Selected Sermons

We wish Jope a wonderful, refreshing Sabbatical…..”See you in September”


Sunday May 19, 2019:


Sunday May 12, 2019:

“The Importance of Being Named”

By Kelley Warner

Let me begin by sharing a brief personal story. We had gone with a group of youth down to an orphanage in Mexico. Some of the youth had gone with the director of the orphanage to deliver grocery hampers to families in the community. The youth came back, visibly upset because the director said he didn’t need to learn the youths’ names because they would be leaving in a couple of weeks, so why bother.  Do you understand how upsetting that might be? The message was you are not worth getting to know…your only value is the tasks you accomplish while there.

Today we are going to look at the importance of being recognized and valued for who we are. Over history those on the margins of society: women, children, black people, indigenous people and others have been ignored and devalued. Today’s scripture verses all support the notion that God and Jesus recognize the importance of being known.

         The inspiration for my reflection today came first from a book I read, for a book club I belong to. The book was titled Washington Black and it was written by Esi Edugyan. It is the story of Washington Black, known as Wash, a young slave child on a plantation in Barbados when he is given to a new master, Christopher Wilde known as Titch. Wash moves in with Titch, and soon discovers Titch to be a man of science and an abolitionist. Years later when Wash is 16, Titch takes Wash to the Arctic and abandons him there. The author does an amazing job depicting Wash’s deep longing to be seen and loved by Titch. And although Titch is not cruel, he is very unaware of his own power, privilege and his complete control over Wash’s life. I am going to quote from the book to demonstrate this point. These lines are pulled from pages 19-23 of chapter 15.

“You did not see me— you did not look at me. You wanted to, but you didn’t, you failed. You saw, in the end, what every other white man saw when he looked at me.”

“He frowned softly. “That is untrue.”

I stepped forward, my heart punching in my rib cage. “Why did you choose me?”

He stood expressionless.

He shook his head. “I said it quite plainly at the time. Your size is indeed why I chose you. I made no secret of it”

I smiled angrily, feeling both vindicated and desperately heartsick.

“What else would I have had to go on, not knowing you at the time? It is why I chose you, but it is not why I engaged you to help with my experiments. It is not why I befriended you. Do you suppose just anybody could have grasped the complexity of those equations? You were a rare thing.”

“Thing?’

“Person. A rare person.”

“Not so rare that I could not be abandoned. Not be replaced. “I felt a pain high up in my throat, and when I spoke, there was a pressure in my voice I could not control. “And so you educated [me] as if [I] were an English boy. For [my] benefit, though? “You took me on because I was helpful in your political cause. Because I would aid in your experiments. Beyond that I was of no use to you and so you abandoned me.” I struggled to get my breath. “I was nothing to you. You never saw me as an equal. You were more concerned that slavery should be a moral stain upon white men than by the actual damage it wreaks on black men.”

In the story, Wash together with another scientist helps create an aquarium of sorts in London, England called The Ocean House. Here is what the book says about this in chapter 12 on page 6, where Wash says:

I had sweated and made gut-wrenching mistakes, and in the end my name would be nowhere. Did it matter? I did not know if it mattered. I understood only that I would have to find a way to make peace with the loss.

Wash would not be named as the major contributor on this project. How important is to be known? I think about times in history where people’s names were replaced by numbers: in Nazi concentration camps where, Jewish people had numbers tattooed on their arms. In its earliest history of the Dominion of Canada, indigenous children were taken from their families, were given a number and were sent to residential schools. Those that had powers, refused to acknowledge and see the value of indigenous ways of being.

The good news is that God and Jesus know how important it was to be named even if many of the male authors of our biblical stories did not. I love this passage from Acts because Luke does name the woman, Dorcas. Robert M. Hall, in the book Feasting on the Word, points out that it is the only place in the Christian scriptures that “mahētria, the feminine form for disciple, is used,”  and that Luke also “supplies [us with her] Aramaic name [which is] Tabitha. We hear that Dorcas is a disciple and a widow and that “she was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” “In her day, women were not valued by the culture at large and widows had no one to stand up for them so they lived on the margins of society,” according to Joseph S. Harvard in Feasting on the Word. Regardless whether you believe in the reality of Dorcus’s resurrection, we cannot deny the metaphorical message that is portrayed.  This story is counter-cultural and shows us that followers of Jesus are worthy of being named and empowered by the Holy Spirit are on earth to work on healing for those on the margins.

