Service of Induction

July 5, 2015
Bible Text: 1 Peter 3:14 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen HAPPY ARE YOU IF… 5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the Earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are thee pure in heart, for they will receive God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”   Summer is a time for relaxation and leisure; a time to get away from stress; but what has our world served up to us? Incredibly, ISIS, the Taliban and Boko Haram continue their destabilizing quest to upset the normal order whatever that may be. Many wise pundits suggest that the party in power requires the fear factor to stay in power. But Peter suggests a better way: 1 Peter 3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated. Yet we simply want to be content not fearful and downtrodden. When Steve Jobs decided to do something different in launching Apple he used the motto: Think different. Not ‘differently’ which we would have expected but different. Most of all “Think Different” channeled Apple’s counter-culture vibe. Jobs had lured the Pepsi president John Scully to Apple in 1983 with a famous challenge: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” “We’re hear to put a dent in the universe, “ Jobs once said, “Otherwise why are we here?” Jesus wants to put a dent in the universe and suggests why we are here. So it becomes important for us to pay attention to what Jesus says about living in this world. What astonishes us about the beatitudes are the startling pronouncements Jesus makes without qualification. There are no ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts’ or conditions placed upon the hearer. Rather the force of the words simply states a condition in the indicative mood. “Blessed are...”pure and simple. For us this raises the question of what is meant by the ‘blessed’? In classical Greek the word used described good fortune or even at times expressed the ‘rich’. If that meaning be taken, then the sharp paradox in Luke’s Gospel, “Blessed are the poor” becomes even more shocking. Our friend from down under at Laughing Bird expresses if this way: “blessed are the poor, they have it made”. Which really does capture the gist of it. Some simply interpret the word to be ‘happy’. As a new ministry begins here on Amherst Island, there is a need to embrace a state of blessedness. For Jay, you are blessed to be here on this island with this people; for St. Paul’s, you are blessed with a new minister. On this day, there are no conditions, no hypotheticals ‘if, then...’ Rather you are in a state of blessedness. Like a marriage, the challenge is to remain in this state of blessedness, to actualize all the potential that is here as you engage in ministry to the entire island and surrounding mainland. A brief summary of the word blessed may prove helpful. Gen, 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.” When Isaac is duped by Jacob to receive the parental blessing before he dies, Isaac reacts: Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? —Yes, and blessed he shall be!” Gen. 27:33 In reply to a question by John’s disciples: Lk.7: 23 “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”; Lk. 11:27 “While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised a voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ 28 But he said, ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’” The Psalmist observed; Ps 1:1 “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law they meditate day and night.” So you see the incredible range of meaning of the word ‘blessing’. It is certain that we cannot exhaust it, nor encapsulate it in one English word. The beatitudes are more descriptive than prescriptive. In other words they are not imperatives, but rather describe an existing state – a state of blessedness. But did the disciples really understand this? In the book, “How Your Church Family Works”, the author describes the reaction of the disciples to the beatitudes: Simon Peter asks: Are we supposed to know this? Andrew said: Are we supposed to write this down? James said: Will we have a test on this? Philip said: I do not have any paper. John said: The other disciples did not have to learn this. Matthew said: May I go to the boys’ room? Judas asked: What does this have to do with real life? And the Pharisees asked to see Jesus’ lesson plan and the objectives in the cognitive domain. And Jesus wept. p.19 Well might we ask, who are the poor (in spirit)? How are we to understand the hungry? Do the promises that attend each blessing link to the future or are they a present objective reality? Finally we need to ask, Has Jesus got it wrong? What types of blessedness do the poor really enjoy? Several years ago, Hanna Gartner interviewed Getty, the HIV patient who had received the marrow of a baboon, on CBC television. In this fascinating interview I was struck with his testimony. He had been a yuppie and enjoyed the fast life until he contracted HIV. Since then he led a very different life. He described it as a more significant spiritual life. His joy was to work for the cause and assist his friends who were dying round him. Shortly after in a barbershop, we were discussing computers, and he informed me about his new acquisition: a sophisticated setup with a very costly program enabling him to follow the stock market all day. He suggested that there was nothing that could give a person a greater high. I asked him: What about helping people? And I told him about the interview with Getty. He said he had often heard things like that, and he supposed if he were dying he might say some similar things. I was somewhat bemused. Does he really think that we are not all dying? But I realized right then, if I could have explained the beatitudes to him, he would have burst out laughing, they are so ridiculous. The poor do not get highs – they get lows. They are not blessed; they are miserable. The meek do not inherit the Earth – they get dumped on. If you experience persecution, you are to be pitied, and will not experience a state of blessedness. Craddock helps us to understand the meaning of blessed. “However, it is more appropriate to translate Jesus’ words so as to convey God’s favorable behavior towards those addressed. Hence “blessed” or “favored of God are those who” conveys the understanding that such favor is both present and future. The language of a blessing is also performative; the pronouncement of blessing actually conveys the blessing.” That is why Isaac could not take his blessing of Jacob the deceiver back. How can Jesus turn us on our heads so easily? Maybe, just maybe, we have got it quite wrong. How many of us really hunger and thirst after righteousness [another word for justice]? If we did, how important would our pursuit of security really be? Would our fears not dissipate? Would we not utilize our time differently? So you are too busy. Too busy for what: to hunger and thirst after righteousness? No wonder life does not fulfill you. Guess what, we often fill our time with even more stuff that does not satisfy, and like money it lets us down in the end. In the Star, there was an article entitled “Happinessism.” A great Chinese philosopher states: “Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.” Happiness is a distressingly difficult concept to define. If I were to ask you this afternoon, ‘Are you really happy?’ how would you respond? Maybe it depends on how well you slept, whether you have a cold or the flu. Did you just get laid off work? Did you get a poor diagnosis at your last doctor’s visit or do you even have a doctor? In general religious people tend to be somewhat happier as do married people. But the range is infinitesimally small. The happiest people cannot explain why they are happy. “Trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.” Jesus simply states in the indicative mood: Happy, fulfilled, are you. Period. Full stop. Today you are blessed. Blessed by a caring congregation and blessed by a new minister. Friends, if we are to continue in this state of blessedness, a state where we understand that life is good and purposeful, we will have to pay strict attention to the beatitudes. For Jesus Christ opens us to the pathway to understanding what life is meant to be. Fred Buechner suggests the one good for becoming a Christian is just this: “that in this man [Jesus] there is power to turn goats into tigers, to give life to the half life, even to the dead; that what he asks of us when he says follow me is what he also has the power to give, and this is the power of God that he has, that he is, and that is why we have called him the Christ.” p.246 “Listening” by Buechner. Does this possibility not loom ahead for you? The potential to have this congregation become an increasingly dynamic living force on this small island, serving all ne matter who they are. As we worship together, the awareness dawns, it is not because of who you and I are that we experience the grace of God. Rather it is God’s graciousness that enables us to remain poor in spirit, too discover deep within a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. Because of God’s revelation in Christ we wish to become peacemakers and we love to do deeds of mercy. What does this look like with the challenges ahead? Let us celebrate the joy we have for we are among all people most blessed. Remember, in conveying the blessing, Jesus has already conferred upon us the reality of the condition. We are in a state of blessedness. In Christ, we are part of God’s family, so we greet one another as blessed brothers and sisters in Christ. On the occasion of Barack Obama’s inauguration the benediction included these words: “And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance. And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold onto the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of the family. Let us take that power to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.” –Jeremy Lowery. Jay Brennan you are blessed. St. Paul’s Presbyterian congregation, you are blessed. Together let us celebrate that in Jesus Christ we are of all people, most blessed. Enjoy your ministry together. GOD BLESS YOU!   Continue reading

