Sunday, November 18, 2018
“OUR ROCK AND OUR FOUNDATION”
This Gospel passage this morning is about what we see and what we don’t see…it’s a lot like the old western movies that have graced the screens of countless theatres for years…the ‘old dusters’ as they are sometimes called…you know the ones I mean…the dusty old street with boardwalk walkways and different shops lining the street…places to tie your horse or to park your wagon…women in petticoats and umbrellas and men in rawhide jackets and usually guns strapped to their hips… dusty old dirty cowboy hats…and the buildings?…the barber shop… the mercantile…the livery stable…and of course, the old saloon with the swinging doors and the nickelodeon playing on…is it real?....from the outside it is…from the viewpoint of us watching the old movie but if you walk behind these buildings in real life – they’re only make believe for all they are, are a fascia…held up with 2 X 4’s or 2 X 6’s or poles… they’re made to look like a real street but in reality, they’re props…
And this is what the disciples can’t seem to understand when they make reference to the beautiful stonework on the temple…all they see are the size of the temple stones and how they have been inlaid….how they sit upon each other and rise to the skies in monumental splendour…if any of you have had the opportunity over the last many years to travel to Britain or to places in Europe or Central America or South America or really, many, many other places in the world where cathedrals have been erected, you know what I’m talking about with the scope of grandeur…higher is better…bigger is better…more stained glass… more gargoyles…higher steeples…the sky is the limit…
“Wow”, said Jesus… “Nice buildings but you know what?....one day, they’re going to crumble to the ground for they’re not everlasting”… and I believe that Jesus was not only teaching the disciples of what was important, but he was also teaching all of us today…what is important in your lives in terms of “church”?...is it the building?....is it the piano or the organ?....is it the wonderful kitchen?....or is it the ‘fellowship’ that we so much like to share in?...some of them crumble yet some of them need to…For birthing to happen, there sometimes need to be some radical changes…
The story goes of a very affluent, successful, lifetime banker who was unceremoniously fired…a couple of members of the bank board came in early in the morning and just told him to clean out his desk and to leave…he was escorted out of the building with only his personal belongings…he was visited the next day by his clergy-person and he found him lying on the couch in his living room, staring at the ceiling… horribly depressed…
“That bank was my life….my whole life,” he muttered. “I left home every day at 6:30 in the morning…it was my whole life, so now that it’s gone, my life is gone.”…the clergy-person saw the ex-banker a few months later…he looked different…very much improved…he asked him how he was getting along…
“I didn’t have the guts to quit, so the bank did it for me…I should have done it 20 years ago…I’m better of now…I gave more to the bank than I should have.”…There was someone who would know what Jesus was talking about in the destruction of the temple, as good news of birth…
It’s only human to cling tightly to what we know…to what we have… maybe it’s divine to give birth, sometimes painful birth, to a future that’s new…perhaps we come to church to learn how to look for God’s hand, even in the news that seems bad, to expect God to work…to continue to create good news…for God is our rock and our foundation...
And this story will encapsulate it well –A missionary, in Honduras, working all day in the clinic, gathered with some of the villagers, built a fire, and sat in a circle around the fire…singing songs…someone had the idea that they all take turns and possibly share their favourite scripture passage…which one is most comforting to you?...people took turns remembering their most comforting passage…someone said John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.”…someone else mentioned the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount…then they got to a small Honduran woman who said, through a translator, “I love the words, towards the end of Mark’s Gospel (the ones you’ve heard just a few minutes ago)…where Jesus tells his people that the temple will be destroyed, the stones of the temple will be thrown down, the moon will turn bloody, there will be wars and revolutions, and everything will be burned.”…..
That’s comforting words?....the missionary thought that maybe something in the translation got mixed up but the nurse beside him whispered to him, “I talked to that woman today at the clinic…she has had four children…three of them have died before reaching age five due to hunger.”…Then the missionary got it!...
Sometimes, the only difference between good news and bad news is where you happen to be when you get the news…he had always assumed that Mark 13, foretelling the destruction of the temple, was bad news…maybe Jesus on a bad day…but to the person who has been abused, thrown down by the world, the news that this world shall be thrown down is good news…For God to say, “This world is not as I intended…this world is not your ultimate home…I am still working, and will work, to make this world, my world in all of its goodness and fullness,” this is good news…the beginning of good news……Amen.
