmer ploughed his field in order to plant potatoes, his plough struck a large stone.  Coming around to move it, he had an idea.  The part of Manitoba in which he lives is full of stones.  Everyone has stones in their fields.  If everyone brought their stones to church, he thought, they could be used to complete the wall behind the alter in the new sanctuary.

That is exactly what happened.  Now, every Sunday, the congregation faces the wall constructed of unwanted stones from their fields.  The stones have taken on a new life, a new function, and a new purpose.  This has me thinking of the multiple uses of rocks.  They are hard, sometimes like my heart when I am unwilling to be receptive to new insights, experiences and situations.  They are of varied shapes.  So too are we, God’s people.  They can be split and reshaped.  I like to believe that we too are constantly being reshaped into disciples of God’s way.

Stones can give us comfort.  We make cairns as a way of saying that a person was here.  The northern native people have been building inuksuk’s for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.  They are piles of stones, often in a human form.  They are often built to mark the way.  In the middle of the barrens, it says “I was here.”  The tee pee rings on the prairies also serve as markers identifying that our First Nations people were here on this piece of land.  Our outreach is a tangible sign of our presence among those whom God loves.

In the Gospel of John, we experience Jesus’ farewell address to the disciples at the Last Supper.  Jesus reassures and comforts his followers, with words so powerful and loving, that they are used in many funeral services.  Jesus promises an abiding place with God, not one made of bricks and stone, but rather an eternal acceptance and welcome.

As we explore what it means for us to be “living stones” and followers of Jesus Christ, we do so assured that God embraces us into that perpetual home or mansion as the King James Version describes it. Let us pick up stones – not in anger, but with the intent of remembering that together we can build a strong community of faith.  Amen.

” Pomp and Circumstance“ – Palm Sunday

” Pomp and Circumstance“

Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017 – Year A

 

Imagine that we have flung all our doors open and you hear and see the sights and sounds of a parade going down Main Street.  It makes you wish I would stop preaching and lead the procession out the church.  But – I’m not going to stop preaching, but instead I invite you to travel in your mind to Jerusalem in 33 CE.

We join with millions of followers of Jesus in this pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy City.  Palm Sunday is an exciting, festive time, for we are filled with joy, excitement and expectation as we join the crowd watching the triumphal procession of Jesus and his disciples.  They have journeyed from Jericho to Jerusalem, a distance of some 17 miles.

Jerusalem is a busy city for the people were gathering for the great festival of the passover, a commemoration of the great Exodus from Egypt.  Word had spread throughout the crowd that Jesus Christ, the man who had raised Lazarus from the dead, was on his way to the Holy City.  The crowd was anxious to see who the miracle worker was.  Figures vary, but you have heard it rumoured that somewhere between 1/4 of a million to 2 million people are in the city awaiting the Passover festival.

The crowd is in a festive mood – cheering, singing songs and waving leaves from palm trees.  As Jesus rode down the street on the back of an ass, fulfilling the prophesy of the prophet, Zechariah, the crowd shows their welcome by holding aloft palm branches and spread their cloaks on the road.  And what a welcome Jesus Christ received!  Little does the crowd realize that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a pilgrimage to his cross, where he accepted the decision of political powers.  The cross is a sign of love and forgiveness.  The crowd is eager to join the great procession welcoming Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, only to find themselves scattering within the week confused, disillusioned and frightened, and unwilling to commit themselves beyond a superficial level.  And yes, my friends, that is us as well.

The crowd greets Jesus with the cheer “Hosanna!  Blessed is the One who is coming in the name of the Lord!”  Hosanna is a Hebrew word meaning “save now”.  We see that the people were in fact shouting “God save the King!”  So it was, that Jesus was making a deliberate claim to be Ruler.  Jesus’ appearance before the crowd was his one last appeal.  In his action, Jesus came, as it were, with pleading outstretched hands, saying:  “Even now, will you not take me as your Ruler of life?”

