”Discerning the Cost” September 8, 2019 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

”Discerning the Cost”

September 8, 2019 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

 

In the movie “Lion King”, there is a concept called “koona-me-tada”.  It basically means, don’t worry, be happy, do your own thing.  Simba, the lion cub, discovers this when he leaves home after he becomes convinced that he must kill his father.

Off on his own, he takes up with a wart hog and some other creature, and all they do is eat grubs and play.  A long time later, he is discovered by his friend, a female cub he used to play with.  Simba tries to explain this concept to her.  She says to him, “But you were called to be the king.”

Finally, with the help of the monkey who is kind of like a priest in this movie, Simba decides to go back.  “If I am going to be the king, I have to go back and face up to what I did.  I have to face up to my community, my family, and be responsible to them.”

That’s what discipleship calls us to.  We roll around with the grubs and the wart hogs, or we answer the call to be what God calls us toward.

In today’s scripture, sayings on the cost of discipleship are addressed to the large crowds following Jesus.  He was on the road to Jerusalem, aware of mounting tension, and travelling with many who did not realize the implications of following him on that path.  The saying about “carrying your cross” reminds us that both storyteller and listeners know the outcome of the story and are aware of what this might mean for those who choose to be his disciples.

Jesus’ followers are told they must hate their family if they want to come with him.  The Greek word that is translated as “hate” is miseo.  It does not carry a sense of anger or hostility but rather is an indication of priority.  If a choice has to be made between discipleship and family loyalty or discipleship and possessions, Jesus’ followers must be prepared to let their attachments go.  Like the examples of the tower-builder and the king going to war, the saying about family is about considering the demands of discipleship before making the commitment.  Jesus wants those who would journey with him to give heart and soul to the enterprise.

If our yearning for and accumulation of wealth has been the organizing passion of our life, a recalculation is required to enter a community, characterized by Luke, as one sharing possessions.  Jesus is all about truth-telling and this is some of his best material.  He speaks the hardest truth of all – that even the people we are closest to can hold us back from achieving our best potential.

About 20 years ago I had the privilege of offering support to a devoted Mennonite woman.  Over the course of numerous weeks, I came to learn about her pattern of faith-filled giving to her church.  If she made a discretionary purchase, she also gave the same amount of money to her church.  If she gave a gift to her children or grandchildren a corresponding monetary gift was given to the church.  These financial gifts were over and above her weekly 10% tithe.  When I asked her why she was so generous, she paraphrased today’s scriptural text.  She reminded me that she is called to place discipleship above possessions.

As we hear today’s passage it sounds as if Jesus was losing patience with his more insistent fans.  Maybe he too was plagued by Paparazzi!  He turned to the crowds and told them off.  The sharpness and tone seemed designed to shock them, to cut through fan club adulation.

Jesus himself did not, apparently practiced what he preached.  His mother was at the cross.  One of his brothers succeeded him as leader of the Jerusalem church.  That doesn’t sound like a family divided by hate.  Instead they are loyal followers of Christ.

The rest of the reading says, “Read the fine print!  Don’t follow me unless you understand what I expect of you.”  Do a cost-benefit analysis.  Know what you’re getting into.  Then- and only then – commit yourself to this cause.

The cost of discipleship is complete surrender to Jesus and a willingness to put God first, above all else.

Today’s stewardship theme is PAR – Pre-Authorized Remittance.  We have heard our friends and neighbours tell us why they prioritize the church in their financial management.  One of the ways that one can ensure that their ongoing donation is received is by signing up for PAR.  On the 20th of each month the designated amount is withdrawn from your bank account and credited to the church. Even if you are away for a period of time, the church receives your offering.  You save having to write cheques.  And a steady flow of money comes into the church account.  It makes budgeting easier for our finance committee.

One church I am familiar with in Central Ontario has done an educational campaign about PAR and now has every member on PAR.  It is a church about our size, and it has limited financial worries due to the commitment of its devoted members.

I encourage you to consider enrolling in PAR if you are not already.  Forms are available on the welcome table.

I have heard it said, and I am sure you have too, that a Minister should never preach about money.  If that were true, a significant part of scripture would be eliminated.  Jesus was certainly not afraid to talk about money.  Money is no more or no less important a topic than faithfulness, discipleship and grace.  Did you know that there are 2,000 verses in the Bible that talk about tithing, money and possessions?  A full 25% of Jesus’ words deal with Biblical stewardship.  Nearly ½ of the Gospel parables deal with money and possessions.  And a final statistic for you – 10% of the verses in the Gospels talk about money.  So, it is no wonder that Minister’s preach about money.  If we didn’t there would be little else left to preach about.

So, my friends, we have examined a difficult scriptural passage.  We have been challenged to put our money where our faith is.  We have heard about the value of PAR and have been gently encouraged to participate in that way of giving.  I close this message by inviting you to examine your priorities.  Is discipleship 1st in your life?  That is Jesus’ call to each one of us.  May it be so.  Amen.

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”Money Talk” September 1, 2019 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

”Money Talk”

September 1, 2019 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

 

Motivational speaker, Sam Keen, began a workshop held in the United States, by passing around a plate and asked everyone to put a dollar bill on it.  Then he set it in the middle of the group and set it on fire.  No explanation.  He just burned the whole plate full of money.

A while later, he passed the plate around again, and this time some of the participants were really reluctant to put the dollar in, but they did anyway.  Then Sam took the plate full of money and gave it to one of the participants.  “It is yours,” he said.  “No, you don’t have to give it back, and you can spend it on whatever you like.  Just take it.”

Same passed the plate around for the 3rd time.  No explanation.  Just put a dollar on the plate.  When he had the plate full of dollar bills, he shoved them all in an envelope and said that he was sending them off to a favorite charity.

Finally, Sam Keen passed the plate around a 4th time, again demanding a dollar from each participant.  This time he grabbed the whole plate full of bills and shoved them in his pocket.  No explanation.  Some of the group was boiling mad by this time.

At the end of it all, the group talked about money, and how they felt about it.  Everyone realized that money was far more than just currency.  It symbolized a whole host of things, from power to envy to greed, and all the way around again.  Everyone in that group had a pile of feelings about that money, and they were not entirely proud of all of those feelings.  Especially the way money symbolized their sense of status.

Today we begin Stewardship month.  We have already heard members of our congregation tell us about their financial sharing practices.  By listening to our brothers and sisters of faith we catch a glimpse of their beliefs and commitment to God.  We also are privileged to have a mirror held up to us, so that we might examine our own giving practices.

“Look at me, Mommy,” cried the little child.  “See how high I can swing.”  “Look at us, God, see how generous we can be.”

It was a voice that rose high over the neighbourhood playground that Saturday morning.  But in the child’s words were a whole view of life shared by most of us on the playground that morning, children or adults.  Look at me.  See how high I can go.

Each time we lay our offerings on the offering plate we express our gratitude to God and our willingness to serve generously.  We do it inconspicuously.  There is no great fanfare.  There is just the simple devotion expressed as we sing and pray the doxology.

Our Gospel text focuses on how we treat others.  Both the host and guests are reprimanded for selfishness.  Trying to make ourselves number 1, and giving only to receive, oppresses the needy, contradicts Christ’s example, and ultimately leads to humiliation. The passage from the letter to the Hebrew people is ethical and moralistic.  It commands to love fellow believers, welcome strangers, visit prisoners, honour marriage, not love money, and remember church leaders all the while offering acceptable worship to God.  It becomes obvious that true worship occurs in our daily living of how we treat each other and how we conduct ourselves financially and sexually.