Epiphany 2015

January 4, 2015
Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalms 72:1-14 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen Isa. 60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD. Ps. 72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son. 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. 12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Mt. 2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men [magoi] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 `And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to [rule in Israel] shepherd my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down Page 1 of 6Page 2 of 6and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Today we are celebrating Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany falls on January 6 [12 days after Christmas]. Traditionally we talk about the wise men; their journey, their gifts, the confusion in Jerusalem and King Herod. But the story has been so sanitized, so captured in Christmas cards that we smooth over this very troubling story. In the movie, The Family Man, Nicholas Cage portrays a young adult about to head off to London, England for an incredible career opportunity and financial success. His girl friend has a bad feeling about this and at the last minute implores him not to go. However, Cage cannot resist the allure. When he returns to America he becomes a very successful Wall St. tycoon. The setting takes place around Christmas and a serious challenge confronts the firm so that employees are encouraged to work late even on Christmas Eve. On his way home late that evening, he has an encounter at a corner store where a young black man brings in a winning lottery ticket of a meager amount. But the Chinese American shop keeper is afraid and will not give him the money. So Cage enters into a business deal with the young black and buys the ticket from him. He in turn challenges Cage and says you have brought this on yourself, for he had headed for home late on Christmas Eve by himself. His friend from the airport 13 years earlier has called his office and left a message. The movie switches gears to what might have been had he stayed. They marry have two kids and live in suburbia. Because Cage has touched and sampled a very different life, he is uncertain about this other. Instead of a Ferrari, he drives a mini van. Instead of an exotic 5th Ave. apt. in the heart of NY, he lives in the burbs. Instead of being a Wall st. broker at the head of a firm, he sells tires. Rather than being alone, he has two kids, a wife and a dog. They are about to celebrate Christmas and he wanders off trying to understand who he really is? Choices we make determine outcomes. This vignette look at what might have been gives him serious pause to reexamine his life and values. Why did the wise men choose what they did to make such an arduous journey to a foreign land, not really knowing what they seek? Apparently they see some signal in the celestial bodies, perhaps a confluence of planets lining up in such a way, that they anticipate a new leader will arise in the Middle East. But they make a choice: to follow the star or stars to explore a new possibility. How can this ancient story of the wise men help us understand our own situation? Perhaps in Persia or Babylon, they had heard about Isaiah 60, depicting this ancient Jewish hope. They know they are to go to Jerusalem and to take rare spices, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Most important, they know that they will find the new king of all peace and prosperity. But when Herod (the current king in Jerusalem) hears of these plans, he is frightened. A new king is a threat to the old king and the old order. Walter Brueggemann: Then a strange thing happens. In his panic, Herod arranges a consultation with the leading Old Testament scholars, and says to them, "Tell me about Isaiah 60. What is all this business about camels and gold and frankincense and myrrh?" The scholars tell him: You have the wrong text. And the wise men outside your window are using the wrong text. Isaiah 60 will mislead you because it suggests that Jerusalem will prosper and have great urban wealth and be restored as the center of the global economy. In that scenario, the urban elites can recover their former power and prestige and nothing will really change. Herod does not like that verdict and asks, defiantly, "Well, do you have a better text?" The scholars are afraid of the angry king, but tell him, with much trepidation, that the right text is Micah 5:2-4: 2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5and he shall be the one of peace. This is the voice of a peasant hope for the future, a voice that is not impressed with high towers and great arenas, banks and urban achievements. [In other words it challenges Nicholas Cage’s first life head on] It anticipates a different future, as yet unaccomplished, that will organize the peasant land in resistance to imperial threat. Micah anticipates a leader who will bring well-being to his people, not by great political ambition, but by attentiveness to the folks on the ground. "So, who are the foreigners, nations, strangers, who are left out of our vision of the great homecoming? Do we recognize ourselves in their midst, or have we always experienced ourselves as insiders?" UCC, USA worship resource. Page 3 of 6Page 4 of 6Who are the magi? Why would they have come on such an arduous journey that would have taken months to complete? They were alert and aware. Who were these magi? Were they ancient astrologers? At its most innocent it referred to a possessor and user of supernatural knowledge and ability. The wise men: their special knowledge comes from reading the stars or from other mystical means of divination inaccessible to ordinary people. The use of any form of divination, astrological or otherwise had long been forbidden to the Israelites, as a thing abhorrent to the Lord. This more specific meaning of the word ‘mago" referred to a member of the Persian priestly caste, the rulers and practitioners of the distinctive religions of Babylon. They were the speakers of the sacred words at the pagan sacrifices and the interpreters of special signs associated with the pagan cult. At worst, the term referred to a magician or sorcerer, or even a deceiver. These descriptions referred specifically to a type of magic that was forced or demonic and was clearly distinguished from supernatural gifts given by God. Whichever of these meanings were understood by Matthew's readers, it would have aroused immediate suspicion in their minds. Magi were people whose activities were repeatedly condemned and prohibited throughout the scriptures and were completely anathema to the people of Israel. That Matthew would include such a story in his Gospel is truly amazing. He is depicting a Messiah born not just for the Jewish people, but one who has universal significance. The legend of the Magi has grown over the years to the point where our popular representation of it has only a loose connection to the story as Matthew told it. The details, whether there is any historical basis to the story or not, are about people of the highest possible status coming to worship and bring expensive gifts to a low, low status baby. And we need to tell the story over and over again to get that fundamental idea into our heads. But it’s also about the powers represented by Herod – people who are determined to preserve status and privilege at any cost. And just how far that power lust will go is there in the story of the slaughter of the innocents. Like Cage in the Family Man, we have the contrasting stories: Herod symbol of power, wealth; Wall St. vs. the magoi who while sophisticated in their own right are not prepared to put pride and hubris above acknowledging the central truth of doing obeisance to one who might bring peace. The Christmas story without that excruciatingly painful story becomes a sweet tale without much connection to reality. It is warm fuzzy story about poor but noble parents who had a beautiful baby who was born in a nice sanitary stable among Page 4 of 6Page 5 of 6contented beasts. The shepherds came to admire him and the magi came to bring him expensive gifts, and he lived happily ever after. But in reality, the Gospels and the early church confront the powers that be as represented in the Herods of the bible, with the kingdom of God which has a totally different value structure. Herod the Great was known for his cruelty. During his reign the people of Jerusalem had already seen him murder his wife, three of his sons, his mother- in-law, his brother-in-law, an uncle and many other people. He was certainly not a good man to be related to, let alone to upset, and so when Herod got greatly agitated a wave of fear went right through Jerusalem; who was going to cop the brunt of his anger this time? But how did the magi whoever they were ever find the baby? Without benefit of a GPS on their camels, how could they pinpoint location? In a NY Times article, George Saunders, author, described a trip in which his plane [en route from Chicago to Syracuse] struck a flock of geese, and the passengers were sure they were going to die, but the plane landed safely back in Chicago: “For three or four days after that,” he said, “it was the most beautiful world. To have gotten back in it, you know? And I thought, If you could walk around like that all the time, to really have that awareness that it’s actually going to end. That’s the trick.” You could call this desire — to really have that awareness, to be as open as possible, all the time, to beauty and cruelty and stupid human fallibility and unexpected grace. - Joel Lovel NY Times Jan. 6,2013 This dawning light draws them. In Isaiah. it is a picture of a great homecoming as everyone returns to the place where they truly belong. How deep the hunger is in each one of us for such place. How we yearn to find that place where we not only feel comfortable, but loved and accepted. The great tragedy of this text is that the particular homeland being described in this passage has become a place of blood instead of peace. Isaiah’s vision about all nations coming to this land to find the light, is far from reality today. Hardliners in the Israeli government think this place of belonging is only for them. Some militant groups among the Palestinians feel just as strongly that the homeland is only for them. The cruel tragedy is that both groups, indeed all of us, are searching for the same gift. A place to truly belong. A place where we are loved without question, accepted without condition, blessed without reservation. Deep in our guts we yearn for this place far more than for anything we found under our tree on Christmas morning. Continue reading

