Sunday September 15, 2019:
Sunday September 8, 2019:
“In the Presence of God”
by Bob Gibennus, Licensed Lay Worship Leader
I have a collection of hats. I am unable to change my hairstyle, so I collect hats.
The style of hat that I wear defines who I am, at least for that day, or occasion.
When I watch my grandson play little league baseball, (Blue Jays cap) I am Grandpa the baseball fan.
When I go golfing with my friends, (PGA cap) I am Bob, the very amateur golfer.
When I go on vacation (Tilley hat), I am Bob, the tourist.
When I play my harmonica (Music hat), I am Bob, the musician.
When I am in the kitchen (Chef Hat) I am Robert, my wife’s personal chef.
When I change hats, I change my behavior. It doesn’t change who I am, really. But you will see a subtle difference. Grandpa, the baseball fan acts a little different from Robert, the chef.
If you come to a little league baseball game with me, you might see me become loud and boisterous, cheering the players on. If you are in my kitchen when I am preparing dinner, you might hear me humming along with some music while I chop vegetables for a stir-fry.
What I’m getting at is this: our behaviors change depending on where we are, what we are doing and who we are with. Our Gospel reading this morning invites us to think about how we behave when we find ourselves in the presence of God.
Luke explores the behaviors of two women who host God in their house.
How did Martha and Mary behave when they were in the presence of God? And, what can the story teach us about our behaviors when we are in the presence of God?
The text says that Mary sat and listened to what Jesus had to say, while Martha was distracted by her many tasks. When Martha complained, suggesting that she could use a little help, Jesus dismissed her complaint saying that Mary had chosen the better part. What do you think? What does “the better part” mean? Was Martha wrong to continue to do chores while Mary hosted a very important guest? Or was her only fault that she asked for help, and it might have sounded like complaining?
Peggy and I could easily be Martha and Mary in this story. When our family comes to our home, there is almost always a meal involved, and since I am the cook in the family, it usually falls on Peggy to entertain the guests in the living room while I prepare the meal. I don’t mind being in the kitchen. I can hear the kids and grandkids in the next room, at least some of the time. I can interject now and then. And I don’t feel like I am ignoring our guests, because I know that the work I do in the kitchen is one way my love expresses itself.
So, let’s not be overly critical of Martha. Yes, she could have quietly gone about doing her tasks without complaining. Have you never been in a similar situation, where it feels like you are doing all the work while the other person is having a great time? What’s wrong with speaking up and asking for help? I have to admit, I’m a little bit on Martha’s side, here.
At the same time, let’s not criticize Mary either. She sat and listened to what Jesus had to say, just like Peggy sits and listens to our grandchildren tell stories about what’s going on in their lives. It’s her way of saying, “I love you. You are important to me and I want to hear all about what is important to you.” Aren’t Mary, Martha, Peggy and I all expressing our love, only in different ways? Maybe this is what’s expected of a person who comes into the presence of God.
This week’s Psalm reminds us that we are always in the presence of God.
“Where can I escape from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I lie down in the grave, you are even there.”
Does that mean that we must always be on our best behavior? Oh, if only that were possible. Can you imagine what it would be like to always be the best person you can be? To never say a cross word to anyone? To never think unkind thoughts? To always do the right thing, in every circumstance? Just imagine. You could sleep in every Sunday. You would have no reason to come here and pray with the rest of us, saying things like,
“Forgive us our trespasses” and “lead us not into temptation”
Maybe that’s why my atheist brother doesn’t go to church and tells me that he has no need of a God. Maybe he’s already perfect.
Could the Psalm also be reminding us that God is with us always, not just to see that we’re on our best behavior? But to nudge us back on track when we prove once again that we’re just as human as everyone else.
In this morning’s Hebrew Bible reading, the Lord assures Jeremiah that God can work with us and help us to get better, just like the potter works with the clay.
I find it incredibly comforting to believe that God is with me all of the time; not only when I’m on my best behavior; not only when I slip off the rails and need a gentle nudge back on track; but also when I’m sad; when I’m afraid or worried; when I’m stressed; when I’m lonely; when I’m sick; when I’m tired; when I’m frustrated.
I find it incredibly comforting to believe that God is with me when I drive west on a clear morning at sunrise. The sun turns the mountaintops to a brilliant gold colour, and I marvel. I marvel that this same God, who created these majestic Rocky Mountains, and the infinite stars that watch over them at night, is the same God that created me. This same God, who continues to work with me, just like the potter works with the clay. I believe that God has a dream for each of us. God wants us to participate in that dream. And God is with us, every step of the way as we strive to make God’s dream come true.
In this, as in all things, glory be to God.
