Selected Sermons


Sunday March 24th, 2019:

READINGS:

ISAIAH 55: 1-9

Is there anything better than free stuff?...of course nothing is ever really free…someone worked hard to put it there…and the prophet Isaiah knows this so the prophet asks, why are you paying for this stuff when you can get it for free?...and now that the prophet has your attention we learn what is really being given away is God’s sure, steadfast love…and God’s ways are not our ways and we know this…these free gifts even include free water, right out of the sky, or in the places where we live, free snow – right out of the sky…and…as surely as rain (or snow) falls, blessing all of our gardens and fields and so on, we come to realize that God’s goodness is a renewable resource and this folks, is a comforting thought…let’s hear the words from the prophet Isaiah…

1 CORINTHIANS 10: 1-13

According to Paul in this letter to the Corinthians, the sins of the desert, in which he’s alluding to the Israelites in their 40 year journey, included idolatry and sexual immorality but the climatic sin or the biggest of them all, seems to be the grumbling which was happening on a constant basis…and I say, seriously?...this is a worse sin than the others?...well, you don’t see the whole church rise up to share in adultery when one or two fail or fall…the same goes for idolatry but grumbling….that’s as contagious as the flu and could cause a great deal of damage… grumbling changed the wilderness from a path to the promised land to a place of stagnation where the generations died…so Paul’s saying, ‘Stop grumbling’ and move yourselves closer to the heart of God…

LUKE 13: 1-9

The Gospel passage is interesting to say the least, this Sunday…it has to do with grace and manure and do they go together in the big scheme of things?...Luke’s passage is of the fig tree in the middle of the vineyard… what is a fig tree doing in the middle of rows and rows and rows of grapes anyway?...maybe it’s the outsider in the middle of all of the insiders and this tree (or person) needs extra care and attention…and what is manure but total nutrients for the soil and for growth…and it points a little to what I do…the work of ministry does not always bear fruit immediately…or even within our lifetimes…or the lifetime of service at a particular congregation…the word is patience, as God is patient with each of us…the word is endurance…it’s stick-tuitive-ness…

And one more thing – the Greek verb for manure suggests that we get ‘down and dirty’…and this is certainly the ministry of Jesus…

 MESSAGE:

              GRACE and MANURE  -- You’ve Got to be Kidding!!

Augustine, one of the ancient fathers of the church who lived in the years 350 – 450 AD, was very clear on his definition of manure… “It is a sign of humility”…it’s a humbling thing – especially when you may end up stepping in it…and I’m sure the words which come out of your mouth are not “O Grace!”…grace and manure, where would Jope be going with this today…well…I want to get back to the basics – back to the rudimentary things which are supposed to feed us and fill our lives…and sometimes we work diligently to grow gardens and they fail…and sometimes we spend endless energy raising our children and things fall apart…we give all we can and more to our jobs and the economy has a down-turn and we’re left in dire straights, possibly unemployed or forced to give up our homes…we’ve done everything possible to hold the water back and the dam breaks…there’s a moment in our lives where we want to give it all up…throw our hand in…move out of town to who knows where…and folks, there does come a desperation point where the tree no longer bears fruit – possibly from neglect…possibly from extenuating circumstances of all sorts…but there’s something which each and everyone of us needs to remember and this is that we are not islands…we are folks in community…we are together in this thing called life…and God walks with us in every step that we make…every step we take…so we take a look at this metaphorical manure and what it really means to us…especially in the view of grace…grace and manure…probably the furthest thing apart that we could think of but they are one and each the same when it comes to ‘feeding’…offering nutrients…the manure around our roots, as followers of the Christ, is the very life – the very lifeblood of the One who journeyed into Jerusalem and eventually met an angry mob who helped to have him crucified…and all he could continually offer to all of us was his grace…which fed us and feeds us…and Jesus shares this parable with all of us because the gardener is determined to tend to a fruitless fig tree because he is open to a future possibility that he does not control or manage…this is faith…and what is faith but to give everything your best step forward and to leave the rest to the Holy One – to God…God always gives us time…three years without figs!!...cut it down!!...and he says ‘O please, let it alone’…which in Greek translates to “forgive it”…wow…forgive…this is one of those super-charged words that carry with it a lot of weight…and sometimes a lot of manure – or nutrients which has the possibility of changing one’s life…and these things take time don’t they?...