As we delve deeper into our Gospel text we see it as a tale about humility.  At a dinner party Jesus watches the guests jockeying for position, all wanting the most privileged spot.  He says to those who are there, “Don’t grab the best seat.”  He speaks to hosts as well as guests, “Think about your motivation!  Extend your hospitality not to those who can repay you or do you good (so much for power lunching!) but to be hospitable to those who can’t – the poor, the lame, and the blind,”

We are reminded once again that those whom we often exclude have an important place within God’s realm.  In God’s realm, we are all guests, not by right or by worthiness, but by invitation.  God’s generous gift of love calls forth from us an equally generous response towards God and others, as we live daily in God’s realm.

It is because of scripture passages such as this that I am so committed to giving to the Mission and Service fund.  By giving to the M&S fund I am assured that those in need receive care and compassion.  Projects that receive M&S funding ensure that equality is a given.  That is the kind of world I dream about.

The founder of the Habitat for humanity movement, Millard Fuller, changed the world we live in by trading in his life of prestige and power for one of self-giving love.  Lives all over the globe have been transformed by the habitat experience.  In the building of homes that give families a hand up in the world, tangibles such as hammers and nails are transformed into a mysterious and almost sacramental grace.

A church youth group held a car wash, not to raise money, but just to be a good witness in the community.  It was their free way of helping people with no strings attached.  The teens were told ahead of time by church leaders that they weren’t to take any money (no personal tips), and if someone asked what their motive was or “what the catch was,” they were simply to respond, “there is no catch, we just want to serve our community.”  Throughout the day several conflicts developed as a few car owners insisted they pay for the wash.  Some were even offended when their money was refused, and in 2 cases the teens had to take a donation to avoid hostility.  This payment/reward culture can view a free gift as scandalous.

These young people got what the letter to the Hebrews was trying to say.  They got it when it said, “Keep your lives free from the love of money.”  The youth-group  realized that money was to be put to good use.  And they did just that!   Will we do any less?

Our food packs that we hand out to the hungry is a great example of this church’s commitment to “keep your lives free from the love of money.”  We hand out small snacks of granola bars and puddings, that help the hungry make it until they can get to the Soupateria.  We are generous in our outreach.  Our hundreds of prayer shawls that are handed out to the bereaved, hurting, and ill are a further example of extravagant giving.  Our openness in conducting memorial services for all, is a reminder that one need not pass a means test to receive care and compassion from this church.

Grace transforms our obedience to Christ from “we have to” to “we get to” – from “we are bound to” to “we are free to.”
I like the story historians tell about the funeral of Charlemagne.  Charlemagne was the greatest Christian rulers of the early Middle ages

After his death, a mighty funeral procession left his castle for the cathedral at Aix.  When the royal casket arrived, with a lot of pomp and circumstance, it was met by the local bishop, who barred the cathedral door.

“Who comes?” the bishop asked, as was the custom.

“Charlemagne, Lord and King of the Holy Roman Empire,” proclaimed the Emperor’s proud herald.

“Him I know not,” the bishop replied.  “Who comes?”

The herald, a bit shaken, replied, “Charles the Great, a good and honest man of the earth.”

“Him I know not,” the bishop said again.  “Who comes?”

The herald, now completely crushed, responded, “Charles, a lowly sinner, who begs the gift of Christ.”

To which the bishop, Christ representative, responded, “Enter!”

May we all remember who we are and to whom we belong.  May we be extravagant in our loving.  May we be generous in our giving.  May we be faithful in our living.  Amen.

”God’s Invitation” August 25, 2019 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

”God’s Invitation”

August 25, 2019 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

 

 

As I look over any congregation, I am extra sensitive that there are several women sitting in the pews who have experienced the horrors of abuse.  They may be in partnerships where they feel trapped due to the violence imposed on them.  Some may have lived through the soul-destroying experience of childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.  Also, there are men who have been dehumanized due to abuse. These are God’s children who are bent over with the weight of shame and pain.

The Gospel of Luke tells the powerful story of a woman who is set free from something that has afflicted her, weighted her down, and bent her over for 18 years.  The Greek word that is used means to set free rather than to heal a disease.  We are not told what has oppressed this woman, we know only that she cannot look up.  Luke does not say that she approached Jesus.  Instead, Jesus speaks to her, “Woman, you are free from your affliction.”  Somehow, she can trust these words of Jesus, stands up straight and praises God!

The bent-over woman has become an important image to women, as she resembles the many women who arrive at the doors of “safe shelters” in countless communities, every day.  Jesus did more than perform a Sabbath healing and challenge synagogue leaders.  He also challenged an entire social system that saw women as possessions to be treated and mistreated at will.  He lifted this woman up with love and dignity and tore down the dehumanizing forces of evil that had disabled her.  Jesus’ challenge to the status quo upset the synagogue leader, but he does not deal with Jesus directly.  Instead, he responds by speaking to the crowd about broken Sabbath laws.  Jesus becomes angry and calls them all hypocrites.  They have no problem untying a donkey and taking it to get a drink of water on the Sabbath, yet, freeing this “daughter of Abraham” seems to have been an unworthy act.  The term “daughter of Abraham” is an unusual one, and, shows Jesus’ deep respect and concern for the dignity of women.  He had come to the synagogue to worship, and, had ended up confronting injustice.  But then, that is what worship prepares us for isn’t it?

It was a very busy intersection and an elderly gentleman was slowly making his way across the street when his legs gave way and he could not proceed.  A woman stopped her car in the middle of the road and went to his aid.  He was too heavy to move.  Another 2 people rushed toward him and lifted him in their arms and crossed safely to the other side.  Some drivers pressed down hard on their car horns admitting their frustration at being held up at a crosswalk.

Hearing this story we recognize that both of today’s scripture texts speak to our choice to respond or not respond to a call to service.

We are called to confront injustice, to free the oppressed and give them respect, love and their dignity.  God lifted the sights of Jeremiah who thought he was just a child and therefore unable to speak on God’s behalf, and Jesus lifted the woman so she could see her true worth as a “daughter of Abraham”.  Jeremiah and Jesus responded to a call to service and moved from what was safe to the unknown and unpredictable.  What acts of freedom and compassion is God calling us to, I wonder?

Jesus is not afraid to touch the sordid places of our world that need healing.  We have seen people who are so engulfed in grief that they are mere shadows of their former selves.  We have seen churches so fractured by power struggles that they have torn apart.  We have seen neighbourhoods so torn by the drug trade that violence has led to deaths of children.  We have seen women who have tried to cover their bruises with makeup and concealing clothing, all so their family and neighbours won’t know that their partner beats them.  We have seen all this.

And Jesus walks right up to the grieving person and cradles them with love.  Jesus enters the church and rather than taking sides calls forth reconciliation.  Jesus walks up to the drug pusher and teaches him about grace.  Jesus takes the hand of the beaten woman and leads her to SOWINS.  We have seen all this.  We stand up straight.           Can you imagine not being able to look up and see a sunrise or sunset?  Can you imagine not being able to look up and see the clouds floating by?  Can you imagine not being able to look up and see the eyes of your 6 foot tall son?

The story describes the transformation and liberation of a woman who was “Bound by Satan”.  Satan represents all evil powers that keep humans in bondage – cultures, laws, traditions, and economic systems or political powers that oppress women.  She cannot “look up,” She is without hope.

