“Second Chances” – February 28, 2016

“Second Chances”

February 28, 2016 – Lent 3 – Year C

One morning a man with a carpenter’s toolbox knocked on farmer John’s door.  Was there any work he might do for a few days?  “Yes, my brother just bulldozed a creek to separate our property.  So I want to go him one better.  I want you to build me a fence so high that I won’t have to see my brother’s farm anymore.”  The carpenter said he understood the situation and promised that he would do a job that would please farmer John.

Farmer John headed off for this day of plowing the back forty on the other side of the farm.  At sunset, he returned to see what the carpenter had done.  The carpenter had just finished.  Farmer John’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped.  For where he expected to see a fence, there was a bridge built across the creek.  Even more, his brother Tom was striding across the bridge, his hand outstretched in reconciliation, amazed that brother John would build a bridge after all the bitterness and separation.  Farmer John walked across the bridge to meet his brother, and they clasped hands for the first time in years. 

The carpenter turned to go.  “Wait!” the brothers said together.  “Stay and work some more for us.”  The carpenter replied, “I’d love to stay.  But I have many more bridges to build.”

Throughout life there are so many bridges that one wishes were in place.   Each time I fail to be as caring and supportive to another, I wish for a bridge.  Each time I fail to help a person in need, I wish for a bridge.  Each time I fail to recycle an item, I wish for a bridge. The scripture we heard speaks of repentance and second chances.  It points us to the heart of our faith, when pain and suffering threatens to overwhelm.  Up pops depression, indifference, despair, resignation and anguish.  Yet, in the midst of all of that is God reaching out a hand and pulling us into a massive hug.  We are loved!

The context for Luke’s Gospel account is yet another teaching moment for Jesus.  Some tragedies are brought to Jesus’ attention and he uses them to explain about suffering.  It has been speculated that the 18 were working on Pilates aqueduct when part of it fell on them.  Pilate took money from the temple treasury to build his aqueduct, much to the horror of the Jews.  And so, if some masonry had fallen on Jews who were paid to build the aqueduct, the countryside would conclude, that it was the judgment of God on those who compromised themselves with the enemy.  So, in order to counter this interpretation, a parable is told.

In the story of the fig tree, God is portrayed as a gardener who is patient way beyond the patience of the landowner.  God looks beyond the present moment to the potential within the fig tree.  God will actively nurture and fertilize the tree so that it will yet bear fruit.  How can we do any less than celebrate God’s patience and trust in our own potential.  We too are to seek spiritual nurture during this season, that we may also bear good fruit.

As I have been outdoors playing in my garden and enjoying putting compost around the roots of the tender plants, the story of the fig tree is particularly relevant.  Some of my plants are going to have to grow well this year, or else they will be pulled out.  They have had second and third chances.  Yet, they refuse to bloom.  They will not bear fruit.  It is as if they don’t want to be a part of my flower garden.

What does it mean to be cast off?  Cut down?  Or the opposite – to be in community?  There are some powerful lessons we can learn from being in community.  When we are facing ill health, life struggles, financial stress, family difficulties and the list goes on – we need help and support from others.  When I was at university completing my undergraduate degree, a group of 7 of us gathered every Tuesday and Thursday noon hour to support and care for each other.  We were all mature women, most raising young families, all facing crises.  At that time, I was going through the incredible pain of a marriage break-up along with the anguish of my mother’s death.  All of that on top of my final year of university and working at a church as their minister.  It was just about too much.  But thanks to that group of women I was loved into wholeness and supported into the fullness of who I could be.  God worked through those friends and brought me to wholeness.

When tragedy strikes, people ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”  Perhaps Jesus’ audience posed the wrong question.  They asked “why did this horrible thing happen?”  A better question might be, “When I encounter suffering, how shall I interpret it?  How shall I handle it?  Will it make me more a child of God or less of one?

God’s response to these questions and concerns leads to the route of repentance.  Repentance is a path that leads to blessing.  It is a way of life brought about by a constant awareness of our human frailty and fallibility.

Repentance is an act – a seeking, a forsaking, a returning – a responding to God who is near and “may be found.”  God is merciful and forgiving – abundantly pardoning – beyond anything that human beings can imagine or enact.

The Russian film “Repentance” has a scene with people lined up at the prison gate to get letters from relatives, and often on many of these letters are scribbled the words, “Left No Forwarding Address.”  The theatre-goers would look knowingly at each other.  For they all knew what that meant, and they wept.

In another scene, the women are shown in a muddy timber yard, desperately picking up logs one by one and examining the ends of them.  One woman finds her husbands name carved in the log, and she weeps as she caresses it – almost as if she’s caressing her husband’s face.

The reviewer said that he commented to a Russian friend, “I suppose this was some kind of surrealistic statement.  But the friend replied, “no, it isn’t.  It isn’t a statement.  It isn’t a dream.  It was a reality, for (during the Stalinist era) it was common for people to search for names on the end of logs, because the prisoners who worked in the forests would carve their names and the last date as a sign that until at least that date, they were still alive.”

So in a film, a woman’s unrelenting search for her husband in a muddy timber yard, is a powerful parable of a Russian’s search for God in a muddy society.  In the middle of a devastating and unrelenting horror, torture, and death they continue to look for God – and found God – even though their search was officially forbidden.

