“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.

 

 

 

 

 

“Life Giving Water” – March 19, 2017

“Life Giving Water”
March 19, 2017 – Lent 3 – Year A

My sister and brother-in-law have a home outside of Phoenix, Arizona.  This year has been an unprecedented wet one.  Day after day there has been rain.  Being desert, the rain has no-where to go, so newly formed creeks overflow their banks and flooding results.  My sister tells me that the blooming cactuses are spectacular.  Never has she seen such a glorious array of blossoms.  Rain sure helps to brighten up the otherwise dull desert.

Water – such a precious commodity.  Long ago, Moses and his entourage could not find water.  Stuck in the wilderness, thirsty as all get out, they grumbled and complained among each other and to God.  Help us, they cried.  As the story goes, Moses took his staff and struck a rock and water gushed forth.  Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?  However, it is not so improbable when you realize that likely the rock had a pool of water in the centre and a large calcium deposit sealing it.  Hitting the rock on just the right spot would knock off the cap and water would be revealed.

Water – such a precious commodity. Long ago, a Samaritan woman came to the community well and sought to draw water.  Jesus asked her for a drink.  Stunned –  the woman – an outsider – a foreigner – a woman of ill repute – a broken person, was engaged by Jesus.  While the woman could offer Jesus water from the community well, Jesus offer her Living Water.  Talk about restoration and healing.  Precious grace!

Donna Sinclair, in a book entitled “A Woman’s Book of Days 2” writes the following: “In Kenya, where I was traveling with other women all sent by the church, two of us stayed for a few days in a very small village named Dumbeni.  The people were Lua, and they were members of the African Church of the Holy Spirit.

Every morning in Dumbeni, when I went to the bathhouse – a tiny roofless brick enclosure – a large basin of hot water was waiting for me.  I could stand and wash the dust out of my hair, and pour hot water over my head and all down my body… Every morning.

The women of the village had to carry water for a long distance. They had to collect firewood piece by precious piece.  There were no taps, no water heaters, and there was no electricity.  Every basin of water, heated over an open fire, represented hours of work.  The women who did this did not count those hours.  They referred to us as sisters.

Although I did my best afterwards to tell their story as clearly as I could, as often as I could, I cannot measure up to this love.  Which is, I suppose, like the Holy Spirit itself; free grace, undeserved.  Generous love, unconditional.”

Our scripture texts encourage us to examine what it means to be fully alive.  With every cell of our body quenched with hydrating water, we flourish.  With every cell of our spirit bathed in Living Water we are set free to live lives of grace and abundance.  I understand this as being gentle lovers.  I see this lived out as Marianne and Dolores distribute food hampers every weekday morning.  I hear this when you seek out and enter into conversation with a newcomer to our congregation.  I believe it as I join you for worship each week. 

A traveler dying of thirst in the desert came across an old pump.   Attached to it was a can of water.  And attached to the can was a note.  It said: “There is lots of water in the well.  Use this water to prime the pump.”

Consider the choice facing that person. 

The water inside the can is a sure thing.   It’s there right now.  It may be the difference between life and death.

But drinking that water eliminates that possibility of getting more water from the well.  For that traveler, or any other later traveler, that would be the reality.  Because there won’t be anything with which to prime the pump. 

Using the water to prime the pump is an act of faith.  That the unknown writer of the note told the truth – that is an act of faith.  That there really is water in the well – that is an act of faith.  That the pump will work – that is an act of faith.  And that there’s enough water to prime the pump – that is an act of faith.

A dehydrated person would need extraordinary self-discipline to pour the can of water into the pump.

That story reflects the dilemma that faces our world today.  People are not confident that the well has water in it.  Or even that there will be a tomorrow when they need that water – of there is any.

So what’s the point of self-sacrifice, or self-discipline, if you have no assurance it will work.  Why not get what you can right now: a drink of water, the oil and gas laid down by millions of years of life, a good time, a profit from the tropical rain forests.

The message of Jesus for the Samaritan woman at the well becomes even more compelling:  “If you drink of this water, you will thirst again.  But if you drink of the water that I can give, you will not thirst.”

The words roll so glibly off our lips.  But in a parched world, most people will choose a drink of water right now, rather than wait for something that may or may not work out. 

It is easy to say, like Peter, “You are the Christ.”  It’s not easy to stake your life on there being water in the well.

The Christian church is in a time of flux. At the “Once and Future Church” forum 2 weeks ago, we were told that every 500 years or so, there is a major time of upheaval and dramatic change for the Christian Church.  It would appear that we are once again in that 500 year cycle.  It is a rather frightening time for some of us.  We see nearly empty churches and we are scared.  We look to our neighbours and watch them close their churches.  Many are facing financial crises.  Leaders are burning out.  And we have a new generation of people who describe themselves as “Spiritual but not religious.”  We don’t know what to do.  We try offering programs that are interesting, and few attend.  We bring in new music and that draws a new group of people but it offends the established folk.  We offer alternate services, but there isn’t the money to cover all the costs.  What do we do, that is faithful and Living Water?

