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

The Gift of Discernment

December 28, 2014
Bible Text: Isaiah 25:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Zander Dunn THE GIFT OF DISCERNMENT To discern is to be able to recognize or see clearly. For a Christian to discern is for him or her to see or figure out where God is working in the world. A discerning Christian can point to God at work among us. Most of the characters in the Christmas story did not use the gift of discernment. The shepherds were terrified by singing angels. They didn’t discern anything godly among them. Herod didn’t discern God in the wise men. Herod figured that the “King of the Jews” whom the wise men sought was a threat to him and he tried to get rid of Jesus, the interloper. Even Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, didn’t discern God in him. Both Mary and Joseph, when Simeon, in the temple, spoke about their son, “were amazed at what was being said about him.” An angel had told Mary she’d been chosen by God to give birth to the eternal saviour. Why would she be amazed at Simeon’s words? His parents berated Jesus when he didn’t return from the Temple with them because they couldn’t see that Jesus was in his father’s house. They didn’t see or discern God at work in their son. But Simeon - now there was a man of discernment! Eight days after Jesus’ birth, Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms, praised God, and said, “O God, now I can die in peace. I’ve seen your salvation in this little child. I can see that in this One you’ll save the Gentiles, the Jews and all people!” But Simeon discerned more than that. He could see that Jesus would make enemies; he could see Jesus would divide the people. Simeon warned Mary that she’d feel a sword pierce her soul because she’d watch her son die. Also in the Temple was Anna, an old female prophet who discerned that Jesus would redeem Israel. She discerned Jesus as the Saviour of the people. What enabled Simeon and Anna to discern, so well, the will of God in Jesus? Nothing’s explained but the narrative gives us clues. First, it’s significant that Simeon and Anna were old. Simeon was at the end of his life and Anna was 84. The gift of discernment isn’t reserved for old people, but it’s a gift which takes time to develop. It takes time to learn the ways of God. It takes time to look past the obvious to see where God’s acting. It takes time to recognize God in the small, dirty, weak things of life. Here’s a confirmation class discernment exercise. I strewed pictures of people around the room. I usually included a picture of the pope, a picture of a minister, a picture of a starving baby, a picture of an old woman, a picture of a beggar, a picture of a king or queen, a picture of a sports hero, a picture of a famous musician, a picture of a movie star, a picture of a doctor, a picture of a teacher. I asked the members of the confirmation class to tell me which one of those people looked most like God or Jesus. I wanted them to discern in which one of those people God was at work. Most students identified the pope as the one most like God. Several were diplomatic enough to say the minister was like God. Some would say the king or the doctor looked most like God. A few pointed to the sports hero or the musician as God-like. Nobody saw God in the starving baby or in the beggar, or in the old woman. There’s no right answer, of course. God might look like any of those people. God might work through any or all of them. But the young people hadn’t had enough experience of life to discern that God can come to us in the weak, the hurting, the poor. They were blind to the ways of God and so they missed God. It’ll take them time to learn how God works. It takes time to develop the gift of discernment. Second, notice that both Simeon and Anna were devout people of worship and prayer. Worship and prayer are the tools of discernment. Today worship and prayer are not much in vogue. We’re too busy. Even in the Christian church the active, outgoing, exciting things we do seem to be valued more highly than worship and prayer. Worship and prayer don’t show instant results. It would seem that worship and prayer are impractical when it comes to building a relationship with God, developing stewardship, teaching in the congregation, appealing to people. Worship and prayer are for “introverts” who can spend hours alone and don’t need the support of others. None of that’s true, of course; but that’s the perception. What is true is this: worship and prayer bring us closer to God and make us more sensitive to God with us. Worship & prayer needn’t be formal or involve words. They may be spontaneous and include feelings and colours. Worship and prayer may be silent or ecstatic. But worship and prayer are part of our tradition and practice and we’d be foolish to ignore all that, or to look elsewhere. The truth is that if we want to develop the gift of discernment we’ll have to take time for worship and prayer. Third, note that both Simeon and Anna spent much time in the temple. The temple, for the Jews, was the place where God was to be found; was where the people of God gathered; was where the things of God happened. The Jews and Jesus knew - as we know - that God can’t be tied to one place. God isn’t only in the temple or mainly in the temple. God is everywhere and is the ruler of all things. But the temple is one obvious place for God. God can be found in the poolroom and the strip club but the poolroom and strip club don’t attract spiritual people and they’re not devoted to searching for and meeting God. In the temple men and women apply themselves to considering the ways of God and they grow in the knowledge of God shared there. Jesus went out among the people where they ate and drank and did their daily chores but he also went to places of worship. Jesus worshipped in the synagogues and the temple. He did that because he knew he could expect to deal with the God issues of life and it was in the synagogues and in the temple that such issues were raised. Simeon and Anna developed the gift of discernment because they spent years maturing in the temple in worship and prayer. Simeon and Anna were able to discern, to recognize Jesus when they met him - even when he was a baby. What about us? Do we have the gift of discernment? Can we discern Jesus among us? Can we recognize God at work? Everybody has the gift of discernment to some extent. But we need to face the fact that it’s difficult for our untrained eyes to see Jesus in the world. I visited an art gallery run by a Christian man. I was impressed by all the oil paintings on the walls, on the floors, on the chairs. Many were abstract paintings which said little to me. I spent some time in front of one painting with flashes of green across the bottom and splotches of brown across the top. There was something that resembled a lamp-post on the right and a star in the upper left corner. In the foreground there was a broken bottle. In the middle of the picture there were black spots as if flies had crawled into black paint and walked across the canvas. When the curator asked me what I saw, I could only reply, “Nothing.” He persisted, but I could see only chaos, confusion. Then he pointed out a form -“Do you see this?” I replied, “Yes.” He explained, “That’s hair. Now look at this chin, those eyes, and those hands folded in prayer.” To my amazement, there, in the midst of what appeared to be disorder, was an image of Jesus in Gethsemane with hands clasped in prayer. Isn’t that symbolic of life? Around us there’s turmoil and confusion. We try, but we can’t see any meaning or purpose to it. But, when someone else recognizes the presence of Christ and bears witness to his presence, they help us discover him in the midst of life. All around us, scientific discoveries are being made in the material world, and it may be that one day the substructure of the physical universe will be explored to                                           discover an even greater indication of God in that realm. The tools of our research in the depth dimensions of life will be responsible commitment and creative action. Our difficulty in seeing