At the heart of Christianity is the reality of human suffering.  Jesus is at his most human, at one with us most fully, when he experiences suffering.  In the Easter story God suffers with us and promises that suffering is not the final word.  This is the cost of love.  My friends, we are all loved – fully – completely – and in a way that transforms us.  Receive this Good News and live lives of abundance.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – “Wilderness Times” – February 14, 2016

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – “Wilderness Times”

February 14, 2016 – Year C – Lent 1 – Annual Meeting

When you have come into Penticton United Church, a sanctuary that God has given you as an inheritance to treasure, and you care for it, and look after it; you shall welcome the newcomer that your God is giving you, and you shall wrap them in a hug and invite them to sit near you. You shall go to the Minister who is called at this time, and say to her, ‘Today I declare to God that I have come into the place that God swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the Minister takes the bread from your hand and sets it down on the communion table she will make this response before God:

  ‘A wandering Jewish carpenter is our Redeemer; he went into Israel and Palestine and lived there as a faithful follower of God’s way.  We are people who are choosing to follow in the pattern of the Holy One.  We have a history of joyful celebration as well as pain and hurt, and yet we believe that the path of justice, compassion and love is our call.  Even though we have faced years of financial restraint and broken relationships with close friends, we cried to the God of our ancestors.  The Creator heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our hurt. God brought us out of the pain of despair, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  With a great display of power, and with signs and wonders, our God brought us into this time and gave us this place of worship, a sanctuary that is sacred. So now we bring our tithes, the first one-tenth of our resources, as a thank offering for all that you have given us, O God.’ We shall set it down before God and bow down in thanksgiving. Then we, together with the neighbours and friends who use this building, we shall celebrate raising our voices and announcing “How Great thou art!”

Such is my re-telling of the creedal statement of the Hebrew scripture text for today.  Our confession of faith acknowledges the wilderness times when we as a congregation have gone through some extremely difficult times.  Some people would say that 2015 was one of those years.  It was a year where our Council functioned without a permanent Chairperson or a treasurer.  Like many years, we had a deficit of over $14,700.   It was a tough year for our conscientious and hard working council and committees.  They worked with small committees and ensured that the various projects were completed.

With all this said, we are faced with opportunities for 2016.  It will be a year to intentionally plan our course with your guidance.  After lunch today we will gather in table groups and will begin conversations guiding us toward a path of concrete action.  And then on Saturday February 27 the entire congregation is encouraged to attend a day of “Looking to the Future.”   Rev. Richard and Joanne Simpson from our Wise Elders group will be leading us in conversation and exercises to map out a plan for 2016 and the next 5 to 10 years.  It is important that we have as many people of the congregation in attendance.  For without your input, our church is facing a serious leadership and financial crisis.  But both of these can be overcome when we work together with awareness and determination and prayer.

We are in a place that God has given.  Each week we gather to worship and be empowered.  Our spirits are nourished.  Our hearts are fed with companionship and warmth of the Holy Spirit.  We celebrate the bounty that God has given us.  And we are thankful.

May our Annual Meeting celebrate and honour the faithfulness of you – God’s people.  Amen.


Melodies of Love – January 31, 2016

“Melodies of Love”

January 31, 2016 – Year C – Epiphany 4

Early in the month I went to St. Catharines Ontario for my annual visit with my chosen family.  There are 8 of us who met at Brock University 36 years ago.  Each January I visit with these wonderful women for a time of deep sharing and personal catching up.  We know some of the deepest secrets of each other and can be truly honest with one another.  In other words, there is profound love among us.    It has taken 36 years to develop, but they are relationships that I cherish.

We seek to be patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  We try not to insist on our own way.  We try to avoid being irritable or resentful.  We do not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth.  We have supported each other through divorces, ill children, new partnerships, the endings of jobs, celebrated the birth of grandchildren, grieved the death of parents.  We have loved each other through hard times and in truly wonderful times. Three of us have vacationed together including going to Scotland last summer. We have shared our diverse faith journey’s and remained hopeful when illness threatened to cripple.  But the greatest of all is love.

Eugene Peterson, in the Message Bible in Contemporary language talks of love in this way:

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut.

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,
trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.  And the best of the three is love.

Many of you have been blessed to have experienced the kind of love that the Apostle Paul described to the early Corinthian people.  This scripture passage, read often at wedding celebrations, outlines the joys and challenges of deep, abiding love.   It isn’t some mushy romantic feeling.  It isn’t some early romance infatuation.  It is deep, gutsy hard work kind of living.

Let’s take a trip to ancient Corinth.  We stand in the ruins of the agora, or the market place.  There are broken statues at the four corners.  Remnants of stalls of the merchants line the outer walls.  We look out towards the Mediterranean Ocean and marvel at the scene.  We can imagine Paul standing in the square and issuing the call to love extravagantly.  His words must have been startling to the first Century crowd that were gathered.   They were people who had much dissension among themselves.  Their way of living was fractious.  Worship had been times of turmoil and communion was marred by class distinctions, and several members had filed lawsuits against other members.

However, let’s hold a mirror up to our own life and relationships with others and see what it has to say.  Paul uses the analogy of a mirror to expose our own way of loving.  Ancient Corinth was the leading producer of high quality bronze mirrors.  Those listening to Paul would have been familiar with good mirrors and realized that the image was at best indirect.  It was a little like today’s photos – a great replication but just not quite as good as the real thing.

Those of us who hear the phrase “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” realize that we see our own reflection – incomplete lovers that we are.  Although we seek to be radical lovers, extreme in our compassion and tender in our caring, we fall short.  However, as we see the indwelling God, we are confronted by the awesome life giving lover.

The challenge before us is to recognize one another as image bearers of God.  This is the “bottom line” of why we are to love each other.  When we live love, the fog of our transgressions is lifted and we see one another as images of God.

Elvis Presley sings “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” and we sing “O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go.”  Perry Como sings “Love makes the World Go Round” and we sing “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”  May the deep and profound love of God be revealed in our living.  “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.”