Jesus would answer that it is not in our doing, per se, but rather in our faithfulness.  Prioritize your faith and the church as first and foremost in your life.  That means that prayer, meditation, and financial giving are a way of life for you.  Daily prayer and meditation is the cornerstone of being a follower of Jesus Christ.  So too is tithing.  An examined life of giving generously to the ministry and mission of your church is a sign of faithful living. 

We are called to be a people who believe that the water is pure and fresh.  We are embraced by a God who lavishes us with Living Water.  Won’t you come to the well and drink deeply?  Won’t you strike the rock and see the water pooling in the crevices?  Water – such a precious commodity.  Faith – such a precious commodity.  Amen.

“Moving With the Spirit” – March 12, 2017

“Moving With the Spirit”

March 12, 2017 – Lent 2 – Year A

 

 

Robert Frost wrote – I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence;

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by.

And that has made all the difference.

 

On this second Sunday in Lent, we look at the road and how it diverges into a path of faithfulness.  To do so, we look to our ancient story of Abram and Sarai.

God calls Abram and Sarai with a demand and a promise, and Abram and Sarai responds obediently.  The demand is 3-fold.  First, the ancient people are called to leave their country, or land.  Abram and Sarai were called to leave the largest cultural group within which they moved.  Together Abram and Sarai moved away from national security.  Second, Abram and Sarai leave their kindred.  The kindred, or clan, refers to a grouping smaller than a tribe but larger than the extended family.   God calls Abram and Sarai to abandon their social context.  Third, Abram leaves his father’s house.  Leaving the father’s house was to abandon his right to the family inheritance.  Abram and Sarai  were called to leave both family and economic stability.

The promises offered to Abram and Sarai corresponds to those 3 things they sacrificed.  Leaving country to find a new land resulted in a great nation being formed.  Leaving people or clan pointed to the promised descendants that would become a great nation.  And leaving the financial security of his father’s house, became blessing upon blessing as prosperity was gifted to the people.

I can’t help thinking of today’s refugees.  They too leave country and national security, They say good bye to family and they leave the stability of having parents and other relatives nearby.  Our 2 Syrian refugee families are doing an amazing job of assimilating into Penticton.  They are learning English and growing accustom to our way of life.  But when I think of all they left behind, I am humbled.  I am not sure I’d be as adaptable.  I value the security of the familiar.   Yet, it raises for us the question, “would I pull up stakes and venture to where God is calling?”

Abram and Sarai’s call marks the beginning of perhaps the most pivotal time in the history of the people of Israel.  I don’t sense from the narrative that Abram was at all reticent about the journey before him.  I don’t hear him asking God to move on to the next guy because he is content where he is now.  I admire that go-for-broke faithfulness that maintains a focus on the journey, not the destination.

Every Christian denomination is living in a time of call and promise.  Collectively, we are today’s Abram and Sarai, called to be a blessing to God’s people as they hover on the cusp of radical change.  Like Abram and Sarai, we have a choice.  Do we stay, or do we go forward?  Abram and Sarai opted to venture into unknown territory, with only God’s promise to guide and protect them.  That took some serious courage.

We don’t know what the unknown terrain of the church’s new reality will look like.  However, we have all the tools we need for the journey:  faith, promise and an extra helping of courage.  We dare to dream.  We dream of a church that will reach out to the powerless.  We dream of church that loves radically.  We dream of a church that truly wells all – regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or social standing.  We dream of a church that welcomes through baptism, sojourners like Jenny.   We dream of being courageous spokespeople for those whom God adores.

Woodrow Wilson reminds us: “We grow great by dreams.  All significant people are dreamers.  They see things in the soft haze of a spring day, or in the red fire on a long winter’s evening.  Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nourish them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true.  Don’t let anyone steal your dreams!”

God’s spirit is telling us to move.  We are to move past the glory days of what has been.  We are to move with reckless abandon among those who have a vision for justice.  We are to move our creaky joints in the way of compassion.

May we be like Abram and Sarai and faithfully take the path less travelled.  Amen.

“No Fear!” – February 26, 2017

“No Fear!”

February 26, 2017 – Year A – Transfiguration Sunday

 

Let’s take a jaunt up Carmi Road.  We head towards The Lost Moose and marvel at the wonder of creation. But as we gain altitude there are clouds blocking the view.  But as we spend time, the clouds lift and before us is the beautiful panorama of the Penticton valley.