The crowd meets and receives him like a mighty conqueror.  They sing psalms proclaiming Jesus as God’s Anointed One, as The Messiah, as The Deliverer, and as The One who was to come to be the Conqueror.  Jesus’ claim was truly that of a Ruler!  And how is a Monarch to be greeted?  Today we would welcome a person of royalty with the sound of trumpets and the presentation of arms.  This is the same type of reception that one would have expected during Jesus’ day.  Likely many in the crowd expected to hear the trumpets and the call to arms so that the Jewish nation might sweep to victory over Rome and the World.  Jesus approached Jerusalem with the shout of the mob hailing a conqueror.  How that must have hurt Jesus, for the crowd were looking to him for that very thing which he refused to be!

How sad it is to recognize that the very people who were regarding Jesus as a sensation, were, within a week, shouting for his death.  They expected Jesus to be someone he would not and could not be.  Yet Jesus remained true to God and accepted his claim as Ruler.  Before the hatred of the people engulfed Jesus, once again he confronted them with love’s invitation.  Jesus presented himself to them with an openness and a willingness to love all of God’s chosen people.

Jesus did this in a most courageous way, for in spite of the cheering of the crowd, there were many people who opposed his presence in Jerusalem.  Jesus knew he was entering a hostile city where many of the authorities hated him.  How much easier it might have been had Jesus and his chosen 12 elected to slip into the city under the cover of night.  Jesus was not prepared to travel the easy road, for he deliberately set himself in the centre of the stage.  If you are thinking that Jesus was deliberately defiant, you are quite correct!  His entry into Jerusalem was an act of the most superlative courage and at the same time was a glorious defiant act.

At the sight of this tumultuous welcome, the Jewish authorities were likely thrown into the depths of despair.  It would seem that nothing they could do could stop the tide of the people who had gone after Jesus.  In their frustration, nothing they could do seemed able to stop the attraction of this man Jesus.              This person of tremendous courage proudly entered the Holy City to show love, a love that was so complete that he travelled to the cross so that you and I might celebrate today.

As I have been thinking what Palm Sunday means to me, I have come to very much appreciate and accept that the pilgrimage that Jesus undertook was very much a one-way street.  A path from the Mount of Olives, through Jerusalem, to the hillside of Calvary was the route travelled by our Redeemer.  I also wonder what pilgrimage we are prepared to make.  Are we too, willing to journey from our relative comfort to a place of sacrifice for the sake of our faith?  And will we make our procession with courage and confidence knowing that we will not be forsaken?

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem also shows his appeal, for he rode into the Holy City, not on the back of a powerful, regal horse – but rather on the back of a humble ass.  His throne was not inlaid with expensive jewels for he chose his throne to be the back of a donkey.

Jesus’ entry on an ass was a dramatic presentation.  Had he chosen a horse, the people would have assumed that a great warrior was before them.  The horse is an animal associated with war, whereas the ass is an animal equated with peace.  Jesus came before the people, not as a warrior figure, but rather as the Sovereign of Peace.

But this confused the people, for no one saw Jesus as the Prince of Peace.  Their minds were filled with a kind of mob hysteria.  They were looking for the Messiah of their own dreams and their own wishful thinking, and were not looking for the Messiah whom God had sent.  So it was, that Jesus drew a dramatic picture of what he claimed to be, but none understood the claim.  It is interesting to realize that even the disciples, whom we assume should have known so much better, did not expect Jesus to enter as the Prince of Peace.  They too expected their friend to be a powerful Monarch – one who would destroy the evil forces through the power of war.  But this was not the way of Jesus Christ.  Jesus came not to destroy but to love, not to condemn but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.  The power of the words “God so loved the world, that God sent God’s only son” takes on special significance when we reflect on the impact of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  It was because God so loved the world that Jesus came into the world; and at Jerusalem, unwittingly, Jesus’ enemies are saying that the way of the world will follow the way of Jesus.  I believe this is a message of hope and worthy of our celebrations.  Jesus was not filled with doom and despair.  No, instead he came willingly and openly, proclaiming peace and love.

So it was, at Jerusalem, at one and the same time, that we see the courage of Christ, the claim of Christ and the appeal of Christ.  It was a last invitation to all people to open, not their palaces but their hearts to the Christ.  We see that Jesus rode on an animal that was a symbol of quietness, not on a war horse; palm branches, not spears, were his escort; the songs of children, not the shout of soldiers, were his welcome.  It was a magnificent parade, that day 2000 years ago and it continues right here at Penticton United Church.

