Tag Archives: love

Grace; what do we do with it?


Tool BeltSumming up the last three sermons about Grace; Grace may be defined as the freely given, unmerited favour and love of God; grace is available to all people, over 7 billion in the world today; and there is nothing we can do to receive grace for ourselves except make ourselves open to that forgiveness, and trusting that it will come.   

Since we have been justified by faith and forgiven for our sins, what are we meant to do going forward? Many people have questioned the doctrine of grace earned by faith alone as it seems to imply that, since we are already justified, we have no need to be good, or do anything in the world.  This is, of course, not the case.  As children of God, forgiven through Christ, we commit ourselves to live a Christ-like life.  As our Epistle reading this morning reads in The Message, “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it.  Pursue the things over which Christ presides.  Don’t shuffle along eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you.  Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is.”   What does this life look like?

In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace Philip Yancey talks about, “tracing the roots of the word grace, or charis in Greek, and finding a verb that means “I rejoice, I am glad.”  He goes on to say that, “In my experience, rejoicing and gladness are not the first images that come to mind when people think of the church.  They think of holier-than-thous.  They think of church as a place to go when you have cleaned up your act, not before.”  As people of grace, we want our lives and our church to reflect this rejoicing and gladness, and we want people to feel free to join us no matter where they are on their journey of faith.

In our readings last week we read the story of Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray in the words we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer.  It is in this prayer that we run up against the first requirement of leading a Christ-like life.  Jesus instructed them to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  The first part is all good, forgiveness of our debts, grace, is central to our lives. The problem appears in the form of one of the shortest, and in this case most powerful, words in our language, “as.” Forgive us like we forgive. It is a powerful word because while we are happy to be forgiven, there is a clear link here between our forgiveness by the Father and our own forgiving of our friends, neighbours, and enemies. Our first task as Christians is to forgive, to pass the grace along, and this is definitely a counter-culture way of thinking. 

Yancey quotes Elizabeth O’Connor who puts the dilemma this way, “Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven.  Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be.” The human tendency would be to brood over wrongs, hold grudges, plot revenge, and pray that the bad guys get their just deserts in harsh punishments. I have no intention of making forgiveness sound easy in this sermon.  It is not. I pray the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime and I often find myself tripped up in the middle and having to go off on a tangent to try to bring myself around to forgiveness for someone else before I can pray the remainder of the prayer. Luckily we have God to help us with our natural tendency towards unforgiveness.

Forgiving others is an emotional and spiritual challenge which we work out mostly internally and through the help of the Holy Spirit.  In more practical terms, let’s look at some of the other things we should be doing as recipients of grace, and to be as Christ-like as possible. I referred last week to the ‘means of grace’ which are a gift from God rather than a checklist to be completed in order to receive grace.  Steven Manskar describes them as, “… how we grow and mature in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength….This means of grace are divided into two general categories: works of piety and works of mercy.”  There follows a nice concrete list…

Piety                                                              Mercy

prayer (private and family)                   feeding the hungry

public worship                                           clothing the naked

the Lord’s Supper                                     caring for the sick

reading & studying the Bible                visiting the jails and prisons

Christian conference                               sheltering the homeless

fasting or abstinence                               welcoming the stranger

                                                                        peacemaking

                                                                        acting for the common good 

These are all things Jesus did and taught his disciples to do, not in order to receive forgiveness but because they were forgiven.

 In reading through several recent issues of the Presbyterian Record I saw many examples of these acts of piety and mercy; I read of the power of prayer; of many different styles of worship from Sunday mornings in the established churches to worship around the campfire at one of our many summer camps; I saw ads for different colleges and universities and the elders institute offering both Christian conference and study, I read of assistance given to people from Fort McMurray and the congregation there, of women’s retreats,  of congregations sponsoring refugees from Syria and Namibia, of young people identifying needs in the community and starting a program to help, of the church signing a joint statement stating that the church would work to implement the articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous; the discipleship is there, it is active and vibrant throughout the national church.

 Is discipleship active here at St. Paul’s?  I believe that it is.  You put an emphasis on worship through our Sunday services 52 times each year.  You regularly meet to share the Lord’s Supper and include in that everyone who attends worship. Worship is based on the reading and interpretation of the Word, and make available monthly books for daily devotion.  Meeting in Bible studies, coffee hours etc. there is a chance to share experiences, questions, and insights with each other.  You are always ready to welcome people to the congregation, collect for food banks, lead services and help with birthday parties at the Carleton Manor, send birthday and Christmas cards and fruit trays to seniors, celebrate PWS&D Sunday, support the Atlantic Mission Society and Presbyterians Sharing. 