From the darkness of exile from himself, Kirk Maynard Gull walked timidly toward Jonathan Livingston Seagull, wobbling across the sand, dragging his left wing, to collapse at Jonathan’s feet.  “Help me,” he said very quietly, speaking in the way that the dying speak.  “I want to fly more than anything else in the world…”

“Come along then,” said Jonathan.  “Climb with me away from the ground, and we’ll begin.”

“You don’t understand.  My wing.  I can’t move my wing.”

“Maynard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.  It is the Law of the Great Gull, that Law that Is.”

“Are you saying that I can fly?”

“I say you are free.”

As simply and as quickly as that, Kirk Maynard Gull spread his wings, effortlessly, and lifted into the dark night air.  The Flock was roused from sleep by his cry, as loud as he could scream it, from 500 feet up; “I can fly!  Listen!  I CAN FLY!”

By sunrise there were nearly a thousand birds standing outside the circle of Jonathan’s students trying to understand Jonathan Seagull.

He spoke of simple things – that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form.        (Richard Bach – “Jonathan Livingston Seagull, 1970)

Jesus never fails to meet people where they are, exactly how and who they are.  For him, no one is a lost cause – no one is expendable.  The woman bent by life’s burdens for so long was, during that brief encounter, the most important person in Jesus’ life.  I find that profoundly comforting.

It is also deeply challenging.  Our death-denying society is fearful of the things in life that bring us low and weigh us down with sorrow and memories.  We can easily be drawn into hurrying others through their pain and grief, as much for our own comfort as for theirs.  But Jesus doesn’t ask the bent woman to straighten up her act and get over herself before she comes seeking his touch.  He throws caution to the wind and makes her needs the priority of the moment.

Being with someone who is in pain is uncomfortable.  We often feel helpless in the face of inner wounds that cannot be bandaged or easily healed, but Jesus invites us to stay in that uncomfortable place.  This is where human suffering and the love of Jesus meet, and while it may be messy, it is holy ground, to be honoured above all else.

I can’t help thinking of the church office helpers who have come in on Thursday noon hours.  They have helped to fold the bulletins and do other easy tasks that Marianne assigns.  These helpers have included Evelyn who was with us for over 25 years, and Karen who is currently with us.  These special women bring unique talents and interests that make the two hours each week fly by.  While it is true that they have some cognitive challenges, they are funny, talkative, and conscientious workers.

I don’t know if any of you remember the TV show ‘Cheers.”  On the 200th episode celebration there was a clip that involved Coach and his daughter.

Coach’s daughter comes to visit, and the 2 of them are talking in the back room where they can have some privacy.  The daughter says to Coach, “Dad, I’m ugly.”

Coach looks at her for a minute. And then replies, “You’re not ugly!  You’re beautiful!”  Then he pauses as if he’s thinking and sys, “You look just like your mother!  I never realized that before!”

“I know I do,” says the daughter. “I’m, the exact image of my mother, and whatever Mom was, she wasn’t …”  She was going to say, “She wasn’t beautiful,” but, watching the face of her father, she knows how much it would hurt him, and so she doesn’t say it.

Coach is still lost in his own thoughts, and he continues, “Your mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, and you look just like her!”  He is so intense, earnest, and convincing that his daughter begins to believe him.

Slowly a light goes on in her face.  She begins to smile, and she asks, “Am I beautiful, Dad?  Am I really?”

“Yes,” says Coach. “You really are!”

May we know ourselves as beautiful, upright, free people who God loves deeply.  Straighten up everyone.  We are no longer bound!  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

”Reading the Signs” August 18, 2019 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

”Reading the Signs”

August 18, 2019 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

 

 

God comes first.  Let me repeat that in case you didn’t understand.  God comes first.  Not after your partner.  Not after your children.  But first, all the time.  Every-time.  God comes first.  Now, you have to agree that Jesus certainly knows how to get our attention.  We can’t help but sit up and take notice.  God comes first.  This is not an appeal for individual devotion.  It is about freeing ourselves from everything that gets in the way of our relationship with the Holy.  Yes, even those attachments as deeply entwined and essential as family.  God comes first.

Wow!  This is a hard concept to hear, let alone put into practice.  We have been raised to put family first.  Our wedding vows acclaim that we will put our partner first.  Many occupations insist that the job comes first.  It is into this reality that Jesus’ words come across as incongruent to 21st century living.

Jesus dismantles the illusions of safety and security we have put in place to help us sleep at night and bring us “peace.”  Jesus did come to reinforce our illusions.  What we call peace may only be a momentary deal made with our psyche not to acknowledge the lesser gods we idolize.  Those gods may be money, possessions, or the people we love.  Jesus says, “no.”  “God comes first.”  It becomes increasingly clear that this is no cushy desk job Jesus has called us to.  This is costly discipleship.

To peel away the blinders and recognize that our lives and relationships are richer when we put God first is to grow up spiritually.  In doing so, we recognize that the promise of God in Jesus Christ is the only true assurance we have.  Everything else pales by comparison.

Harriett Buell was the daughter of a wealthy American Industrialist.  She had everything she wanted as a young woman.  During one visit to New York City, Hattie and a fried came across a tent meeting of Christian evangelists.  She and her friend entered the tent just for laughs, and for the purposes of meeting a few interesting people, but left the tent having heard a life-changing message to which she responded.  The city newspapers carried the story the next day, “Harriet Buell walks the Sawdust Trail,” reporting her conversion to faith in Christ.  Her father read those headlines, and was furious.  This was a great embarrassment to the Buell family name.  When Hattie got home, he confronted her and asked her to retract the story the next day in the newspaper.  The request he made was really a threat, for if she did not withdraw her public confession of Christ as Lord within 24 hours, she would be asked to leave the family mansion, and all her inheritance with it.  After Hattie had spent a night in thought and prayer, she met her dad coming down the stairs.  Putting her arms around her father, she said, “Father, I love you dearly, but I love Jesus more.”  “You have made your decision then, he replied, and with that, she left a home of privilege in the lap of luxury.

Later, Harriett wrote a song expressing her choice to follow Christ, even at the expense of her family, entitled “A Child of the King.”  The last from over there.  Though exiled from home, yet still I may sing; All glory to God, I’m a child of the King.”

As profound as the story of Harriett Buell, the Gospel text of today gets to us.  It seems to be filled with images of destruction and catastrophe, of family breakups and divine judgement.  Oh sure, it is a smorgasbord of images and a landscape of visual concepts including fire, baptism, a fight within the family and an observation on the perceptive skills of weather watchers.  For us as 21st Century Christians, we understand the imagery of fire and baptism, but are rather startled by Christ’s comments on family dynamics.

Division and strife within families are not what most of us think of when we seek to follow the way of Christ.  However,  division – as much as the mighty signs and wonders of Jesus – may be evidence of the presence of the Kingdom of God.

Following Christ means living a different kind of life.  Such a life is obvious in our obedience to the call of God.  For some, responding to the way of faithfulness may be challenged by those people who are closest to us.

Following Jesus the Christ is a decision to be made, but not all chose to walk with him.  Sometimes within our families not every member makes the decision and commitment to walk the path set by Christ.  And that can lead to some quite devastating consequences.

It was almost 40 years ago that I was wrestling with God over whether I should leave a satisfying and rewarding career in the YMCA and present myself as a candidate for full time ministry with the church.  The concern of leaving my job was minor compared with my fear that my marriage would not be able to withstand the pressures of seminary training and congregational ministry.  And sure enough, that fear was well founded.  A year after presenting myself to my home congregation and presbytery as a candidate for ministry my marriage ended.