Jesus in life isn’t unique. The Christian Jews of Paul’s day, couldn’t see Jesus in Paul’s relationship with the Gentiles. Paul’s conviction that Jesus was in the midst of the non-Jews led to his persecution, his suffering and his rejection. Most Christians couldn’t discern Jesus in those who weren’t Jews. But the Church exists today because of Paul’s inclusive vision. Because Paul saw Jesus alive and active among non-Jews, the Church was able to reach out beyond Jews to embrace the world. If Paul hadn’t discerned Jesus beyond Judaism, Christianity would’ve remained a Jewish sect. My wife, Nance, is amused by me when I always try to  discern the Christ figure in the movies and plays we see. Sometimes there is no Christ figure but often there is, & it’s good to exercise the gift of discernment. Once upon a time, a minister was told by God, in a dream, that Jesus would visit his church the next week. The minister figured he’d better get ready. He called in the custodian and told him to work overtime and do a special job of cleaning the sanctuary. The custodian said he would, but then he spent almost an hour recounting his family problems to the minister. The minister was very impatient and worked hard to escape from the custodian. When he got free he then went to the secretary. He directed her to straightened up her desk, to do up her hair, to put on some good clothes because a special guest was coming. The secretary said she’d do that, but she took much of the minister’s time talking about people she knew in the congregation who needed visits. He tore himself away from the secretary and went to his associate minister and told her to prepare a specially good sermon because the church would be visited by God that week. The associate minister wanted to waste his time talking theology. She argued God was always trying to get into that church but often had a hard time because few cared, or listened, or invited God The minister had to tell her to stop her rambling and get on with doing a super sermon. So the church was cleaned, the desks were tidied, the staff was well dressed, the associate’s sermon was good. But the minister never saw Jesus. He never saw anybody remotely resembling Jesus at his church that week. The next week he complained, in prayer, that God had not kept the promise to come to visit his church. That night he had another dream in which God appeared to him. In that dream, before God could say anything, the minister berated God for not coming to visit when God had promised to do so. God replied to the minister, “I came to you three times in three people but you didn’t discern and wouldn’t listen. I approached you in the custodian but you refused to see me and you didn’t hear my story. I reached out to you in the secretary, but you could only see her messy desk and bad hairdo and didn’t hear what I had to say about the members of the congregation in need. I spoke theology to you through your associate but you didn’t want to talk theology. You wanted to be the boss and tell her what to say. I tried to get you thinking about how I come into this church but you couldn’t “see” what I had to say. I’m sorry you missed me. You know, Life’s like baseball. Three strikes and you’re out. By the way, when I couldn’t get into this church, I went down the road to St. Alban’s Anglican church. I bet you never thought I’d go there.”           Continue reading

To Do Justice

November 23, 2014
Bible Text: Micah 6:8, Isaiah 53:10, Psalm 51 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Zander Dunn   “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” That verse from the Old Testament is one of the best-known, most popular and most often preached about parts of the Bible. I’m sure Jesus heard those words in the synagogue when he was growing up. The prophet Micah said those words. Micah was one of the most insightful and powerful prophets of the Hebrew Bible. A prophet was not somebody who foretold the future. A prophet was a man of deep spiritual and moral insights who addressed the political, the economic, the social and the religious issues of his day. We get the idea that the prophets could foretell the future because the prophet Isaiah is quoted as saying that a young woman would bear a son and would name him Immanuel. But the word for “young woman” some scholars, years ago, translated as “virgin.” It’s from that prognostication that we get the doctrine of The Virgin Birth of Jesus. Today we know better. We know Isaiah was not talking about a virgin giving birth to a boy in the future. We know now, Isaiah was talking of a young woman giving birth - a sign that God was with the people and had not given up on them. We also get the idea that the prophets foretold the future from the strange books of Daniel and The Revelation of John. These two books, more than any other parts of the Bible, have caused trouble and have led people astray. Our televangelists use these books of the Bible to scare people by predicting doom and disaster. They warn us that God will punish us and they blame us for the hell that awaits us. It’s bad enough that we see these books as foretelling the future; it’s even worse that we take them literally and get pictures of God that are evil and unloving. No, the prophets didn’t dabble in the future. They stirred up public issues ... and everything that affected the welfare of humanity in their day. The prophets speak to us today, not because we live in their future, but because the problems they dealt with then, are the problems we’re facing today. In Old Testament days, in Jesus’ days, today, society was, and is, often unjust, unfair. A good example of a prophet in action is Amos. At a time when things seemed to be going well God called Amos to preach harsh words to a comfortable, complacent people. Amos blasted the people for several things: for their trust in military might, for their cruel injustices to the poor, for their disgusting sexual immorality, and for their shallow, meaningless piety. Of course, that made Amos unpopular with his people. That’s how it was with most of the prophets. The prophets didn’t tell about an inescapable future; they warned about a conditional future. That’s to say, they promised that if the leaders of the political, economic, and social aspects of the country continued in their greed and corruption they and the whole nation would collapse. They cared about the whole community. They didn’t speak out simply to criticize one person or to blame one family or to bemoan one tribe. They were concerned about what was happening to the entire nation. The early prophets weren’t solitary figures, isolated in ivory towers from the real world. They were members of the community living in the midst of all its struggles. Their main concern was the relationship of their people to the Lord God. These prophets didn’t try to foretell the future. They were concerned to tell what God’s will was for the people of God. The prophets usually predicted God’s judgment on the nation when it did wrong. But the judgment they predicted was not about God laying an unavoidable divine punishment on the people. No, the prophets warned of God’s displeasure so that the people would turn back to a good relationship with God. Yes, sometimes the prophets warned of terrible things in the future, but always there was the expectation that the people would return to God. The prophets always had hope for the future. They had hope for the future because they believed in Yahweh, the God who loved the world and cared for the people in it. James Michener in his book, The Source, tells about a Canaanite village 2,200 years before Christ. The people of that village worshipped sexy and amazingly well endowed fertility idols. They sacrificed their first born sons to make their families and their land more fertile. Temple prostitutes acted out fertility rites with men to encourage better crops and more children. One wise wife scoffed at her husband who sacrificed their first born son and had intercourse with temple prostitutes. She knew the fertility was not in sacrifice or in prostitution. The fertility was in her and in her husband. She felt, rightly, that if her husband believed in a