Remembrance

November 9, 2014
Bible Text: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Matthew 25:1-13 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen Call to remembrance As we come together on this remembrance Sunday we come with humility in our hearts and pause to reflect that the human condition has often led to wars in which nation rises up against nation. On this day, we reflect and remember those who served in two World Wars, the Korean War and the current struggle against Al Quaeda and ISIS. By remembering those who have served and given their lives, we do not honour war; rather we remember that some have been called to defend our freedoms and way of life and lost their life. In “Wars and Genocides of the 20th Century,” Piero Scaruffi estimates that 160 million people died in wars during the 20th century alone. We remember our troops, especially those who died but also......the London woman who did not make it to the bomb shelter in time, the children playing in the park when Japanese planes flew overhead at Pearl Harbor, the bewildered Jews exterminated at Auschwitz, the child incinerated in Hiroshima and on and on.... However, in the Christian Church we respect two different approaches to the issue of war.   From the earliest time of the Christian Church, pacifism was seen as the only possible way to fulfill Jesus’ command ‘to love your enemy.’ In the fourth Century, Augustine gave voice to the so called ‘just war theory’ a carefully crafted position which always saw war as a difficult but last resort option. Our present situation of dealing with terrorism is a totally new experience and different approaches are required to combat it. Bringing reality into our own day and our own country we are shocked by the murders of Canadian soldiers Patrick Vincent and Nathan Cirillo. We pray that God will comfort the families and heal the wounded. Our moderator added these significant words: “We also pray for the families of the attackers for they must be in great pain today. They too are God’s children, and thus our sisters and brothers. We remember before God any troubled young men and women in our country who may be tempted into a distorted world of violence and hatred. To them we say, “there is a better way.” He continues... It is time for us in the church to be about our business - to follow Jesus.It is to repay no one evil for evil., but overcome evil with good., to relieve the needs of the poor, to stand with those who are oppressed and always to point to the hope that lies in the gospel. Doubtless we shall often fail in this task, but it is better to fail in following Jesus than to succeed in anything else”. = Stephen Farris Today we remember those who have served and given their lives. Their verygraves cry out to us to find a better way! To give peace a chance. During this moment of silence, we invite you to remember. Wise Choices - Give peace a chance Josh. 24:1   Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God.   2 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors-- Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor-- lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.   3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. 14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.   15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."   16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods;   17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed;   18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."   19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.   20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good."   21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the LORD!"   22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses."   23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."   24 The people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey."   25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Mt. 25:1   "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.   2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.   3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;   4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.   5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.   6 But at midnight there was a shout, `Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'   7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.   8 The foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'   9 But the wise replied, `No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'   10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.   11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.'  12 But he replied, `Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'   13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Today is remembrance Sunday. We gather in this place of worship to humbly acknowledge the courage, the sacrifice of those who went before, believing in the cause of justice and righteousness. However, the very enterprise of war itself reminds us all of how far short we fall as human beings, not measuring up to God's will for us and not achieving God's desire that we enter into abundant life. So the act of remembering allows us to reflect upon the past and its heroics as well as its failures. There is a sense in which all of life is like that. Our own stories represent both times of great heroics and times of shortcomings. As Dietrich Bonhoffer once observed: “Nothing tests one’s faith more than belonging to a community of faith.” In this context, one has to interact with complainers, grumblers, and accusers. In community there are generous people, and miserly people, rude people and kind people, people who love justice and others who don’t care; people of great compassion and others of extreme apathy; we are all here and I want to remind you that these polarities are also found in our very own selves. At times I am generous and at other times not; at times overflowing with compassion and at other times apathetic. Thus we need to be careful when we criticize one another; the mirror may look very similar to one’s own image. I wish to share some remembrance stories with you. When Annemarie grew up in a one room school house in rural southern Manitoba, she felt very uncomfortable each Remembrance Day. Since her background was Mennonite, an historic peace church, the teacher always made her feel that her people were second class citizens. Because they were conscientious objectors, instead of bearing arms. they performed alternate service My father on the other hand from the same tradition, decided to teach cadets airplane recognition during the war. As a result he would have to wear a uniform Saturday mornings. Since he wore a uniform, he was refused communion by his own church. Thus we left the Mennonite fold, and my first church school experience was in the United Church. Even when they were in Russia and had to flee following the Bolshevik Revolution, some Mennonites decided to protect their villages in Russia by taking up arms and forming a Self Defence League. Otherwise there communities were at the mercy of the bandits. But it created huge controversy within the community, for they wanted to honour their strong religious orientation to pacifism. A war vet from W.W.II became a close friend. He and his wife had no children of their own and they sort of adopted ours. Although his wife was very active and became my secretary and then an elder in the congregation, he remained an adherent. As I got to know him better, the story finally came out. Profound doubts had arisen within him from the time of WW II. He was in the Merchant Marine and had been torpedoed by a German U boat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Deep within the bowels of the ship, he could see a faint light and struggled to the surface even though he could not swim. Covered with oil from head to toe his captain did not recognize him. However he was quickly cleaned up and they were rescued. Was there a loving God who would permit such wars to go on? After several years, Alf finally joined the Church. Rather than blame God for allowing wars, he came to see that war itself was evidence of human depravity and humanity stood in need of God's redemption. This has always been true. When Moses gave his last will and testament he challenged the people with these words: Deut. 30:15   See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.   16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,   20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Following the death of Moses, it was the responsibility of Joshua to lead the people into the promised land. God promises: Josh. 1:5 As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.   9 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." As Joshua nears the end of his life with the people safely ensconced in the promised land, he calls the people to remembrance. "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors-- Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor-- lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.   3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. 14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Along the way they had much to learn about their God. From the time they crossed the river and came up against the fortified city of Jericho to the end of Joshua’s life, God was with them on their journey. This time not merely as a guide and protector through the wilderness, but also as one who fought their battles for them. What does this have to do with Remembrance Sunday? As Christians, whenever we gather at communion we are to eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection. But the ancient Hebrew people also had to remember. By the end of Joshua’s time, the people had entered into a period of relative peace. They were now in the land, and could anticipate prosperity to begin. Yet Joshua knew their hearts. Their history was one which indicated that old patterns would continue with them and they would soon forget their God. In order to combat these natural tendencies, Joshua urges them to remember that: 1) it was the Lord who brought them up out of the land of Egypt 2) they are to continue in the service of their God by obeying and following his precepts and commandments; not to be seduced by the gods of the Canaanites. 3) to commit themselves to the one true God. Joshua reminds them that this a serious choice. God will not look lightly upon their saying one thing and doing another. To Joshua's challenge: "incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel," the people respond: "The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey." As the covenant is enacted, a stone is placed as a witness against them, a stone which heard the great protestation of loyalty to God, for the covenant is always enacted before a witness. Unfortunately the unfolding story of the people of Israel, often is like the unfolding history of the church - a people who make a good start and then forget what is important. By the time of the great prophets, the people had seriously drifted from their God, and God would use political enemies to bring them to their senses. An alternative reading for the day comes from the prophet Amos. Am. 5:18   Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light;   19 as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear;" There was a vain hope that because God was with them, God would overlook their lack of concern for justice. However God is not fooled. "Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.   24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. At the turn of the 20th century, optimism reigned supreme. The world was seen as getting better - the social gospel was in the ascendancy in which the kingdom of God was to be ushered in. Prosperity and peace were the order of the day. Britain ruled the waves, and the colonial empire was seen as its birthright. Who could have predicted that the 20th Century would witness two devastating wars which impacted life on several continents? Who would have thought that genocide and ethnic cleansing would still be seen as policies to be espoused as the end of the century? Humanity has made tremendous strides in the last century whether it be placing men on the moon, the International space station orbiting the earth, women finally emerging in their rightful place;[altho incidents like Gion Ghomeshi and the House of Commons this week remind us we have a ways to go], the mapping of the human genome, marvelous advances in health sciences. With the advent of computer technology, there seems to be no limit to what can be accomplished. Indeed, the information revolution is easily as significant a development as the industrial revolution at the beginning of the 18th century. But we still cannot solve the fundamental issues around war and peace. We still do not give peace a chance. Like the people standing before Joshua, we are called to make choices. Which are the gods within our culture that remain attractive to us? I am not speaking of the multiplicity of religious options confronting us in a multi- faith age. Rather, what holds our allegiance without our even knowing? How have we slowly become servants to a global economy where increasingly decisions are being made by governments around the world based on what is good for the economy, (the ruling elite often) rather than what is good for the citizenry of the nation. In order to pay down debt, developing nations often have to go to cash crops such as coffee, to service their debt while many of their own people starve. Joshua called upon the people to remember their freedom from bondage which was accomplished by their God who brought them out of Egypt. Yet, the choice of YHWH does not allow me only to pray for fellow Christians. If YHWH is God of all, then my choice of YHWH bids me pray for all who call on the name of God, whether that God be called YHWH or Allah or Vishnu. If I cannot so pray, than I have not chosen YHWH, but rather a tribal God of Christians only, or, worse yet, merely some American Christian godlet, who is finally no god at all. Yes, even those who claim no God at all must equally be subjects of my concern and prayer. As you can see, the choice of YHWH is a radical choice indeed! Thus, be careful how you answer the demand of Joshua, as he asks us all to choose today whom we will serve. That choice has the most serious consequences for how we live, whom we love, how we act. The Bible can provide crucial insight for our modern lives, as this brief look at the choice of YHWH makes all too clear.” - John Holbert Walter Brueggemann “Joshua attests to his community that he and his household have chosen covenantal life with YHWH, the God who has given both the land and the commandments of Sinai. But he fully recognizes that other choices are available, other gods and other ways of life. And a decision must be made! Israel, and the church, must decide again and again about identity, about defining passions and loyalties. And beyond religious community, the civic community continually needs to decide again what kind of society it intends to be.” This decision may be made in a formal ceremonial way, thus we have frequently reiterated patriotic occasions. like the observance of Remembrance Day and the wearing of a poppy. But more powerfully, these decisions are made by public action, by policy formation, by budget priorities, and by the shape and nature of the infrastructure of the community. The either/or that Joshua presents has immediate practical social consequences. A decision for YHWH entails socio-economic justice. A decision for the "other gods" leads inevitably to socio-economic exploitation, the accumulation of wealth at the expense of neighbours. Such a "religion" without commitment to social justice will eventuate in communities of economic failure, On this Remembrance Sunday, it is important to remember that this kingdom of God has a great vision in which the lion and the lamb lie together; in which nations learn war no more; and instead of discussing missile defence shields, that discussion centers upon turning weapons of destruction into tools for production. [swords into ploughshares]. The consistent refrain of so many veterans who have served in the various wars of the last century is: 'do not go there.' Remember this day the many who have given their lives. Remember this day the God we are called to serve. Remember this day the call of Christ for us to be peacemakers! These are wise choices which lead to life. Give peace a chance.       Continue reading