God calls all of us to join the great procession.  We are to come with joy, enthusiasm and commitment.  Come, let us join the great parade!

 

 

“Dem Bones” – April 2, 2017

“Dem Bones”

April 2, 2017 – Lent 5 – Year A

Choir sings “Dem Bones”

Can these bones live?  Preach it sister!  Prophesy to the bones!  “Oh dry bones, hear the word of God!”  Can you see and hear the bones rattling?  Can you see the sinew and flesh?  How about the skin?  Yes, these are living bones!  Life has been breathed into them.   Just like life was breathed into Lazarus.  Isn’t God’s Spirit amazing? 

Rain Stick

God’s hand leads us into the middle of a valley.  The valley was full of bones.  They were lying all over the ground, and they were very dry.

Rain Stick

Can these bones live?  O God, only you know.  Speak up Preacher!  Pronounce and Prophesy to these bones; say “O dry bones, hear the word of God.”

Rain Stick

Can these bones live?  Can you hear the noise?  It is a rattling!  Speak up Preacher!  Prophesy and say to the breath: “Breathe upon these bones, that they may live.”

Rain Stick

These bones live!  Preach it sister!  Prophesy as God commands.  The breath came into the bones, and they live!  The people stood up on their feet –  a huge, living, breathing crowd of people.  The bones are the people of Israel.  The graves are opened and the spirit is within the people.  God proclaims that New Life is restored!  Just look to Lazarus to see the proof!

Rain Stick

So, what do we make of the story of the dry bones?  What does the book of Ezekiel have to say to us today?  Does the song of the Black American slaves have relevance in our lives?  Let me set the scene.  Ezekiel was both a priest and prophet who lived during the Exile.  Taken with others to Babylon in 597 BCE, Ezekiel and the exiled community experienced from there the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, the destruction of the Temple, and the disintegration of the nation.  They were a displaced and despondent people.  Without a land and without a Temple, the exiles considered themselves on a exodus in reverse.  They were in the wilderness on a forced journey from freedom to captivity wondering whether they would ever see the Promised Land again.  “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost,” summarizes their despair.

It is to these hopeless people that Ezekiel prophesies the vision described in our passage today.  Brought “by the Spirit” to a valley of dry bones he is asked by God whether the bones can live.  The logical answer to God’s question is no.  But Ezekiel, knowing the creative power of God, tempers his answer and responds, “only you know, O God.”

Ezekiel is then given God’s word for these bones.  They will come together again – bones, sinew, flesh, and skin.  But putting the pieces back together is not enough.  God’s Spirit is needed.  From the 4 winds God’s Spirit comes to breathe life into a dispirited people.

To a people wondering whether they could live without land or Temple comes the good news that God is Spirit and is not tied to the land nor contained in the Temple.  Nor is God inhibited by the lifeless fear of a dispirited people.  God has come to the wilderness of their exile to give them hope. 

Little did these exiles know their experience would become formative.  The years of reflection and reorientation which took place because of the Exile caused the Hebrew Scripture’s oral tradition to be gathered in written form for the 1st time and initiated the worship pattern of the synagogue.  The practice, begun in these days of despair, of gathering in groups to worship and hear the reading of scripture has sustained both Jewish and Christian faith communities for thousands of years.

Choir sings “Dem Bones” (chorus, 1 verse, chorus)

In the Gospel of John the raising of Lazarus occurs just prior to Jesus entering Jerusalem and is one of the catalysts for the decision to kill Jesus.  Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is seriously ill.  Jesus does not arrive, however, until Lazarus has been in the tomb 4 days.  Since Jewish belief at the time thought the soul hovered around the grave for 3 days before departing, the 4 days show there is no possibility of life left.  These are “dry bones.”

When Jesus arrives, Martha and Mary both assert their faith that if Jesus had arrived in time their brother would not have died.  Jesus wants more than their faith in him as a healer, however.  His assertion that he is resurrection and life for those who believe in him is a challenge.  It was hard for them to see Jesus as one with life-giving power both for the present and the future.  When Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” it is a question for her, for John’s community, and for us.

When Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the grave, Lazarus rises to new life with the trappings of death still about him.  Yet, when Jesus rises from death, John tells us he leaves the grave clothes and death behind forever.  Death has no hold over him because in him the Spirit of God is abundant life.

Choir sings “Dem Bones” (chorus, 1 verse, chorus)

Just imagine what our world would look like if our achy, tired flesh and bones, our dead spirits, had a spiritual awakening.  The entire earth would be alive with clean, pure air and water.  Plants, animals and humans would live in harmony and respect.  Resources would be shared equally amongst all people, not just those who live in the Northern hemisphere.  We would witness to the truth that all people really are equal.  And we would actively take our part in the ongoing drama of resurrection hope.

As followers of Jesus Christ we experience the breath and spirit of The Holy.  Some of us may well be able to let go of that which is death producing and instead claim the possibility of new life.  Perhaps some of us will experience the life and breath and spirit of God in renewed ways.  May our bones live!  Amen.

Choir sings “Dem Bones”

“Eyes Wide Open” – March 26, 2017

“Eyes Wide Open”

March 26, 2017 – Lent 4 – Year A

 

One of the stories that came out of Haiti during the earthquake in January 2010 is the rescue of 23 year old Wismond Exantus.  Wismond was a shopkeeper in a grocery store in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit.  As the earth shook and the building began to crumble, Wismond took refuge beneath an old oak desk.  Afterwards, he could reach a few cans of pop and come cookies to sustain him, but that was all.  For 10 days he waited to be rescued, but after 10 days, the government of Haiti called off the search.  The next day Wismond’s brother and a friend came back to the store to look for him.  They called his name and heard his voice beneath the rubble.  Then they got a French rescue team to make a narrow tunnel through to Wismond’s head.  But his feet were trapped by the desk and he could not crawl out.  So the rescue team made a 2nd tunnel to free his feet and discovered that someone would need to squeeze into that second tunnel with a saw to cut away the desk and free him.  A member of the rescue crew, a tiny woman from Israel, volunteered to enter that place of death and cut away the wood.  When she did so, Wismond did not have the strength to pull himself out, so she pushed on his feet and his rescuers were able to pull him out the rest of the way.

That small woman was like Christ, who enters our places of death, and pushes us into the light, into new life.  Christ enters into our places of blindness and restores sight.  You and I are called, like her, to enter the distressing places of our world, to visit the sick, to assist the needy, to comfort the sorrowful, to gently remove that which blocks, blinds, or traps …. And push them into healing light.  It is a call to open our eyes and respond.

Hearing our gospel text, it seems a strange and wondrous notion that mud, made of earth and spit, could be part of a cure for blindness.  Imagine mud providing clarity of vision!

And yet I can so easily imagine a deep healing, as Jesus spread a layer of mud on that man’s eyes and sent him to wash.  Just thinking of it seems restful to me.

So, the man born blind could now see.  Look with me at what he saw –

  • The neighbours talking about him: “Isn’t that the blind beggar?” “No way – it must be someone who looks like him.”  When they ask, he tells them his story and they look right past him for the one who did this.
  • The Pharisees, talking about him and past him. They hear his story and look for the one who did this – on the Sabbath!
  • His own parents – who don’t want to get involved in the argument – look the other way and say, “Ask him. He is of age.”
  • The Pharisees ask again for the blind man’s story. He replies, “One thing I know; I was blind and now I see.”  Then he begins to teach the teachers about God and they drive him out, preferring their own muddy, mixed up view of things.  Preferring, perhaps, that the blind beggars of this world would stay in their place so they would not have to adjust their own vision.

Jesus saw through it all and I wonder whether God laughed or cried.

Can you imagine being blind from birth, having mud spread over your eyes, being guided to a pool, finding your way into the water, and washing the mud away to find only annoyance and distress and no one to celebrate with you?

What do you see when you look at the world?  What do you need to wash away to be able to sing and dance and rejoice with the one who is made whole?

There is a wonderful old gospel hymn that says, “Walk in the light, beautiful Light, come where the dew-drops of mercy shine bright.  Shine all around us by day and by night, Jesus, the Light of the world.  That is the song that the writer of the gospel of John sings.  I think it is the song that the blind man and everyone who walks in the Light sings as well.

When Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years on Robin Island and became the president of an apartheid free South Africa, lots of people thought that there would be more bloodshed, more payback, more state violence, but Mandela’s leadership and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did much to heal the brokenness within the community, build bridges between the polarized communities, and address the damage done by years of apartheid.  It was not all sweetness and light.  There is still much work to be done today but Mandela’s leadership did much to lead South Africa from a dark past to a brightening future.  The book and the movie “Invictus” gives us a sense, albeit a Hollywood one, of this journey into light – into new vision..  Eyes were opened and new life for South Africa resulted.

The Pharisees and leaders of the church tell the healed man that they know Jesus to be a sinner.  But what do they really know?  Theirs is a dangerous brand of “knowing,” rooted in presumption, nostalgia, and a lust for power.

The healed man is operating out of a more useful form of knowing that is based on real experience in the here and now.  He has learned from what he has experienced and can look the Pharisees in the eye and say, “This happened to me, deal with it.”

How bold this insightful man was to speak his truth!  How boldly do we speak our own?  How boldly does Christ’s church speak it present truth?

St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, here in Penticton has released a report to its congregation.  The report is entitled: ”A Legacy to our Spiritual Great-Grandchildren” a report on our Life, Mission, Ministry and Stewardship – Building Sustainable Christian Community.”   It includes the following quotes.  ”Stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the children of God, the Church, in managing all of life and life’s resources.  It is an acknowledgement that all that we are and have are God’s gift to us.  We therefore have to care for and use these gifts wisely so that we can pass them on to others, including future generations.

Congregational growth doesn’t necessarily mean numerical growth, but rather, the growing strength of our faith in and commitment to Christ.

Are we content to be an ever-declining and ageing congregation, looking after one another in a caring Christian community, but one that will inevitably die in the next foreseeable future; or do we want to continue to work hard at also leaving a rich legacy behind for our spiritual great-great-great grandchildren?”

This report well describes the current and future reality for a sister church.  It could well be speaking of Penticton United Church.  Are our eyes open to our important ministry?  Do we see the light, illuminating a path of faithful commitment which ensures that Penticton United Church is strong and able to meet the diverse needs of the people of Penticton?  Do we believe enough that God has an important calling for us as a faith community – today and in the future?

Last week someone spoke to me suggesting that we will continue with full time ministry until I retire in January of 2020, but after that we will have to have part-time ministry leadership.  I commented that it will be interesting to see what parts of our existing ministry we will be prepared to give up, if part-time ministry becomes reality.  Will your new Minister be limited to only a few hours for visits and caring?  Will the new Minister only work select days and therefore unavailable for funerals, weddings and other services on days off?  Will the new Minister be expected to do all the many facets of paid ministry but only be paid part-time?   But, I am an idealist and I believe that not only is there work to be done, but there is and will be the outreach, new initiatives, and compassionate leadership that marks us as a vital congregation.  I believe that we together can see our ways clear toward stable finances.  I believe that we together can see our ways clear toward being a thriving congregation. I believe that we have a mission and ministry that is vital and needs to be shared.  I believe that Christ is calling us to be a presence of radical love in downtown Penticton.  Such is the vision I have.  What about you?

Miriam is from war-torn Somalia.  Her father went to work one day and never returned.  Her mother was brutally raped and killed by government soldiers.  Miriam and her 4 brothers and sisters escaped to a refugee camp and eventually, through church sponsorship, to Canada.  Miriam is now 27 years old.   She works in a local Walmart store.  Her brothers and sisters are all enrolled in school.  Their sponsoring congregation is a big support, but nothing will replace the loss of their parents and the horrors they endured as children and occasionally relive in nightmares.  Theirs is a journey from horror to light.  Miriam’s eyes are open to the atrocities of the world, but also to the generosity and compassion of people of faith.  Her new vision is one of hope and possibilities.

May we too see with eyes wide open.  May what we see be loving, gentle and full of hope.  May we see with critical eyes the plight of divisiveness, oppression and injustice.  And once we have seen, may we risk to act compassionately.  Amen.