Selected Sermons

Sunday January 13, 2019

 “YOU GOTTA’ GET WET” 

Let your mind wander back about 30 or more years ago and how we envisioned our Western world in relationship with the Soviet Union…there was this sense of foreboding or fear that seemed to hang over the relationship…in fact it was a very difficult time for the people of Russia…and if one would have looked into one of the big churches in St. Petersburg you would have witnessed what others had seen – nothing but older women in the service…except, of course, for the priest…so much for the church – an ineffective indication of a bygone era… “Nothing but little old ladies in the churches,” was the verdict upon the church…and yet, a few years later, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union dissolved, when the government called out the tanks to once again stifle dissent among the people, little old women streamed on to the streets, climbed up on the tanks, laid flowers on the tanks, whispered through the openings in the tanks to the young men inside, “Thou shalt not kill.”…and a vast empire crumbled beneath the assault…these little old women got their feet wet…

There are over 2 and ½ million people incarcerated in North America and there is a uniqueness to one of these cities which houses one of these jails…it happens to be Prince Albert…there’s a group of older women who gather once a week and bake a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies and then takes turns delivering these to the local prison…the sources of crime and the reasons for incarceration are complex…it is a huge problem which, if it is ever solved, will not be solved by a couple of older women showing up at the jail with a few chocolate cookies…and yet, the warden of the prison tells us that those cookies are transforming that prison one person at a time, one prisoner at a time, receiving a gift for the first time in their life, an undeserved, intimate, tangible act of love… perhaps those servants, baking those cookies, know more about the way the world really is, and the direction in which the world is really headed, than the powerful people who build and manage these prisons... these little old women got their feet wet!...

…and the only way that we are going to tackle issues in our lives is to wander into the water and get our feet wet…sitting back and doing nothing is not the answer…and this encompasses all sorts of issues which we need to address in this upcoming year and the many years to follow…

And our planet and its sustainability is front-and-centre…and so is our relationships with each other, whether it’s the internal family or our neighbours or the folks of different cultures or ethnic differences…

Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus is the season when the penny drops…it’s the time when the world, if it pays any attention at all, says, “Ah…so!”…it’s a time when a little light bulb goes on inside our heads…if there’s a light bulb to go on…that’s because Epiphany and the baptism is when God stages one of those multinational show’n’tell’ sessions to get a simple concept through our thick human skulls…

So now Jesus, in his adult life, he wades into the water and the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon him to lead us…and then we remember again…

“And a child shall lead them.”…we didn’t get it the first time so this is our second chance…

Go ahead, get your feet wet…wade into the water…set your sights for a transformed world, for God so loved the world….Amen.


Sunday January 6th, 2019

GOD’S GIFTS ARE FOR EVERYBODY”              

During the season of Advent, we heard the story unfolding of the birth of Jesus and it all comes to a crescendo on Christmas Eve when Luke’s rendition is shared and we hear about the shepherds and the angels and the Inn of Bethlehem…and not to forget, of course, the stable or the place of nativity…it happened!...the birth of the baby…but the manger scene -- the one which you may still have upon your mantle, has the wise men kneeling down…offering gifts to the Christ-child…where did they come from?....they’re not in Luke’s rendition…not because they weren’t important but Matthew was portraying the birth story in a different way because he was writing to a more specific Gentile readership… Matthew doesn’t include the shepherds or the angels singing on the hills… the writer of Matthew wants to be quite distinct that the gift of the child was for the whole world…Jews, Gentiles, Greek, Roman, male, female, rich, poor…whatever distinctions we give each other or designations which we give each other to divide us…Matthew wants to be crystal clear that the gift of the child is for all…for this gift is peace… is joy…is hope…and ultimately…love…

The wise-men or the Magi are remembered mainly for the gifts that they presented to the infant Jesus and…we knew that they traveled great distances…the gifts of the Magi were given, however, in response to a gift that they had received…they were star-gazers or astrologers and this new sign – this new star--- was something extraordinary… something out of a science fiction novel in that stars didn’t just appear to the human eye in an instant…or did they?...so we are invited to put the story alongside of realism…we are invited to hold this story in truism or metaphor…either way, the birth of the Christ-child is for the world for in this new birth, there is hope for all of us. We may have lost sight of how astounding this event is in terms of its implications for us… I fear that we lose something if we lose sight of the wonder of the truth that in the King James Version of the Bible, the word, “whosoever”… means you and me…not just Hebrew or Jewish folk, but Gentiles like you and me… if the wise-men didn’t come, the story would have been missing an integral part of who this message was also for…(Paul, of course, expounds on this much deeper in all of his letters)…

God’s gifts are for everyone….