Thanksgiving 2014

October 12, 2014
Bible Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, John 6:25-35, Ephesians 5:20 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. John 6:25-35 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. .....giving thanks to God at all times for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20 Is this a realistic expectation? Who can live up to the experience of giving thanks to God at all times for everything? What is the author of Ephesians really trying to say? Can you give thanks in the midst of tragedy or difficult circumstances. One of the headlines in yesterday’s Toronto Star was entitled “A prayer of thanks.” The story line concerned a 2 year old who fell into a pool and it took 27 minutes to revive him. Five months later he is slowly coming back. The parents stated: We give a prayer of thanks every day that he’s still here. However, the mysterious question that has haunted humanity throughout the ages remains: Why do the innocent suffer? Several years ago we were given a lesson for the whole world to see as to how we are to conduct ourselves in a Christian way. Far more than any television evangelist; far more than any high tech mega church; the profound central truth of Christianity was broadcast throughout the world from a tiny town called Nickle Mine, Pennsylvania. Deep within the Amish community of Lancaster County came the message of reconciliation and forgiveness. If ever you wanted to ask the question of why the innocent suffer, here it is in spades. Defenseless young girls were simply gunned down execution style sending their community reeling under the catastrophe. Rather than give way to hatred and bitterness, yes there will be moments of bitterness I am sure, the community realized that to have hate would only destroy themselves. The better way is to find it in their hearts to forgive and attempt to reconcile. Can you imagine what it meant to the wife of the killer to be invited to one of the funerals. For her, that will be the beginning of healing and overcoming her own sense of guilt. Yet forgiveness can be offered in a cheap way. Reconciliation demands restitution, but instead of the perpetrators wife thinking of ways to compensate the victims, the Amish community set up a fund for the wife and her three children. That truly is Christianity in action. Surely it challenges each one of us to see how we measure up. Can one be thankful in such dire circumstances. Am I thankful for bladder cancer. Am I thankful that my daughter suffers from post concussion syndrome. Of course not! But what is my attitude in the midst of these unfortunate circumstances? From another article from the Star, a grade four teacher in the Jane /Wilson area of Toronto [not rich by any stretch of the imagination] encourages his students to journal about what they are grateful for. It starts the students off feeling positive about something. The article continues: Feeling positive is only one of the upsides of gratitude. A growing body of scientific research is highlighting the social, physical and psychological benefits....If you can make gratitude a daily practice, it’s transformative. A psychology prof, U of Cal, Davis, “gratitude works. It heals, energizes and transforms lives. When life is going well, it allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness. When life is going badly. it provides a perspective by which we can view life in its entirety.” From Toronto Star Life section p. L4 Thus we see that the verse from Ephesians is not so unrealistic after all. Gratitude enables us to view life in its entirety as a good thing in spite of the times when things go desperately wrong. So how do we become grateful? Briefly, we need to discuss first fruits. You will remember that the book of Deuteronomy has a basic theme of “Lest we forget.” Understanding how easily humans take things for granted, the author worries that people once they are in the land of ‘milk and honey’ will forget their history and what brought them to this place in the first place. First there is a creedal confession: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. That is followed by a response: So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. The first fruit is a reminder of the harvest to come. It is not what is left over; rather it is upfront and expresses a confidence that God will provide for the remainder of the harvest. In a rural setting it is so exciting to see the crops progress toward harvest, but when the ear of grain is full with the farmer anticipating a bumper harvest - subject to being knocked down by wind or hail. First fruits express gratitude and faith and hope for a future harvest. What is done with the first fruit offering? You have a party. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. God’s abundance is celebrated. When we turn to the Gospel lesson, we can pick up on the celebration theme. Jesus has fed the multitudes and has escaped the crowds to the other side of the lake. The central theme of that feeding of five thousand was again a God of abundance. After a meagre start, more baskets of food remained. However the crowds follow. What ensues is a question and answer segment. Yet, “the questions and answers provide a pattern of incongruity. The crowd wants to know something, and Jesus answers with a different kind of information. They are trying to sort out who Jesus is in light of what they just experienced. Their questions don't seem to be leading them in that direction so Jesus provides different answers than the questions demand.” - Ginger Barfield in Working preacher.org Jesus observes: Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. David Lose observes: according to John's Jesus, it all comes down to this -- do you believe Jesus is the One who reveals God uniquely and fully? Jesus asserts that ‘the work of God, [is] that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? A discussion about manna ensues. When the crowd suggests Moses gave them manna to eat, Jesus corrects them: it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ In a response like the woman at the well story, they say: Sir, give us this bread always.’ This prompts the Gospel writer to insert one of the great ‘I am” passages: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Ginger Barfield notes: The only food that can last for all time is the bread that Jesus himself is, the true gift from God, Jesus' own Father. As often in John, we find the passage serves a single purpose: to point to Jesus as the way to God. That can lead to a myopic view which is rather sectarian: loyalty to the leader is what matters; his is the only way, independent of issues of substance. Everyone else must be wrong - or damned. It need not do so. It can lead to a rich and open spirituality in which the ultimate focus falls on finding the light and life, the water and bread, in God and recognising it wherever we find it and then understanding that life as something to be shared, something to be lived out in love for the world which ‘God so loved’ (3:16) and loves. Then the Christ-centredness is released from a narrow exclusive focus, from the cult of the leader, to become the focus of something much more dynamic. - William Loader On this Thanksgiving Sunday we need to pause and take time to count our blessings. But because we are such a consumer society, the emphasis is always upon what we do not have, never gratitude for what you do have. In fact the underpinnings of our capitalist system depends upon you going out and buying. Acquiring stuff you do not need to keep the economy growing. I am a Neanderthal because I have not changed my Iphone 4 to the latest version.... and so on. Remember these words from Jesus according to John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life.” Enjoy your thanksgiving meal, and remember the one who gives the gift of life eternal. Thanks be to God! Continue reading

Law, Liberty, and Love

October 5, 2014
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-4, Matthew 23:23-28 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! Luke 11.42:‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue [leaves that are used in herbal medicine.] and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others. ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Mark 2:23-27 One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; I want to begin my sermon today, by recounting some of the aboriginal traditions around possessions. These explanations are contained in a book, Money and the Soul’s Desires by Stephen Jenkinson. When the white immigrants came in touch with native culture, they observed the potlatch. In the potlatch, people would pitch into a pot their gifts, and if someone had a need, they could freely withdraw from the pot. Local governments were scandalized by the notion of voluntary impoverishment and saw the potlatch as an impediment to civilization. They saw in it, “a lack of respect for ownership and material goods.” What the white administrators could not understand was “that respect for ownership lay at the heart of the potlatch. Giving away was the key element in ownership, the key ingredient in social status. The value of material goods was established and reiterated not by keeping them but by giving them away., and their face value grew by giving them away....” Listen to the irony contained in the words of an American senator in the late Nineteenth Century. “The head chief told us that there was not a family in that whole nation that had not a home of their own. There was not a pauper in the nation and the nation did not owe a dollar. Now here is the rub: The defect of their system was apparent. They have got as far as they can go because they own the land in common.....There is no enterprise to make your home any better than your neighbours. There is no selfishness which is at the bottom of civilization. p.83 This places in stark relief how we are so accustomed to our story, the story about grasping not giving, the story about scarcity, therefore fear, Accumulation rather than sharing. Money is a fascinating thing: Money in itself is an abstract entity. We project meaning onto money. There is nothing wrong with money – in fact, it is a very useful commodity. The Bible is often misunderstood to say that “money is the root of all evil.” This is untrue. Rather, it posits “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Stephen Jenkinson, in Money and the Soul’s Desire, says that the incorrect version – money is the root of all evil - is easier to take. It gets us off the hook because if money is the root of all evil, we can demonize money. We do not have to look further – we do not have to look at our hearts. But life in the realm that Jesus taught about is about risk and about giving. [Michele Hershberger, at a stewardship conference said, “Money buys you a house but not a home, food but not laughter around the table, toys but not true happiness, influence but not true friends, long life possibly but not eternal life.] The Hebrew Scriptures taught a great deal about first fruits - 16 You shall observe the festival of harvest, of the first fruits of your labour, of what you sow in the field. You shall observe the festival of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labour. 19 The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 26: So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. Jesus places the law of the tithe squarely in front of the Pharisees: ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others. Scripture has a lot to say about the purse. There are 2,350 verses in the Bible about money and only 500 about prayer. Spiritual language has been overtaken by the language of commerce: reconcile bank accounts redeem coupons forgive debts offer a period of grace But our relationship with money is also a gift.. “The soul’s struggle with money is an enduring and trustworthy companion in life. Money provides the occasion for discovering the deep ambivalence of the soul. When in the presence of one you can do something about the other.” So it is no surprise that Jesus tells the rich young ruler that if he wants to have the full life, he needs to sell his possessions, give them to the poor and follow him. (hyperbole) The problem here lies not with the possessions but with the heart of the young ruler. He has invested so much of himself into his possessions that his heart is now where his treasure is. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Where you invest your time, your abilities, your very life, that is, in the end, where your heart will be. Sabbath keeping: This is a bold stewardship concept. God of abundance. but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. 12 For six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your home-born slave and the resident alien may be refreshed. Jesus had to encounter fundamentalists around the Sabbath as well. ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; Mark 3.2: They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. But of course a much larger issue for Jesus was the human need: Luke 6.9: Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?’ Is this not another way of saying where is your heart? Where is your compassion?In another context he pointed out to these same Pharisees, if they lost an animal or if one of their animals was trapped on the sabbath, would they not rescue the animal? Jesus does not disrespect the law. Rather he reminds us that there is a spirit behind the law which demonstrates and points the way forward. But every time it becomes legalistic it kills, it damages the spirit. Yet Jesus did not come to abrogate the law. Rather he saw in it an important guide to life, what Dan Clendenin in Journey with Jesus.net calls “a moral compass that points us toward the true north of human health and wholeness.” The commandments, says Chris Hedges, frame the most important questions we can ask, like the mystery of good and evil, the meaning of living in community, the nature of integrity, the meaning of fidelity, or the necessity of honesty. In honoring the commandments, we embrace the sanctity of life, the power of love, and their function to bind us together in life-affirming community. From Losing Moses on the Freeway. Chris Hedges So in giving tithes and in keeping sabbath, we are to remember that the legalistic letter kills, but the spirit behind it gives life. When we turn to the passage from 1 Corinthians. realize that while faith, hope and love are all important, the greatest is love. Notice how Paul speaks about the possibility of great sacrifice but without love it avails nothing. Suicide bombers take note; martyrs of all kinds take note. “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” If I give away everything, but have not love. If I keep Sabbath scrupulously, but have not love, If I sacrifice my own life, but have not love. It is love itself which drives us; love which makes sense of all of life. But as we worship, we realize that something greater is promised to us. Not a love which I can manufacture, but the very love of God moves within me through God’s Spirit. As we partake of the feast of communion, we realize that Jesus as host of the meal invites us all to partake and enjoy his lively presence. We leave the table, refreshed, invigorated and realize that God’s presence goes with us. Continue reading