Sunday, November 11, 2018
GOD’S STRENGTH IS FOUND IN OUR WEAKNESS
This morning I’m doing things a little differently with my message for you…I’ve been reading the different passages for the month of November and I wanted to focus a little more on the passage which was shared last week, the passage of which commandment is the first of all and how one of the scribes has this conversation with Jesus…but first, let me share a little story by Rev. Susan Ivany out of Ontario and how God’s strength is found in our weakness..
I begin today’s message with this because so many of us are caregivers...who give all that we are and all that we can and sometimes come to that place where we don’t realize that our own lives are burnt out or close to burning out...I was reminded of a little story where a father and his son had just left church and the little lad was staring out of the window at all of the scenery...he asked his dad what trees were good for...his dad explains that wood comes from trees to build homes and other things, that trees hold the soil together so as not to have any erosion, that trees offer shade in the summer heat so that our homes were kept cooler, and that trees made your yard look better....the little lad looks at his dad and says dad, your wrong— trees are for climbing...
We sometimes get so wrapped up in what we think is proper that we forget to go back to the roots and seek care for ourselves...God’s strength is found in our weakness and we have to allow that weakness to...come forward...so that the Holy Spirit can be allowed to do its work...so that the tree can be one for climbing and not only for esthetic purposes or for economic gain....this is ethics...and if you look at the definition of ethics, it is defined as relating to....but relating to in a wholesome and empowering way...if we look closely at the Gospel passage which was shared last week, we find this certain scribe who is venturing totally away from what the Jewish norm is, especially in terms of sacrifice and offerings...he’s voicing his displeasure with ‘the system’ in so many words and through his wisdom of knowing the difference and living the difference, he is closer to the kingdom of God...in his weakness or his humility—he finds the strength of God...
And this is an interesting passage because usually the scribes and the Pharisees get a harder time from Jesus and now we hear that this one is closer to the realm of God!...
The exchange between the scribe and Jesus is interesting because in this case, one of the religious leaders actually does get it!...and I like the drama – no one dared ask him any more questions because– he answered too well... of course, they weren’t looking for good answers, they wanted something to hang him with...
Not only does the scribe say “You’ve answered well,” but he reiterates what Jesus has said and adds something new – “It’s more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices”-- which again, totally undercuts his own system...
So Jesus says to the scribe– “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”...
What does it mean to be not far from the kingdom of God?...is Ruth ready to step into God’s kingdom because she is ready to follow Naomi, because she’s ready to put her faith in action and put herself on the line?...Is Ruth ready to marry Boaz?... the scribe says some really good words, but is he ready to walk the talk?...this is something we don’t know...What does it mean to be not far from God’s kingdom?...
I want to share with all of you one of my moments once again while I was living on the Carry The Kettle Reserve – the home of 700-800 Nakota Assinboine First Nations Peoples...Where did I find God’s strength in my own weakness?...Where did I move closer to the kingdom of God?...
Some of you may know that I have a slight hearing disability as so many of you do also and this can sometimes prove to be quite an interesting place to be when the answers you hear don’t seem to coincide with the question you asked...the day after we arrived on the reserve, a special sweat was called for all of us and we had the honour of being there from the very beginning to the very end – about five hours – the blessing and the smudging of the logs to be burnt, the blessing and smudging of the rocks to be heated – the blessing of each of us and our gifts of tobacco and all of the ritual that came with the sweat – we were all invited to enter the sweat, about 20 of us, and the flaps were closed, with drums beating inside and Nakota singing and chanting – sweet-grass and sage were put on the seven rocks in the middle of the sweat which had been in the fire for three hours and water was poured on the stones...the heat, for some was unbearable but you couldn’t leave until the prayers were finished...about five to ten minutes and then the flaps are opened...you’ve made it through level one...there are three to go...seven more stones are put into the centre with the other seven and now we are down to fourteen people....each new stone is again blessed with sage and sweet-grass and now water is poured onto 14 stones...the heat level becomes almost unbearable...and we are all invited to pray out loud, in the circle in which we are sitting, and to follow in order in the circle...to pray to the Creator–to God–and not to pray for ourselves but for the world and for our neighbours...I thought that the person beside me had finished so I started praying and when I had finished...the flap was quickly opened because I had broken the circle...it turned out that the person who was praying before me was not beside me but was beside the person beside him...I had broken the sacred circle...because my hearing was not acute and with the sounds of drums and chanting, I was a little disoriented and in pitch black, had made a mistake...and when the second round was over, I exited the sweat and felt very ashamed that I had done something which I knew was against tradition...I sat out the next two rounds, which by the way, now totaled 28 stones, and then at the end...was personally invited back into the sweat to share in the pipe of peace...Perry, the elder who was putting the sweat together for us, knew that I knew that I had erred and he wanted to bring me back to the fold...in my weakness and in my error, I was given an opportunity to seek strength from the community again and to be accepted and to be shown that to err is human and that the commandment ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself’ is paramount...