These wise men, as I mentioned before, were astrologers whose business it was to look up to the heavens…it was their belief that there were heavenly powers that controlled earthly events…they held that there was a power or powers greater than those on earth and a basic interconnection between stellar and earthly events…in other words, they viewed reality through a wide-angled lens…yet their eyes weren’t so filled with stardust that they couldn’t recognize transcendent reality in a very lowly and earthly shape and form…they fell down at the feet of a peasant child, not yet weaned from his mother’s breast, and paid him kingly homage…amazing isn’t it…some may say “humbug…I don’t believe it”…and that’s ok because it’s our story…it’s what gives our lives credibility as we share in the impossible to make things possible…

This is a New Year’s challenge…to each of you…to sometimes step out and to live in the realm of the impossible…to not be bounded or restricted to ultimate truths for imagination will disappear…dreaming will become a thing of the past…hoping will become a distant yearning of something we used to do…everything will become cut and dried…this was definitely not the story of the wise-men...they risked it all for a taste of the impossible which became real…

In some mysterious sense…we are all star children…both physically and spiritually…when the wise men laid before the Christ child their treasure of gold, they were giving him star dust…the substance of another world that had been reborn…it made a fitting gift for the One who had come from the eternal God and would one day return to the eternal God…who was himself the light of God’s presence…

Shalom…and Amen…


Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Lighting of the fourth candle of Advent, Sunday of LOVE:

Leader: Tomorrow evening, as the darkness begins to surround us, in a far-away land the sun begins to rise on a new day as the world rejoices in the birth of the Holy Child. Like children waiting for Christmas morning, we lie awake in our beds. Christmas is nearly upon us and God’s love will shine. Soon, we will open the curtains to welcome the light of day.

(Two purple candles & the pink candle are lit)

Candle-lighter: {Nancy Rose} Today we kindle the Advent candle of Love. We welcome the warmth that lightens the winter chill, the warmth of passionate embrace, the warmth that comes from the heart of God. Come, Holy Stranger, messenger of Love on this Advent journey: welcome us as we welcome you. We receive the light of Love.

Message:

LIVING and LOVING in the LIGHT -- A Christmas Message\

Wow…the fourth Sunday of Advent already and I don’t know about you folks, but it seemed like these last four weeks have just blurred by or whizzed by… maybe because most of us have been enjoying the fairly warm weather and we’ve been outside a little more and not cooped up in our homes…maybe we’ve been not paying as much attention to the Christmas season in that there are so many other things to do…if it was 30-40 below we’d be worrying about our vehicles, the slippery and dangerous roads and if we lived in the country, possibly a frozen septic system or heaters breaking down which kept the watering trough for the animals a liquid instead of ice…and even when it gets that cold our own bodies seem to break down a bit but at this moment in time, it seems like things have whizzed by and we’ve been enjoying the Chinook winds…but nonetheless, we’re here and we’ve survived…so far…but for some of us, the big push is still happening this afternoon and tomorrow so how do we remain calm, cool, and collective in the next few days?...how do we stay focused?...What can bring us into that place where we live and love in the light?...