Sunday September 1, 2019:
The last 12 or so weeks, as many of you know, I’ve been on a sabbatical…this is something which is given to us ministers every five years when we are one place of ministry as a time of reflection – a time of sorting out the things which need sorting out – some relaxation – and also, some sort of focus on what a person would like to focus upon… mine was to see what is happening out there…out amongst all of the various churches and denominations and the such…if you drive anywhere around this city of ours you’ll see churches almost everywhere and they come in all different sizes and shapes and denominations…it’s a huge faith family of connections and yes – also of divisions, especially when it comes to doctrine ethical or non-ethical stances…I had visited a Netherlands Reformed congregation which was my roots of coming from Holland in the early 1950’s…I suppose I should have expected the rigidity in that the more open Reformed tradition has a different name – they are the “New” Reformed Church... all the men wore suits and the women had hats on…I should have asked if there was dress code but I forgot…did I stand out?... absolutely…I then ventured into my ‘upbringing’ area of Bowness and worshiped at a Lutheran church where I had become confirmed over 50 years ago…an elderly couple was sitting in front of me and they turned around and said “If it isn’t Jopy,” after 50 years and they said “You still haven’t lost that singing voice have you?”…I entered into the evangelical world by attending a Full Gospel community of faith which was right across from the Millarville market and rodeo grounds…an Alliance Church which was in Waldon and yes, it was very theatrical, a Presbyterian church in Canyon Meadows which was very traditional, a little Anglican church in Priddis which probably dates back a 100 years or more, a large Roman Catholic church just in the Oakridge area, a C3 congregation which is next door to Calaway Park and this was very evangelical indeed – powerful praise band, 3 huge screens pulsing with colours and designs and whatever else they could project and even the message was broadcast directly from Illinois I visited a small country town United Church in Forestburg (one that I had preached in for 8 years and they even had me sing a solo…go figure!!)…and I ended my sabbatical preaching in Canmore and then listening to gospel music at the Canmore Folk Festival…and do you know what?...
there’s a lot of different styles of worship, especially in the more evangelical communities of faith but one thing is central to all of them, including all of the places which I visited – it’s holy ground...it’s the burning bush speaking to us from a sometimes different perspective… God speaking to each individual in a way which this person can relate to…some communities of faith were very traditional whereas others were closer to theatrical productions and speaking in tongues and praise bands and large screen projections and so on but when it all came down to what it was, the burning bush or the words of the Holy One was in every community of faith which I had visited…so the question I have for all of you this morning is:
where’s your burning bush?....where or what is God calling you to be or to do?...Moses didn’t have a clue…he only took off his shoes or his sandals and turned his face so that he couldn’t see the face of God, for whatever that might of looked like….but this is story…this is ancient biblical history…it’s the basis of our faith played out again and again if we allow it to and turn our face to the Holy One…and we can take from it a literal sense or possibly something much deeper or more profound... this story is the calling of each of us to look deeper into ourselves and to see the gifts that we have and how we are to use them to move humankind in directions that are peaceful and empowering…
We, like Moses, will probably ask all kind of questions and give all kinds of excuses but ultimately, when God calls….We answer…
and God may call you into doing something this summer and you need to pay heed…
And we answer in ways that for some folk, may seem totally absurd… this isn’t the point…the point is that each of us are called to make a difference in this world…maybe in large, grand, actions and most often, in small actions of helpful and loving and caring incidents…
It takes a burning bush to get Moses’s attention, and he still doesn’t think that he is qualified…and in the Gospel passages, so often, Jesus’ closest followers miss the point…yet they are called to discipleship… they are called to carry the torch…to speak their own personal words of wisdom…and they risked their lives to follow what was right and truthful in such a fragmented world that was fraught with power and with divisiveness…
How many of us miss the point?...how many of us feel ourselves sometimes unworthy?...yet, here we are, called not because we’ve achieved great things, but because God’s love invokes in us such wonder and gratitude that we cannot help but reach out beyond ourselves…
We step forward then, fearfully perhaps, to love and to serve others, trusting as Moses trusted that God will be with us….
And quite often following or answering the call which God gives to us leads us in directions which may be dark or dangerous…could be fearful, no, quite often it’s more than fearful…yet, it’s what we need to do anyway…
And I’m going to share an incident with you which might shed some light on what I’m trying to portray for you this morning and I might have shared this with you once upon a time and I forget sometimes if I’ve shared it at Staywell or Garrison Woods or here so…bear with me if you’ve heard it before……
I was out shopping in one of the big malls one day, the Shaughnessy Centre in southern Calgary and before I went home, I needed to stop into Super-Store to pick up some odds and ends… I had finished my shopping and went to the check-out and had noticed that there was a fairly elderly woman at the register, somewhat older than most clerks in the store and I started this little chit-chat…
(being such an introvert that I am!)…and I found out that she was 74 years old…74 years old and still working?...
