Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christ the King - B

From Kingdom to…


Today is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar. It is the Sunday where we wrap up the old, conclude all of our thoughts, and prepare to move on once more into the season of Christmas. So what do you say to sum up Christianity?

Over the years we have said it slightly differently – but to think of this Sunday historically one has to think of that time when the disciples were arguing about money, and Jesus asked whose head was on the coin… 

“Caesar’s,” they answered, “well then,” said Jesus, “Caesar is the king and give him the money.”

As the disciples thought about this more and more they decided that Jesus should be their king, not Caesar. And maybe it is a political rebellion fermenting, or maybe it is a metaphor and Jesus is king of our hearts, but so was born ‘Christ the King’ Sunday.

Of course, the argument against this comes from Jesus himself, who said such things as “My Kingdom is not of this earth,” and “the Kingdom of God is among you.”

He was the guy who argued that the way the rulers of this world work is often contrary to the way of goodness, of love, of God.

The reason Jesus was killed was political, he was branded a traitor and crucified for political dissidence, the Romans thought he was a troublemaker…. So what was this Kingdom Jesus was talking about, and what does it mean for us today?

That is what we are going to be exploring throughout this service.

Politics of Faith

There have been three phases of this movement Jesus started; and each one changed its followers, and the church. I want to give you a really brief history lesson and then perhaps we can see a little more clearly how we got from Jesus preaching about love to the state of the world today.

First, Jesus came to reform the Jewish church. That was his mission; that was the scope of his influence. It took Paul to see that there was a chance to spread the message a little further – and so Christianity started out as an illegal, underground, missionary movement. For the first 300 years, if you were a Christian and caught, you were executed. This is when most of what we think of as the New Testament was written, during a time of fear, a time of persecution.

In 312 AD Constantine took on his co-emperors in a battle called Milvian Bridge. He decided to paint a Christian symbol on his soldier’s shields, maybe get the help of this new God… and he won, becoming the sole emperor of Rome. Overnight Christianity went from an underground movement to the official church of the government.

Now, believe it or not, this lasted forever, let’s say until the late 1960’s. Church was the civic branch of the government. We ran universities and hospitals, we gave money to the poor and organized the food banks; you went to church simply because you were a good citizen… and everyone went…

Most people thought this was the Kingdom Jesus had talked about – we sent missionaries to the far corners of the world and there were Christians everywhere. Governments consulted with the pope, with the ministers, with Billy Graham even before making decisions. Everything was getting bigger and better all the time.

But… as we all know… something was flawed in this… wars continued to erupt, disease continued to ravage the land, poverty just kept getting worse, and people were not really all that loving; especially to the outcasts that Jesus always said should be the focus of our love….

It took the hippies of the 60’s to point out the chink in the armour; but as soon as they drew attention to how the old institutions, like the church, did not actually live up to their claims – everything began to unravel.

The Kingdom of God is like…

Jesus used a lot of images to try and tell us what this peaceable kingdom he was proclaiming was all about – it was like a mustard seed which grows into a huge plant, it was like a vineyard where everyone was treated equally, it was like a banquet to which everyone was invited.

I think of it this way – heaven on earth.

And what Jesus was trying to get across is that heaven is the state of being where we are all loved and valued the way the God would love and value us… His first sermon quoted a prophesy from Isaiah in which the captives are set free, the poor are fed, the debts repaid… That is his idea of the Kingdom of God.

He had no better word – Kingdom made sense… God is the King. A lot of people argue now that the political language, the idea of a king, of a kingdom – none of it makes sense when we are talking about the world Jesus sought to create. Some people change it to the reign of God.  I have even recently heard it called the “Kin-Dom” and place where we are all kin.

I think that is all semantics. I wish I myself had a better word to suggest to you, maybe some of you could think up a poetic way to describe it… But what is it that we are talking about, really?

Well, Jesus went and called together people from all walks of life. He told them that they should look out for each other, that they should even go further than that and find the most vulnerable people in society and help them. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bathe the sick.