There are times when we’re waiting on God to do something for us, when (sad to say) God seems to take forever…and there are times when God is waiting on us to do something for God, when (thank God) God seems to give forever…and you know, in my experience, rarely does God make haste…and this can be hard, especially when you are suffering or needing an answer or waiting for some sort of deliverance...

And sometimes divine tardiness is a blessing, is it not?....

“Master, give the tree more time.”…and that’s grace…in such times, God’s delay is God’s gift…and we need to remember that Jesus tells this story of the barren fig tree on his way to Jerusalem…he is not at his destination yet…he’s on his way…at the end will be judgment…but for now, there is still time…Jesus tells this story to you and to me who are not at our destination as of yet…we’re here, today, still on our life’s way…our life’s journey…

And this parable is a play in two acts: #1… “Cut it down!!”… and #2… “Give it time!”…manure and grace…I guess that means that we’re now living out the third act…how long did the master wait?...surely his patience isn’t forever…did the manure do the trick?...was there ever fruit?...we don’t know because, as in so many of Jesus’ parables, this one doesn’t have an ending…maybe that’s because God is still working on the ending…and so are we…by God’s grace, we’re given time to finish the story…our story…as we work towards building a community of faith in this world that has love, justice, peace, and joy at it’s roots and doesn’t need BS to make it  alive….Amen.


Sunday March 17, 2019:

Readings:

GENESIS 15: 1-12, 17-18

In the Genesis passage, Abram has wandered the whole Mideast since he left the place of Ur…he’s traveled from Moreh to Bethel, to Ai and to Egypt and back and he’s finally had it with God… “Okay” he says, “when are you going to fulfill that promise about an heir and a country? Stop fooling around me and come clean!”….and God responds…in fact, God makes a covenant with Abram and a flaming torch passes between a split animal…this may seem strange to us but covenants come in all different shapes and sizes and the flame passing through the middle means that both sides have taken the oath…and we know, down the road, that Sarah finally has a child….

LUKE 13: 31-35

A short Gospel today…and hey, the Pharisees here, are the good guys… they are warning Jesus that his life could be in jeopardy and that he may have to disappear for a while…and what I understand out of this passage is that stereotypes are no more appropriate in scripture than they are today…whether we are speaking of Pharisees or conservatives or liberals, speaking of gay and lesbian or straight, seeing individuals only as a group is always a mistake that leads to prejudice and in the worst scenario – genocide…

 Message:

                   NEVER LOSING SIGHT OF WHAT IS REAL

We have a somewhat somber Gospel to deal with on this Sunday in Lent…Jesus overlooks the city of Jerusalem and he ponders not only his fate in the coming weeks, but also the fate of Jerusalem as well…you may have noticed that the Gospel is in two parts…verses 31-33 show Jesus responding to the warning of the Pharisees…and as I mentioned a few moments ago, they are apparently well-intentioned, which is quite remarkable considering all of the negative ‘stuff’ about them which we read…yet Jesus responds to their concerns about Herod’s wrath with contempt for that “old fox”…and the Pharisees don’t even realize that they are trying to dissuade Jesus from his obedient way in which he needs to go…and then in verses 34-35, we have Jesus lamenting the tendency of Jerusalem, down through the ages, to harm God’s chosen prophets or people…he wishes he could gather God’s people as a hen gathers her chicks around her for protection and for comfort…in few places in the Gospels is Jesus more the prophet, in line with the other prophets of Israel, than here in his warnings of doom for God’s people…and as most of us know, the temple did fall in about 30-40 years after his death and resurrection….somehow, the destiny of God’s people, and that includes all of us, is bound with Jesus’ destiny…Jesus goes his way of obedience and you know where it leads him…and in terms of Jerusalem, in their disobedience, it leads to the destruction of the temple…and we must never lose sight of Jesus’ Jewishness for the temple was holy to him….and what’s he doing on his way to crucifixion?...he’s weeping for God’s people and he never loses sight of what’s real in his life…something we need to take deep note of…WE need to never lose sight of what is real in our lives…