And here’s her reason for what she is doing…and this is what she said: “I never thought that I would still be working at this age. But, the company I worked for went broke two years before I retired and with the whole messy part of going bankrupt and not treating its employees very well, I lost every cent of my company pension and had to depend solely on government pension…with my medical expenses and my other responsibilities, I was forced to go back to work…to tell you the truth, it is the best thing that ever happened to me…I can’t imagine myself just sitting at home doing nothing…I love it here…
and I get to talk to people just like you!”
Kind of an interesting response don’t you think?... “This is the best thing that ever happened to me”…an interesting case in point of answering the bumpy road that God calls us into sometimes…
listening to what the burning bush has to say…
Perhaps ministers, such as myself, tend to speak negatively about the difficult, tragic, dark, and uncertain times of life that all of us must go through…maybe it’s in these times that the superficialities of life are peeled away…maybe it is when our false consolations whither that we are able to discover true consolation…maybe…
Some folks that I knew years ago who lived in this city had cared for a group of special needs foster children and her husband and herself took special care of them….
“They give us a meaningful life,” she says. “I don’t sit around and mope looking for something to do…the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in somebody whose aches and pains are greater than yours.” You see folks, we’re connected in so many ways and it’s how we treat each other where the spirit inside each of us has the opportunity to shine… ….wow…
And I sometimes use these words at weddings… “If you want the gifts of life, in abundance, you need to give part of yourself away”….and that’s what it’s truly about…
I believe Moses did this…he saw the aches and the pains of the Israelites and this moved him into action…moved him into obeying the God that he always knew but didn’t realize that faith was a verb…faith was an action…and faith changes the world always for the better…
So this morning, ask yourself this question… “Where’s my burning bush?”…what is God calling me to…do…or to be?
I assure you, that in our hunger, we shall find nourishment….that in the storm we just might find true shelter, and that in the night we might find the warmth and the light of true home – in God…
As God says to Moses…follow me, so Jesus says to his disciples…follow me and I say to each of every one of you….follow your heart….Amen.
Sunday August 25, 2019:
“God isn’t finished with you, yet” by Bob Gibennus, Licensed Lay Worship Leader
I speak to you in the name of the one who healed, even on the sabbath.
I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time 13 years ago this month. A tumor was removed from my spine and after a period of healing from the surgery, I was declared cured. 3 years later I heard the words, “You have cancer” for the second time. This time I was told that I have multiple myeloma; a cancer that is treatable but not curable. The prognosis at the time was 18 – 24 months if left untreated. That could be extended significantly if I had a stem cell transplant. That was 10 years ago. And here I am, feeling as healthy as I ever have. Why have I survived this disease for this long? I know that I have excellent doctors and other healthcare professionals working hard to keep me and others, like me, alive. I know that research continues, and new treatments are always coming available. At the same time, I know people who were diagnosed with the same disease after I was; were treated at the same Tom Baker Cancer Centre as me, by the same doctors, given the same drugs and yet, they have died from the disease. And here I am.
Sometimes I think about people who have survived events where many lives were lost; horrific car crashes, earthquakes, tornadoes. The survivors almost always ask, “Why was I spared?” And after the shock of the event has diminished a bit, they will often say, “I guess it just wasn’t my time.”
Have you ever had a brush with death? Have you ever asked yourself, “How did I survive that?” And then answered your own question with the words, “I guess it just wasn’t my time.”
When Peggy’s cousin, Denise, passed away from the same cancer that I have and I successfully recovered from the ordeal of stem-cell transplant, I came to a conclusion.
“God isn’t finished with me, yet.”
What about you? What event or illness was almost the end of you? What happened in your life that caused you to ask, “Why was I spared?” You could have died. And yet, here you are; alive, breathing and worshiping with us on a summer Sunday morning. Could it be that…
God isn’t finished with you, yet?
I wonder what God has in mind for you.
God had an important job in mind for Jeremiah. God told him that he was going to be a prophet and leader. Jeremiah, being only a boy, resisted saying, “Come on, God. I’m nowhere near ready. Not only am I just a boy, but I can’t speak to people.” To which God replied, “That’s okay. I will give you the words to speak and the skills to do the job.” Sure enough, Jeremiah went on to be a great prophet to God’s people.
After I had recovered from my first stem-cell transplant, one of our former ministers, Bill Bruce, encouraged me to take some training and become a licensed lay worship leader. I’ve had my license for 4 years now and I absolutely love doing this.
Every time I lead a worship service, many of you come up to me after and say very kind things.
“Very good service, Bob.”
“You’re sending me home with something to think about.”
On more than one occasion someone has commented, “You missed your calling.”