Well, I may not have the ultimate solution or the ‘one sure method’ but I’m going to share what I think will be helpful and this could possibly be on a somewhat Spiritual/Secular/ Realistic and Hopeful model…

Before I entered into paid-accountable ministry, I worked with various companies throughout Alberta and most of the time it was food related where the grocery stores desperately needed our products at this time of the year… there was the soft drinks of Pepsi and 7-Up and all of their different lines…there was tortilla or nacho chips produced at that time in Okotoks and they were the Safeway private label…chocolates and candies hand-made in Edmonton…jams and jellies from Pearson’s Berry Farm…sparkling water and distilled water…and the list became quite endless really and what would ultimately happen at this time of year was that a 16 or more hour a work day was the norm…servicing all of the stores in Calgary, Edmonton, Cochrane, Canmore, Banff, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, St. Albert, Camrose, Red Deer, Olds, and all of the places in between…needless to say, when Christmas came (that is, Christmas day) I would be exhausted and found myself not living and loving in the light…for after Boxing Day, the whole routine started again to get ready for New Years and to fill all of the stores again for the mad rush so that folks could have their New Year’s Eve functions…a merry-go-round which never seemed to stop…I, in essence, was ‘feeding’ Christmas…I was a servant to it…and then then things changed…I needed to find my place of peaceful existence so I went into ministry…to follow that call of which God was moving me towards…well guess what?...it can be just as taxing if you let it…it can be just as draining if you allow it to be…and I can’t be a servant to it for Christmas is what feeds us and should never drain us…So here’s a possible recipe for finding those still moments and breathing in the birth of the Christ-child:

a)     Set aside time each day for contemplation…and not just five minutes here or five minutes there but a period of time so that the breath of God can truly be felt…and trying to clear your mind of all the seemingly things that ‘have’ to be done…it’s kind of like down-loading all of the pressures and putting them away in some other file and having your desk-top clean…

b)    Light a candle or two or maybe three and turn down the rest of the lights…feel the warmth of the light and let your imagination drift… it’s a calming presence…

c)     Soft music and no television for a while…maybe even a fairly hot bath or warm shower beforehand and wrap yourself in your favourite fuzzy housecoat…

d)    Picking up the phone and making a phone call to someone very special in your life…making those connections which are of so much importance…

e)    And finally…quietly giving thanks to the One who chose to come down to us because if you’re going to meet this God, you’ll need to do it now…if you’re going to worship this God who comes to us as a little child, you’ll need to do it in those quiet times of contemplation…for God is personal...

This recipe or this method may not work for all of us but I do believe that parts of it could bring us closer to the true meaning of Christmas for Christmas needs to begin from within…it’s not the busyness of the season or the demands which are put upon us but the quietness of our souls which helps us to live in the light of a new dawning…It’s a lot like the shepherds which have been summoned to Bethlehem to witness a new birth…they come, not because of some legal decree, but they rather decide to “go now…and see this thing which has taken place.”…they arrive without incident and quietly worship the new dawning of a new world…they go back to their hills and their sheep ‘glorifying God’ instead of muttering under their breath about the indignities of their journey…as sometimes we mutter about the pressures which we put upon ourselves at this time of year…they knew what to do…hopefully, each of us will too…

May the peace of Christmas live in your hearts and may each of you find the time and the place to allow the Christ-child to enter into your world as you move to live and love in the light…Amen.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Lighting of the third candle of Advent, Sunday of JOY:

Leader: As increasing light colours the skies in a chorus of pinks and reds, birds, also, raise their song of greeting for the coming day. Like that coloured sky, these flames remind us of the growing light that announces Jesus’ birth with a chorus of angels’ songs proclaiming a new day. May we pause to hear the twitter of that song and join our voices to the joyful cries of praise at Jesus’ birth.

(Two purple candles are lit)

Candle-lighter: { Kayla and Isabelle } Today we kindle the Advent candle of Joy. We welcome the spark that dances with the Holy Spirit, the spark that fires and inspires our souls, the spark of creativity and wonder. Come, Holy Stranger, evangelist of Joy on this Advent journey: welcome us as we welcome you and receive the light of Joy.