My personal story is minor compared with many others who have chosen faithfulness to God’s reign and have been shunned by their entire family.  However, the truth of the matter is that in Christ, some of our most fundamental relationships can be threatened.

As we look again at the reading from Luke, it makes clear the high cost of discipleship and the faithfulness that will be required of Jesus’ disciples.  There are no soothing words here as Jesus declares; I came to set the earth on fire” (the fire of judgment and of cleansing), “I bring division, and peace,” Jesus knew that before there could be the true peace of Shalom, there would need to be much upheaval.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, old Simeon foresaw the confrontations that Jesus’ life and work would bring about, and John the Baptist spoke of the baptism of fire that the Messiah would introduce.   These are strong words and images.  For the early church facing persecution, Jesus’ words bring the comfort of his understanding.  And they are helpful for us too as we struggle to be faithful in the issues of our time.

How do we deal with the divisions that appear when peace activists from our congregation picket a company making armaments parts which many of our townspeople and congregation work for, or our environmentalists confront our logging and mining executives?  We can respond to these crises out of fear, or as an opportunity for growth.  What about our position on recycling, reducing and reusing, when some in our community refuse to believe that global warming is real?  Sometimes, we wish our eyes hadn’t been opened.

Jesus goes on to say how observant and astute people are in discerning the weather, but how unable they are to deal with the meaning and needs of their present age, and the coming of Shalom.  We know well the danger in the crisis of our time. Can we also see the opportunities?  May God grant us the courage not to sell our birthright but to labour faithfully in the building of God’s new community.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says, “I am not surprised that most prophets are itinerants.  Critics of the church think we preachers are afraid to tell the truth because we are economically dependent upon the people of our church.  I think the real clue is the difficulty one finds in telling unpleasant truths to people whom on has learned to love.”  I agree.  It is hard to stand before you and preach a sermon like this one.  It is not soft and full of love and kindness.  There are hard things I am announcing to you. Prophets have always been strident and a little crazy.  They’ve needed to be.

The prophet Deborah wouldn’t have beaten the tar out of the Canaanites by issuing directives from her living room any more than Moses would have gotten his people out of Egypt by writing letters to the Vancouver Sun.  The truth I proclaim today is God comes first.  Are you prepared to live your life in this way?  May it be so.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s About Being Prepared” August 11, 2019 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

“It’s About Being Prepared”

August 11, 2019 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

 

There is a story about a person who was not much of a handyman but tried hard nonetheless.  He decided to save some money and change the oil in his car himself.  He prepared very carefully for this “big event.”  He went to the store and bought a pair of vehicle ramps to run his car up on.  They were on sale for only $27.95.  Next he bought a special mechanics “creeper” so he could roll under his car.;
The ‘creeper” cost $15.95.  He decided it would be best to get a special flat oil pan which cost $3.50.  And he got a super special oil-can spout, guaranteed not to leak for only $2.95.  He bought a special oil-filter, wrench, $3.25 and of course the filter itself, $5.49.  So far, he had invested $59.09.  He then drove his car up those special ramps, took out the oil plug and drained the oil into the special pan.  He unscrewed the oil filter and replaced it .  Suddenly he realized with all his preparations, he had forgotten to get the oil.  No problem.  The Walmart was only 2 miles away.  So, he simply started up the car, backed it off the new ramps and drove towards the Walmart.  Cost of engine overhaul – $895.00.  Total cost of the oil and filter change – $954.09.

With that picture in our minds, let’s jump to the Hebrew scripture text.  The letter to the Hebrews comes from an unknown author, is addressed to a Christian community that has grown passive in their faith.  The chapter begins by defining faith as an inner conviction within a person that is not accompanied by tangible evidence, “assurance of things not seen,”  it says.  The following verses name some things that faith does, and goes on to give examples of things that have been accomplished in history because of faith.  Where are we being called to go?  Are we aware of unexplored places in our lives that need to be visited?  Who are some women and men whose active faith has encouraged you?  Where has your faith taken you?

Perhaps your faith has pulled you into approaching some of your neighbours and you formed a neighbourhood clean-up group.  Perhaps your faith has directed you to get together with some like minded friends and study the Truth and Reconciliation report.  Perhaps your faith has nudged you to sign up for an international working experience in a developing country.  Perhaps you made a pilgrimage to a Holy site.

The letter of Hebrews offers a wonderful recitation of people who have been faithful down through history.  They are people whose lives expressed “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  They were faithful stewards of the vision and promises of God.  Abraham and Sarah left their homeland to journey to an unknown land that God had promised to their descendants, and they continued to believe in the promise long after Sarah had passed child-bearing age.  And although they died before they saw the promise totally fulfilled – descendants as numerous as the stars or grains of sand – they had the vision of what would be, and that was enough to be faithful stewards of the present moment.  Their lives were focused not on the past and what had been, but on God’s future in which they trusted.

Do you hear the repetitive refrain: “By faith…By Faith…By Faith.”   As we hear this directive, we find ourselves wondering, how?  Mary Hyatt writes, “Come now, let us argue it out.  Faith is a process that we work at all our lives.  It’s our dialogue with God.  Our faith is a dialogue with God and our living is a dialogue with the world.”

A wealthy woman, once felt that God was calling her to the religious life.  She thought she would be able to give up everything in order to follow Christ, with one exception.  She had a garden that was very important to her.  It was a place for her to be alone, to be at peace with herself and to find refreshment.  She was unwilling and unable to give up the key to her secret garden.  Her privacy was too precious even to share with God.

Are you willing to give up your garden so that you might follow Christ?  Will you give up 3 coffees a week and give that corresponding amount of money to your church offering?  Will you engage a street person in meaningful conversation each time you walk by one?  Will you invite three persons to church, sometime this year?

If someone had come up to Jesus when he was on the cross and asked him if it hurt, he might have answer like the man in the old joke, “Only when I laugh.”  But he wouldn’t have been joking.  Faith dies, as it lives, laughing.

Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than a possession.  It is an–on-again–off–again rather than once-and-for-all.  Faith is not being sure where you are going but going anyway.  A journey without maps.  Tillick, a 20th century theologian, said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.

Have you ever gone to sleep thinking that your day was lacking in some way?  There is every chance that opportunities were missed to meet God in the human faces around us because of on overdeveloped sense of worry and anxiety.  Opportunities missed may occur when we are turned in another direction or are unaware of the possibilities of transformation in a certain situation.  Jesus encourages us to seize the day, be ready for action and service, and to trust God into the future.

That brings to mind the wonderful movie “Dead Poet’s Society.”   “Seize the day” is the advice given by Mr. Keating to his students in this wonderful movie of the 1990’s.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit,” reads vs 35 in the Gospel of Luke  chapter 12.  Be prepared!  Start your engines!  Ready, set, go!

Jesus is giving instruction to the disciples about what they are to do after he is gone.  Above all else, they are to be active in living out their faith.  This faith is based on trust in God, who will take care of them.  We are reminded that where we invest our lives – our time, our energy and talents, our money – is where we will be focused.  If our primary concern is to serve ourselves and amass personal possessions, we have little time for God or others.  If, on the other hand, we invest ourselves in God and God‘s realm, we are freed to live our faith.

The disciples are urged to be vigilant, like faithful servants, always ready for action and service.  We remember that the early church looked forward to Christ’s return within their own lifetime.  This passage reminds them, and us, that being faithful cannot be measured on a clock or calendar and doesn’t give immediate results.  It is a way of life, a journey of trust into the future.