He was not just talking once or twice; he was saying this should be our way of life, our attitude, to put love first. Jesus in fact treated women more like equals than anyone else, talking to them about their lives and their faith, he sat down and ate with the outcasts of society who no one else would talk to, and he stayed at anyone’s house who would ask him in.

He understood that compassion and dignity, that love and equality, would make the world the type of place it was supposed to be… and that is what he tried to get across to his followers.

“The Kingdom of God is among you…” he would say; it is not the future, it is not life after death, it is right here, right now… the question is, can you see it?

Putting it all Together

So I still think it comes back to that moment with the coin; all of what it means to be a Christian summed up in one sentence… whose face is on the coin.

In other words, who is at the centre of what you do – is it money, politics, ambition, greed, the things of this world; or is it love, compassion, patience and hope, the things of God.

I think the Kingdom is as simple and as easy as that – we are called to put love first, to put God first in our lives; and if we can, when we can manage to do that, the world will change.

We begin another year next Sunday in the church. We begin by thinking about how simple things, like a birth in a manger, can make huge differences. It is something to think about.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pentecost 23 B

Sacrificial Love


“Greater love has no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends”

That is a quote from the Gospel of John – to put it in a bit of a context for you, Jesus is talking about being the vine and the branches. He is talking about following God’s commandments. He is explaining to the disciples that they are his friends… and he is talking about sacrificial love.

For Jesus, love is a very simple concept – you are willing to do anything to help the other person. You are willing to risk yourself for the other person.

Last week was All Souls… the day after Halloween is officially the day we remember the dead and their contribution to our lives. Next week is Remembrance Day… the day when we officially remember the men and women who have put their lives on the line for freedom because of their sense of love.

It is a concept that is at the heart and soul of what we believe as Christians – we believe that risking out of love, that helping others with everything we have and do; is the centre of what Jesus taught us. To love, and to love extravagantly, is our mission.

Setting Out in Love

We live in a world where we can understand the lives of Naomi and Ruth. Where people are forced to move in order to find jobs and where economic security is hard to come by… and in this opening passage we are told in a nutshell the life story of Naomi – she fell in love, she followed her husband back to the land of his people. They lived happily, their sons got married… but then, tragedy, her husband and sons die and Ruth has no relatives anywhere near by – so she decides to head home.

In the midst of this her concern is for the well-being of her son’s wives… she begs them to go back to their own homes and find new husbands. It is her love for them that begs them to turn back… and it is Ruth’s great love for Naomi, for her mother in law of all people, which makes her stay.

It is an unexpected moment of love.

I would argue that this is not an exceptional moment in time. I have seen similar things happen a lot. I have seen people stay with strangers by the side of the road at car accidents. I have seen others open their houses to people who are passing by just because they are in need.

I am pretty sure that love really is at the centre of who we are and how we are. The thing is, we do not make a big enough deal about it. We do not celebrate those moments where people reach out and make a difference. We find it hard to accept thanks when we do nice things for other people.

So what do we have to do to put love more at the centre of our lives? How do we recognize that acts of love are happening all the time around us?

I mean, we know some of them – we honour some of them on Remembrance Day – but I want it to be more of an everyday realization; and how do we do that?

Of Sacrifice and Love

Throughout history there have been different ways that we think we get God’s attention. And I mean hundreds of ways… from casting lots to sacrificing animals… prayers and dances, chanting and magic… But the thing is – in almost each and every one of these things there are two things that never change: We need something. We believe God can make a difference.

One of the reasons that Jesus went down in history, was that he internalized this – it became his life ambition: People need something – I can make a difference.

If you believe that, he once told the disciples, you can move mountains!

Do you believe it? Do you believe you can make a difference? It seems to me that as the years go by we get further and further away from belief and get more and more discouraged.

If you think about World War One, or World War Two… I think most of the people volunteered and went believing, completely, that they could make a difference! They wanted to do something to change the outcome of the war. They wanted to make sure their loved ones were safe. They put their love into action; maybe in a dangerous and terrible way - but–that was generally the motivation – to make a difference for those they loved.