Message:

        RECEIVING JOY THROUGH ANONYMOUS PEOPLE 

As we read the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we are introduced to the very first disciple that Jesus ever had…it was Mary…his mother… and Mary is ‘justly’ called the first disciple because she was the first to be called to work with God – to be used by God – in the breaking out of a new way, a new time in the history of humanity…and Mary said YES!

and in Mary’s ‘yes’, there is a great learning for each of us to attach ourselves to…Mary is a model for all of us later disciples, you and I, and she collides with what is culturally acceptable, she opens herself to the ‘mysterium’ of the divine, and she allows herself to be open to the moving of the Spirit…not an easy task in and of itself…in fact, at times, it could be a very lonely place and maybe even a very scary or forbidding place…and being a young Jewish woman, probably around the age of 13 or 14, she would have had to deal with the repercussions of the synagogue in Nazareth as her pregnancy developed…and the powers of the synagogue, the Jewish religious system, were all-encompassing…you were either in or out and being out, you might as well be dead because even your shadow was not to be entered into or touched by another…when so much of the culture was centred around hospitality and meals and you were out – you could starve…so here we find Mary, saying ‘Yes’ to the inner voice…

and Luke presents Mary as a previously anonymous person whom God has chosen to participate in a mission…Luke depicts Mary as a rather ordinary young woman of first-century Judea…and she’s presented by Luke as not especially holy or even humble…few details are given of Mary’s background…she comes to us through anonymity…it is only through other religious denominations where Mary is venerated and possibly placed on the ‘left hand’ of God…poor Joseph never received such recognition…so this is what I entitled my message today, “Receiving Joy Through Anonymous People”…

and we can’t begin the story of Jesus without beginning with Mary…we can’t comprehend the wonder of the nativity without her…and her ‘Yes’ has huge implications because when you think about it, each of us, like Mary, in our own way is chosen by God to bear Jesus into the world…to prepare the Way for a new dawning of joy…

and Mary stands at an interesting intersection between the old and the new covenants in the biblical text in that her role points both forwards and backwards…you might say that she shares this role with John the Baptizer…in her pointing backwards, Mary is a culmination of a prophetic lineage of pious mothers – Sarah and Rachel and Hannah and not to forget Ruth and Tamar and Rahab which appear in Matthew’s rendition…and Mary points forward…as the daughter of Zion, she represents the redeemed people of God…and this is where the early church depicted Mary as the new Eve, the one through whose obedience the disobedience of the first Eve was reversed…she was to be the bearer of joy – to the world…

And where do we find bearers of joy in our lives – especially from those who may be anonymous to us?...where are these folk?...when have we encountered these people that have changed our life?...

for these people are the same as Mary – they are a ‘workshop’ in which God operates…quietly, humbly, discreetly, and with an inner sense of peace and an outwards personae of joy…

Mary saw the possible impossibility and this should be our encounter with ‘the stranger’ because each of us professes that God loves every human being because God knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure in each person…it is the discovery in each human being of that which is loveable in him or her – of that which is from God…

And this person could bring us the joy we need…for we fill our hours with what is practical and necessary and functional – as we must, since life seems to require diligence and seriousness…yet even as a machine needs to be oiled and maintained, we also need to maintain a sense of balance, giving our lives the oil of joy and laughter…a doctor once said, “There ain’t much fun in medicine, but, there’s a good deal of medicine in fun.”…and befriending the anonymous person could be life-changing as Mary was befriended and she helped change the world…

We need to be careful when we are filling our colloquial Christmas window display with all of our Christmas decorations: the Santa Clauses, the elves, the reindeer, the holly, the fake trees, and so on along with the music of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” or Irving Berlin’s “Happy Holiday” for we might have filled the window-display and not left room for a crèche because doesn’t this have something to do with Christmas?…we might have left the anonymous ‘Mary’ out of our depiction of Christmas – this would be a tragedy because before you know it, Christmas carols with a religious message may be outlawed in schools – the words ‘Merry Christmas’ may become Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings…and churches on Christmas Eve may become totally irrelevant to a major part of the population…but I know that this won’t happen because there is always room in all of our lives for the Holy One….or is there?...are we open to receiving joy from someone we may not even know?...maybe it’s time that we open this door…maybe it’s time, just like in Mary’s world, to say “YES”

 

Let us pray:  O God….we believe…help us with our unbelief…move us in directions of seeking out the strangers in our life and befriending them – making them an integral part of our ever-increasing circle of humanity who are seeking the same answers as we are in the questions of life…may our picture windows always have room for the specific reasons of the seasons and may our final journey this week, to the little town of Bethlehem, be filled with dancing and singing and celebration as we once again, welcome an anonymous family into our circle of being…we ask this in the name of Immanuel…God With us…Amen.