Does this sound a little like the Moses story and Jesus with Peter and James?  I hope so, for amazingly beautiful Holy Mystery is with us, if we are open to the experience.  Today’s scripture describes mountain top experiences.  The awesome and astounding happens right before our eyes.

There is no doubt that mountain top things look different.  From the heights one can see the whole vista and how it interrelates to the entire created order.  In the worldview of ancient Israel the mountain top was where heaven and earth met, and God could be perceived more clearly and completely.  Let’s face it, it is a struggle to have a clear picture of the majesty of God.  Our experience of God moments are often beyond words.

A woman arrives at my office, shaking and teary-eyed.  She needs to talk.  Part way into the conversation I ask her “have you been abused?”  Sure enough, through more tears and much silence she tells me the story of years of abuse.  As we continue to talk, she stops – looks straight at me and says, “This is the first time I really feel heard and understood.”  For her, our conversation led to a new sense of control, peace and transformation.  The journey to healing is a gradual one.  But new life is God’s gift to her.

Six days a week we host meetings of Narcotics Anonymous.  It is a self-help group who gather regularly to support, encourage and call to accountability those who are addicted to narcotics.  Using the same 12 step process as Alcoholics Anonymous, the members acknowledge their surrender to a Higher Power and that they are powerless over narcotics.  At meeting after meeting, members tell us that a new door has opened and that a profound change within them has occurred.  Transformation is real!

I have had numerous transfigurations and transformations throughout my life.  My call to ministry 39 years ago was nothing short of life changing.  I left a secure and fulfilling job at the YMCA to return to university and present myself as a candidate for ministry.  I fought with God, did everything I could think of to convince God that I was not minister material.  And yet, God said to me, “You are my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”  Standing in Lake Galilee, having friends throw a surprise party to honour me just for being me, and being in Scotland on sabbatical were all transforming times.

Even though the mountain top experience of Moses, and the transfiguration of Jesus are awfully hard to explain, I have no doubt that something amazing happened to them!  So, it raises for me the question, “what transformations and transfigurations are happening today?”

As we listen to scientists and environmentalists, they are sending out a loud cry on behalf of the planet.  They tell us that carbon emissions are slowly reducing, but we must do more.  I believe this church’s commitment to reducing, recycling, and renewal is a concrete sign of care for the planet.  Transformation is real.

As we listen to economists, they remind us that bigger is not always better.  And so, we commit ourselves to ethical spending.  We know that a strong economy is one based on fair distribution of resources.   How we shop and what we purchase affects the community of Penticton and the global patterns.  The money paid for our daily cup of coffee from Tim Hortons or Starbucks could feed one person from a developing country for a month.  Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?  Imagine if all of us gave up one purchased cup of coffee a day and donated the corresponding amount of money to the M&S fund of our church – what amazing possibilities that would create.  Transfiguration happens in many settings. That is true in our household, and true for us as a church.  We know that our church finances are being managed carefully and prudently.  It is with that assurance, we pledge our own resources so that the ministry of transformation might continue.

As we listen to political analysists, we learn that violence against another human being does not bring permanent stability to a region.  Instead, we know that discussion, reconciliation and mediation are more likely to bring long lasting change.  Just imagine if the mighty leaders of the world were to invest time and resources to support refugees, encourage immigrants, stand with prisoners of conscience – think how different our world would be.  But you and I have a role to play.  Our support of our own 2 Syrian refugee families is a tremendous step towards transformation.  Our letter writing and financial support on behalf of Amnesty International brings freedom and new hope.

Now, let’s look closer to home.  Earlier this week, I was reading a report done in 2004 about financial stability for our church.  It pointed out that the future of Penticton United Church is bleak unless we open ourselves to a way of change and commitment.  This report urged us to look at our own household budgets and commit to increasing our contributions.  That was 13 years ago, and sure enough you did give generously.  Just 2 weeks ago we committed ourselves to supporting the mission and ministry of this church.  Rather than focusing on potential closure, we affirmed that we are a people of hope and faith.  We know we can do it.  For we are a transformed people.   We received a significant bequest from Blanche Mullins.  She believed in this church.  She wanted her money to go to strong ministry and outreach.  Next year we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of this sanctuary.  We have offered a strong and vital  presence on the corner of Main and Eckhardt Streets.  We have been a sentinel of compassion and justice.  May we have the conviction and determination to serve on this corner for many more years.

A child from the play share program ran up to me on Wednesday and gave me a hug.  She was bubbling over with excitement and she was gathering with her friends and teachers for a morning of fun.  May we too, be so enthusiastic!  May we let go of our fear and embrace the possibilities!  May we open our eyes and see the mountain top view!