different god he’d be a different man. The character of the God we follow determines our characters as people of faith. It’s our trust in The God revealed in Jesus, which makes us the persons that we are. The God of the Bible is a just God. God’s justice is not retributive justice; God’s justice is not based on revenge. God’s justice is distributive justice; God’s justice is distributed to all of us to share. God’s concerned about equality and fairness. God doesn’t want to punish or seek revenge. A violent God begets a violent people. If we learn violence we’ll use violence. If we learn equality and love we’ll seek equality and love. Albert Schweitzer was a modern prophet and he said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, (I don’t know the future) but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found out how to serve.” This business of service, rather than revenge, is no easy thing. For example, consider Isaiah 53:10, “It has pleased the Lord to bruise the servant.” Isaiah saw the Jewish nation as The Suffering Servant. Certainly they were, and are, a bruised people. Yet from them has come all the goodness of The Old Testament or The Hebrew Scriptures - the very Scriptures Jesus learned. Jesus responded in love to the bleeding woman, the cheating tax collector, the mothers who wanted their babies blessed, the blind men who wanted to see, the crippled woman who needed straightening. It’s no accident that Isaiah 53 and the song of the Suffering Servant (the Jewish people) is quoted in the New Testament more than any other part of the Old Testament. Not only that, the most glorious music of Handel’s “Messiah” is based on Isaiah 53. Isaiah’s telling us that suffering comes before service. We must be crushed before we can care for others. Jesus calls to those who would follow him, “Repent, and believe in the good news.” When we repent, we turn around, we leave behind destructive, violent, unjust practices so that we can become partners with God in seeking justice and love. Several commentators play on this image. One states that “to repent” means “to crumble.” Another says repentance is like roto-tilling the heart. When we repent our hearts get softened by tears. Another commentator points out that the Latin     behind the word “compunction” means “punctured,” a punctured heart. The prophets were those leaders who pierced the hearts of the people and made them break because of the injustice of the nation. God brings justice through our broken hearts. Psalm 51 declares, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” When our hearts are broken we can work for justice. What breaks your heart? What brings tears to your eyes? Poverty - living below the poverty line? Abuse - physical, mental and sexual? Disease - Cancer, Polio, Ebola? Substandard housing - mould, poor insulation? Capital punishment - killing the innocent? War - destroying and punishing the civilians? Illiteracy - keeping uneducated people in the dark? Greed - stealing from the poor to enrich the wealthy? Perhaps God is calling you to do something about it! God, through the Jews, didn’t deal with abstractions. Instead, God called the Jews to deal with widows and orphans, corrupt judges, false scales. The prophets went to the slums to demand justice. They didn’t sit with the wealthy and say to the poor, “Go in peace; keep warm; eat your fill” and then do nothing to help them. We can sound loving and concerned ... but then do nothing to correct injustice. Christians must be men and women of action - action on behalf of the poor and forgotten. One theologian has declared that religious people are divided into two different camps. One group asks,“What can God do for me?” Those people expect these answers: “God can save me.” “God can give me victory.” “God can make me prosperous.” “God can make me successful.” The other group asks, “What can I do for God? What gifts do I have to serve the poor, to upbuild the depressed, to teach the unlearned?” On several occasions Christians have asked me, “Have you been saved?” They’re really asking me, “Have you had a personal experience of God’s grace in your life so you can accept Jesus as your personal saviour and get to heaven?” What they don’t ask me is this: “Have you been in a relationship with the poor, the handicapped, the victims of hatred?  Are you feeding the hungry? Are you helping the forgotten? Are you seeking justice for the oppressed and maligned?” They don’t ask those questions because they’re not doing those things. Sure, some of us give money to the poor, but we do nothing to change the systems which keep those people poor. Our whole system is structured to favour the rich. We favour the rich to the detriment of the poor. Many rich people give big gifts to help the poor. But many rich folk do nothing to fix a system which charges the rich lower taxes than it charges the poor. A theologian has warned us that whenever Christians become concerned primarily with helping a few poor souls at Christmas, they’re saying that the social system is O.K. Nobody ever attacks the rich for helping the poor. But sometimes, when the poor can’t live any longer on the minimum wage that the rich legislate, they rebel and try to destroy the system. Right now we know that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. We also know that it’s the 1% who own most of the wealth of the nations. The 99% can see there’s no justice in that. Ours is not a just society. So we get upset when the Occupy movement takes over or when the First Nations are Idle No More or when thousands march against Global Warming. The system’s broken; it’s not just; it’s not of God. Some people give up in hopelessness. Others use violence to express their frustration. But all it takes is a prophet - perhaps you - to work steadily toward justice. All it takes is one person to stand against the system. Elizabeth Warren, the senior Senator for Massachusetts, has written a book, “A Fighting Chance,” which is all about how she became a prophet in the U.S.A. As a professor of bankruptcy law, she heard many stories of how people had lost their homes and had gone bankrupt because of the things the big banks had done to them. So cold, cruel and criminal were the big banks, that she felt she had to speak out on behalf of the victims of the evil bank practices. She worked in government agencies but realized that if she were to protect the people from the banks she’d need to get elected to the senate. She ran for the Senate and won in 2012 because the little people supported her against the lies, the injustices and the illegalities of the banks. One person stands up to send forth a ripple of hope. Another person joins that one and hope expands. A group emerges and the ripples become a wave and waves change things. No prophet is perfect and can never be perfect. One man declared he could not stomach a modern prophet on the side of the poor because that prophet criticized Capitalism. There’s nothing sacred or perfect about Capitalism. Communists, nihilists, atheists all have things for us to consider even though don’t agree with them. The prophets called the people of God to wake up to the injustices being perpetrated in their midst. The prophets challenged the people who were for justice and love to stand up and put their faith into action. The prophets didn’t have all the answers. But they recognized injustice when they saw it. They stood up, spoke out and provoked change. Christians can never be content with the status quo. There are always improvements to be made. We can band together to vote, to present petitions, to support those who care for the poor, to peacefully demonstrate our views. Often even more is demanded of us. We must put our money toward the goal of justice. We must invest our time to cause justice. We must work hard to make justice happen. I’d prefer not to have to do anything. But when I see our Native people being diminished, our sick being victimized, our poor being neglected, our weak being downtrodden, then, by God, I must act. That I believe because I trust in God, the God of justice, hope and love.                             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

Who was Jesus?