Unlimited forgiveness?

September 14, 2014
Bible Text: Genesis 50:15-21: Psalm 103:1-13; Matthew 18:21-35 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen Genesis 50:15-21  Joseph Forgives His Brothers Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’ So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. Matthew 18:21-35 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’ There are many challenges before us today as we look at the passages from Scripture. They are so instructive and encouraging if we understand them correctly. First let us take a brief look at the Joseph saga stories. Beginning at Genesis 37, we have depicted the fall and rise of Joseph, Jacob’s favoured son. Many times in the Hebrew scriptures we have examples of sibling rivalries that lead to catastrophic results but which are very instructive for us. For example: the Ishmael/Isaac split comes right down to today with Arab/Muslim people tracing back to Ishmael and the Hebrew people asserting Isaac as their forefather. Briefly, the brothers cannot stand Joseph their youngest brother and so sell him off to slavery and tell their father that he was killed by wild animals. The brothers had dipped his wonderful coat in goat’s blood and took it to their father Jacob, and let him draw his own conclusions. Meanwhile Joseph is sold as a slave and rises through Pharaoh's court to a position of prominence. He is able to interpret dreams and have the people of Egypt prepare for years of famine. Eventually the brothers come to Egypt because they are running out of food. Eventually they become aware of the presence of the powerful Joseph, and stand before him in fear. This is where our passage begins. The brothers' continuing sense of guilt is striking. Have they been reconciled to Joseph, or not? With this scene, have we come to the end of the fratricide and familial deception running throughout Genesis? If the story of Joseph is any indication, family wounds continue to fester; those who do the hurt often wound themselves, and the healing balm of forgiveness may need to be applied more than once. And often, the words of forgiveness are not the words we want to hear. Capping off this story is Joseph's insight: where we see hurt, God sees good (50:20). How the brothers, or we, respond to that good news, remains an open question. - Marg Odell The Hebrew verb is, in effect, a metaphor; ‘to forgive’ is to remove a heavy burden, like taking a dead weight off someone's shoulders. Joseph does not use the words: I forgive you,’ but he does urge them to see their guilt as God sees it. They devised evil, but God saw good. However Joseph does act powerfully to indicate forgiveness: I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them. Joseph’s declaration that “God intended it for good” reminds us that the stories of biblical families are not just lectionary-sized snippets of individual family dramas, but rather they are part of the long and ongoing story of God’s relationship with Israel, chosen for blessing and in whom all families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). - Cameron Howard workingpreacher.org A Jewish commentator Wendy Amsellem helps us understand the complexities of forgiveness. She states: They cannot accept Joseph's forgiveness because they cannot forgive themselves. And so, in our portion, when Jacob dies, what the brothers are saying in part is "if only Joseph will hate us and repay the evil we did him." If only Joseph could avenge himself and give us back the wrong we did him, then perhaps we could finally be at peace. It is a complex moment, with their instinct for self-preservation mixing with their desire for ultimate absolution. They both want Joseph's hatred and yet need his protection. But Joseph does not crave revenge. All he yearns for is reunion with his family. He has spent 22 lonely years, and now he wants his brothers back. He will give them everything--forgiveness, sustenance, vocations, even riches--and all he wants in return is once more to be part of the family. With that story acting as a backdrop, we come to the Matthew passage which focusses upon forgiveness. Remember the context is Matthew dealing with troubles in his post resurrection community. Peter continues the discussion: How often should we forgive? As many as seven times? It is a quantitative question but Jesus changes the arithmetic and provides a qualitative answer. ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. Some translations have seventy times seven. The 77 may refer to an ancient text about Lamech indicating he would seek vengeance 77 times over. Gen. 4:24. A new order has come into being where in the kingdom of God, vengeance has no place; but rather forgiveness dominates center stage. Jesus then tells another memorable story unique to Matthew. At first blush, the story seems obvious, but as we examine it more closely questions emerge. In that day, kings would assume absolute power, and become fabulously wealthy. But they have several retainers and managers who assured the system worked and the king’s coffers were always full. From time to time, the king would conduct an audit. One of the slaves, not literally, because a person of such immense wealth, would be very high up in the government of the king. Ten thousand talents is an astronomical sum, exaggerated to make a point. This was a well trusted, efficient and skillful bureaucrat who knew the king’s trust. That is why the king would be so angry as to have his entire family sold into slavery. [likely referring to a Gentile king because Jewish law did not permit the family to be sold to pay the debt of the father and husband.] No matter, the bureaucrat pleads with the king: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. Knowing that the bureaucrat could not even come close in a few lifetimes of paying off such a monstrous debt, the king simply decides to write off the entire amount. William Herzog: “To receive forgiveness both enables and obligates one to offer forgiveness, not as an occasional exception to the rule but as a way of life and not without an awareness of the forgiveness one receives but as a response to it.” p.133 Parables as Subversive Speech The king’s act of forgiveness is of messianic proportions. It suggests a whole new era is about to begin. Debt forgiveness is all about the messianic age. The king has made it a point of honour - no longer exploitation and ruthless extraction of resources from the common people. What the king has done, the retainers must also do. But this same retainer, who has himself several underlings, realizes that one of them owes a small sum to him. In words reminiscent of what he had said to the king this slave also pleads: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” However, the act of forgiveness does not take place. Perhaps the bureaucrat is trying to reassert his authority amongst the host of underlings and let it be known that he is back minding the shop. Without an ounce of pity, he throws the underling into prison. The other underlings realize his lack of concern and report him to the king who is outraged. A new order of things has been introduced by the king’s magnanimous act of forgiveness, but this high ranking bureaucrat has returned the system to exploitation and injustice. Therefore he deserves the king’s utmost anger. To be in a state of grace, to realize that you can never repay what has been offered to us freely by God in Christ, is to acknowledge that we have no right to withhold forgiveness from another. Otherwise we do not understand who we truly are. When apartheid was dismantled in South Africa, rather than the country fragmenting and disrupting into civil war, they chose to go a different route and implemented a truth and reconciliation commission. One of the foundational principles of this experience is what Desmond Tutu calls “Ubuntu.” It is a Xhosa word that stands for the idea that we all share a common humanity. It says that the only way the human family can thrive is together. That means that when we look at another human being, even someone who has wounded us deeply, we cannot see an enemy, but rather a fellow human being, a brother or a sister. It seems to me that, in order to pray the prayer, “forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and mean it, we have to practice “Ubuntu”—we have to acknowledge that we share a common humanity even with those who wrong us. When we can look at those who inflict pain on us and see brothers and sisters, then we can begin to forgive as we have been forgiven. Then we can begin to set them and ourselves free from the vicious circle of bitterness, hatred, and violence, and move into the freedom of forgiving as we have been forgiven. found in Tutu’s Made for Goodness Eric Barreto from the internet. “Forgiveness heals relationships by requiring us to let go, to turn the page, to refuse the right to hold on to bitterness and anger. Forgiveness, in short, sets things right again. Forgiveness is a powerfully healing force but also an incredibly difficult thing to receive or share. ..... Jesus concludes by noting the seriousness of our forgiveness of others. Just as the faithful hold the ability to bind and loose, our unwillingness to forgive will redound on us. Forgiveness is neither optional nor contingent. Why? Because God’s forgiveness knows no end and so also should our relationships be governed by a grace that knows no bounds. I like the way Nathan Nettleton sums up these stories of forgiveness. God continues to come to us. For in the extravagant love and mercy of God, even our refusal to accept the way of forgiveness and our inflaming of our man-made hells cannot quench God’s passionate desire for us. Despite all the pain and betrayal and violence, God continues to refuse to bear resentment, and continues to refrain from striking back at us, and continues to absorb all our hatred and hostility and callousness, seeking always to draw the sting out of them and offer back only love and compassion and tender mercy. God continues to forgive, seventy times seven, and to grieve over our refusal to be transformed by that forgiveness into a people who participate in living out that forgiveness in an angry violent world.         Laughing Bird liturgical resources. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. May it have new meaning for each of us when we pray it weekly or daily. Continue reading