God’s strength IS found in our weakness and when we seek forgiveness for the things which we do and truly seek forgiveness...we come closer to the kingdom of God and we connect our heart–our spirit–our mind–with the pulse of each other...in a way which builds bridges throughout this disconnected world...we are all people of God and we are truly loved...let us continue to share this love in all that we do and God’s strength will be found in our weakness....AMEN
Sunday November 4, 2018
Does Your Light Shine?
I speak to you in the name of the one who called us “The Light of the World”.
About a year ago I made a commitment to writing my memoirs. Before I began to tell my story I felt the need to tell that of my ancestors. I felt like you can’t begin to understand yourself until you understand a bit about where you came from. I didn’t want the story of my ancestors to be tough reading, like the first verses of Matthew that we heard this morning.
“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers”, and so on and so on…
I wanted the reader to know something about these people beyond where and when they were born, married and died. What kind of man was Grandpa, anyway? I needed to do some research to get this kind of information. It wasn’t easy. My family didn’t record many stories. I had to get most of the information from my mom, who is now 89 years old, and my own memories of stories that were told to me when I was a child. How I wish these stories had been written down.
The story of the ancient Hebrew people and the early Christian people isn’t all “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers”, and so on. We can find in the Bible stories about all these people. The stories are exciting, mysterious and most of all enlightening and often inspiring. Matthews list of descendants of Abraham to David includes people like Tamar, a gentile, who tricked and seduced her father-in-law then bore illegitimate twins; Rahab, another gentile, who once worked as a prostitute; and of course, David himself who committed adultery with Bathsheba then conspired to have her husband killed. Juicy stories, all of them. How did people with such unsavory pasts become heroes of the Bible, saints even? The message I get from it all is that the stories demonstrate God’s ability to work with all sorts of people. Even me. Even you.
As I delved into the stories of my own ancestors, I found out that they, too, had an unsavory history here and there. By some peoples’ definition, they would hardly be considered “saints”. I wonder if sometimes we think of that word, “saint” as meaning completely without fault, kind of the way Job thought of himself, as a blameless and upright man. We use the word that way all the time, don’t we?
Do you think that the people Jesus was talking to when he delivered the sermon on the Mountain were “saints” by the common definition? Would they have been perfect, without any faults and never having behaved poorly? Yet he called them the “Salt of the Earth” and the “Light of the World”.
So when I remember my ancestors, I don’t dwell on the mistakes they made in this life. I think, instead, about the good they did; the values they passed on; the life lessons that their stories have taught me. And I call them “Saints”.
Today, we honour those who are no longer in this life, but still are in our lives in so many ways. Whenever I am running late for an appointment, I think of my father who was insistent that being on time is a sign of respect and being late is, well, the opposite. He would sometimes say to me, “You’d be late for your own funeral!”
I didn’t know my father to have been a church-going man. But he must have, when he was younger; before I knew him. Because he did tell us some of the old testament Bible stories. And he found ways to make them come alive for us. He didn’t sing much, but he had a favorite hymn. He even asked that it be sung at his funeral.