Manskar stresses in his article the need to maintain a balance in our works rather than to, “always gravitate toward those that suit our temperament or personality. For example, an introvert may naturally be drawn to …private prayer, Bible study and fasting…and will tend to neglect worship, conference and works of mercy…while an extroverted person will naturally be drawn to those works of piety and mercy that suit his/her temperament but will neglect time alone with God in prayer and reflection.  Could we challenge ourselves to stretch and increase our involvement even in the areas with which we are less comfortable?  This is a question upon which every individual needs to reflect in prayer, and which our congregations need to discern in order to gain a vision for their continuing ministry within the community.

 In a world of ever bigger barns, as individuals and congregations we need to avoid the trap of the greedy farmer, filling our barns with stuff for ourselves rather than with God.  We need to look beyond ourselves to where Christ is looking. To the needs of those in hunger, in pain, in trouble with the law, everyone we meet, for as it states in Colossians, “Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing.  From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. “

 We will know we are getting it right when people see a church which is active, vital, open and welcoming; a place to come for help, as well as to offer help, and a place to grow in the love and service of Christ. 

 

Manskar, Steven W. “Opening Ourselves To Grace: The Basics Of Christian Discipleship – Umcdiscipleship.Org”.Umcdiscipleship.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 3 July 2016.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002. Print.

Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997. Print.


S2856293801_b4fd8f405chepherds and Sheep

Our texts today refer to the relationship of sheep and their shepherds.  In Psalm 23 we read perhaps the ultimate statement of individual intimacy with God and the comfort and protection offered by the divine shepherd.  While it refers to troubles and the valley of death, it is more about God-centered living than about death. And in Mark, as in Matthew and Luke, we see God the Son as the compassionate shepherd who, even though he had been trying to avoid the crowds, could not turn his back on the people but taught them and healed them.

Let’s look at this image from both sides.  There are sheep…and there are shepherds.

Sheep are simple animals who spend their days grazing on grass and growing long coats of hair which are later sheared off.  Used for their wool, their milk, their hide, and their meat; they are of great value to their owners.  Sheep have a strong flocking instinct finding the greatest safety in the center of the flock.  Having no means of defence other than running away, sheep are easily startled, and when frightened don’t really pay attention to where they are going,  getting easily caught in brambles or finding themselves separated from the group. Lost sheep have a much lower chance of survival and need to be returned to the herd quickly.

Are we like sheep?  In our readings today the sheep in the texts were metaphors for the people of God.  In Psalm 23 we are grateful sheep, given rest and comfort and assured of the continued presence and guidance of the greatest shepherd.  In Mark we are the crowd, or the flock, seeking Jesus and his presence, teaching and healing.

Shepherds make their living by tending to the sheep.  They are responsible for making sure that the sheep are well fed, kept safe from predators, that ewes give birth safely, and making sure that none of the sheep get lost or stolen.  Shepherds live with the stock, they do not just put them in pens and go into nice cozy houses for the nights.  It is lonely work with no vacation days and certainly no storm days.  For these people, the sheep come first, they are their primary concern.  Think about the human shepherds in the Bible.  Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and King David all worked as shepherds of real sheep.  They also all made great contributions to the advancement and well-being of the Israelites.

Why skip over the stories of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water?  These are both great examples of shepherding. Jesus provided good grazing, if you will, for the people who had gathered around him and he walked out onto the water when he saw that his disciples were straining at the oars on their boat.  These are big front-page stories and risk taking the focus off of Jesus’ compassion.  We are not just an employer’s sheep here; we are his own sheep whom he loves.

Being of the television generation, several mental pictures immediately spring up when discussing sheep and shepherds.  First is the series of cartoons with the wolf and the big sheepdog checking in on their time clocks and heading out to work, the wolf to try to catch and kill the sheep, and the dog to protect them.  The second is of Babe the pig herding the sheep in the sheepdog competition into separate pens by communicating with them in their own terms.  He knew the magic words…”Baa-ram-ewe”

What dangers do we need our shepherd to protect us from?  We could list hundreds of temptations, and dangers such as muggings etc here, but the only real danger is that we become separated from God.  Sin separates us from God and so we need the shepherd to steer us away from sinful things…to keep us on the straight path.

God sent Jesus to live among us as one of us just as the sheepdogs and Babe did.  Jesus knew our own language.  He knew what we were going through because he lived it.  People could feel this, perhaps the reason he drew such large crowds of people wherever he went.  He knew the magic words.  He was one of us, not trying to make himself much more than us.

A shepherd is a guide.  If you have travelled to new places at all you will realize how much easier it is to get around, how much more comfortable you feel, with a guide who knows the area.  Whether this be a jungle safari or a trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival, it is easier to take in the event when someone else is taking charge of keeping you from straying off.  Someone who has been there before.