It might be easier this morning if Jesus had used his last days to attack King Herod, to criticize the government and the national economy…no.. his last words of judgment and lament are for us…Jesus’ great lament, towards the end of his earthly ministry as he faces his crucifixion is for God’s people – the faithful who are unfaithful – Israel – the church – for us…he’s calling us to be a light to a dark world…we are called to be salt…Jesus is saying that the world ought to be able to look at us, who claim to be his followers, and see him…

So these days, as we ponder sometimes the state of our church, and not just the United Church of Canada, we can sometimes see why Jesus weeps…why he laments…the one who was supremely obedient recognizes disobedience…judgment begins with God’s own household… with ourselves…with our own personal worlds and our own place of worship and possibly our own communities…

And we need to remember that not all is gloom for the church is not only judged – but it’s also loved…and if we spend some of our energy on focusing on the reality that we are loved, we will move in directions which could be unbelievable…which could be truly empowering for each and everyone….

And I’m going to share a little story with all of you to emphasize the point of continually focusing on what is real… (page 100…Wisdom Stories from Around the World…Margaret Silf (editor))..

 

God’s house is meant for all of us…and I mean all of us…it’s how we build it and who gets to live in it…and if we stay focused on the meaning of the resurrection, we will always be people living in the sunrise of hope…may your Lenten journey be one of transformation and may the God of hope always be your guide…Thanks be to God….Amen.


SUNDAY MARCH 10, 2019:

                                 WHY LENT?

Well folks…let’s face it…I believe that Lent’s in trouble…in deep trouble…and let me explain why….most of us have our favourite holiday seasons or holiday times…for quite a few of us it’s Christmas… with all of the family get togethers and the food and the gift-giving and the all around sense of being in a joyful time…maybe for others its those summer holidays or those trips to faraway places and lying on a beach somewhere or golfing in the middle of February…but each year at just about this time, it strikes me that very few of us would pick Lent…a season that seems to be for most of us – grim, as sometimes the weather which can go with it…

Just think about this for a moment…crossing off days on your calendar until Ash Wednesday…or maybe leaving work a little early saying “I’ve got to leave a bit early today because I need to get my Lenten shopping done”…or advertisements on television or the newspapers, “only twelve more days till the day of Ashes”…or little children going to bed and asking their parents, “How much longer till Lent is here?....

It just doesn’t happen….and the trouble with Lent, I think, is fairly clear…it’s buried right in the heart of the primary reading for Ash Wednesday…from the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6…you might have hear these words last Wednesday… “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting…truly I tell you, they have received their reward…but when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by God who is in secret; and God who sees in secret will reward you.”…

Actually…we don’t have to read the whole passage because the brunt of Lent’s problem is in the first four words, “And when you fast….”

And when you fast?!...c’mon…except for the occasional crash diet before summer vacation or the fasting for a part of the day to get your blood tests, who fasts anymore?....and there it is in a nut-shell…the trouble with Lent…it feels like this strange, weird holiday that celebrates things we don’t value…encourages attitudes we don’t share…no wonder that each year fewer and fewer churches observe this age-old fourth-century tradition…it’s too old fashioned, too “Roman”, too medieval for many of us contemporary Christians to handle…so let’s face it, Lent’s in trouble…there’s no enthusiasm with it…I don’t know, maybe it’s that there are no presents at the end, and no fun and games along the way…or maybe it’s that Lent asks us to give up things..