Our next reading was the much beloved Psalm 23. Although it is often associated with death it is a psalm about deliverance. “Different though the two primary metaphors are (God as shepherd and God as host), they share one element: God providing nurture, especially to those who are in distress,” writes David L. Petersen, in Feasting on the Word.

 “No other psalm says ‘My shepherd’ reveals Willian F. Brosend in Feasting on the Word. He goes on to say “In all other psalms where shepherd is used as a metaphor for the deity, the relationship is to the community…it is always ‘our shepherd.’ Catherine l. Kelsey, in Feasting on the Word, expands on this idea of our personal relationship with God by suggesting “the richness of the author’s reference to God in Psalm might be evoked through naming persons with whom God has been in relationship. For example, “The God of Abraham and Sarah, of Paul and Mary Magdalene, of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day, is my shepherd; I shall not want. Such a reading evokes their trusting faith in the one who is faithful. It invites us to dwell metaphorically in a flock whose stories and whose name for the One-Who-Shepherds are as varied as our own.”

Lastly we come to our gospel reading, John 10:22-30. This scripture has sadly been used in the history of Christianity as supporting anti-Semitism.  It is important to hold this up lest we perpetuate hate rather than the love we, as Christians, are called to. To paraphrase Lewis R. Donelson in Feasting on the Word, “the setting is the Festival of Dedication. This festival commemorates the rededication of the temple by the Maccabeans in 164 BCE (recalling the victorious revolt against the Seleucid Empire) after its desecration by Antiochus IV, when he erected an image of Zeus. The feast known by its Hebrew term Hanukkah (which means dedication), as we know, is still celebrated in Jewish communities.”

Jesus says the sheep of his fold “hear his voice” and “follow him” (v.27) It is the unity of hearing and doing that binds the sheep of Jesus’ fold to him. In that unity, the disciples relationship to Jesus is similar to Jesus’ relationship to the Father...“I and the Father are one,” is not a metaphysical claim but a claim to the unity of purpose,” according to Joseph A. Bessler in  Feasting on the Word. I also loved what Gary D. Jones in Feasting on the Word wrote about this passage when he says, “the trouble with talking plainly about the things of God is that the things of God are anything but plain. When a person starts speaking with unequivocal certainty about God, this is a sure sign that the person is no longer speaking about God. We can speak with unequivocal certainty about things our minds can grasp, but God is not one of those things.” Jones goes on to say, “In this passage from John’s gospel, Jesus says to his demanding inquirers that he has already told them plainly what they need to know. The trouble is that the way Jesus told them is through his works. In other words, it seems that Jesus’ role and identity cannot be reduce to a title; instead his role and identity must be experienced. The sheep know and trust the shepherd, not because they have gone through any sort of rational, intellectual discernment, but because they have experienced the shepherd and his “works.”

To conclude, together our readings tell us that we are known and loved. We are the Family of God and we are called to serve the world in love. As for Washington Black known as Wash, he decided not to give up on making sure his contributions were attributed to him. In Chapter 17 on page 4 Wash says, “…I began to speak of Ocean House, of what I hoped it would be, in the end. And I knew then, in my very mention of it, that I would return to London and fight to undo the expunging of my name, that I would devote myself wholly to the project and seek some credit for it.”

So as in all things we give thanks to God, who knows and values each one of us, Jesus who saw and valued those on the margins and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do the same. 


Sunday May 5, 2019:

THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE GO FISHIN’!

Readings:

ACTS 9: 1-20

In this first reading today we have a sort of parallel…Jesus appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus in the Gospel passages and in this Acts passage we have Jesus appearing to Saul (or Paul) on the road to Damascus…and Saul was a Christian ‘bounty-hunter’…I like what Flannery O’Conner says of Paul: “I reckon the Lord knew that the only way to make a Christian out of that one was to knock him off his horse.”