God knew this and planned to give us just this sort of guide.  Jesus is such a good shepherd because he also has been a sheep.  While Jeremiah foretells the shepherd, John 1:36 refers to Jesus as, “God’s Passover Lamb” and Acts 8:32, “As a sheep led to slaughter, and quiet as a lamb being sheared,”  Lambs are used to symbolize innocence and only perfect lambs were acceptable for sacrifice to God in the Old Testament.  He has been here before and He knows the way.  It is for us to put our faith in Him and follow in his ways.

 

Psalm 23  The Gospel- Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Not Freedom From/ Freedom To


On Friday afternoon, I was IMG-20110407-00025near the high school office and there was a small group of recent graduates there. Two of the boys were wearing their hats, which is against the school rules. When I asked them to remove their hats they looked at me with a touch of, “we aren’t students here anymore, we don’t have to follow the rules” in their expressions. Being rather congenial individuals they did remove their hats. Over the years there have been many who immediately do something they were not allowed to do as some sort of proof that they are free of school and its rules!

Rather than continuing with Elijah today, we join the church in Galatia reading letters from Paul. Paul had been in correspondence with them for quite a while. There were issues in the church with the false teaching that salvation could only be achieved through first believing, and then performing acts to qualify. In the first 4 chapters of Galatians we read of Paul trying to beat it into their heads that we are saved by faith alone, and not works; that there is no human action needed to add to Christ’s sacrifice in order for us to receive salvation. In his notes on Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Scott Hoezee equates this part of Galatians with saying, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”(“Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”)

In today’s reading Paul almost seems to be saying the opposite. “Don’t just stand there, do something!” (“Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”) He moved on to explain that we are now free of the law, by which he is referring to the complex series of religious laws called the Torah, but that being free of the law doesn’t mean that we are free to do anything we want with no limitations. The fact that my Mother’s residen
ce has a soft ice-cream machine that is in operation 24 hours/day would allow me to eat ice-cream cones continuously, but that would not be correct use of that freedom as it would end up making me sick. When, through Christ, we were freed, we were not freed from something, but we were freed to something. We are freed to, “through love become slaves to one another.” Paul sets up a comparison between the law, and freedom in the Spirit as our potential guides for living.  The law may be characterized as being; a dictator, demanding, condemning, and unable to grant freedom. While the Spirit is the source of the power to cope with desires of flesh and it signals liberation. (Cousar)

I guess the overall theme or question of today would be, “Just what is freedom?” If we were prisoners, freedom would be having the gate opened and walking out. In North America, we talk a lot about our freedom. In theory we are all free to get an education, find a home, work, play, form groups, and speak out about things we feel are important. We are free to meet here today and we are free to go as a group to a public park and have a picnic. Freedom, however, is not a guarantee of an easy ride, it is not necessarily our ticket to continual joy and celebration. When the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt they sang songs  and danced with joy, but then they went on an epic 40 year journey full of frustrations, challenges, and years of uncertainty.

            Paul said, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16) Just what is this flesh to which Paul refers? Sarkos, or flesh, is an interesting term which Paul uses as the foil to the Spirit. Flesh is, of course, the stuff on our bones, but in the New Testament, the expression ‘desire of the flesh’ is often used to refer to making decisions according to our self-interest, deciding in favor of human action, or our base animal nature.

            Paul gives two lists in this letter. First he lists the things that we should not be doing despite our freedom. These things, the works of the flesh, reproduce themselves almost slavishly, like addictions and the flesh is passive and powerless.  Paul lists: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these.” (5:20)

Unlike the works of the flesh which reproduce themselves, the fruit of the Spirit may be cultivated and grow and flourish. The Spirit is active, it is power. The fruit of the spirit is Love. It doesn’t say fruits of the spirit are, and then make a list, but rather the fruit of the spirit is love, and then continues with eight more terms all of which can be wrapped up in the first word. The following things both go into love and come forward from love; joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

A world, or a nation freed from all law would be anarchy, a frightening prospect. But the idea of living in a world with no laws is only scary only if you assume that it also means everyone being perfectly self-indulgent, thinking only of themselves with no thought to the effects of their actions on others.  When a prisoner is released they are free to go and live well and build decent honest lives for themselves. They are equally free to go out and reoffend and get themselves thrown right back in prison (Nettleton). “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) Live in the Spirit.

Malala Yousefzai is a young woman from Pakistan with an amazing story. Growing up, she attended the school her father ran. When the Taliban took control she was worried that they would force the closure of the school which educated girls and boys. At 12 years of age, she began to write a blog for the BBC under an assumed name. Later the Pakistan parliament awarded her a prize for her work and that brought her name forward.