Centrality of Community

September 7, 2014
Bible Text: Ezekiel 33:10, Matthew 18:15-20 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen Ezekiel 3310 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?12And you, mortal, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not save them when they transgress; and as for the wickedness of the wicked, it shall not make them stumble when they turn from their wickedness; and the righteous shall not be able to live by their righteousness when they sin. 13Though I say to the righteous that they shall surely live, yet if they trust in their righteousness and commit iniquity, none of their righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 14Again, though I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” yet if they turn from their sin and do what is lawful and right— 15if the wicked restore the pledge, give back what they have taken by robbery, and walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity—they shall surely live, they shall not die. 1Matt. 1815“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Most of us acknowledge that community is very central in determining what it means to be human. From the earliest pages of Scripture, God declares that it is NOT GOOD for the earth creature to be alone. A companion/partner is required before the earth creature becomes human, ‘created in the image of God, male and female. It is not only religious people who have a focus upon community. An article from this week’s Maclean’s, shares some thoughts from a developmental psychologist, Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect . The article by Bryan Bethune states: “Like many other contemporary thinkers who are not devout themselves, Pinker is strongly interested in religion.... social scientists are impressed by the benefits of community. In a study of 90,000 women who attended religious services at least once/week were twenty percent more likely to have longer lifespans. Small wonder there are increasing attempts to establish atheist churches to gain the benefits of community and comforting ritual. Pinker says: “Our digital devices are fabulous for gaining information, for scheduling our lives, for reaching the people we want and avoiding those we detest, but those devices have not been good for human relationships, because they cannot engender trust.” Ezekiel was written at a difficult time in the history of Israel. Trust in God had not been lost in the terrible consequences of exile. Experiencing exile in a strange land, they did not know where to turn, but realized that it was punishment sent by their God for ignoring the prophet’s warnings, especially Jeremiah. They readily acknowledge this: Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live? But trust in God had not eroded because they realized their plight was self inflicted. However, their traditions lay in ruins - no temple; no king. Sometimes our traditions do not allow us to shape new questions and we stagnate. But if our minds remain open we are in a position to be perpetual learners. I would like to share what a one hundred year old church member at Aurora United told me. She said to me: "One of the great things about growing old is that there is always more to learn." What an attitude! What a great statement! Unfortunately, the road to fulfillment is often seen in terms of instant gratification. In a recent book, The Impulse Society: America in the age of Instant Gratification the author Paul Roberts states that the drive to consume is falling short of what we actually need. The great irony Roberts states is that for all our emphasis on pleasure and gratification, society’s main output these days seems to be anxiety. We are paying a steep price for a quarter-century’s disengagement from one another. In other words, the age of short term solutions and digital communication is not succeeding in achieving what really counts - the importance of community, engaging one another face to face. This emphasis upon community is well spoken. As Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, has observed: “Community is the great assumption of the New Testament: From the calling of the disciples to the inauguration of the Church at Pentecost, the gospel of the kingdom drives believers to community. The new order becomes real in the context of the shared life.” Call to Conversion p.113. Accordingly Jesus insists that in this new community of his followers, we are to deal very carefully with interpersonal relationships. What is at stake is the very survival of the community, and its mission. If two of you agree, my Father will grant your request. Binding and loosing again comes into play, and has implications that are far reaching for life on this earth. Perhaps an example of an anti community will help us understand. With the emergence of the new terrorist threat through ISIS, we need to recognize that their goal is to set up an exclusive Islamist state. They have a concept of community, but it does not include any diversity. From that perspective, the question the world ought to be asking right now is not “How do we capture, kill or lock up the terrorists so that they can’t do it all again?” but “How do we successfully deconstruct the power of this ritual, so that the desire to do it all again is displaced into something more life-affirming?” Why are we not equally concerned with the humanitarian disaster in Syria, displacing so many people leading to the death of so many children. What about the concern for Central West Africa where over two thousand lives have been lost to Ebola virus. Of course, aid is compromised because of the civil strife happening at the same time. How do we intervene positively so that Syria/Iraq can return to some degree of normalcy? How do we contain the Ebola virus in Africa? Community has been seriously disrupted, and life for some in these threatened areas becomes strictly a matter of survival. What about our little community here. How do we embrace our future? It may not be easy, because there is a critical mass required for us to move forward. How then can we live and thrive into our future? From the gospel lesson it would appear that if two or three agree, the Lord is in our midst and will grant the request. Of course this agreement has to be consistent with what God wills. What is our attitude as we face the coming year. Are you anticipating excitement? What do you think we can accomplish? We are slowly making some changes and improvements around here. I have a sense that there is a strong committed core wanting to move the congregation forward. It will be a challenging task. Dietrich Bonhoffer in his book Life together suggests that we do not have to achieve community. In Jesus Christ, we are a community - it is God’s gift to us. However, Jesus points out how difficult it is to maintain community. Not only do we have different opinions, but more seriously we often sin against one another through thoughtlessness, prejudice or not taking another person seriously. This may be more difficult than it seems. For example, a central tenet of the Christian faith is ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself.’ Most here would agree with that statement. But the implications of such a statement are complex. In the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez, a liberation theologian, you find this penetrating thought: “....when faced with a situation [of massive injustice] neutrality is impossible and calls for our active participation,... passivity or indifference is not permissible when the issue is justice and the defense of the weakest members of society. Passivity or indifference would be neither ethical nor Christian.” Essential Writings. p.119 He quotes the former Archbishop of Mainz: Under the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, “an attitude of unconditional neutrality in political questions contradicts the command of the Gospel and can have deadly consequences,” which of course it did. It divided the Christian community in Germany, and has led to challenges in Latin and Central America. So important differences will emerge in the Christian community as in Matthew’s church. Jesus spells out steps to be taken. Interesting that the one aggrieved initiates. Points out the other’s fault; if there is no repentance, brings some one else along to assist with the communication. If that does not work, you bring it to the congregation and finally remove the person from the community in order to ultimately bring the person to his or her senses. Nowhere is there the idea of punishment; it is all about restoration and harmonious community. A vibrant community of love and forgiveness commends itself to the broader neighbourhood, but do they know it exists here? How do we get the message out? In small measure we are attempting to reach out to the island in a variety of ways: from the Garden Party, to the fish fry to the forthcoming concert and PCW evening presentation. Finally, however, unless we communicate at a very personal level, all these attempts, productive as they are, will not bolster community. We have to be a welcoming presence that invites people to come to know a God who cares, loves and forgives. Let the attractiveness of Jesus shine through us!   Continue reading