October 19, 2014
Bible Text: Isaiah 42:1-9, Luke 6:27-36 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Zander Dunn   The person, nature and theology of Jesus have become big issues in the church today. The Jesus Seminar has given us new insights into the life and thought of Jesus. It’s good for us Christians to go back to Jesus and to reconsider his words and actions. Men, and especially women, are seeing Jesus again for the first time. My thinking about Jesus and my faith in Jesus have changed over the years. But, no matter how much my theology has changed I still follow Jesus; I’m one of his disciples. There are as many different Jesuses as there are disciples of Jesus. I worshipped in a United Church and there was a a picture of Jesus - white, blond and blue-eyed. I entered a Roman Catholic church and there was Jesus - thin, beaten, bleeding, dying on a cross. I remember a preacher, in a sermon, telling us that Jesus was exactly 6 feet tall, even though the Bible says nothing about Jesus’ body. In the Caribbean I saw a black Jesus in the chancel. We know Jesus was a Jew and was never a Christian but most Christians don’t believe that. I said that in a sermon many years ago, and a woman told me she had never heard that before and could not believe it now. An archaeologist, using the skull of a first century Jew, reconstructed what Jesus might have looked like. A pious Christian said she couldn’t believe that sculpture represented Jesus because he looked like “the kind of guy who couldn’t make it through airport security.” She complained Biblical scholars made Jesus into “a bisexual, cross-dressing, whale-saving, tobacco-hating, vegetarian, African Queen who actually went to the temple to lobby for women’s rights.” (I see nothing wrong with any of those things). Jesus was not a sweet, popular, cuddly guy. He didn’t attract everybody; he had many enemies. He was a peasant who often spoke out against the ruling class. He was allied with the Pharisees, but often upset them with his radical views. Josephus was the only one who wrote about Jesus outside our Gospels. Our four Gospels disagree about many major issues in the life of Jesus and they do not give us a comprehensive picture of Jesus. We get snippets from the life of Jesus and we build our theologies of Jesus on them. We have only one Gospel, but four/five versions of it. The life of Jesus has too much meaning to be limited to only one account of it. Each of the four Gospels gives us a different look at Jesus. No matter how hard we try, we cannot synthesize the stories of Jesus. The Gospels are not history; they’re not objective accounts; they’re not dictated by God. Each Gospel is written by an author who saw Jesus in a unique way. Each Gospel tells us what was important to the author of that Gospel. For example, Mark, the first Gospel written, gives us very few speeches by Jesus, gives us several geographical mistakes, gives us stories about Jesus’ dense disciples. Matthew teaches us through the sermons of Jesus. Matthew sees Jesus as another Moses. Matthew focuses on new rules and regulations. Luke was the historian who emphasized the suffering poor, the rejected outcastes, the downcast women. John was entirely different than the other three because he spoke about Jesus as divine, because he was against “the Jews,” because he had Jesus making claims for himself which are hard to believe. In other words, we don’t have an agreed-upon picture of Jesus among the earliest Christians. Jesus defied definition. Nobody could capture Jesus with words. Jesus wasn’t even very religious. Seldom did he speak about God. Instead he told stories which you had to apply to God or not, which you had to read God into, which you had to figure out for yourself. So who was Jesus? And more important, who is Jesus to you today? What we know about Jesus are not all historical facts. But the things we know about Jesus are true. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Imagine a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald. In one hand he holds the Canadian Pacific railroad. In the other hand he holds the province of Quebec. He embraces the entire map of Canada - from Newfoundland to British Columbia, from Amherst Island to Baffin Island. On his back he proudly wears two flags - the Union Jack and the Maple Leaf. But none of those items is literally true. Sir John A. MacDonald did not build the C.P.R. He was not the leader in Quebec; that was Cartier. Canada did not stretch from Newfoundland to British Columbia or from Amherst Island to Baffin Island when he was Prime Minister. The Maple Leaf flag did not exist during his time. But the statue would be true because Sir. John A. Macdonald was behind all those symbols. He was the inspiration for the new nation of Canada. He got us started. He empowered the C.P.R. to unite us. He made Quebec feel part of our Canadian nation. Sir John A. Macdonald was the leader of the founding fathers of Canada. In the same way we tell stories about Jesus which may not be literally factual but which are true. Did Jesus walk on water? Did Jesus turn water into wine? Did Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes? Did Jesus give sight to the blind? Did Jesus calm the stormy sea? Did Jesus raise Lazarus from three days in the grave? You may believe those things literally happened but I cannot. And yet, I agree with you that those things tell us great truths about Jesus. That’s the important thing - not whether those stories actually happened but what those stories mean. I suspect, that while we might disagree as to whether those stories tell of historical events, we’d agree as to what they mean. Jesus walking on water signalled that he could walk all over Leviathan, the evil monster of the deep. Jesus turning water into wine showed that he came to bring new life and joy out of ordinary things. Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes revealed that he was the bread of life and that without him our spirits would go hungry and we would die of starvation. When Jesus gave sight to the blind he was saying that through him people would see the truth. Jesus calmed the seas because he revealed that in him the power of God was greater than the power of nature. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead displayed his power over death to give new life to those who put their trust in him. Above all else the Gospels portray Jesus going to those who were hated, despised, rejected. Why did Jesus do that? Because, as John tells us, “God so loved the world (everybody) that he gave his only son.” Why did God give his chosen son? Because God wanted to put divine love into action. Look, we’ve debated the role and purpose of Jesus, but all the stories about him state that he is beyond all description, but at the same time he is the embodiment of that for which we all yearn. I like what Amy Jill Levine says about Jesus. (Amy Jill Levine is a Jewish woman who teaches New  Testament at a Christian theological college). Amy Jill Levine says that even though the Gospels don’t always agree about Jesus, we get a good picture of what Jesus was trying to promote. Jesus gathered disciples - followers. He attracted crowds by healing and teaching. He was testy, edgy, provocative. Some people wanted to kill him. Others wanted to make him king. Jesus dedicated his life to loving enemies, forgiving enemies, healing enemies. Above all, he was committed to serving God, to suggesting God’s way, to getting people to follow God. People were so impressed by Jesus and by what he did that they saw God in him. They did not think that he was God. No Jew would ever consider any man to be divine. But they saw that God so filled up Jesus that God was acting through him. They called Jesus “Son of God,” but many people