“When she was 14, Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her. Though Malala was frightened for the safety of her father—an anti-Taliban activist—she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not actually harm a child.

On October 9, 2012, on her way home from school, a man boarded the bus Malala was riding in and demanded to know which girl was Malala. When her friends looked toward Malala, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack. The shooting left Malala in critical condition, so she was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England.

Despite the Taliban’s threats, Yousafzai remains a staunch advocate for the power of education.” (http://www.biography.com/people/malala-yousazai)

Think for a moment about this statement I found this week. Half of the world is redoing their kitchens while the other half are starving. (Don Delilla)

We are free to redo our kitchens, but we are also freed so that through love we may work to feed those who are starving. It doesn’t mean we can’t do things for ourselves, but rather than letting those things consume us, we need to rely on the Spirit and focus our lives on the fruit.

Hoezee, Scott. “Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”. Cep.calvinseminary.edu. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

Nettleton, Nathan. “Laughing Bird Working Ahead”. Laughingbird.net. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

“Malala Yousefzai”. Biography.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

Of Nightmares and Pardons


   Kingsclear-20110524-00031  If you asked a person what was their worst nightmare, children’s answers may include; scary animals or bugs, being abandoned, getting lost, kidnapped, or trapped. As we grow older the focus may change to include being unable to do anything to save a loved one. This isn’t something we usually talk about during worship. Who wants to think about nightmares? For many of the people from Fort McMurray they may have lived through their worst nightmares in the past month and I pray that those refugees who are crowding onto questionably seaworthy boats to flee real life nightmares have faced the worst already.

     In 1Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:11-17, we read two parallel stories of women living their own worst nightmares. Situated in cities miles apart and some 690 years apart in history. Both women are widows who had only one son. They both came in contact with a strange man at the gate of the city and both stories end with sons being brought back to life and being returned to their mothers. In the end, both healers are hailed as prophets of God.

     There is some significance to the setting of the stories. Zarephath was a city on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Phoenicia between Tyre and Sidon in what is known as Lebanon today. In this area people primarily worshiped Baal. This would have been enemy territory for Elijah. Nain was further south inland in Galilee, near Nazareth, where people primarily worshiped God. In theory, Elijah faced the greater challenge, bringing a Baal worshiper to believe in God, than did Jesus who was working in the very heart of the Land of the people of God.

     The women met Jesus and Elijah at the city gates. If this were a modern story with no walled cities and dozens of roads leading into the city, they might have met downtown, or in a city square. City gates served a number of purposes in the Middle East throughout Biblical times. The most obvious of these being an entrance to a walled city and thus, as a part of the defense of the city, they would be guarded.

     The woman in Zarephath was at her worst the day she met Elijah. God had sent Elijah to continue his hiding in a place that wouldn’t be expected. When he asked the woman for a drink and then something to eat he opened the floodgates to her story. She was a widow with only one young son. Due to the drought and her poor circumstances they were down to their last bit of flour and she was fully expecting that she and her son would die of starvation after they had eaten this last bit. Elijah assured her that the Lord God of Israel will not allow the jar of meal or the jug of oil to run out until the drought was over. What a relief she must have felt, pardon from a death sentence!

     She was relieved, but she was still uncomfortable having this man of God living with them. And then her son got sick and died. She was, perhaps, more grief stricken at this time than she would have been earlier. She had already come to accept that they would die, and was prepared. But now, coming as it did after the great relief of the pardon, she was angry and she lashed out at Elijah. “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”

      The second woman lived in a small, little-known town near Nazareth with her only son. We approach these city gates just after his death. A large group of mourners is coming out of the gate, possibly blocking the way. Her son is on a stretcher and the mother and other women follow crying and wailing. No one says anything to the large group of people waiting to enter the gate. No notice is taken of Jesus or his followers. But Jesus takes notice. He sees the woman, bereft and alone in the world now that her final provider has died. He feels compassion for her and, as we would be inclined to do, he says, “Don’t cry.” What else would he have said in that moment? Are there words that can take away the pain? 

            While Psalm 30 speaks of crying out to God, being heard, and being revived, neither woman asked for help. The woman in Zarephath, having already given up hope once, blamed Elijah for making God take her son from her. She wasn’t about to ask him for anything, let alone God! This woman was very much in the anger stage of grief. The woman at Nain was more likely in the depression stage. Her adult son, her sole provider, was dead and was about to be buried. All hope was lost, his death was the end for him, and for her as well.