I usually reply saying something like, “Thank you. You’re very kind.” But the reality of it is, I don’t think I missed my calling at all. It just came to me later in life. Jeremiah was called when he was just a boy. I was called much later, but like Jeremiah, I have been called to do something important for God.
A woman who had been bent-over for eighteen years was healed on the sabbath. The story doesn’t say whether she went on to become a great leader or a prophet like Jeremiah. What did God have in mind for her? Maybe it was simply that she would feel better.
After I recovered from my second stem cell transplant, I found myself playing golf again. I had put the clubs away for a number of years; just kind of lost interest. But now, oh boy! I’m playing at least twice a week and loving every minute of it. I even got the thrill of getting a hole in one, ten days ago. When I say that God isn’t finished with me, yet I wonder if God wants me, like the bent-over woman, to enjoy my life again.
When God calls us, does it always have to be for important work, like Jeremiah? Or can it sometimes be that God wants us to stand up straight and enjoy life again, like the bent-over woman who was healed on the sabbath?
So, when I say, “God isn’t finished with you, yet.” Don’t worry. I’m not going to try and guilt you into taking one of the vacant seats on the church council; although that is certainly important work and if you feel called in that direction, by all means go for it.
Some of you have been a part of this church almost all of your life. You’ve served in every position on the church council. You’ve sung in the choir. You’ve volunteered at the garage sale. You helped settle a Syrian refugee family. You’ve taught Sunday School. You’ve changed light bulbs. You’ve served coffee. You’ve done just about every job there is to do, here.
Do you think it’s possible that God knows you have put in your time serving this church and maybe now, it’s time for something special to happen in your life?
“God isn’t finished with you, yet.”
You have no idea what God has in store for you.
My first marriage died when I was 48 years old. I thought I would never love again. God found me the most amazing partner I could have ever asked for. Peggy and I have been married for 17 years now and we’re as in love and giddy as a couple of high-school kids. Every day I thank God for this gift.
This past winter, Peggy and I went on the vacation of a lifetime to New Zealand. We were able to do this because there was a window of opportunity when neither of us were hampered by health issues.
Three Christmases ago, we hosted Christmas for all 3 of our children, all 7 grandchildren and my Mother. What a gift.
And the gifts keep coming. I can’t wait to see what other wonders God has in store for me.
God isn’t finished with me, yet.
And if God isn’t finished with me yet, then for sure…God isn’t finished with YOU, either.
Get ready to be surprised, because one day, something is going to happen in your life that is so wonderful; so amazing that you’re going to remember it for the rest of your life. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, today. Hang in there; never give up hope. You have no idea what God has in store for you.
If there’s one thing that I believe with all my heart, it’s this:
God isn’t finished with YOU, yet.
In this, as in all things, Glory be to God. Amen
Prayers of the People Courtesy of Gwen Jamieson
Let’s join our hearts and minds in prayer:
Loving & gracious God, here we are again, we have gathered to worship and for connection with each other and to receive encouragement as we begin another week. We know that your spirit is here with us and that your blessings abound.
We’re coming to the closing of summer vacations, and we thank you for the time we have had to relax from some of our busyness. May our enthusiasm for your work be renewed as we move into fall. Thank you also for the beauty of late summer flowers and green trees, soon to be turning colour. We are grateful for the produce that is ripening in the fields & gardens. We live in a land of plenty, and we need to share that abundance as well as enjoy it. We pray for those, because of hail or floods or drought , have lost their crops, and we trust that they will find ways to recover their livelihood.
We think at this time of young people who will soon be moving to new schools, or even moving away from home for the first time in order to further their education. We ask your blessing on them as they explore new knowledge and make new connections. We especially pray for young people who have lost their way, and have become homeless . Thank you for those caring folk who are on the streets – offering help & counselling . We pray also for others who are homeless, particularly the crowds of refugees – and we are grateful to those countries who have opened their borders to them. We need to remember that for many people life itself is uncertain.
Now we pray for our own church family – for those grieving the recent loss of loved ones. May they feel your comforting compassion, and be able to go on with hope & precious memories. We pray for those who are no longer able to attend church services, and have had to restrict the activities they previously enjoyed. We are grateful for all those who show them care & love. We pray as well for all those dealing with health issues – both new ones & old. Give them patience as they wait for diagnoses and surgeries & other treatments. We pray with thankful hearts for the folk who have given us leadership over the time of Rev. Jope’s sabbatical & vacation – for Kelley and Gerry, for Bob and for Rev. John Crowdis. We are thankful also for Arda and Avery and Paige, who have kept the office running smoothly and for all the faithful volunteers who have stepped up whenever and wherever needed.
And now let us join in the prayer that Jesus taught his followers: ‘Our Father who art in heaven’