 

“Bathed in Light” – February 5, 2017

“Bathed in Light”

February 5, 2017 –  5th Sunday in Epiphany – Year A

At the beginning of World War 2, King George VI gave his traditional Christmas greeting.  He used these words:

I said to a man

Who stood at the Gate of the year,

‘Give me a light

That I may tread safely into the unknown’

And he replied,

‘Go out into the darkness

And put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you

Better than light

And safer than the known way.’

By Minnie Louise Haskins

Jesus says: “you are the light of the world.”  We are beacons in darkness and glowing lights in dark places.  We are sunshine after days of dullness.  We are hope when despair sets in.

In the Book “Bridges of Madison County,” the main character Robert Kincaid, played by Clint Eastwood in the movie, comes to Madison County, Iowa, to take pictures of its bridges.  As he reflects on his work and how he has developed as a photographer, we are told that: eventually he began to see that light was what he photographed, not objects.  The objects merely were the agents for reflecting the light.  If the light was good, you could always find something to photograph.

This interest in the light, and the fact that objects are vehicles for reflecting the light is precisely what interests us when we read the Bible.  It’s not Abraham or David or Mary or Nicodemus who interest us per se; rather, it’s how they serve as instruments for reflecting the light, it’s what they reveal to us about the light that sets us coming to church on Sunday mornings.  This is true not only of Bible characters and stories, it’s true of our own lives.  Finally, what weight or dignity we have is best understood in seeing ourselves as vehicles for reflecting the light.  And if bridges in Madison County could bring Kincaid to Iowa, and if a haystack reflecting the sunlight could entrance Monet, should not an ordinary Christian reflecting Jesus’ light captivate the world?

Many of us are familiar with the scripture text of “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the earth,” but most of us would be hard pressed to quote the rest of the passage, me included.  But, the story teller goes on to remind us that we are to live the way of passionate love towards all humanity, graceful blessings, and faithful compassion.  We are to be disciples of righteousness.   And lest we think that is an easy directive, we are told that even the scribes and Pharisees are to be exceeded.  It is a tall order.  But in following the light, we bring the reign of God ever close. 

  Frederick Buechner, a noted theologian, points out, “The darkness of Genesis is broken by God in great majesty speaking the word of creation:  ‘Let there be light!’  That’s all it took.

“The darkness of John is broken by the flicker of a charcoal fire on the sand.  Jesus has made it. He cooks some fish on it for his old friends’ breakfast.  Along the horizon there are the first pale traces of the sun getting ready to shine.  “All the genius and glory of God are somehow represented by these 2 scenes, not to mention what Saint Paul calls God’s foolishness.

“The original creation of light itself is almost too extraordinary to take in.  The little cook-out on the beach is almost too ordinary to take seriously.  Yet if scripture is to be believed, enormous stakes were involved in them both and still are.  Only a saint or a visionary can begin to understand God setting the very sun on fire in the heavens, and therefore God takes another tack.  By sheltering a spark with a pair of cupped hands and blowing onto it, the Light of the World gets enough of a fire going to make breakfast.  It’s not apt to be your interest in cosmology or even in theology that draws you to it so much as it’s the empty feeling in your stomach.  You don’t have to understand anything very complicated.  All you’re asked is to take a step or 2 forward through the darkness and start digging in.”

We gather today in the shadows of the massacre on the Muslim temple in Quebec City.  Surely if ever there is the need for the light of tolerance, it is now.  If ever there is the need for the light of acceptance, it is now.  If ever there is the need for the light of understanding, it is now.  We live in a world that sorely needs light to illumine the way of peace, justice and compassion.  We cannot listen to the news or open a newspaper without being bombarded with reports of bloodshed.  Headlines tell us of unrest both here at home and around the world.

What will it take for the way of light to cast its rays to darkened corners?  Barbara Brown Taylor answers this question by writing in a sermon entitled “Laboring in Vain:” “Stop doing a job,’ God said.  ‘Start being a light.  Stop doing your duty.  Start being mine.  Stop worrying about whether or not you have done a good job.  Start leaving that up to me.  You can’t see it the way I can.  You just let your light shine and let me take care of the rest.  I chose you and I’ve got good taste.  I made you and I can be trusted.”  That is not an authorized translation, mind you, but what if?  What if the real test of our success as God’s servants is not what we do but how we do it?  What if the real measure of our extraordinariness as Christians is not our thoughtfulness or our friendliness or our busyness but our spark?  What if the real sign of our witness to the light is not how much we accomplish but our own light-ness, our own reflection of the bright God who has chosen us and lit us up and sent us into the world like candles into a dark room?”

May we be light that shines into the dark corners of this troubled world.  May we be salt that gives flavour to the bland Pablum that nourishes hungry bellies.  And may righteousness surround this glorious world, so that hope might be known.  Amen.