Once, a number of years ago, Peggy and I were leading a monthly worship service for the senior residents at the Lodge at Valley Ridge. My dad had been gone for several years by this time. One of the hymns we sang was my late fathers all-time favorite. As we sang the familiar verses of “The Old Rugged Cross” I glanced up to the mezzanine level and saw my dad looking down at us in the chapel. He nodded his approval and treated me to a most wonderful smile. When I looked up again at the end of the song, the vision was gone, but the warm feeling that came from connecting with a saint lingered on.
When I play my harmonica, I remember my Uncle George, who gave it to me and taught me how to play by ear. I can hear him saying, “If you can’t find the note you’re looking for, just leave it out. It’ll be okay.”
Whenever I enjoy fresh vegetables from the market or marvel at the beauty of a well-tended flower garden, I see my Grandma Jennie’s garden, where a weed wouldn’t even dare to grow.
What about you? Do certain things trigger thoughts of your loved ones who no longer walk this earth? Do you sometimes feel their presence, and is it so real that you can almost touch them? And when that happens, are you like me, does the experience leave you with a warm feeling all over? Or does it make you sad because you miss them so much? Either way, they are still with us, aren’t they?
Our life on this earth may be short, but we do live on, even after it’s over. We know this because our ancestors live on for us and through us. Their stories have become our stories. Their values have become our values. Their faith has become our faith. And one day, when we join them in the community of saints, our children and our children’s children will remember us. And we will once again bring a smile to their lips and perhaps a tear to their eye.
What will we be remembered for? Will it be simply the dates of our birth and death, or will it be much more? Jesus called us the “light of the world” and commanded us to “let our light shine.” How are we doing with that? Does our life light the path for others to follow? Does our life give light to “all in the house”?
Do we sometimes miss an opportunity to say “thank you” or offer a kind word to a friend who is hurting? Do we criticize someone when they do something we disagree with? Do we say, “I’m sorry” as often as we should? Is our light sometimes a bit dim?
Let’s change that. Let’s make our light bright so that everyone in our world can see the path clearly. Let’s leave a legacy for those who will follow us; a legacy of Christian love, kindness and compassion.
Let us pray for that in song.
“Spirit, Open My Heart” - More Voices #79
Sunday October 28, 2018
JOB 42: 1-6; 10-17 Job Acknowledges God’s Power; Job’s fortunes are restored.
MARK 10: 46-52 The healing of blind Bartimaeus.
“Where is God?” Guest Speaker: Bob Gibennus, Licensed Lay Worship Leader
I speak to you in the name of the one who has been there all along, even when it didn’t feel like it.
Mark 10:47-48 “When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”
Have you ever felt like you had to shout to get God’s attention?
I shouted at God once. It was in the spring of 2013. My beloved Peggy had been feeling very unwell and I finally had to take her into the E.R. at Rockyview Hospital. We didn’t know what was wrong. She was just getting weaker and weaker. Later she shared with me that she thought she might be dying.
At some point in the late afternoon or early evening a doctor came and told her that they had scheduled a bone marrow biopsy for the morning. Of course, I freaked! “Bone Marrow biopsy” When I heard that phrase, my mind went where it does for many people…“Leukemia!”
After a great deal of difficulty, they finally get an I.V. in place and give her a blood transfusion and she becomes more comfortable. There is nothing to be done now but wait for the results of the biopsy, which is to happen in the morning. At about 1:00 am I kiss my wife goodnight and go home to try and get a few hours’ sleep. I told her I would return in the morning.
I arrive at my house, unlock the front door and step in. That’s when it happens. That’s when I lose it. If you had been there, in the silent, emptiness of the early hours, you would have heard me shout right out loud,
“Where are you now, God? Can’t you see how afraid I am? How afraid Peggy is? Where are you now?”
Had you been there, you would have heard the walls of the empty house answer…in total…chilling…silence. Not a sound. Not even a hint of the presence of God. Again, I shout, this time quoting Jesus on the cross, who was quoting Psalm 22…
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Again, the empty house answers…silence.
It’s not quite the same as Bartimaeus’ experience. Bartimaeus had to shout to get Jesus’ attention because there was too much noise going on. Why couldn’t I get God’s attention? My house was quiet. There were no noisy crowds. Surely God must have heard my cries. Where was God?