This is all circling around what I am calling Sacrificial Love. It is the type of love I think Jesus came to teach us about – the type of love that is willing to put your life on the line.

And although we don’t talk about it, and actually do not get many opportunities to practice it; I am willing to bet that we are all capable of it.

We do hear stories: from Fire fighters rushing into burning buildings to the average person diving into the pool when a toddler slips and falls in. There are people every day who take big risks to make a difference.

This is what Jesus came to teach us. As a “priest” as a religious leader, this was his goal. And I am thinking that he actually did a really good job.

And the Greatest of These is….

What is the most important thing you can do….

Simple question; simple answer: Love… love God, love neighbour, love yourself.

My girlfriend Ali’s grandmother’s house was recently demolished. Annie had lived there in Cape Breton her entire life, a lot of that time spent with four brothers. When they were moving the mementoes out they found a slew of letters written by those brothers, Alexander, Clarence, Peter and Angus… Ali, Clarie, Petey and Angy to those who loved them. Those four brothers had spent all of World War Two as part of the Cape Breton Highlanders. One of them even lied about his age to enlist.

But what was incredible, was that whether they were in Italy, France, Germany or the Netherlands… and if you look it up, the Cape Breton Highlanders have been involved in all of the worst battles in every world war; they wrote home to Annie every week.

They took the time to write, to say who they had heard from and who they had not, and to ask for cigarettes… Apparently nothing beat a Canadian smoke.

It may seem like a little thing, to write home… but at the same time; it shows a level of compassion and caring for each other that echoes Jesus greatest commandment.

Now, a lot of people have had issue with what Jesus said – a lot of people feel that love is a hard thing to find in your heart for some people.

But I really think he was onto something. And I also think that we forget how simple that love can be. It is just about putting other people first and remembering to take the time.

If we love God, we are already living from a place of moral conviction that makes it easier to do the right thing – we are following a way of life that has been laid out over thousands of years to put love and compassion first.

If we love ourselves we are not getting hung up on all the things that make it hard to reach out for others… there is none of this – feeling too scared, or too full of ourselves… we do things from a place of understanding and a place of strength.

And if we love others… it does not mean that we have to accept everything about them, it simply means we have to see them as having value, as being important in their own right.

All My Heart

But it is more than that isn’t it… Jesus said we had to love with all our heart, all of our understanding, all of our strength….

We are not talking about a half-hearted effort here. We are not talking about “trying” to be like Jesus, or trying to love like God. We are talking about commitment. We are talking about throwing everything you have into the arena of loving. We are talking about being willing to risk.

As we go into a week in which we are called upon to remember the sacrifices of others. May this calling echo in our ears and may God’s spirit grant us the courage to follow in those very heavy footsteps. Amen.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pentecost 22 B

The Wound is Where the Light Enters


Rumi, the mystical Muslim poet once wrote that, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” 

John O Donohue, an Irish priest and poet says it this way, “The beauty that emerges from woundedness is a beauty infused with feeling; a beauty different from the beauty of landscape and the cold perfect form. This is a beauty that has suffered its way through the ache of desolation until the words or music emerged to equal the hunger and desperation at its heart. It must also be said that not all woundedness succeeds in finding its way through to beauty of form. Most woundedness remains hidden, lost inside forgotten silence. Indeed, in every life there is some wound that continues to weep secretly, even after years of attempted healing. Where woundedness can be refined into beauty a wonderful transfiguration takes place.”

We have a sense of that, do we not, that brokenness can lead to strength? That being pushed down one too many times can inspire us to rise up in power. That when we have a sense of loss, or a sense of pain, or have been hurt ; that becomes a place where God can enter into our lives and change things.

Another famous way to look at this was the rich man who came to Jesus and said, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life? What should I do to be right with God?”

And Jesus asked him what he had done already; and in truth, lots… he went to church, he gave to charity, he followed the religious and political laws… but what else was there?