And we’ve all been head-strong or stubborn or blinded to our own ambition or selfish to meet our own needs or caught in addictive behaviours and oblivious of the true cost to others or to ourselves… here’s some examples: the sports enthusiast incapable of sporting behaviour…the man who is so locked up in his emotions that he cannot express his love for his spouse…or the teenager, angry and hurt, who cannot forgive a parent’s error…so what happens when we see the light???...what happens when, suddenly or gradually, we find ourselves walking the path that leads to life?...the Road to Damascus…may this be one of the roads that we journey on in life…

REVELATION 5: 11-14

Revelation is the only full representation of the apocalyptic genre in the New Testament…this engages our theological imagination when we read it…it has to do with the ‘end times’ and what that may look like (seen through the eyes of those who were around at that time, 1800-1900 years ago)…and surprisingly enough, the words of this Revelation passage don’t deal with ‘end-times’…they don’t deal with bloody judgment days…every creature in heaven and on earth and in all the seas are singing together and are worshiping God – together…it’s a comprehensive picture of inclusivity…there’s a huge message in here – we are never, any of us, too damaged for God to use us…period… ultimate power does not belong to those who appear most powerful, but instead, to those who appear wounded and broken – like the lamb…and guess what?...that means every one of us…the first seal is broken in Revelation and it’s not broken by power – it’s broken by the lowly…

JOHN 21: 1-19

When life becomes too hard to bear what do we do?...where do we find comfort?...some take refuge in their gardening skills…some might even reach for chocolate or possibly go shopping…some folks lose themselves in television or working late into the night…some might even turn to harsher things such as drugs or whatever…when life becomes hard… and today, in the Gospel passage from John, life has become hard for the disciples so what do they do?...they jump into their fishing boats and half-heartedly fish…but, you know, even as the disciples retreat to their familiar trade, as we might retreat to the office or to the mall or to the garden, what they ultimately discover is that Jesus is there, and he is waiting to serve and to nourish them…Peter says, “I’m going fishing… who’s coming with me?”…and they all go…and you know folks, sometimes things happen when we go fishin’!!...

 Message:

                     THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE GO FISHIN’!

So welcome once more to the third Sunday of the Easter season – of ‘Eastertide’ as some call it…it’s the season of whiteness as recognized by the banners and such around us…whiteness, waiting for colour to be added and something new to be made again…and especially after the Holy Week when the world may have been turned upside-down and death finally conquered with the resurrection of Jesus…but folks still need to eat and guess what that means – back to work…your mother may have passed away and the grieving is still there but you need to get back to work…your father’s been buried for two to three weeks and now it’s back to work…whatever happens to us, we eventually have to confront reality, don’t we?...well for many people today, and I’m sure that this may touch some of you, the experience of sensory and emotional overload is a regular feature of your lives…increasingly graphic images of violence greet us in our newspapers, as well as on the Internet and of course television, and it seems that the decibels are rising in radio advertisements and in the ordinary noise of the streets… times of peace and quiet have become, possibly, much less frequent for many of us, and the stress some folks feel at work is matched only by the stress that they feel as they may commute on overcrowded streets and subways…and these thoughts were coming to me last week as I traveled through different parts of Calgary and its growth and its pulsing and its never-ending sleeplessness…one might wonder if much about our daily lives has contributed to a numbing of the human spirit, so that we require increasingly loud or shocking experiences to get through to us… and if this is so, then I can see where the need to go fishing comes into the picture…to get away from what has dragged you down…and in this Gospel passage, these actions of the disciples seem rather quirky and even quaint, coming as it does in the midst of such world-altering events…however, this is how human beings often respond to emotional overload, don’t we?...and the disciples’ decision to return to their former life and trade sets us up to realize that, in some ways, there is no longer any escape…

Wherever they go…..Christ will be with them…

Wherever we go…Christ will be with us…

And when we read the Gospel passages from Sunday to Sunday and if we pay attention to the last chapter before this one, chapter 20, it sounds as though we have come to the end of the book…the story wraps up with these resounding words: “These signs are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”…what a great ending!