            Despite the anger and depression; despite the hopelessness felt by both these women, God was not finished in their lives. In Zarephath, Elijah took the boy from his mother and took him upstairs. He cried out to the Lord! He asked that the child’s life be returned. God listened to Elijah and the boy revived. In Nain Jesus did something shocking. He reached out and touched the body on the stretcher. He told the man to get up, and he did. The man sat up and began to speak! Elijah took the boy back downstairs and, “gave him to his mother.” Jesus took the young man and, “gave him to his mother.”

            The reactions to these events were proclamation and praise. The woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”(v24) The crowd around the city gate with Jesus were amazed and, “glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!” (v16)

       By restoring these sons to life God did far more than heal one person. He brought life back to mothers and sons. Life, hope, and a future. God, through Elijah and Jesus, was with these women through their worst nightmares and brought healing and hope and he is with us also. We may not walk out of our nightmares with the kind of healing that happened in these stories, but we do have hope, and healing will come.

            “Burton-Edwards suggests in his notes on 1Kings 17:8-24 that the Lord God’s command to Elijah to “Go now to Zarephath” and live there with the widow in Sidon is basically a call to go and live with a vulnerable person. The command is not to go and do something FOR your neighbors who are vulnerable, but to go and BE WITH those persons. In other words, be in real relationship with them, which implies mutuality: spend time with them, love them, treat them as people from whom you have as much to learn as to teach, and from whom you need to be fed as much as you need to be feeding. (service planning notes GBod.com)

     In the words of a familiar hymn;      

             My hope is built on nothing less

             than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

             I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

             but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

             When darkness hides his lovely face,

             I rest on his unchanging grace;

             in every high and stormy gale

             my anchor holds within the veil.

God is that present hope in our worst nightmares, lean on him, and cry out to him! “May the God of hope fill us with joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we abound in hope!” (Living Faith 10.7)

The Lady in The Back Row


3605629805_00de328b9aI will begin today with two pieces of background information.  First, as a part of the process of discerning my call to ministry I have been asked to write a paper on my faith journey. This has led to a lot of thinking about my past. The second thing is that I am currently living away from home and thus attending a different church. This past Sunday found me in the choir at my sister’s church. The sermon was based on the early verses of Philippians  and the focus turned to Paul giving thanks to God for the people in the church at Phillipi. The minister made a point of the fact that Paul was talking about actual people,  individuals whom he remembered from his time there. He then asked us to look around the church and find three people for whim we were thankful. Here’s where my first two points come in. I was in the choir so I could easily look out on the congregation  and see everyone. As I looked around at a room of strangers and a few acquaintances I had to stretch. I spotted this elderly woman in the very back row and did a double take as my first thought was that it was my grandmother. Next connection, I have recently written a section on the influence my now deceased grandmother had on my Christian development and there she was looking up from the back row. I knew that it was not Grammie, but for the rest of the service my eyes were drawn to her over and over. For me it seemed that Grammie was letting me know that she supports the path on which I am travelling.  After the service I made a point of finding her. I introduced myself to her and I told her that she was one of my three people. I explained what I had felt and she thanked me and said that she was glad that she had come to church. We can find people for whom to be thankful anywhere. They won’t all remind us of relatives, they won’t even all be people we like, but we should keep our eyes open for them!

Fathers Full Time


FD and the dog

Today is Father’s Day and as all the posts on Face Book and all the adds are about fathers, naturally, I got thinking about my father. When I discovered that the card I thought I had safely tucked away for the day was possibly the one I used last year, I wondered what I would do.  I thought about asking him to do something with me which would bring back great memories, like going to Canadian Tire together.  But, which thing would I choose.  And I began trying to think of when he was most my father;

  • Saturday morning trips to Canadian Tire with me riding on his shoulders or holding his hand through the parking lot

  • picking me up from school when I broke my foot

  • any time he took me to the hospital and had to ask me my age etc.

  • swimming (me) and dead man’s float (him)

  • when he worked on the house and I ran to get tools etc. to help out

  • when he drove us around and pointed out all the sights and challenged us to watch for animals

  • hiking through the woods and pretending that I didn’t have a swarm of deer flies on my back so I wouldn’t completely melt down

  • when he sat me down (on top of the fridge) for an eye-to-eye chat

  • when he tripped me on the way down the aisle for my first wedding, was it prescience? 

  • when he hugged me good bye as I was moving to the USA

  • when he attended every performance I did which was within a day’s drive

  • when we went over what had gone well, and what might need improving

  • when he corrected my English, and then didn’t freak out when I did it to him

  • when he quietly helped me move back into their house after marriage one ended

  • when he played organ for our choir or sang in the choir with me

  • when he took pictures of me…”no turn around and look at the tree…”

  • when we went out for my first driving lesson and he said, “let’s cross the highway bridge”

Obviously I could go on and on.  I recently had a chance to read some of his memories from his youth which I considered to be a great privilege.  It made me think of that little boy in a picture with a dog and the biggest smile on his face.  That is my dad.  