“Go, and sell all you have, and follow me,” Jesus says simply.

But he cannot. He cannot give up the things that make him strong, and powerful, and capable. And Jesus is saying that if we want to be closer to God than we already are, we need to let go of those things and become weak, become like children, become vulnerable and broken… it is then that we will make room for God.

With The Kids

House of Cards

Have you ever found it really hard to do something and been really frustrated?

There was once this blind man who was in a whole crowd of people, and he wanted to see Jesus… but the crowd would not move… and besides, he was blind… but he kept trying, kept calling out to Jesus, kept asking the people in the crowd to move…. Eventually Jesus heard him, and the crowd helped him, and Jesus healed him so he could see.

It is like the little engine that could… ever hear that story… When we are frustrated with something, when we feel like we can’t do something… we have to keep trying. People will help us, God will help us.

Things Can Only Get Better

Do you know how many songs, movies, and stories revolve around the idea that things can only get better? 

People find true love, people become rich because of their hard work, and relationships are restored. In some of them the prince comes swooping in and rescues the princess. In other’s people find out who they really are and live happily ever after….

Do you know why so many stories and songs are about this? Because it is, for the most part, a fantasy!
I am pretty sure that someone was unhappy with the way Job originally ended and tacked on the part about Job getting everything back, and getting back more than he started with…. Because that is how we wished the story ended… that is how we hope all of our stories end… we hope the bullies in high school get caught. 
We hope the person who cheats us out of something gets cheated themselves. We hope that we find the perfect guy or girl to make us happy for the rest of our lives. We hope all our hard work pays off…. You get the picture….

And I want you to know there is nothing wrong with that… I hope it all works out for everyone… I really do. But I also think that there are a lot of hiccups along the way for almost everyone. I think that there is pain, and heartache and loss… but the thing is… There has to be a balance, right, and the thing is, you are the one who decides which one influences your life…

Pain can break you. Pain can make you retreat into yourself and never try again… or pain can make you want to try harder. After all, things that are worth something are worth a little sacrifice, right?
I would have much rather the story of our friend Job ended with God coming and telling him, you don’t understand everything, and Job saying, “you know what, you are right.”

Cause that is the life we all lead. We do not get easy answers and fortunes are rarely restored… but that does not mean that the events of our lives do not teach us, do not leave us stronger, do not leave us in a better place to see the world for what it is… and to be more open to God’s grace in the midst of it.

Take Heart in the Struggle

William Sloane Coffin is one of this generation’s best, and most famous preachers. Amongst other things he has been chaplain at Harvard University, and head pastor at one of the largest churches in America, Riverside Baptist in New York.

Some time ago now Coffin’s 24 year old son died in a tragic car accident. He plunged off a bridge and into Boston Harbour during a storm.

One week later Coffin himself preached at Alex’s funeral. His sermon has become one of the most famous funeral sermons of all time. In the middle of it, talking about how most people who come to his house delivering food talk about it having to have been “the will of God” he says,

“God doesn't go around this world with his finger on triggers, his fist around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is death set against all unnatural deaths…. The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is, “It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”

I remember when I was just a wee minister… starting out in Quebec at 24 years old. No one in my family had ever died… and the first funeral I had was a girl my own age… she died of brain cancer. I did a really good funeral, everyone was moved by it. And we went on. I did not know what the parents were really feeling at all, I had never been there.

The next year my best friend in Seminary died of a heart attack. More friends, a few grandparents, some failed relationships, and I started to be able to “feel” what other people were feeling. I could empathize, and I could begin to better understand sentiments like William Sloane Coffin’s I could see how God would feel heartbroken at the loss of a single person….

I think this is the beauty that poets talked about… the way that light comes through pain…

Which by the way, is also part of what made Jesus so incredible… he felt what other’s felt; he empathized with those around him to such a degree that they trusted him, they followed him, and they needed him.

“Take heart,” the crowd says to the blind man, “the Master is calling you…”

We all want to hear that, do we not? We all want to be understood, to be loved into life, to be healed….