Except for one thing…it doesn’t end there…we need one more story…it’s like a play where the curtain comes down and then an actor steps out and delivers an epilogue or a postscript to the drama that you’ve just witnessed on the stage…there seems to be some fear that we might not have gotten the meaning of all that we saw and heard, and so, one more story is thrown into the mix…this story today…

because, things really happen when fishing stories come into play…it’s not over until the fishing story is shared…is it?...and I’ll explain why in my understanding…hearing that Jesus invites them to breakfast and feeds them toast or bread as the text says and could be bacon (except of course, most of them were Jewish and this wouldn’t work well) but we get fried fish and this episode recalls the earlier scene of his being at table with them when he washes their feet and delivers his ‘Farewell Discourses’…this early morning meal on the shore corrects any misunderstanding that the Last Supper was the final meal Christ ate with his disciples…and this is important because the Risen Christ continues to share in the table fellowship of the church and continues to supply the strength and the nurture we need for our lives and for our work…it didn’t stop at the what we call “Last Supper”…it continues into perpetuity…so this last chapter of John has huge implications for all of us and what the Risen Christ really means to us and how he still works, day-in day-out, through us…and there’s more…

Asking Peter three times if he loves him or not cleans the slate for the three times that he denied him…wouldn’t that make Peter’s heart soar even more to know that he has been vindicated in some way?... wonderful things happen when we go fishing and our nets will be filled – to the brim – if we let ourselves do it…

In short, this epilogue chapter is a dramatic appeal to us to not reduce Christ and the wonders of his ministry to a story in the past but to be affirming that the story is on a continuum forever…the epilogue tells us: the curtain may have come down on John’s narrative, but the real-life drama of Christ is truly continuing…everything John has shown us continues past the last scene into the present moment and…beyond… happy fishing and…Amen.


Sunday April 28, 2019:

“If Easter Is True…What Do We Do?”…

PSALM 118: 14-29

In reading through this Psalm there is one line which stands out above

all of the others…and it comes to us many times in the Older Testament

and also is echoed a few times in the Newer Testament… “The stone that

the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone”…and we know

that this has been pointed to the life of Jesus and how he was rejected

and now placed as the cornerstone for each and everyone of us…so

today, we once again internalize the meaning of this one line out of the

Book of Psalms…Jesus, the rock…Jesus, the one on which the church

has built its foundation…Jesus, the rejected (still today!!) who proves to

the world that when God promises – we need to pay attention!!

REVELATION 1: 4-8

So welcome to the second reading today and a passage coming to us

from the Book of Revelation…Revelation is something which we don’t

usually dabble in with the three year liturgical cycle and the reason may

be that the Book of Revelation is really a tough one to understand…it’s

filled with nothing more than metaphor after metaphor…but…there’s

also huge wisdom in here if we focus on it…in this passage, we come

face-to-face with the Easter message that yes, Christ is risen but this is

only the beginning…we do not simply say ‘Christ is risen’ but we need

to let everyone know that there is going to be a whole lot more ‘stuff’

coming down the pike…Easter unleashed something and now we need

to be ready for what God is going to bring to us…

JOHN 20: 19-31

This story in the Gospel of John is something which every one of us can

associate with…it’s hearing something from someone and our response

being, “Prove it to me!”…and this is the doubting Thomas story which

we are going to hear…everyone lets him know that they’ve seen the

risen Christ and Thomas doesn’t buy it until he can see this ‘miracle’

with his own eyes…and here’s the real problem with Thomas…in

rejecting the disciple’s good news about what they have seen, he rebuffs

the very friends with whom he has shared life for so long…love and

trust has always been central and Thomas is putting this ‘love and trust’

to the big test…so, the community that Jesus has tried so hard to build

throughout the Gospel is threatened from the beginning by Thomas’s

skepticism…

“IF EASTER IS TRUE….WHAT DO WE DO?”