So when was he most my father?  Anytime I think about him!

Of Bouquets, Twigs, and Dandelions


Jessie's photos 001Today is Mother’s Day.  Greetings and best wishes are all over Facebook.  People have changed their profile pictures to ones of their mothers either with or without themselves.  All over sellers of cards, flowers, and almost anything you can imagine are rubbing their hands together with the boost in sales as people seek to recognize the impact mother’s have had in their lives.

Today in church the minister related the history of mother’s day which was not created by the Hallmark.  The first mother’s day was celebrated in a Methodist church in the United States when a daughter gave all the women a white carnation in honour of her mother who had died.  This was expanded upon the next year in that church and then spread throughout North American churches.

The other day my daughter and I were watching TV when yet another Mother’s Day related commercial came on.  It was from a florist who was encouraging us to have a bouquet sent to our mothers to make them smile.  My daughter commented that mothers would smile if you handed them a twig, or a weed from the back yard.  It is true isn’t it?  How many mothers have smiled and bravely dug into a child created concoction served to us by proud children?  How many have little picture frames made of twigs, hand prints, macaroni necklaces etc. tucked away in our closets or hanging on our walls?

It isn’t specifically flowers, or cards or other gifts that make us smile on this day and any other, it is the presence of a person so close to us showing that they think we are special to them.  So, happy Mother’s Day and may your children pick you a dandelion to make you smile!

flickr.comphotos11872189@N004656068717

flickr.comphotos11872189@N004656068717

In A Deserted Place, All By Ourselves?


A Deserted Place, All By Ourselves

Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to events or circumstances which may; excite, frighten, endanger, thrill, be tragic or joyful etc.  The body literally prepares itself to fight for, or run for, your life!  “Tell us something we don’t know!” you are probably thinking.  We are all too familiar with the negative effects of stress in our lives.  Everyone is affected differently; different triggers, different types of reactions, different defense mechanisms.

 

When the apostles got back together with Jesus after their mission of healing and teaching they were wired for sound!  They were so excited that they were able to actually heal some people, drive out some demons, and that people actually wanted to hear them speak!  It was thrilling to suddenly be in demand, to be popular.  They probably felt like they could continue on this track forever, after all, the adrenaline kick to their system was continually being fired by the people crowding around them.  They had more energy, could sense the world more keenly, were stronger.  What a high!

 

The other thing that the body does when faced with stressors, whether positive or negative, is to shut down some of the less vital body functions.  With limited resources, it can hardly add the extra without taking something away.  It shuts down the digestive system until you are safe again; it turns off the immune system.  If you might die (what the body assumes when stressed) what difference will it make if you digested your lunch or catch a cold?  When we deal with one stressor after another over a period of time our body will suffer, the heightened alert state can only go on for so long before a crash!

 

Jesus knew that the apostles were headed for a crash if they didn’t get a rest, some mental and physical down time, a chance to eat and digest a meal, to sleep a bit.  When they were alone together he often took the chance to teach them and explain some of his parables to them more clearly.  All of this would enrich their ministry and enable them to continue.  He was concerned for their wellbeing even when they weren’t aware of any risk.

 

There is so much in this one set of bookend stories today about which I could speak.  I say bookends because, as I’m sure you noticed, they are the stories immediately before and after the great stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water.  In fact several sources I looked at suggested ignoring the fact that the lectionary skipped that section of the story and preach about it anyway.  The two things I’m going to look at this time are Jesus’ compassion (for his apostles and the crowds) and their faith in his healing power.

 

Busyness followed them despite their attempt to get some time to themselves.  They headed off in boats to find a quiet place away from the crowd and it didn’t work because the crowd found them.  The fact that Mark tells us that the crowd got to the isolated location first is used to indicate their great need and the fact that they were now with Jesus in a deserted place rather than out in the public eye where there was risk to his life.  It is also important to note that it really shows that they didn’t even have a moment to get settled before being back on-the-job.  

 

 I would say that few, if any, of us have crowds of fans following us around and trying to guess where we will be in order to line up for a chance to see us.  This is reserved for the Queen, teen heartthrobs and the like.  What crowds do we have following us?  What busyness presses in on our time apart?  We have work, and family, and church, and kid’s activities etc.  Our cell phones, our laptops, smart technology all allow us to be available to the world 24/7.  We can have real-time online chats with people around the globe, which may well mean in the middle of the night for one of us.  We may be in the middle of handling a situation and be interrupted at any moment by someone else’s crisis; one of the kids forgot gym clothes, a telemarketer wanting us to add services on our phones, a friend in trouble.  Neither the original situation, nor the new one gets the focused attention we may want to give.  So long as we have these items with us and turned on, they will beat us to our quiet time.  We may be in a deserted place, but not alone.   The world is there with us, just like the crowds who managed to found Jesus and his apostles in the deserted place.