Or maybe it’s Lent’s themes that trouble us…penitence…sacrifice… could be that big word contemplation…I bet you these words weren’t even popular with the Puritans of old…and so each year, as I listen to my non-Lent observing friends knock it as ‘crazy theology’ and my Lent-observing friends complain about it as a pain in the you-know-what, the same question demands an answer... “Why Lent?...I mean, who really needs it?... but do you know what?...each year, whatever my feelings approaching Lent may be, the same answer comes whispering back to me… “I do…just maybe…I need Lent…just maybe I need a time to focus…to get my mind off of being a paid-accountable-minister…the building project…the family stuff…and centre myself in Meaning itself…and maybe, just maybe – and this takes the greatest imagination of them all – just maybe, Lent really isn’t mine to do with whatever I please…perhaps Lent isn’t even the church’s, to insist upon or discard at will…maybe Lent isn’t any of ours, to scoff at or observe…maybe Lent is God’s….maybe Lent is God’s gift to a people starving for meaning…for courage…for comfort…for life…

If it is – if we can imagine that Lent is not ours at all but is wholly God’s – then maybe we’ll also begin to recall, at first vaguely but then more strongly, that we, too, are not ours at all, but are wholly God’s – God’s own possession and treasure…

Yeh…I need Lent…I hope you do too…I need an absence of gifts so that I might acknowledge the GIFT…I need a time to be quiet and still (as we began our worship service today)…I need a time to crane my neck and lift my head, straining to hear again what was promised me at my baptism: “You are mine!...I love you!...I am with you!”…I need Lent, finally, to remind me of who I am – God’s heir and Christ’s co-heir – so that, come Easter, I can rejoice and celebrate with all the joy, all the passion, all the anticipation, of a true heir to peace…

And so yes…I need Lent…and to tell you the truth, I suspect that you do, too…you see, if Lent’s in trouble, it’s only because we’re in trouble, so busy trying to make or keep or save our lives that we fail to notice that God is standing right beside us and raising us up on eagle’s wings…may each of us soar this season and may we be touched by grace…..thanks be to God….Amen….


Sunday March 3, 2019:

READINGS :

EXODUS 34: 29-35

The Old Testament reading this morning is another interesting parallel with other readings in the biblical text…especially the Gospel passage for today…Moses is coming down from Mount Sinai, carrying the tablets of the 10 commandments, and his face is glowing…a totally transfigured moment…and we see it again…at the birth of Jesus – “The glory of the Lord shone around about them.”…and we see it in the Transfiguration story in the Gospel today – “Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white.”…and we see it in the empty tomb with the “two men in dazzling clothes”, apparently angels….all of these are depictions of the glory of God and in Moses’ case, preparing to be a faithful bearer of God’s word involves time alone with God…God spoke to Moses “Face to face, as one speaks to a friend”….

2 CORINTHIANS 3: 12 – 4: 2

Upon this Transfiguration Sunday, sometimes the glorious mountaintop is a tempting place to set up camp…our experience of life’s ups and downs tells us that the trek back down from the mountaintop is often the hardest part…the descent is hard on the knees and sometimes we slip and fall on loose rocks…we may leave a most powerful weekend retreat or return from holidays and find ourselves surprised to find that reentry is a lot harder than we expected…well, Paul’s words here in this passage is a guide for the trip back down the mountain and into the foothills of daily life, but it is not without its demands….

LUKE 9: 28-43

The Gospel passage from Luke on this Transfiguration Sunday is really the segue for the whole Lenten and Passion weekend of Easter…Jesus is glorified in this passage and so is he also with the empty tomb…Jesus is firm and unyielding in fulfilling his mission of redemption…he is prayerful and bold as he moves now, towards his destiny in Jerusalem…those who were with him on the mountaintop are now one with him and his mission…we should go and do likewise….Luke 9: 28-43…

 

 MESSAGE:

                                 SEEING, YET NOT BELIEVING

What happened on the metaphorically ‘mountaintop’ in Luke’s passage is really not the crux of what we need to hear today…this passage really has a lot more to do with what’s happening on ‘ground level’ or at the grassroots of our lives or our society…it has to do with the second part of the reading where we almost get an interesting parallel…on the mountaintop the words are spoken “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”…and in the second part, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.”…each of these “sons” needs to be listened to – one is the healer, the other is the afflicted…one is seen to be dazzling in light and the other is convulsing in the darkness…and they both have great importance…they both have important roles to play in our understanding of the word “Transfiguration”…it has a lot to do with changing – either in essence or substance; a fair amount to do with altering the shape or the character of something; it has to do with a somewhat radical change…this is what ‘transfiguration’ means…

But yet if something so extraordinary happened then why wouldn’t it have altered the lives of the ones who were present?...Why couldn’t the disciples see or understand that they were also capable of healing?....