Are we prepared to see Christ in our neighbor who is living with cancer?  Or in the teenager whose life on the street is safer than the home she ran away from?  Are our hearts and spirits prepared to respond faithfully to the needs of the day?

We are only able to see and meet the needs around us when we place our love for God above all else.  This is where our hearts need to be, embraced in the treasure of God’s grace, ready to love and serve God’s grace, ready to love and serve Jesus – wherever we meet him.

Throughout this passage Jesus speaks to the disciples about a different kind of wealth – investments that cannot be stolen, will not wear out, or deteriorate.  They are asked to share what they have and not be anxious about financial security.  Their true wealth is of a different kind.  The passage reminds us that where we place our investments – our time, our energy, and talents, our money – is where our life will be focused, and will show what we truly believe in.  Jesus’ followers are left as stewards of the new community until Jesus comes again.  They must be vigilant, like faithful servants, always ready for action and service.  We remember that the early church looked forward to Christ’s return within their own lifetime.  We are reminded that being faithful cannot be measured on a clock or calendar and doesn’t give immediate results.  It is a way of life, a journey of trust into the future.

We are people who have been gifted in so many ways.  Do our grandchildren and neighbours see us living lives of thanksgiving and trust in God’s future?  What is our vision?  Are we faithful stewards of God’s gifts and promises?  Are we blissful about the coming age?

One of my colleagues preached a wonderful sermon about heaven.  He said heaven is the response to the question that we’re born asking, which is, “Do you love me?”  We ask our mothers and fathers if they love us; we ask that by crying when we’re babies.  It’s a question we ask constantly of the people around us.  Do you love me?  Do you love me?  But really, it’s an ultimate question.  Does God love me?  And we ask God every day of our lives in one way or the other, “Do you love me?”  Heaven is the response that comes back that says, “Yes, I love you.”

Victor Frankl made the point that someone can take away everything you own, everything that belongs to you, but there’s one thing that they cannot take away from you and that’s your attitude toward what’s going on – your choice to live in spite of death and destruction all around you.  To me, that’s heaven.

May we live each day fully.  May those who encounter us experience God’s grace.  And may we be blessed with deep faith.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“ Praying, Sharing and Asking” July 28, 2019 – 7th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

“ Praying, Sharing and Asking”

July 28, 2019 – 7th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

 

 

Since moving to Brunswick Street my prayer life has improved significantly.  You see, I live around the corner from the fire station.  Each time I hear the siren and see the engine going by my home I say a prayer that God will comfort the person who the firefighters are responding to.  And I say a prayer that the fire-fighters will be safe in the rescue they are on.  Some days there are numerous arrow prayers sent from my home to God.

In Luke’s account, Jesus has been absorbed in prayer and when he finishes, the disciples ask him to teach them to pray.  Jesus teaches the disciples what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer.  Luke records a shorter version than the more familiar, and likely liturgically enlarged, passage from Matthew.  It is a prayer of the community, not an individual one, and it is focused on the coming of God’s realm.  “Give us daily what we need” seems to move Luke on to the Parable of the Friend at Midnight.  An unexpected visitor has arrived close to midnight, and hospitality is a sacred act.  The host persistently knocks on a friend’s door seeking help.  The 3 loaves requested is the amount of bread needed for a meal.  The point is that if a reluctant friend will help, think how much more God will respond to our requests in prayer.  So “ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find, knock and the door will be open for you.”  Just as a parent knows how to give their children what they need, God is even more generous and willing.

A little boy prayed and prayed for a new pair of cowboy boots.  One night, he refused to say his prayers.  His mother asked, “Why won’t you say your prayers?”

Art doesn’t listen!”

“Art who?”

“Art in heaven!”

The question we ought to ask is not “Will God answer prayer?”  Instead, the question is “Will we persist in prayer?”  Once upon a time there was a church gathering, filled with good people largely unconcerned with certain injustices in society.  In the midst of this gathering, an elderly black preacher stood and said, “until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you really do not know what prayer is.”

“Knock and the door will be opened to you, says our scripture text.”  It is an invitation to break out, to open up to the world, to leave my narrow little world, my narrow little church, and open up to the world out there.

Our actions are prayer.  Assisting at Soupateria is prayer.  Counting the offering on Tuesday morning is prayer.  Choir practice is prayer.  Helping out at a concert is prayer.  Sending a note to a person who is sick or shut-in is prayer.  Serving on one of the church committees is prayer.

One evening, a little girl was saying bedtime prayers with her mother.  “Dear Harold, please bless Mommy and Daddy and all my friends,” she prayed.  “Wait a minute,” interrupted her mother, “who is Harold?”  “That is God’s name,” was the answer.  “Who told you that was God’s name?”  asked the mother.  “I learned it in Sunday school, mommy.  “Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be they name.”

According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it.

The images he uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain it at all.  He says God is like a friend you go to, to borrow bread from at midnight.  The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again.

Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there’s nothing much in it for him.  But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair.

Even a stinker, Jesus says, won’t give his own child a black eye when the child asks for peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so how all the more will God hear a child’s prayer?

3 year old Caitlin, had been taught the Lord’s prayer as a bedtime prayer.  After repeating the lines after her Mother, she felt ready to say it solo.  Imagine Mom’s amazement when Caitlin was offering each phrase, carefully enunciated.  Then the young girl came to the end of the prayer and she carefully stated: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us some email.

The model prayer, and in fact, every honest prayer, is about attitude more than words.

Before the days of the chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, an elderly but alert lady advertised for a new coachman. Selecting 3 promising replies, she asked each applicant the same question: “How near could you drive to the edge of a precipice?

The first answered that he could easily drive a coach to within 1 foot of the edge.  The 2nd went one better: “I could drive within 1 inch of the edge.”

When the 3rd applicant came for his interview, he was met with the same question: “How near to the edge of a precipice could you drive a coach?

“Madam,” he replied, “I cannot tell you, for I always keep as far away from a precipice as I can.”  He got the job.

In the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation” does not suggest that God deliberately tempts us, but rather that we be kept from our particular precipice.

“Where are you Jane?” asked mom during an ominous silence.  Came a small, distant voice: I’m in the pantry, fighting temptation.”

No one can expect to avoid temptation; but we need not make it more difficult for ourselves.

What are we seeking?  Whom are we asking?  What do we fear?  Do we believe in prayer?  Do we pray?  Are we prepared to keep knocking on another’s behalf?

Jesus apparently prayed habitually, instinctively.  He and God were like soulmates, constantly communicating.  But that was a new concept to his disciples.  If we were to compare and contrast Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the Lord’s Prayer we would find that Matthew’s has the addition of several verses.  These verses reveal something of the new church’s spiritual priorities.  Later additions, – especially the “power and glory” bits – show us the mindset of an increasingly established church.  Luke’s account is probably an older version.

Perhaps even more significant than the prayer itself, are the explanations Jesus adds.  They’re almost comic illustrations.  Is God really like a capricious parent?  Can God be badgered into submission?  Yet underlying all these examples is a sense of trust.  The friend keeps knocking because he trusts that his friend will eventually respond – the child trust that she will not be given a snake or scorpion.

It is worth remembering that in Hebrew, “faith” was more verb than noun.  You didn’t have faith – you did faith.  Our closest English verb would be “to trust”

People in the two-third’s world, or the Southern Hemisphere, might have significant questions whether “everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds.”  For them that just isn’t true.  To ask or to search, at best rocks the boat.  Threatening the status quo gets you stomped on. To ask or to search too often is to risk death.