 

I expect you may remember, from other posts, me mentioning my friend The Rev. Charles Deogratias, a Presbyterian chaplain with the Canadian Forces.  Charles and his wife Hyasinter grew up in a refugee camp after their families had fled the genocide in Rwanda. They live in Canada now but have never lost touch with their own country, their own people.  As Charles gets nearer to retirement they have started a project called The Heartprints Community Center.  They have purchased a piece of land in Rwanda and are raising funds to build and operate a community center on the property.  The concept is really interesting.  Aware of the great potential and desire to learn and improve in Rwanda, and the wealth of knowledge and experience here in Canada which, especially after retirement, often goes untapped; the plan is to have the Rwandese government to identify the expertise they need for their projects and for the center to assist with finding the people.  Volunteers would be cared for there at the center, with meals and accommodations etc. and each day they would be picked up and taken to where their help is needed.  This is different from a typical mission trip where people from here try to identify a specific project or need and go into an area to carry out the short or long term work.   Just as Jesus showed the apostles, one thing that Charles agrees will be very important is that at the end of the work term (3 weeks, 6 months or whatever a person is able to give) volunteers will have a break and a chance to enjoy the country, to go on a safari, to rest from the needs of others and care for their own needs.

 

After their unsuccessful attempt to get away on their own Jesus sent the apostles to go ahead of him to Bethsaida, a community on the North Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The next thing today’s story tells us is that they were barely out of the boat at Ganeseret before people recognized them and were begging to touch Jesus’ cloak fringe for healing.  Did you catch that?  What were they doing in Ganeseret, North Western shore, when they were headed to Bethsaida?  Whether due to confusion during the storm(see the story of Jesus walking on water), a lack of confidence on the part of the disciples, or coincidence they did not arrive where they had headed. They were, as it turns out, in the wrong place – at the right time! 

 

People were begging to touch even a fringe, bringing sick from all the surrounding area for healing.  In contrast to the issue of lack of miracles in his home town, due to lack of faith, here there was great faith that Jesus would heal them.  One commentary I read stated that this faith in a touch of Jesus’ coat was nothing more than superstition, after-all these people had never met Jesus, never heard his message of repentance.  This is an interesting point, but the people who did know him the best, at home, didn’t believe at all and the apostles, who were now even partners in the teaching and healing, still had doubts.  The people in Ganeseret had needs, and they had faith that they would be met through Jesus Christ.

 

Do you remember the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar?  One line in the song Everything’s Alright is sung by Jesus in response to Judas’ outrage at wasting expensive oil which could have been sold and the money given to the poor,

“Surely you’re not saying
We have the resources
To save the poor from their lot?
There will be poor always
Pathetically struggling
Look at the good things you’ve got!”

“There will be poor always,” is a paraphrase of the words of Jesus as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, and John; three of the four Gospels.  Some might take this as a rather callous statement; it might seem that he is suggesting we just forget about them because we cannot solve the problem of poverty and suffering.  We know, however, that it wasn’t meant that way.  As the song continues Jesus indicates that they should be taking advantage of the time they have with him, to hear him teach.  We are able to see, in stories like today’s, that Jesus had compassion on crowds wherever he went.  Up until this set of stories his compassion had been for specific people who were sick but here this compassion is extended to include the whole crowd, a whole flock of lost sheep.  He healed them and he taught them even when he had been trying to get a break.  But we are not Jesus.  Time apart, by ourselves, to be healed and to hear Jesus’ teaching is an important part of our ministry as Christians. There will always be people to help whether we take time to look after ourselves or not, but we will not always be able to help unless we do take that time.  Amen.

 

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

 Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Tim Rice.

 

Amazed and Rejected/ Rejected and Amazed


 

Amazed and Rejected

 

You go to see a magician.  Friends and colleagues have told you how good a show it is.  At the performance you are amazed or astounded by what you see, or what you don’t see.  Impossible things happen before your very eyes and you leave the theatre shaking your head.  But in the light of reason and your understanding of reality, you reject the magic and wonder, instead you try to figure out what kind of trick was involved?  You refuse to believe that magic was involved. You were amazed, but ultimately you reject. 

 

Jesus returned to his home town after performing a whole series of miraculous healings etc. around the region of Galilee.  We can imagine his meeting his mother at the door and receiving a big hug.  She probably cooked him his favourite meal and welcomed his disciples who had followed him to town.  Neighbors would notice all the extra activity at Mary’s home and would be asking around to find out what was going on.  “Mary’s son and his friends are home for a visit.  The whole family is excited to be spending time with him.”  News about him had been spreading around the region.  He was becoming famous, and now here he was returning to his hometown, someone to be proud of!