It is our humanness… the fact that our lives are imperfect…  our pain… that makes us the people we are.
It might not be the best news you have heard all week. But how about thinking of it this way… it is that brokenness that allows us to love the way we do. It is our empathy that allows us to be the most like God. 

When we accept those broken parts of us as who we are, we become stronger than we ever imagined.

Not only that, but when we realize we are not perfect, that is when God can come into our hearts and give us strength. And that, my friends, is very good news.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pentecost 21 B

God in a Box


What do you imagine God looks like? Ok, that might be too hard, what do you imagine God is like?

There have been thousands of years of the smartest people in the world trying to answer that question; we have gone from the most powerful male father guy up on top of the mountain right through to Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud telling us that people imagine God to make themselves feel better.

Some folks say God is love because that is what Jesus taught. Some Hindus say God is the creative and destructive power of the Universe. Some Native Americans say God is a trickster who most often takes the form of a Raven.

The thing is, everyone could be right, but everyone is most definitely wrong.

We put God in a box, and tie it up with a fancy ribbon and think we have it all figured out. That is the real tragedy… when we think we have anyone “all figured out” then we are not really capable of seeing them for who they really are… we have blinded ourselves to everything except our own pre-conceptions…

Think of the way white people in the Southern US assumed black people were incapable of learning, or thinking even… Think about how men figured women were incapable of figuring out politics enough to be given the right to vote… or how about the way we all think men have no feelings, and don’t want to talk about them…

In each and every case it is our conception, our beliefs about the other person which limits them.
Don’t you think we might do that with God too?

Voices in the Whirlwind

There was a time when God was understood in a rather simple way. You did what God wanted, God made you rich and happy. You turned against God; you were punished; simple as that. No one thought very much further than that – so when a very, very rich and powerful person, named Job, lost everything – money, wives, houses, his kids and even his health, the reason was simple – Job had made God angry.

“What did you do?” everyone asked… and Job always answered, “Nothing!” and so there he was, alone and sitting in the dust of the road, clearly a liar and a bad person… or else why had his life turned out this way?

You know there are times when we all think like this, right? Even though there was this book written some 4,000 years ago which tells us differently, we say, and think, “God is looking out for you?” or “God would be angry at you for that…”

“Who are you, that you think you can know the reasons behind what I do?!”

That, ultimately, is the answer to Job; no matter what you think is going on, there is no way for you to know everything, so why are you so sure you have it figured out?

This is a pretty important bit of ancient wisdom, no matter who we are, we cannot know the mind of God.

By itself, this is not much help to us… to simply say, you don’t understand everything in the universe does not make me want to accept everything either… I still think poor people should be taken care of, I still don’t understand why nice people die horribly in car accidents, and I still don’t get why jerks become wealthy…

I guess I am simply not as accepting of the way life is as I could be…  Or is this me trying to limit God again?

Of High Priests and Prophets

Jesus came to broaden our perspective. That is the core of his message. 2,000 years or so later we tend to forget this because we can no longer remember what it was like before Jesus…. Before Jesus the conception of God was limited to a nation – to a people. God was the God of the Israelites who would help them in battle and preserve their farmlands.

Jesus helped us to see God as more than that – and he did it by taking on as much as possible, the nature of God… so that when we saw Jesus, we saw God.

This is what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is trying to get across, that once the high priest “spoke” for God; in much the same way that, say, the Pope speaks for the Catholic Church… but now Jesus speaks for God, and as we come on board, as we join Jesus, and learn from him, we too become the people that speak, and act on behalf of God.

How much more important is it, then, that we try to keep ourselves from limiting God because of our lack of imagination? How much more important is it that we open ourselves up to possibility, to the unexpected, to the unknown and mysterious nature of God?

But Here is the Thing… the Real Thing…

So, what is it that keeps us from seeing the world for what it is? What is it that narrows our view…

It is us… pure and simple… When I was growing up I moved and travelled a lot. I never once suspected that I spoke in any way other than the way that everyone in the world speaks… One day when I was about 14 I was camping with my family outside of Winnipeg. We were at a water park for the day, going down the slides, splashing in the pool, and keeping an eye out for pretty girls. When you come from a family with 5 boys… girls are a preoccupation.  