were called “Son of God” to indicate their intimacy with God. Jesus was one of the great “Sons of God.” Some Christians went even further and claimed that Jesus was divine because he had been born of a virgin. They didn’t realize that the Hebrew word in Isaiah meant “young woman” not “virgin.” But they wanted Jesus to be born of a virgin because every great man or foreign god was born of a virgin. Here’s another way of thinking about Jesus. One writer says that Jesus today is walking around oppressed by layer after layer of clothing. For 2,000 years we’ve put layer after layer of clothes on Jesus and we’ve turned him into somebody very different from the man who got into the water to be baptized by John. We’ve laid on Jesus political clothing, economic clothing, cultural clothing, church clothing. Jesus is so bogged down by the clothes we’ve put on him that we can’t see the real man. As a result we claim that Jesus sends men to war. We say Jesus rejects immigrants, especially Orientals. We declare Jesus hates homosexuals, even though Jesus never said anything about homosexuals. The time has come to divest Jesus of all those clothes, to remove all the crap we’ve laid on him, to take off the layers of tradition, to lift off our ideas and theologies and get back to the Jesus who stood in the water to be baptized by John. Easy to say; hard to do. How do we remove from Jesus some of our favourite traditions, theologies, insights, ideas? I have to stand up with all of you and say, “Let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s share our views about Jesus. I have to be ready to withdraw my theology if you can convince me I am wrong, but you must be ready to do the same.” Would it not be wonderful if in the church we could talk that way to one another? Unfortunately I find that while I can live with and love those who take the Bible literally they cannot live with and love me. I can live with and love those who take the Bible literally because I know I might be able to learn something from them. I don’t agree with them now, but I find that we both follow and serve the same Jesus. Unfortunately, one of those who disagrees with me said to me once, “Your God is not my God.” If that’s true, then I’m concerned for that person because the Jesus I know and follow loves everybody and is ready to search for and to save everyone. I believe we Christians, although we differ in our theological views, are all following Jesus. One thing most New Testament scholars agree on - and they don’t agree on much - is that Jesus’ main aim was the Kingdom of God. Jesus wasn’t concerned about “pie in the sky when you die.” Jesus wasn’t talking about life beyond the grave so much as he was talking about life here and now. Jesus didn’t speak much about the future in heaven; he spoke about a political state here and now. Jesus contrasted the Kingdom of Caesar with the Kingdom of God. According to the Kingdom of Caesar, Might was Right. Rome ruled by force of arms. People who lived in the Kingdom of Caesar had no rights, no choices, no power. They lived under the oppression of Rome. The Pax Romana, The Roman Peace, was not really “PEACE.” The Roman Peace was the absence of rights for the people, the absence of freedom for the people, and the absence of power for the people. The Kingdom of God was the opposite. In the Kingdom of God there would be rule by love and justice. In the Kingdom of God the budget would not be for war; it would be for peace. In the Kingdom of God, the rich would not be first; the poor would get first concern. In the Kingdom of God, the healthy would not get all the attention. The sick would get first claim on our money, our time and our expertise. In Jesus’ time Rome was not the kingdom of God. The Christians turned everything upside dow and employed all the adjectives used to describe Caesar to point to Jesus. Jesus was Lord. Jesus ruled the world. Jesus was the son of God. Jesus was the saviour. All those things the Romans had said about Caesar. No wonder the Romans had to get rid of the Christians. The Christians were stealing all the Roman claims. The Christians were replacing all the Roman attitudes. The Christians were turning Roman theology upside       down. The Christians, by usurping all the Roman claims, were saying, “Rome is not the kingdom of God. Rome is not the will of God.” The Gospels kept asking, “Whose kingdom will you choose?” Today we’re asked, “Whose kingdom will you choose? The Kingdom of Canada or the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of militarism or the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of profit and money or the Kingdom of God?” The struggle I have, as a follower of Jesus, is that I have to live in the Kingdom of Canada, the Kingdom of militarism, the Kingdom of Capitalism, money, and  power and still try to proclaim the Kingdom of God. I fail too often, I know. That’s why I want everyone in the church to follow Jesus - so that they’ll not be on the wrong side but will stand with Jesus, the Lord, the one who best represents God.                 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

The Life That Really is Life

September 28, 2014
Bible Text: Deuteronomy 8:11-18, 1Timothy 6:17-19 | Preacher: Annemarie Klassen   In a short story by D. H. Lawrence called “The Rocking Horse Winner,” Lawrence tells about a family with a boy and two little girls. They live comfortably, in a nice house with a garden. But there is a feeling of discontent in the family because there is never enough money. Both parents have adequate incomes, but they don’t have enough money to reach the social position they desire. The father pursues business deals that never materialize. The mother tries to earn more money, but it is never enough. Failure and bitterness are etched deeply on her face, and the children can never penetrate the hardness at the centre of her heart. In time, their home becomes haunted with the unspoken phrase, “There must be more money".  No one ever says it aloud, least of all the children. But the words fill the home, especially in the room where the expensive toys are. “Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll’s house, a voice would start whispering: ‘There must be more money! There must be more money!"  The children could hear it all the time, though nobody said it aloud. And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment.  They would look in each other’s eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each saw it in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. ‘There must be more money! There must be more money!’ Yet nobody ever said it aloud. The whisper was everywhere, and therefore no one spoke it. Just as no one ever says: ‘We are breathing!’ in spite of the fact that breath is coming and going all the time.” The second story takes place on a prairie farm. This time there are 3 boys and 3 girls and a mother and a father. The family lives in a small house with very simple furnishings. Times are difficult – sometimes hail wipes out an entire bumper crop of wheat; sometimes it is the grasshoppers; sometimes a good harvest makes up for the losses of a previous year. With lots of hard work there is always enough food to last through the cold winters. The pleasures were simple . . . A deep joy permeates this household. Every evening the family gathers for the nightly ritual – a reading from the bible and a prayer. Kneeling at the old wooden chairs in the kitchen, the father gives thanks for the blessings of the day for work to do and play; food and shelter; health and well-being; And finally, there is always a prayer for protection during the night – an acknowledgement that all of life, even the hours of sleep, are in God’s hands. And sometimes during this ritual the children’s minds wander off to the events of the day, or to some far-off dream world. But they feel it nonetheless – A sense of belonging and abundance, even in the midst of scarcity; A deep “knowing” that they are in God’s safe keeping. They feel it – The smell of the varnish on the chairs . . . Varnish and musk and security And love and togetherness All mingled together. God with them . . . That space in the kitchen Made meaningful . . . By the intersection Of the human and the divine. “God with us.” A great inheritance. An amazing legacy. The second story is my story. I believe this story has shaped my life in ways I can never imagine. It’s a simple story – a story of being deeply loved – a story of God’s abundance. It is the story that enables me, on my better days, to reach out and to walk in the world with open hands. The happiness of my childhood was not based on having. It was also not based on not having. It was based on my parent’s affirmation of God’s abundant goodness, no matter what the situation of our lives. Theologian, Walter Brueggeman, talks about two stories that operate in our lives: the money story and the story of the gospel. There is a tension between them because each competes for loyalty in our lives. The money story is based on the myth of scarcity. The refrain of this story is, “There will never be enough,” or “More is always better.” The gospel story is based on the truth of God’s abundance. The refrain here is, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” The first story leads to anxiety, restlessness and greed. The second story leads to a life shaped by gratitude and thanksgiving. The task of our faith is to move us in incremental steps from the money story to the gospel story. Thankfulness is at the heart of the Christian journey. To know God is to be thankful. Meister Eckhardt, a Dominican monk of the 13C said, “If the only prayer we ever say is ‘thank you’ that will be enough.” Our problem is that we too easily forget that all of life – everything – is gift and our everyday life becomes an illusion that we have no need for God. We think we earned it and take it for granted. And we say: It’s mine! Sitcom: Bart Simpson – asked to give thanks for Thanksgiving dinner: “I don’t see anything here that we did not earn with our own hands – no thanks to you God.” In our culture it is increasingly difficult to make connections between our abundance and God’s provision: It was not hard for my parents to make connections between the rain and sun that God provides and the food that was put away for the winter. And I remember when the cheques from the Canadian Wheat Board arrived in the fall, my father wrote a cheque to the church off the top (I believe it was 10%). And I remember the great thankoffering sevice at the church and the gratitude that another crop had been gathered in and the excitement to see how much money would come in for the big mission offering. But we no longer live in an agrarian society or a goods-based economy. Now we often make money without producing any products or providing a service. Now we move money from one investment account to another.  And we think we are clever, or perhaps lucky, but ‘grateful’ is not very high on our radar screen.  And we find that God is increasingly out of the loop. Our primary stewardship question is not: “How will we meet our budget?” It is: How do we cultivate gratitude in a culture that isn’t grateful? How can we be led to an awareness of God’s grace in our lives? THE ANTIDOTE: REMEMBER YOUR STORY In the scripture from Deuteronomy read today God tells the Hebrew people to remember their story. “When you come into the land that I have promised you . . . when you have eaten your fill, built fine houses, and your herds and flocks have multiplied . . . and have amassed silver and gold . . . Then remember that it is I who brought you . . . land of slavery, through the desert, land of mild and honey.  I, your God, held you in my hand and led you. Remember.” Remembering is critical for the Israelites. Rehearse, rehearse your story. Tell your children.  And to this day, their liturgies reflect that story . . . Because if you don’t remember you will start to think that you earned it. You will say, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”(17) It’s a contemporary message: When you get into the land and become prosperous, your things, your stuff – everything that you have amassed – will cause you to forget. You will forget, in your prosperity, that all is gift. THE PROBLEM: in forgetting this you will become disconnected from me, your source of life. And always, always, when you remember, give thanks. And when you do that . . . share with those around you – with the aliens, the widows and the orphans. This is a recurring theme throughout scripture. As God has been generous with us, so we are to be generous with others. Our giving grows out of the fact that we have already received. AND THIS IS NOT SIMPLY ABOUT MONEY. IT IS ABOUT A WHOLE WAY OF LIVING THAT IS GENEROUS IN ALL ASPECTS! (OUR INTELLECT, OUR TIME, OUR ABILITIES, OUR POSSESSIONS, OUR VERY LIFE) We are to rehearse and rehearse the story of God’s grace in our lives because we live in a world where the stories are stories of scarcity and hoarding, not of abundance and sharing . . . Everything around us tells us that happiness lies in getting more – more things, more influence, more stock options, more popularity, more published articles, more travel, more tax breaks – MORE. TV ads beckon us with evermore enticing lifestyles. We exist to work to earn money to buy stuff. True happiness is just another purchase or two away – but we are never satisfied. “Life is good . . . shopping is better.” [what a crass life-denying statement!!] Our economic structure depends on wants being created so that they will be satisfied by buying. And when our cup is full to overflowing, the tendency may be to buy a bigger cup because ‘things’ can never satisfy. The money story is the dominant story of our culture – we cannot escape it, and it has a deep influence on our lives. It has worked its way into our DNA, and it is difficult for us to see how powerful it really is. How can we discern which is the real, authentic story that leads to a full, satisfying, abundant life? Is it the money story? Is it the story of gratitude, contentment and generosity? We need a reality check. It only takes a phone call – perhaps from a doctor’s office or the police station, and we know instantly that the money story is the fake story – the chimera – that it will never offer ultimate joy. But sometimes the reality check comes in those moments of wonder when we hold a newborn baby, or see a child’s smile – or when we gaze out at a serene landscape, or the vast beauty of a moonlit sky. OUR HEARTS KNOW IMMEDIATELY WHERE THE REALITY LIES. [Michele Hershberger: “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. Unless we give that money to God and let God use it .] . What is it that we seek? We search for more and forget that we are exceedingly wealthy. We are blessed with rich inner resources, with family and friends, with the gifts each of us brings to this community of faith, and yes, even with financial resources. And we are blessed by the divine spirit operating in our lives. God is a God of abundance. God, who gives us our every God, who graciously led the Israelites out of slavery and into a land flowing with milk and honey. In the dessert, when God fed the people with manna, God’s generosity matched their needs perfectly. They had enough.Yet the people started to stockpile the manna, taking more than they needed for each day. And God told them if they took extra, it would rot and others would not get what they needed. By remembering our story we begin to identify and articulate how grace has