The Bread of Life

August 17, 2014
Bible Text: 1 Kings 3:3 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen 1Kgs. 3:3   Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.   4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.   5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you."   6 And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.   7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.   8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.   9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?"  10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.   11 God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,   12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.   13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you.   14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life." Jn. 6:51   I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."   52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"   53 So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.   54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;   55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.   56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.   57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.   58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." Pause for a moment at the outset of this sermon to reflect upon the tragedy of our world. Consider the mess of the middle east and the inability of leadership to stem the tide of violence; thinking that war and civil strife can solve something. Instead we are left with dissolving countries of Syria and Iraq. Israel and Gaza are at constant war it seems. Russia and Ukraine cannot agree. Violence erupts in Ferguson, Missouri when a white police officer kills an African America unarmed youth. Where are the leaders who pray the prayer of Solomon: Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?" 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. Notice how God responds: because you have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, God will give him riches and wisdom and long life. Notice that God is pleased that Solomon did not ask for the life of his enemies. The Islamic State terrorists should listen to this passage of Scripture. Centuries ago Christians were no better, forcefully converting Jews and Muslims on the pain of death, but hopefully those days are long since passed. So much happens in the name of religion that is displeasing to God. But leaders who ask for wisdom and act with justice at the forefront of their mandate are pleasing to God. Unfortunately the problem with democracy is that in order to get elected, you act not out of justice but out of self interest. Can you imagine a premier in Alberta saying the oil revenues of the province are to be shared for the good of all Canadians? Can you imagine Quebecers wanting to share their hydro electric power with all? Can you imagine a former time when Ontario’s manufacturing was the hub of the Canadian economy. Would we have shared our wealth for the good of all? But this reality seemingly does not exist. Many pundits realize that there can be no global security unless we have a common security where injustices around the globe are sorted out. Do we honestly believe that pouring billions into the arms race accomplishes more than pouring billions into feeding the poor and protecting our health systems. Discrepancies and inequalities around the world exacerbate the issues in which terrorist groups can flourish. Although we know this, the rich and powerful have a vested interest in war machines and we do so little to say ‘enough! That has never worked and will not work now.’ One of the leading theoreticians of global capitalism, George Soros, makes this crucial concession: “International trade and global financial markets are very good at generating wealth, but they cannot take care of other social needs, such as the preservation of peace, alleviation of poverty, protection of the environment, labour conditions, or human rights– what are generally called public goods.” On Globalization 2002 p14 Solomon was very wise. Unfortunately the very blessings that were bestowed upon him led to his undoing. When he became rich and powerful he made some foolish decisions with the result that at the end of his life, the state of Israel broke in two following a civil war after his death. Where does that wisdom come from? Jesus indicates that we need to be rooted and grounded in God's love for true life and justice to flourish. He stated: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Is bread not more powerful than a bomb? Instead of wasting billions on armaments, if we fed the world's hungry, who would the terrorists be able to recruit? So the wisdom of Jesus is portrayed in feeding hungry crowds. A word about bread - In a delightful little book called Elegy to the family farm - 80 Acres the author, Ronald Jager, pens these words: ". ..to them (city slickers) those country things were like manna from heaven. The appreciation they expressed for - of all things! -- bread was a revelation to us. Jaded children of the land, we casually consumed a dozen loaves of my mother’s bread every week, not realising that it was twice as nutritious and tasty as ‘boughten’ or baker’s’ bread that we always craved but seldom had. “Give us this day our daily bread we always prayed” but when the Hoechzma’s were with us we ate each other’s bread and fruit and gave a happier thanks.” p. 73 Annemarie confirms this sentiment exactly. Growing up on a farm where her mother always baked the bread, how she craved Weston’s white enriched bread on which mice would die of starvation if that were their sole source of food. As for me, when I visited her from the city how delighted I was to get homemade bread. The Gospel reading for today follows after the feeding of the 5000 with five loaves and two fishes. As a result the crowd attempts to make Jesus their king. The crowds follow the next day and Jesus “explicates” what has transpired. 26 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.   27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."   28 Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?"   29 Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 30 So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?   31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"   32 Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.   33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."   34 They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Notice that the people are not overwhelmed by the event that has just transpired. Instead they ask him for a sign. Really? What just happened? But rather than turning this into a nice church growth opportunity - Jesus suggests that the one thing needful is for them to believe in him, and accuses them of not believing. When he calls himself ‘the bread of heaven,’ a bread better than manna, they start to murmur and complain. Is not this Joseph’s son? Unlike today, when the debate may rage: 'how did Jesus accomplish such a miracle?' the question for the people who had eaten was more mundane. Let us take care of our immediate problem and make him our king. Surely a greater than Solomon is in our midst. It is a reminder that power elicits great temptation and opportunity. Think of the good Jesus could do for his people if he were to reign instead of Herod. Anyone who could feed 5000 with such meagre resources surely could challenge the Roman empire. I believe we underestimate the seductive nature of this temptation for Jesus. Instead he retires to a mountainside to pray, and presumably to get it straight one more time what his mission truly was. Jesus insisted that the kingdom he inaugurated is "not of this world" (John 18:36). Almost all human kingdoms and powers go to any lengths to exercise power over others (political, economic, military, cultural), whereas the reign of God that Jesus taught and modeled flourishes—counter-intuitively and paradoxically—by what he calls "power under" others, a radically counter-cultural mandate for an alternative ordering of human affairs. He did not allow himself to be co-opted by any political ideology or party of the day. From his birth when King Herod tried to murder him until his death at the hands of Pilate, Jesus threatened the political powers of his day, not because he sought to control what they controlled but because "he undercut its pretensions and claims to supremacy" (Wills). If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not Lord. Thus, concludes Garry Wills, Jesus did not acquiesce in silence before political power, he confronted it, so that "the program of Jesus' reign can be seen as a systematic antipolitics" (What Jesus Meant). Have you ever seen a miracle? Would you like to see one? Why? What would it do for you? There were serious obstacles to belief then and there are even more serious obstacles to faith now. Remember, the feeding of the 5000 was not a proof but rather a sign pointing in a direction. A sign that the people did not accept. I like what Jean Vanier suggests: “Today, some two thousand years after the event some of us may smile cynically: miracles! As if they were wholesome stories intended for children. We may laugh and say: ‘How wonderful if Jesus were present today. We would not have to go out and buy bread!” He continues: “Jesus reveals a caring God, a God who is concerned for our well being and wants us to be well.... It is not just a miracle of multiplying food but also of creating and building a caring community where people are concerned for one another.” p.119 Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Reflecting upon the experience of the people in the wilderness, Jesus said: John 6:48 I am the bread of life.   49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.   50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.   51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." What strong language! The metaphor of eating his flesh sounds positively cannibalistic. The passage before us is acknowledged to be Eucharistic. The Aramaic with which Jesus spoke had no distinct word for body as in Greek. So the reference to flesh is quite likely original. Various commentators have pointed out that the passage is awkward in its placement. - What would the crowd understand?Did they not have a right to be confused? But what Jesus is saying is that where we belong is near to the heart of God. The next time you partake of communion may you appreciate anew that you are engaged in a very intimate act where Jesus mysteriously comes to you in the bread and wine and makes his dwelling with you. Rev. 3:20   Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. "That's when I want you—you knower of my emptiness, you unspeaking partner to my sorrow. That's when I need you, God, like food," wrote Rainer Maria Rilke in his Book of Hours. Rilke's intense hunger for God is one known and expressed throughout our faith tradition, from the Israelites' walk to freedom, to Jesus. From Elijah, who promised that "they shall eat and there shall be some left over" (2 Kings 4:43) to Jesus, God always provides extra. In some of the most powerful writings of the New Testament, John describes the embodied God as our only source of nourishment and true life. In Christ our deep hunger and loneliness is fully satisfied: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:51). Realistically, Jesus reminds us in the Lord’s prayer of how important this nourishment of bread really is. Give us today, our daily bread. Come to the God of abundance who from meagre resources not only filled the crowd, but there was an exceeding overflow of twelve baskets. Continue reading