I asked God to take away my pride.

God said, “No.  It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.”

 

I asked God to give me happiness.

God said, “No.  I give you blessings, happiness is up to you.”

 

I asked God to spare me pain.

God said, “No.  Suffering is part of every life, and it beings you closer to me.”

 

I asked God to make my spirit grow.

God said, “No. You must grow on your own, but I will prune you to make you fruitful.”

 

I asked God for all things, that I might enjoy life.

God said, “No.  I give you life that you might enjoy all things.”

 

I asked God to help me love others as much as Christ loved me.

God said, “Aha! Now you’ve got the idea!”

 

An opened window brings fresh air; an unlocked door opens a new possibility; and an answered prayer brings the promise of new life.  Today we are invited to visualize ourselves asking, seeking, and knocking unceasingly – yes, unceasingly – so that we may learn again and again that to persist in prayer is to move forward in faith, hope and love.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

“Many Kinds of Faithfulness” July 21, 2019 – Year C – 6th Sunday after Pentecost

“Many Kinds of Faithfulness”

July 21, 2019 – Year C – 6th Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ,

I am Martha and I write to you in the name of Jesus Christ our teacher and friend.

I write because I have heard of the wonderful work that the United Church Women’s group has done on behalf of your church.  The UCW is important in the life and work of the congregation.  Women have been coming together in the name of Christ Jesus for Centuries – and that is good, and I am pleased.

One thing does concern me, and this concern is what I want to talk to you about.

I know you have read about me and my sister Mary, and I know that we have been talked about a great deal in circles of church women.  Luke told you about us in his gospel – a least he told you one little portion of our story.  Sometimes, I wish that he had told of some other happening in our lives, for the one he wrote about has been preached all over the world, and, I must admit, I feel that my sister and I have been misunderstood.

It seems that we have been used to create divisions amongst women according to the work they do – and this greatly saddens my heart.  For years Mary and I have been compared, one against the other.  I know that many discussions have taken place about which one of us was the better disciple.  Many have suggested that Mary was the more faithful church woman because, from Luke’s story, she appeared to be the one most anxious to learn from Jesus.  As for me, I have not been looked on favourably.  Many have called me a fussy, complaining housekeeper, because, on that day, I was concerned about the practicalities of caring for my guests.

It seems that women after us have even been labelled ‘the Mary’s’ or ‘the Martha’s’ of their church depending on the way in which they have chosen to serve the one whom we all love.

I think much division and much guilt has arisen over this and I’m sorry that our names have been used in such a way.

As women, Mary and I both had inner conflicts about how best to serve our Lord.  Our feelings of duty to our home and to our community seemed always to be in battle with our deepest heartfelt desires for ourselves.

Both of us had to make hard decisions about our lives and about our responsibilities and this is where Luke found me that day at Bethany – caught in a struggle of duty over desire.  On that day, I chose duty.  I do not believe I made a mistake – it was the way it had to be.  Although Jesus teased me about it – he really did understand.  We’d had many talks about this struggle, and I was surprised one day to realize that it was his as well. 

Now, Mary and I are left with an image of ourselves and of our work in the church that is not accurate.  Such images are hard to change, but I want you to know that Mary and I did not intend to divide women in the church on the matter of how best to serve in faith.

In real life, Mary and I were sisters – we did not compete – we loved each other.  We were both called to be disciples and we both wanted what was best for our friend Jesus. Our only difference was that we sometimes meet his needs in different ways – in the ways in which we felt the most skilled and the most comfortable.

And so, you read about us again.  I hope that you will not think of us as women in competition.  Rather, I hope you will remember that we were sisters – birth sisters – but also sisters in faith.  And women, you are our sisters as well.  Men, we are your sisters, proud and faithful.

Women in your day have many ways to serve the church.  You all have before you a wonderful opportunity to learn, to serve, to love, and to be loved.  You all have the opportunity to grow in faith, together.

Peace be with you, my friends.

May the one who taught us to listen, to serve, to be together in laughter and in tears, be with you all.

Martha.

Let’s hear our scripture text one more time, and listen to this new translation and see if there is new clarity for you.

(Luke 10:38-42 Living Bible )

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem[a] they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. 39 Her sister Mary sat on the floor, listening to Jesus as he talked.

40 But Martha was the jittery type and was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing.

She came to Jesus and said, “Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “Martha, dear friend,[b] you are so upset over all these details! 42 There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her!”  Amen.

“Who is My Neighbour?” July 14, 2019 – Year C

“Who is My Neighbour?”

July 14, 2019 – Year C

 

In this age of fear of picking up hick-hikers and disregard for street people, it is hard for us to hear the story of “The Good Samaritan.”  It pricks at our conscience.   We don’t want to hear that we are called to love unconditionally.

There once was a man who was travelling along a highway.  He had car trouble and had to pull over on the side of the road.  He didn’t have his cell phone because he had left it on the charger on the kitchen table.  Well, it wasn’t long before another car stopped.  But the driver of the car didn’t look like he had “helping” in mind.  He beat the man up, stole his wallet, slashed his tires, and set his car on fire.  Then he left him.

As the beaten man lay on the side of the road, a car came by.  It slowed down to take a look.  The driver was a minister, but instead of stopping to help, he changed lanes and re-engaged his cruise control – he had a board meeting to get to, and people hated it when he was late.

Then a salesman drove by.  He, too, slowed down to take a look, but then sped on.  He had promised his boss he would be back in the office before everyone else left.

Finally, a van pulled up and come to a stop.  Inside was a young woman with 2 small children.  She picked up her cell phone and called 911.  Then she got out of the van and helped the weak and bleeding man into the front seat.  She got out the first aid kit she and her husband kept underneath the passenger seat and proceeded to clean the cuts on the man’s face.

The story of the Good Samaritan wasn’t an “old favourite” the first time around.  How shocked the listeners must have been when a Samaritan – racially unacceptable and a heretic besides – was chosen as the model of love that is essential to eternal life.  The parable is told in the context of a lawyer wanting to test Jesus.  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  A trick question perhaps?  At best a somewhat selfish question, showing concern for preserving one’s own future.  Jesus responds with a question that draws out the issue of concern for others, for one’s neighbor.  The lawyer tries to evade the issue by challenging, “Who is my neighbor?”  It was not more information he needed; rather it was action on what he already knew.  In the tale that Jesus told, the first 2 travelers who passed by the wounded one were clergy – a priest and a Levite, or in other words, a priest’s assistant.  Perhaps their lack of action was due to rules about touching a dead body or fears that his was a hoax – a reasoned response.  But the Samaritan, unencumbered by should and oughts and intellectual arguments, saw only a human being in need and had compassion.  Compassion literally means “to suffer with.”

12 years ago I arrived at the church on Easter Sunday morning only to find swastika’s and profanity spray painted across the exterior wall of the church.  Who would deface a church in this way?  After calling the police we gathered around the entrance and I said a prayer for the vandals, that they might come to know God’s great love and mercy so that their lives might be turned around.  I prayed for us as a community of faith, that we might know deep compassion and forgiveness, so that we might continue to be good neighbours.

 

 

 

At its heart, we need to recognize this parable as deeply offensive and subversive to all that our culture holds dear.

The priest and the Levite, the minister and the lawyer, the people we might expect to give help to the helpless, passed by on the other side.  But in Jesus’ time, they were expected to.  Touching the victim would have rendered them unclean.  They would have to purify themselves before they could operate the food bank, visit the hospitals, or provide legal aid to poor people.