I didn’t get much sleep that night. I return to the hospital in the early morning, still wondering where God could have gotten to.
Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
If God had asked me that, I’m not sure how I would have answered. Perhaps I would have said, “I don’t know. Maybe show me that you are real. Show me that there actually is a God who loves me. Maybe explain to me where you were when I shouted out loud for you.”
I’ve been watching a series on Netflix called “Call the Midwife” The story is set in a poor section of London, England called Poplar, during the post WW II years. It’s a story about a group of midwives who work out of a convent. Some of the midwives are nurses. Some are nuns. The details of the stories in the episodes are told over a background of what I would call agape love. The love that the nuns, the nurses and the midwives have for their patients and for each other. There is some voice-over narration, and in it you can pick up some beautiful pieces of wisdom. At the end of one episode, which had involved a disaster (There had been an explosion of a bomb, left over from the war); The voice over narrator, played by Vanessa Redgrave said,
“God isn’t in the event. God is in the response to the event.”
I had arrived at the hospital at 7:00 am. At about 9:00 my minister arrives. He doesn’t offer reassurance that everything is going to be okay. He doesn’t tell us that God will cure Peggy of whatever she has. He is simply there.
He looks just as concerned as we are. He says, “I’m sorry. It must be awful not knowing what it is that she has.” How comforting those simple words were. I remembered the quote from “Call the Midwife”,
“God isn’t in the event. God is in the response to the event.”
Later that day, a hematologist by the name of Dr. Thaell stops by with encouraging news. “We know what it is, and it’s not cancer. It’s something called auto-immune hemolytic anemia. It’s treatable and we can get you better.
Peggy gets a couple of transfusions to bring her counts back up and is discharged the next day.
“God isn’t in the event. God is in the response to the event.”
Two days after she gets home 3 women from this very church show up at our door with their arms full of mops, pails and cleaning supplies. They spend the entire day spring cleaning our home, from top to bottom.
The day after that, some friends arrive with a basket as big as a bathtub full of breads, cheeses, fruit, chocolates, several home-made frozen meals and couple of bottles of wine. We invited them in and said, “Please stay for supper. After all, you brought it.” They accepted and we had a great time; No talk of illness and health; just a joyous afternoon of visiting, reminiscing and sharing stories. Our home became filled with love, joy and laughter. And how many times have some of you come to our door with a meal and a kind word? Confirming, over and over…
“God isn’t in the event. God is in the response to the event.”
A few weeks ago I remember sitting contentedly in my recliner in the comfort of my living room; sipping my coffee, watching my 55” wall mounted flat screen TV. The images I see are horrific. In my 68 years of living, I have never seen such devastation. Entire cities seem to have vanished. Mothers left without children. Children left without mothers. A single father has walked for two days, searching for his 3 children in the rubble. First responders come and tell him that the children have been found. They did not survive. The scene shifts to a new location, half-way around the world from the first. Here, a resort town on the ocean has been flattened. A survivor speaks to a reporter, describing how the town used to be. Tears come to my eyes. This is not a science fiction futuristic movie I’m watching. It’s the 6 o’clock news. Two earthquakes and a tsunami have hit Indonesia killing thousands and the death toll continues to rise. Hurricane Michael has pummeled the Florida panhandle. The resort town of Mexico Beach has virtually vanished. Then just yesterday I turn on the TV to catch the news and I learn about a shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh; 11 lives taken; 6 injured and I ask myself…
“Where is God in all of this?”
My mind takes me back to a funeral I attended a few years ago for a friend who had died from suicide. The presiding clergy, a United Church Minister by the way, seemed to understand that many of us were asking the same question…
“Where is God in all of this?”
She spoke words of wisdom that I have relied on many times since. She said…
“When tragedy strikes, I believe God’s are the first tears to fall”
When an earthquake causes a tsunami; when a hurricane flattens a town; when a friend takes his own life; when the person you love the most faces a potentially life-threatening diagnosis; when 11 people are gunned down during a worship service; when we question our faith and find ourselves shouting right out loud, “Where are you, God?” may we think of the words of our next hymn, which remind us that God has been there all along. We are not alone.
In this, as in all things, Glory be to God.