been active in our lives. And we will begin to understand something about the fears and anxieties that operate in our lives.. We understand fear. There is much to fear nowadays. There is a fear that the world of tomorrow will be unrecognizable. Such fear leads to over concern for self-interests and the inability to take risks. Instead we run for cover and seek to protect what we have, grasping it with clenched fists. (like the unopened pine cone) Ultimately the desires of our hearts will never be satisfied by the things that money can buy – a certain lifestyle, power, influence, popularity. Janes Dean Pike – “Hell is when you get what you wanted and it isn’t what you should have had.” Recently my computer screen flashed the following message: “Position yourself for growth in this financial market.” Interesting, I thought, I can position myself. I can cue up in the right line. I can take hold. I can be intentional. But which line do I choose to cue up for? The letter of Paul to Timothy also talks about a kind of positioning; a kind of cueing up. He encourages those who are rich to . . . “Take hold of the life that really is life.” How do they position themselves? By doing good, being rich in good works, generous, and ready to share” Gerard Hopkins, Jesuit priest, over 100 yrs ago – a gifted visionary, a linguist who used his gift of faith and poetic expression to inspire others wrote: “The earth is charged by the grandeur of God.” A person who was deeply inspired by Hopkins’ writings, and yearning for a deeper faith, wrote him and asked how he might learn to have faith such as his. Hopkins wrote back a short reply: “Give alms.” In Christian ethics alms-giving is seen as a matter of justice, not mercy – or giving to those in need that which is rightfully theirs. We act our way into new ways of believing. We act our way into the story of faith by giving, by sharing, by reaching out. Today we are encouraged by the story of the Hebrew people. We can begin today:  Remember your story. Write it down, share it around the family table, tell a friend Give thanks – celebrate And think about how your living and your giving is a reflection of gratitude for your very life how it is helping you to grow into new dimensions of faith. What return can I make to the Lord for all that the Lord has done for me?” May the refrain of the Psalmist become so much a part of us that, in the words of D. H. Lawrence, it is like the breath that is coming and going all the time. Then it will be part of our very DNA. Then we will be a generous people, offering our best to God and to others.   Continue reading

The Power of Hospitality

September 21, 2014
Bible Text: Genesis 19:1-11, Luke 14:15-24 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Zander Dunn   Hospitality will help the church to grow. The lack of hospitality will kill the church. Several of you have told me about churches where you were not made welcome. One man told me he went to a Presbyterian Church for four Sundays in a row and nobody spoke to him; nobody even welcomed him. The result? That man decided not to attend that church. A woman told me about a church she visited because she was “church shopping.” The only one who spoke to her and shook her hand was the minister. She never went back. A citizen of Kingston said to me, “I don’t go to that church because nobody notices me; nobody remembers my name; nobody cares about me.” I read about a stranger to a church who sat in the front row with a stove-pipe hat on his head. He said he did that to show he was a newcomer. He didn’t want anybody to overlook him. The trouble was that most people feared him. He was so different they didn’t know what to do with him. There was a time in this church when people raised their arms in the air while singing hymns. That got them attention, but not a warm welcome. On the other hand, I was impressed when we attended worship in a church where three people welcomed us. After the service two people sat with us over coffee. Another person offered to show us around the church. Hospitality is extremely important according to the Bible and according to Jesus. In the Old Testament there’s the story of Abraham’s hospitality to some strangers. He ran to greet them and to make them welcome. Hospitality protected people from the dangers of travelling alone. There were no safe, cheap shelters for travellers. Those who travelled could be robbed, beaten and killed. If a needy traveller were discovered he should be welcomed, fed abundantly, and housed warmly even at great cost to the host family. Jesus went beyond that. He told a parable in which the king says to those who were given the kingdom, “I was naked and you clothed me. I was hungry and you fed me. I was a stranger & you welcomed me.” They didn’t realize that by clothing, feeding and  welcoming the stranger they were being hospitable to the king himself. Jesus challenged his followers to overcome their fear of the stranger and attend to the lonely, the excluded, the rejected. One of the most shocking parables Jesus told we call The Good Samaritan. You know the story: a Jew is beaten by robbers and left for dead; the best Jewish religious leaders pass him by; a Samaritan, hated by the Jews, attends to him. Jesus called his listeners to be hospitable even to those we hate or fear. The Jews hated and denigrated the Samaritans. Samaritans were unclean, heretical half-breeds. The Samaritans returned the compliment. We build ourselves up by looking down on others. I look down on people who look down on people. That’s prejudice and it enables us to hide our insecurities even from ourselves. The trouble is that when we look down on others we dehumanize the others but ourselves also. We can’t be human and degrade another single person. The only way to treat another human as an equal being is to be hospitable. Even today the Jews and Samaritans fear each other. When we visited Israel we travelled in a small bus. I wanted to visit Shechem, the site of the covenant renewal ceremonies, in Samaria. Our guide said we’d stop there on the way home. Unfortunately we got delayed and night fell upon us. Our guide told us that he dared not stop in Shechem in the dark for fear the Arabs or Samaritans who lived there would attack us. So I missed Shechem, the place of covenant renewal ceremonies, because of the lack of hospitality. Greek stories and fairy tales often tell about gods and supernatural beings who disguise themselves as the lowest of mortals, and then go through the earth to see how people will treat them. The Epistle to the Hebrews warns, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hospitality is one gateway to God. Hospitality to others may be the best way to God. Hospitality is more than being kind to strangers and welcoming newcomers to church. When we’re truly hospitable we affirm that each person we meet is made in God’s image. Each person, regardless of race, nationality, age, economic class, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, each person is loved by God. That means every person must be welcomed and accepted and supported by us. Jesus lived out that attitude. Jesus accepted everybody. Jesus welcomed everybody. Remember how Jesus chastised some Pharisees for their lack of hospitality. Jesus pointed out to one Pharisee friend, who had invited him to a feast at his house, that the Pharisee had not greeted Jesus nor had he washed Jesus’ feet. He said that to the Pharisee because a so-called “bad” woman had greeted him, had washed his feet with her tears and had dried them with her hair. Obviously the Pharisee, a good, religious man, who wanted to reform Judaism, did not consider a woman, a “bad” woman, worthy of his attention and welcome. He was not hospitable because he knew he was better than that woman