So here we are, all of us, in the aftermath of the resurrection, and we’re

still trying to figure out the world now that Jesus has been risen from

the dead…and all of our lessons this Sunday, deal with the various

responses to Easter…and this is important stuff because it’s nice to be a

believer in the resurrection but if Easter’s true, then what do we do?...

what’s our next step?...what are we now being called to accomplish or to

do by the God who breathes us and shows us resurrection?....well my

sense in the complete Easter story has to do with this – if the

resurrection is true, then our lives need to change…and change

radically…and this is because we would be living in a whole different

world and we would have to adjust our lives accordingly…we, as

Christians, believe that Easter is true and we believe in the fact that

God definitively acted in the world…and this belief stems from our

knowing that God lifts up the oppressed and those who are

downtrodden, who will not allow the victims of evil and injustice

ultimately to be crushed…in the end, no matter what bad stuff has

happened in our world, God’s will be done… so…this is why Easter is

true…and if Easter’s true, as we believe it to be, how then should we

live?....well last Sunday it was proclaimed to all of you, “Jesus Christ is

Risen!!”…and some of you proclaimed back, “Alleluia!!”…so if

Easter’s true to you, what should we now do?...if your response was

‘Alleluia!’ then there must be something there which resonated with

you….the resurrection is real – to you…

Well in the Gospel passages we find these wonderful stories of Jesus just

showing up to many of his closest friends at the most inopportune

times…kind of walking through walls and just appearing…showing

everyone his hands and his feet and his side where the spear had been

inserted…and having to prove it all once again when Thomas comes

around…and the walk to Emmaus…in fact this walk could be anyplace

and we could have an encounter with the Spirit anywhere so put

yourself into whatever place you’ve sensed that something or somebody

was speaking to you…and if you had mentioned this sort of thing to

others, that you’ve seen something or sensed something, most often,

these folks may think that you’re just a little on the crazy side but an

encounter with the Spirit is never crazy…an encounter with holiness is

personal and we are allowed to be in that world of transparency where

spirit touches humanity – your humanity...

And these two folk who were walking along the road to Emmaus had no

idea who this person was who joined with them…well the women had

run back from the tomb and told all those present that Christ had risen

and did they believe them?...no…that’s because, Easter wasn’t true to

them yet…then, at the table, that evening, when Jesus broke bread,

their eyes were opened…they saw…they believed…Easter became true

to them….they had thought that the Jesus Movement had ended…it was

just beginning!...they thought that night was coming when it was really

the dawn of a brand new day -- a new era…Easter became true…

If Easter is true, then it means that Jesus is not just a wonderful teacher

or an inspiring person or a notable historical figure…Jesus is the true

revelation of God…he is the new dawning in that hope will always

conquer fear or doubt…new life will always come from the deepest

night…the phoenix always rises from the ashes…spring comes from the

coldest winter…so now we know what God looks like…what God wills

for us and the world…if Easter is true…

And if Easter’s true, then never again are we permitted ever to lose

heart or to despair or to give up…no place is beyond the reach of God’s

redeeming grace…if Easter’s true…

And also, if Easter’s true, then it’s a lie that death is the last word…the

final act…the end…for new life comes from a cocoon…new life comes

into the fields with all of the baby calves, baby lambs, new colts, and

little baby humans…

If Easter is true, then it isn’t over until God says it over…our end is

really our beginning…at the end, when this life is over, we are not given

oblivion…or darkness…or despair…no…we’re given a future, a new

birth, a new beginning…if Easter is true…for we are not left alone…the

Risen Christ came back to the very disciples who disappointed and

betrayed him and gathered those depressed, despairing, and pained

individuals and formed them into a new family…a new community…

the Risen Christ opened the door to new communities of faith… of

church…

If Easter’s true, then we don’t have to climb up to God…we don’t have

to think hard and go through all sorts of mental gymnastics in order to

be close to God…in the bread and the wine, God comes close to all of

us…we come here to church on a Sunday morning, thinking that we are

getting up, getting dressed, and coming to church to seek God only to be

surprised that here, in communion, in the singing and scripture

reading…maybe even in the sermon…the resurrected, living Christ is

reaching out to us…if Easter is true…

So if Easter’s true…what do we do?....

Love deeper…live deeper…wake up each morning with joy in our

hearts and share compassion with all…

seek peace where sometimes peace can’t be found…and never lose hope

for when this disappears, life crumbles…the road to Emmaus awaits

you…the hands and feet do truly show the pain that needed to be

experienced for transformation to happen…so…be ready to be

transformed…Alleluia!...Amen…