 

On the Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and taught, just as he had been teaching crowds on hillsides and lake shores throughout the region.  But this day was different; this was the “church” in which he had grown up.  The people in attendance were well known to him; his neighbours, classmates, childhood friends, and his family. His brothers and sisters, fellow children of Mary were there.  These were the people who knew him the best, whom he knew and loved.  As he spoke, the congregation were first amazed at his wisdom, his insight and the authority with which he spoke.  This was not your everyday teaching and they could feel that. They were astounded, maybe their mouths were agape! They looked around them and saw his proud mother, his brothers and sisters, and remembered him working in the carpentry shop.  They looked at him again.  He was not clothed in fancy robes, had no special aura around him, he had no special credentials, did not make reference to any revered teachers.  Amazement changed to rejection.

 

The town rejected him and Jesus was amazed at their unbelief!  Even though he did know in the back of his mind that, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” What had he been expecting?  Since his ministry began he had been followed without question by total strangers whom, upon first meeting, he asked to follow him.  Gradually his following had been growing to the extent that, a man named Jairus and a sick woman were certain that he could heal a dying daughter and an 18 year illness.

 

I expect we are all familiar with the feeling of being rejected.  You try out for a team or a role and are not chosen.  Most of the time in these cases there is no second chance, no appeal process.  We make proposals, provide information to support them.  At some point we stop and give time for people to process and they make up their minds.  It doesn’t matter how much we believe in our idea, if the other people don’t believe then they don’t.  We can try giving more evidence to prove our case but in the end, it is their decision and if that is to reject the story is over.

 

Rejection stings and often leads to resentment and ends with us giving up.  “There is no point in making suggestions, these people will just ignore them anyway, they never listen to me!”   Jesus knew this sting just as we do but, if tempted at all, he did not speak further to try to convince people.  There was no cajoling, no show of power, nothing.  Similarly, he did not give up.  Undeterred, he simply continued his ministry in other towns. 

 

At home the unbelief of the people meant that no great deeds were done, he healed a few sick people.  This doesn’t mean that his power was reduced, nothing could reduce his power, but because they didn’t believe that it was God’s power they were unaffected.  Hard as it may be to separate the two, it was not Jesus the person whom the people rejected.  In the Old Testament story today, after Saul’s death all of Israel made covenant with David as their king.  He had been great at leading the army and was well known, but he was not accepted as king because he was personally great, rather he was accepted because the people recognized that God had chosen him and led him to this office.  The Jewish people were familiar with prophets like Isaiah speaking to the people in the words of God. The people of Nazareth were impressed by Jesus’ wisdom, amazed by what they had heard or seen of his miracles, but did not see that God had named him His son.  Even the Gentiles recognized that God was the source of Jesus’ power, the unclean spirits had all named him as the Son of God.  The Nazarenes were not rejecting the man in Jesus, they were rejecting the God in Jesus.

 

The people of Nazareth missed a chance that day.  Jesus left and, as he instructed his disciples for their ministries, shook the dust of the town off his feet.  Jesus left, but at no point did he say anything that indicates that they would not be able to change their minds later.  In fact, we know that at least one of his brothers went from trying to drag him home a couple weeks ago, to this week’s rejection, to being one of his followers later on.  Jesus was amazed but he did not reject!

 

I have a friend from my high school days with whom I have renewed contact through FaceBook.  Another friend of mine has commented about how much she likes having the two of us as friends because we are both totally committed but completely opposite; me to God and the church and she to her atheistic views.  I have frequently considered dropping her as a friend as it is most unpleasant reading the anti-religion and anti-God quotes etc.  I haven’t done so though, and 95% of the time we don’t make comments on each other’s posts.  Would I like her to come to faith?  Most definitely!  Do I think that arguing with her and presenting information will change her mind?  No!

 

On its own, no amount of knowledge is enough to bring one to faith…Jesus’ friends and neighbours knew more about him than any of the people he had already helped, more than his disciples, and certainly more than we do.  Don’t get discouraged in your ministry or vocation.  We will all meet with challenges and rejections but we can follow Jesus’ instructions to his disciples.  We go out into our lives with only what we are and what God has given us, we don’t need to pack and prepare, when we are rejected we should shake it off and keep going.

 

As one of Helen Keller’s doctors told her, “permanent blindness.  Deaf. Invalid.  There’s a lot of living to be found within those limitations if you don’t wear yourself out fighting them!”

Amen.

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Psalm 48

Mark 6:1-13