Then the kicker.  A Samaritan!

Family feuds are most bitter between the closest kin.  The Samaritans were the Jews’ closest kin in the Middle East.  And a Samaritan helped a good Jewish boy.

To get a comparable effect, we have to imagine the last person on earth we’d expect to receive help from, the person we’d go out of our way to avoid having contact with.  Someone with HIV/AIDS, perhaps.  Or high on fentanyl and living on the streets.  A squad of Hell’s Angels.  A frothing-at-the-mouth racist.  A mass murderer.

That person, the parable asserts, is our neighbor.

Who is my neighbor?  The person who needs my help, or who can give me help.  Even if it’s the last person on earth that I’d expect.

Mitch Albom, the author of “Tuesdays with Morrie” tells of a conversation between himself and Morrie.  “Life is a series of pulls back and forth.  You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else.  Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn’t.  You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted.  A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band.  And most of us live somewhere in the middle.”

“Sounds like a wrestling match,” says Mitch Albom.

“A wrestling match,” Morrie laughs.  “Yes, you could describe life that way.”

“So, which side wins?”  he asks.

He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth, “Love wins.  Love always wins.”

Hans Kung writes in the book “On Being a Christian,” “Jesus is not interested in universal, theoretical or poetical love.

For him love does not consist primarily in words, sentiments or feelings.  For him love means primarily the great, courageous deed.  He wants practical and therefore concrete love.

According to Jesus, love is not simply love of another person but essentially love of neighbour.  It is a love, not of people in general, of someone remote, with whom we are not personally involved, but quite concretely of one’s immediate neighbor.

Love of God is proved in love of neighbour, and in fact love of neighbor is the exact yardstick of love of God.

I love God as much as I love my neighbor.”

Back in 2007 I work in a church in a large Ontario city.  One day I received a phone call from a family telling me they were in serious trouble.  After over ½ an hour of listening to their story I realized that they were either very good story tellers or were in deep, deep trouble.  I decided to interpret the situation in the later – but only somewhat.  So, after explaining that I could help them with some food vouchers that the church provides and which I would deliver to them – I suggested a number of community resources – I felt I had done my job.  But, that was the problem.  I did my job.

So, later on that day I drove toward the airport and found the home, only to be confronted by such incredible poverty and squalor conditions that I wanted to vomit.  The home they were living in was in the shadows of the airport, with doors and windows in disrepair.  Rotting boards, holes in walls and no food in the fridge and no gas in the vehicle to get to work.  The family was pleased to no longer live in their vehicle and instead have a house to live in.  And as appreciative as they were for the food vouchers, they had no gas to get to the grocery store, which was several miles away.

And there was me, with my full tank of gas, my designer clothes and my beautifully decorated home.  Needless to say, my drive back home was an uncomfortable one.  So, the next day I arranged with the family that I would put gas in their vehicle, for they are my brother and sister in Christ.  They are my neighbours.  After all – it was the least I could do.

I continued to visit with this family for the better part of a year.  I helped them access some community supports.  I shared with them some hints and ideas of navigating through the Social Services system.  But, most of all, I befriended them.  There was nothing I wanted in return.  They were my neighbours.  I came to love them.

To love deeply and unencumbered is our call.  To see the face of Christ in every person we encounter is our mission.  To be neighbor to all God’s people is our great challenge.  May we love with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourself.  Amen.

 

 

“Keep it Simple” July 7, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

“Keep it Simple”

July 7, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

There’s a legend that tells of Jesus’ return to heaven, still bearing the scars of his cruel death on the cross.  Gabriel approached him, “Master, you must have suffered terribly for humans.”

“I did.”

‘And,” continued Gabriel, “do they know all about how you loved them and what you did for them?”

“Oh, no,” Jesus replied, “not yet.  Right now, only a handful in Palestine know.”

Gabriel was perplexed.  “Then what have you done,” he asked, “to let everyone know about your love for them?”

“I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few more friends to tell others about me.  These will tell still others, and my story will spread around the globe.  Finally, everyone will know about my life and love.”

Gabriel frowned skeptically.  He knew humans all too well.  “Yes,” he said, “but what if Peter and James get tired?  What if the people who come after them forget?  What if people in the 21st century just don’t tell others about you?  What are your back-up plans?”

“I don’t have any other plans,” Jesus replied.  “I’m counting on them.”

Imagine Jesus standing in the middle of the sanctuary saying: “I select You, and you, and you, until Jesus has ultimately pointed to each one of us.  Would we say to the people we encounter, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  You see, that is the challenge that is presented to us.  We are to heal the sick while proclaiming God’s
Good News.  It is a simple message that must not be weighted down with extraneous details.

No purse, luggage, sandals, or back-pack for us.  We are to simply head along the streets and roads and proclaim, “Peace to this house!”  And then we are to point out that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”  If we are not welcomed, we brush the dust from our feet and move onward.

As you hear the phrase “shake the dust off your feet” you might have found yourself thinking of the movie “Babette’s Feast.”  Babette is a French cook who finds herself working in the dour home of a Norwegian family.  When she wins some money, she decides to cook them the finest meal they, and their guests, will have ever had.  They are suspicious of the food and her motives, but she is not about to shake the dust off her sandals. She hangs in there with the family.

 

Perhaps you are wondering why such a mission? The writer of the Gospel of Luke is writing in a period of expansion for Christians around about the year 85 CE.  This description of the mission of the 72 disciples is not mentioned in the other gospels.  Jesus sends the original 12 disciples on a mission to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal, but Jesus expects something else from the 72.  They are to prepare a way for him to visit the towns to which they are sent.  Although all the gospels record stories of missionary journeys, only in Luke do we get both a sending out the 12 and the 72.  Their mission is simple They are to heal the sick and proclaim the reign of God.  Luke concludes with a joyful homecoming scene where there is great rejoicing about the success of the mission, and a reminder from Jesus that wonderful things have happened because they belong to God.

As John the Baptist heralded the Messiah in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the 72 herald the journey of the Messiah at the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem.  Their ministry is focused and purposeful.  They must not stay in towns where they are not welcome, nor take rejection personally, and not take credit for miracles.  That is pretty hard to do.  They were to set their own ego aside and go confident in God’s grace.

We are called to preach, teach, and heal in God’s name.  Wherever there is poverty, discrimination, war, evil, violence, and exploitation of humans and the planet earth, then there is an urgency to move into these areas and work to change the unjust structures.

Our church’s Mission and Service fund has heard that call and responds.  Through our donations to the M&S fund projects that feed the hungry, seek justice, support the oppressed, and care for the planet are supported.  Our letters on behalf of Amnesty International is proven to help free prisoners of conscience.  Our intentional care for the planet by reducing, reusing, and recycling is an important commitment.

Wholeness, healing, acceptance, and forgiveness comes through God’s grace. God, in turn, challenges and supports us to become a new creation, and to wholehearted commitment to lovingly, happily, and joyfully creating a better world.

“How do we do that?”, You might ask.  I believe it first of all becomes real when we stop hiding our faith under a basket.  We are called to speak our faith, live our faith, and even sleep our faith.  In other words, in all we do we are to exemplify God’s grace.  Second, we are called to take risks.  We are to venture the path of bold courage.  This means that the care for our planet and the people on it must be a priority.  Writing to manufacturers demanding that wrapping be reduced and be bio-degradable.  Using products that are non-toxic.  Walk more and drive less.  Support initiatives that place people and the planet as priorities.  And finally, we are called to invite others into our circle of faith community.  Evangelism is not a 4 letter word in the United Church.  And yet, many of us are reluctant to invite friends and neighbours into our community of faith.  If we are to grow, it is imperative that we extend invitations to those around us.  If we believe in the message that the kingdom of God is near, then we must let it be known.

“Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary,” a worship resource states: “that the disciples are sent out in pairs shows us that even at its simplest level, Christian missions is never a solo voyage.  Christian existence and Christian life are corporate in nature, for Christ calls us into life and action as God’s people, not merely as God’s persons.  In turn, as Jesus sends out these teams, he speaks deeply ironic words, telling them that the harvest is ready and great, but the workers are few.  We should not forget that Israel was a religious nation.  Religious concerns and practices coloured the fabric of everyday life, but Jesus says despite the religious cost of life and the number of religious leaders there were few workers available for God’s work.  The saying reminds us that religious activity that is merely directed toward God and not directed by God may be useless.

Our congregation knows the importance of two or more joining together for worship, service, study, and fellowship.  That is why we take seriously the call to be a vital, alive community of faith.  We seek to know Jesus intimately in all that we are about.

It will always remain true that a person’s greatest glory is not what they have done but what God has done for them.  For instance, it might well be claimed that the discovery of the use of chloroform saved the world more pain than any other single medical discovery.  Once someone asked Sir James Simpson, who pioneered its use, “What do you regard as your greatest discovery?”  expecting the answer, “chloroform.”  But Simpson answered, “My greatest discovery was that Jesus Christ is my Saviour.”

May we take delight that Jesus has called us to proclaim the Good News.  May we do so with joy and conviction.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

“Full On Commitment” June 30, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

“Full On Commitment”

June 30, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

 

Fred Craddock, a noted theologian, tells of a time when he was preaching in a university church in Oklahoma, when a young woman came up after the service.  That night, Dr. Craddock had preached from the passage in which Jesus called his disciples to follow him, and they left everything to follow him.  A young woman came up to Dr. Craddock and said she wanted to talk to him.  She said, “I’m in med school here, and that sermon clinched what I’ve been struggling with for some time.”

“What’s that?”

“Dropping out of med school.”

“What do you want to do that for?”

She said she was going to work in the Rio Grande Valley.  She said, “I believe that is what God wants me to do.”  So, she quit med school. Went to the Rio Grande Valley, sleeps under a piece of tin in the back of a pickup truck, and teaches little children about Jesus everyday while their parents are working in the field.  She dropped out of med school for this, and her folks back home in Montana are saying, “What in the world happened?”

Our scripture passages of this day challenge us to reflect on the faith journey that is ours.  Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem and invites us to follow.  With all the conflict in the Middle East, are we willing to go there?  Are we willing to risk our own safety to travel to the site of holiness?  Are we so spiritually centred that we will put our lives on the line?  Are we so confident that the pilgrimage is something we must do?

Will we make a financial donation to First United Church, in Vancouver’s east side?  Will we support the soupateria?  Will we give to the Mission and Service fund who give grants to projects that work for justice?  Yes – we are heading to Jerusalem with Jesus!

However, we have barely started on our pilgrimage and already we can see that it is not going to be easy.  We are going through foreign territory.  Following Jesus is no picnic.  We venture along with the prostitutes and johns – through polluted lakes, rivers and oceans – beside fentanyl users and the homeless.  Are we really willing to put our faith on the line?

Fred Craddock tells of a time when he was teaching at Princeton.  In the refrectory, he found a place at a table, and there was a young woman there.  “You a student?”

“Yes, I’m a graduate student.”

“In what field?”

“Theology.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes,” she said, and they talked more.  She was a Roman Catholic nun – she had not been one for long.  She said, “I was a buyer for Macy’s in New York.  I had a nice apartment, and everything was just really going my way.”  She said, “In fact, I was engaged to be married.  About 2 months before the wedding, I had prayed, I had thought, I had prayed, I had thought, I called my fiancé.  He came over and I gave him the ring.  He didn’t understand, but he took the ring and left.  Some time later I was on the subway in New York.  I was wearing my nun’s habit, and all the seats were taken.  I was standing, holding the strap when I suddenly realized, facing me, holding the strap right in front of me, was her former fiance.  I said, “hello.”  He said, “Hello,” we both cried and said goodbye again.”

The account in the Gospel of Luke brings to mind similarities between Elijah and Jesus.  Both of them have recognized that their lives are reaching their climax, and both have an important journey to make.  Both are dealing with disciples who need a strengthening of spirit if they are to carry on their mission.  Jesus makes a decision to journey to Jerusalem via Samaria.  He is rejected by the Samaritans because he is going to worship in Jerusalem rather that at Mt. Gerizim, their holy sanctuary.  Jesus is not discouraged by this rejection.  James and John, on the other hand, want to call down from heaven as Elijah did.  This would certainly show who Jesus is, just as it revealed God’s presence at Mt. Carmel and changed the people into believers.  Yet Jesus responds instead from a clear focus and determination.  His parable makes the point that no one ever plowed a straight furrow while looking back over their shoulder.  In the same straightforward way Jesus moves on in his ministry and he calls others to join him.  We followers of Jesus are reminded that there will be tough choices that require clear vision and determination.

At what point did Jesus seal his fate?  Theoretically, right up to his trial, he could have backed out.  Even during the trial, he could have defended himself.  But he didn’t.  Perhaps he didn’t think it was worth the effort.  Once he disrupted the temple, he left his opponents no choice but to rid themselves of him.  But he didn’t have to go into the temple.  He could have stayed in Bethany.  Better yet, he could have stayed in Galilee, out in the boonies, where no one expected much religious purity.

Galilee was a bit like Canada’s farther-out provinces of today.  The country could tolerate an occasional socialist government in the sticks, in Saskatchewan or Prince Edward Island, but have one in Ontario or British Columbia throws the whole country into an economic depression.

But did Jesus really have that choice?  As a male Jew, he was obligated to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.  By race and religion, he was committed.  Every act led inexorably to another.  And once he started on that road, he could not turn back.  Not without betraying himself.

It was karma or fate.  Once Jesus decided he had to go to Jerusalem, he didn’t look back.  Lot’s wife looked back and froze.  Jesus didn’t.  Nor should we.  As followers of Jesus we are to follow the path of the cross.

Fred Craddock tells of the time when he was a pastor and a 30 something year old came up to him and said, “Let’s see now, was it next Sunday that my daughter was going to be baptized?”

Craddock said, “Yeah, next Sunday.”

“Well, she has dance lessons next Sunday.”

Craddock said, “Well, this is Sunday morning.”

“Well, the dance lessons are at 10:30.”

“on Sunday morning?”

Yeah, the dance studio has classes on Sunday morning.”

“On Sunday morning.” That’s what the Mother said, Sunday morning.

“So,” Craddock said, “Then we have a decision to make, don’t we?”

Well, that’s just it.  We always have decisions to make between what is good and what is even better.  It is not that there is anything wrong with taking dance, or even on Sunday.  It is not a matter of choosing between good and evil, but between good and better.

We are called to follow Jesus.  Will our ears be open to hear the message?  Will we be courageous enough to leave behind our prejudices and long held patterns?  Will we be faithful enough to leave behind our friends and loved ones, for the sake of following Christ’s way?  May we journey with Jesus.  Let us travel to Jerusalem.  Amen.