The Tower of Babel

July 27, 2014
Bible Text: Genesis 11:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen The Tower of Babel Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. This completes the section of Genesis called prehistory, that is, Genesis 1-11. With chapter 12 and the call of Abram, a whole new story begins as we move into the beginning of salvation history. That development waits for another time. What has transpired to date: The marvelous saga of the creation or origin of the universe has unfolded in two distinct sagas. Genesis 1- 2:4a, is a highly codified priestly account recorded likely during the exile period in the sixth century BCE. The other more ancient tradition shares the story of the development of the earth creature, male and female, who are set forth to attend the garden and maintain it as good stewards. Humanity’s creation was a huge risk for God, for he had been given a vocation: to till and tend the garden; permission [freedom] everything has been placed at humankind’s disposal [exercise dominion], and prohibition [limits have been set]. They are not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. These three ideas stem from Brueggemann’s useful commentary on Genesis. Somehow, evil insinuates itself through a serpent who discusses theology with Eve. Did God say. Humankind cannot resist the temptation to assert autonomy and partakes of the forbidden fruit. New knowledge comes; they know they are naked and now the rupture in the relationship with God, leads to a rupture in human community. They find themselves hiding from God and each other. Tragically, the net outcome of this rupture is exemplified in the Cain/Abel story where Cain murders his brother Abel provoking the famous retort: “Am I my brother’s keeper.” Evil appears to be on the ascendancy and so God responds by sending a flood upon the earth. A saga told by many ancient religions in the Near East. However, the uniqueness of this story stems from the heart of God. Change takes place within God. Incredibly, God repents, that is expresses grief within God’s own heart that humanity had been created in the first place. However God seeks not so much too destroy creation, but give it a second chance through one family, Noah and all the animal kingdom saved by being inside the ark. A promise is given for all to see, a rainbow in the sky serves as a reminder to God and to all humankind, that God is about life and not destruction. God is about promise not judgment. When Noah disembarks from the ark, first thing he does is build an alter and offer a sacrifice to god. “the Lord smelled the pleasing odor.” When someone told a child that Noah built an altar right after getting out of the ark, the child said: “Yuk, he knelt in all that muck.” Through a catalogue of nations we now come to this famous story of the tower of Babel. ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ They had one language and were supposedly together in one large community. Once again we may perceive an influence from the time of exile in Babylon where the city had many elaborate structures, some extremely high. However, this story may trace its origins further back. What is at stake here is another veiled attempt to usurp the place of God. The desire to reach the heavens and make a name for themselves. In what ways does our modern society attempt to replace God with our own hubris. In the building up of empire, do we not see attempts to storm the gates of heaven and supplant God with our own sense of power. Was Hitler not attempting to build a thousand year Reich? It was legitimately claimed that the sun never set on the British Empire, circumventing the globe. ‘Make a name for ourselves.’ The Bible is not critiquing technology or urbanization here. Rather what is challenged is that humankind is going outside the limits once again. Moving forward on their own irrespective of God’s universe. We have just celebrated an anniversary of landing on the moon. Neil Armstrong stated to the watching world: “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Our son, Brent was watching with us at the age of two, in our living room in Waterloo. Here we are reaching for the stars or at least the very moon. Now we are selling tickets for travel to outer space, to the planet Mars. One thing this clearly demonstrates; - how vast is our universe. From the human side, humanity stood back and marveled at this grand achievement building a tower to the heavens. From god’s perspective we have a very humourous note: The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Apparently, what was so large from earth ‘s perspective was a mere blip on God’s radar screen, so God had to get closer for a better view. God at that time did not have the benefit of a Hubbell telescope. ‘’Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” The problem for God is that they can achieve all these things without reference to their creator, who made the human creative enterprise possible in the first place. It is not postulating that technology or urbanization or human enterprise is bad or even sinful. What God is saying to humankind and to us today, No matter what you do or what you accomplish, in order to truly be life giving and positive, it must always have a reference to the one who made us in the first place. God said to humanity: be fruitful and multiply. Fill the whole earth. Humankind said to God: We will build a tower and supplant you. In Nietzsche’s book, Joyful Wisdom, in a section entitled the Madman, the creature goes out to find god and comes back with a report that God is dead. “We have killed him. the holiest and mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled ot death under our knife-- who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse our selves... Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become gods, merely to be worthy of it.” quoted in How the World Began p. 277 God who loves diversity, God who has ordered limits to humanity so that the creature and creator should never be confused, now determines that humanity should divide on linguistic lines. “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ In other words, the new community will be based not upon common language but upon the ability to hear and listen to one another. The ability to speak with common understanding. The miracles of Pentecost, when the Spirit ascended upon the crowds, was not that they had one common language. Rather they hear one another and could understand what each other was saying even when speaking in their own tongue. How we need that today. How can the Arabic speaking Palestinians understand the Hebraic speaking Israelites so that instead of destroying one another. If the Israelis would spend a small fraction of their defense budget on building schools and hospitals in Gaza, would the population not begin to think differently on Israel’s right to exist. I would think that Hamas will have a fairly easy time recruiting new people to their cause after this is over. Why did residential schools ban native languages. In order to take the Indian out of the child, one had to remove their language. It was absolutely barbaric and we did not understand what we were doing. The marvel of Christian community is that we can come from so many different cultures and language groupings, but can hear each other; even understand each other and build not a tower or an empire, but build a solid foundation for a lasting community where we become our brothers’ and our sisters’ keeper; where we tend and care for the garden; where we treat the animal kingdom with respect and where we celebrate our differences being brought together not by hubris, but a very simple cross. To know in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven; therefore we are new creatures and as such can reach out to all humankind Continue reading
Bible Text: Genesis 3:1-20 | Preacher: Rev. Harry Klassen As we approach another foundational topic based on the early chapters of Genesis, we are confronted by an important question. Having seen that God created the universe and pronounced it “very good,” so good in fact, that a sabbath rest is envisaged, whence derives the horrid conditions in the world today? Why is there evil in the world? The reading from Genesis chapter 3 does not attempt to answer this question philosophically or even theologically. Instead it shares a story based on the second creation account. I have chosen to divide the reading into four different scenes, but it could be divided in different ways. SCENE 1 Setting the stage: First vv. 1-6: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. The author[s] of this story are dealing with the dilemma in part attempting to set forth the reality of the failure of human community. While it is clear that earlier in the story it is not good for the earth creature to be alone; yet the animal kingdom could not satisfy the role of human companionship. As Phyllis Trible will argue: we do not have humanity until the woman is made and the celebration begins. “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.“ They were naked and not ashamed. 2:25 Now conversation ensues. Remember that God had given to humanity freedom, permission to have and exercise careful dominion over the animal kingdom in a manner of caring like a shepherd. Here the crafty serpent begins the conversation and immediately gets into theology [talk about God]. Did God say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden? The implication being that the prohibition that humans are under is a huge problem. Eve corrects the serpent, No, we can eat of the trees in the garden, except for the one in the middle. That one we cannot eat or even touch [which of course God did not say], or we shall die. In other words Eve defends God. Now the serpent throws some caution to the wind and engages in a direct contradiction of God’s statement. YOU SHALL NOT DIE. What will happen when you eat, you will gain wisdom like God, knowing good and evil. SCENE 2 CONSEQUENCES of their action: vv. 7-11 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ Notice the consequences: 1) Their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. Now they are exposed to one another in ways that are totally new. Whereas before they were celebrating their sexuality which was a reflection of the divine image and were naked and not ashamed, now they are naked and afraid. Putting fig leaves together was a pathetic form of covering, but at least symbolically indicated some protection. Instead of joyful companionship, now their sexuality means vulnerability and possibly threat. There is an anecdote of a man visiting a famous art gallery with the painting of Adam and Eve and their fig leaves entitled “spring.” His impatient wife calls to him and asks: What are you waiting for? to which he replies: Autumn. 2) We no longer take limits into account, simply because we are unlimited. “if gods exist” says Nietzsche, how could I bear not to be a god.” quoted in Thielicke How the World began p. 175 Grasping for the wisdom of the knowledge of good and evil, they have now received it and realized that they have stepped outside the boundary of limits. As a result they have broken covenant with God who now becomes a subject of fear. 3) Therefore they are hide from God. However, God does not distance God from humanity. Walking in the cool of the garden God asks the question: Where are you? What tone of voice is in the asking, ADAM, WHERE ARE YOU? Is it SCREAMING [like a parent angry with his child for disobeying;] or is it more like a compassionate voice asking; Adam, where are you? Note the answer: I was afraid because I was naked. Interestingly God queries him further: Who told you that you were naked. Did you eat from the tree which was prohibited. SCENE 3 OPPORTUNITY to come clean: vv. 12,13 The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’ NOTICE THE RESPONSES: God engages the humans; not the serpent. Of course the response is classic, and we have been doing it ever since. PASS THE BUCK. Instead of taking the opportunity for a full and free confession, the ‘Adam’ now enters into the blame game. The woman whom you gave to be with me, that I once celebrated, she gave me the fruit. Adam, you wimp, you mean you could not say ‘no.’ But when Adam says the woman YOU gave me, ultimately he is blaming God. Pointing the finger right through Eve to God. The woman fares little better. She too could say, I foolishly did not exercise my God given gift of dominion having been created in the image of God, but rather blames the serpent: He tricked me. An opportunity has been freely given to humankind to come clean, to confess; to accept responsibility for their own actions, but the opportunity is not acted upon. Now it is God’s turn to act. SCENE 4: THE CURSES vv. 14-19 The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this,/   cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures;/      upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat/           all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head,/  and you will strike his heel.’ Some theologians have called this the protoevangelium. An early reference as to how God would resolve the matter. Remember no Jewish interpreter would never see this. The idea is that the Satan the adversary would strike at Christ on the cross, Bruise his heel, but as a result of Christ’s death, a final blow is struck against the head of Satan. In this story, the serpent is just that - a serpent and nothing more. To the woman he said,/‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband,/  and he shall rule over you.’ And to the man he said,/        ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree/  about which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it”,/     cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;/ and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face/  you shall eat bread until you return to the ground,/   for out of it you were taken; you are dust,/   and to dust you shall return.’ Finally I need to draw to your attention the curse that was placed on the woman in relationship to the man: yet your desire shall be for your husband,/  and he shall rule over you.‘ THIS DOES NOT REFLECT GOD’S WILL for creation, but rather represents a curse that is undone in Christ. Paul says that in Jesus Christ we are no longer Jew/Gentile; male/female; bond/free. He makes all things new. We do not have to hide from God. In fact, God comes to us and calls us: Adam where are you? Jane where are you? Harry where are you? Judy where are you? It is a call to acknowledge our humanity, one who has been given a vocation, enjoys incredible freedom, and is under an important prohibition, to know and live within the limits of creaturehood. In obedience to God, we discover what it means to be truly human. One final word: AFTERWORD V. 20. The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all who live. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. Their pathetic attempts at cover up were just that; a symbol of fear and hiding; but God clothes them a sign that God continues the relationship in spite of humanity’s failure. Is it well with your soul? Yes through Christ who graciously clothes us with his love. Thanks be to God!       Continue reading