And this is the importance of putting these two passages or two events side-by-side…it’s nice to be swimming in the dazzling light but if nothing comes of it in our lives to bring on change, then all may be for naught…that’s where seeing and not believing comes into play…that’s where all imagination disappears…where hope vanishes…

 

Ralph and Bev Milton were on one of their bus tours years ago and they were riding on a bus through the Galilee area…Don, the course director, had just pointed out an interesting feature of Mt. Tabor, which is traditionally, the Mount of the Transfiguration…they had just come down from the mountain, and the hot afternoon haze made the mountain shimmer….this group, by the way, were not tourists – they were a group of students, most of them priests of the Roman Catholic Church, there were a few seminarians and three lay-people, a nun, a professor of communications and Ralph and Bev…..they had all read the scriptures and talked about the transfiguration all the way from the camp on the Sea of Galilee…they had said mass in the church at the top of the mountain and heard a homily on the Transfiguration…then they walked around the top of that mountain and tried to imagine what might have transpired there…

Don said, “Did you notice…the mountain is shaped like a woman’s breast”…it was…very clearly…Ralph found Don’s comment deeply moving… “That brings it together for me”, says Ralph. “Jesus returns to his mother God for comfort and for nourishment.”…

The comment was quite troublesome to most of the folk on the bus – deeply offensive to a few….and the conversation quickly came to an embarrassed halt…little was said till they reached the camp…

The nun took Ralph’s arm as he got off the bus… “Yes!” she whispered in Ralph’s ear… “Yes!” “Yes!”….

Transfiguration….being open to the movement of the Spirit…seeing things in a totally different light…knowing that you have the gifts to heal…the gifts to listen to each other…the gifts to bring joy to a troubled heart…in fact, to put it into biblical perspective – the gift of eradicating others’ demons….

 

Well…might it be possible that there is a realm that we cannot see?... might it be the case that we modern people have not succeeded in explaining away and demystifying that usually unseen realm, but rather we, unlike our spiritual ancestors, have simply lost the means to have contact with that realm?...most of us are better at using our techno- logical devices than we are at prayer…we expect to get our messages through technology…not from prayer…

And I know that this may be a prejudiced comment, but I’ve got to say that anybody who thinks that this world we can touch and taste and see is all there is, is leading a very boring life…and maybe that’s one reason why you’re at church today…you have a hunch that there is more going on than all of your explanations…perhaps you have felt, at certain odd moments in your life, that you were being contacted…summoned…or invited by some presence that cannot be described as simply the natural working of natural mechanisms…and too bad for those who see the transfiguration moment as a bunch of hokey…for we all think that our worldview is forever growing but for some, its rather shrinking…

And we, as Christian folk, have not really talked a lot about ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ because I sense that we focus more on reality… the world…as God’s creation…the world tells us to speak of reality as the “natural world”…I believe that the church teaches us to speak of it as God’s beloved creation…Christians believe that we have been indeed contacted by someone from  “another world”…and we call this ‘world’ the kingdom of God…this means that we are more open to the complexities of reality…we are wonderfully open to what the world calls “supernatural” because we fully expect God to intrude into our world in all sorts of creative ways…we do church on Sunday to prepare us for an eternity in a world that will be restored, in a world that will be sustained by love rather than by violence and by power….so… supernatural or the kingdom of God?...can they be one and the same?... I believe so for I have seen the face of God shine from each of you over…and over…and…over….Amen.