and he didn’t want to make her feel at home in his house. During World War II the Huguenot town of France, Le Chambon, hid many Jews away from the Nazis who were out to kill all Jews. It was natural for Huguenots to receive the poor and suffering Jews; it was part of their faith. They were very successful; Jews were seldom found. When the Nazis came to inspect the church and the people in the town, Mrs. Trocme, the minister’s wife, invited the Nazi officers in for lunch. The people were horrified, scandalized, upset. Madame Trocme explained that it was the role of the Christian to be hospitable to everybody. Even the despised Nazis were to be welcomed. There are no exceptions to our hospitality because God has made us all of equal value. Even our enemies need and deserve our love. I remember the time a woman of another church phoned me about a mutual friend. She didn’t want to invite that woman to her church because that woman wasn’t her social equal. Not only that, she was superior to that woman on an intellectual and educational level. That Christian lady asked me to visit our mutual friend and take her into our church where she was sure she’d feel more at home. I took her words as a compliment to me and to our congregation, but I marvelled at the arrogance of the woman who phoned me. Imagine, that Christian lady refused to deal with a woman whom she felt was beneath her socially and intellectually. That Christian lady lacked hospitality. As a result she lost a friend, she lost a member for her church, she lost my respect. Paul declared that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free. There are no divisions among us; we are all one in Jesus, our Lord. The Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament remind us over and over again that there are three groups of people to whom we must be especially hospitable. Those three groups are strangers, widows and orphans. Those people were the weakest, the least protected and the most disadvantaged members of society. Widows were in need of attention because they were without a man to protect and provide for them. Orphans were without a man, a father, in their lives. Strangers were listed with widows and orphans because they were alone. Strangers not only lacked a man to protect them and provide for them but they had no friends to support them. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says that the mark of true Christians is that they will “extend hospitality to strangers.” If you’ve ever felt alone you know how important it is to be uplifted by the hospitality of the people around you. We’re not made to be alone. We’re created by God for community. When we declare that we’re made in the image of God we’re saying that we are made to relate to God,  to communicate and commune with God. God works through people, so we have to take the time to see God in the others around us. As Christians we have to connect with those who are alone and lonely. There is nobody more alone than the person suffering an illness. Anybody who is chronically sick knows that he or she is often outside the fellowship of friends. True, some of those who are friends and family do wonderful things to make the sick person feel loved and needed. Still, there is a difference - I’m sick; you’re not. I remember reading about a young girl who became a victim of cancer and lost all her hair. For a girl to lose her hair is traumatic. The normal girl spends hours each day brushing, combing, arranging her hair. She felt naked when her friends came to visit. Her friends all had their hair. One of her closest friends called up the other friends - both boys and girls - and suggested a most unusual way to support the girl with the cancer problem. Two days later, when they all walked into the hospital to visit their bald friend, she broke into laughter and tears. All her friends - both boys and girls - were bald. They had not only shaved off all their hair but they had donated their hair to make a wig for their friend with cancer. What a joyful event that was - 27 young people all bald and all gathered around the bald cancer victim in the centre. That girl knew she had been welcomed, was greatly loved and would always have friends. Jesus related to the sick and the outcasts in a unique way. Jesus didn’t let anything get between him and those he wanted to welcome. Jesus broke all the rules of religious purity in order to relate to a tax collector, a woman hemorrhaging, a synagogue leader with a sick daughter. The tax collector was the most hated man in society. He lined his own pockets by collecting taxes for the enemy, the Roman oppressors. The woman who was bleeding was discharging menstrual blood which made her unclean. Yet, when she touched Jesus, Jesus commended her for doing so. Men have always feared menstrual blood. One reason given as to why women cannot be priests in the Roman Catholic Church is that if they were menstruating at the altar they                                    would pollute that holy place. The synagogue leader had tried to save his daughter. But nothing had worked. So, in desperation, he turned to Jesus. Jesus went to the home of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, and ate and drank with him. Jesus was happy when the unclean woman touched his garment so that her bleeding stopped. Nothing kept Jesus from going to be with the elder of the synagogue and his daughter, even when it was reported she had died. Jesus touched her and gave her life back to her. Jesus was most famous for his table fellowship. He sat down at table to eat, drink and talk with the sinners, the outcasts, the damned and the rejected. For those people to sit down for a meal with Jesus meant that Jesus accepted them and was open to them. He showed them that they were important. What was the meaning of all this eating and drinking with Jesus? Most people at the time of Jesus never had a full stomach. Many went to bed hungry; others starved to death. The symbol of heaven for the people was a feast. At the heavenly banquet there would be meat - the poor people hardly ever ate meat. The meat would give them strength. There would be wine, something only the rich could enjoy and then only on special occasions. Go back and read the New Testament and you’ll find many times food is mentioned and celebrated. It’s significant that Jesus shared a meal with his disciples before he was killed. Those disciples of Jesus were not good men. One had been a tax collector. One had been a zealot, out to kill Romans. One became a traitor. None of them understood Jesus. They all abandoned him in his final hours. Jesus embraced them all. I used to think that the communion service was the most sacred part of worship, and that it was for good, holy people only. In the good old days of Presbyterian history you couldn’t receive communion unless you were given a token to show you were worthy. I, as a minister, used to “fence the table.” I would put an imaginary fence around the table warning the unrepentant or unloving that they shouldn’t come to the table but should stay outside the fence. Now I know better. I now know Jesus was hospitable to everyone. Sinners, failures, the unclean and the outcasts were welcome and encouraged to share in the table fellowship of eating and drinking. So now I announce that everyone is invited to the table of Jesus - Jews, Muslims, Hindus - because he never kept anybody away. One of the greatest sins of the church is to keep God’s people from eating and drinking at the Table of the Lord. Everybody is welcome. God invites all of us to be with him in sharing the communion meal. Such is the hospitality of God. Anything less is unworthy of the Church. Let nothing separate us from the hospitality of God.                               Continue reading