There was this really cute couple of girls who kept looking at us, one was blond and one had raven black hair… the thing is, my brothers and I were whispering to each other about how funny they sounded. There was this way they said “a” and they talked slowly, sort of like a song… we thought it was really funny.

They came over and said hi, because Girls are far more mature than guys, and we started talking to them, when all of a sudden one of them said, “You all talk funny!” and they both laughed and walked away….

It scarred me for life… or at least, it made me think… I could not see myself the way others see me. I had no idea people in the Maritimes had accents. I thought the whole world talked that way.

That is the thing. The way we see things, the way we are, blinds us and we do not even know it… take this 

Bible story in which the disciples are asking Jesus for something that they want, that makes total sense in the way they see the world… and Jesus even says yes to them! But the truth of the matter is that what Jesus says yes to is so far away from how the two favoured disciples see the world unfolding that they cannot even imagine it.

I wonder how often we are guilty of the same thing? How often do we miss the larger picture, or fail to follow God’s will for our lives because of the simple fact that our vision is too focused on who we already are, how we already believe things will work out?

Do we keep God in a box, limited by the four walls of what we believe in, and what would it be like if we set God free?


Did you ever see the movie Bruce Almighty? If you only watch two movies about God, you should pick Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty. Because not only are they interesting, they are really, really funny as well.

So, the first one, Bruce Almighty is about this guy who is fed up with things not going his way. God comes along and says, ok, you think you can do better, you be God this week, and gives Bruce all of the powers of God.

Instantly things start going wrong. Bruce wants a romantic evening, for example; and brings the moon just a little closer so it will shine down on his evening candlelit meal… but moving the moon causes the tides to change, which causes flooding in China, which causes deaths…

The movie keeps going on and on with examples like this which make it quite clear that there are no easy answers… that it is never black and white…. That even if you had all powers and could move mountains, you still might have to spend a lifetime agonizing over whether or not it was a good idea to do it.

I know that there are times in life when we really do all want answers… when a loved one dies, or when we get sick for no reason, or even when it rains the whole week of our vacation…. But the thing is, there are no answers for most of life.

Whether it is that the ways of God are too mysterious, or whether it is that we are too petty and limited in our imaginations, one of the quickest ways to wisdom is to admit we simply cannot, and will never know everything.

But you know what? If I had my daughters all figured out, they could never surprise me and make me smile. 

If I had my girlfriend all figured out, she would never be the mysterious person who makes me smile when she does the unexpected.

Life is meant to be open, the possibilities endless, and God is at the centre of that unknown mystery… if we can just open ourselves up and let go, it could be so much more…

Monday, October 1, 2012

Creation 4 B

Back to the Forest

For the last few weeks we have been taking another look at creation. The idea being that we have spent our time re-focussing on the world around us and how we fit in. So we started by saying we need to look around and be amazed at this world we live in. Next we looked at how God was at work in that physical reality, creating a heaven on earth. Then we turned to the spiritual aspect and looked at how creation is also about feelings and emotions and all of the invisible things of life….

In the United Church Creed we start with one simple line: “We Are Not Alone” and then follow it up by saying we live in God’s world. We do not live here alone, we live with God in our midst, and we live with thousands of creatures, and hundreds of thousands of insects, and all species of plant fish, bird and animal. In fact, this world is teeming with life of which we are but a small part.

Although it always struck me as a sad thing to put in a children’s song, the line “God sees the little sparrow fall” reminds us not only that God loves us no matter who or how small we are, but that God loves everything.

And I don’t know about you, but that seems to me to be wonderfully re-assuring.

Genesis 2:4b-25

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones  and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

With the Kids:
Animals - which ones don't you like? But what purpose do they serve? Spiders eat insects, snakes eat rats...

Tilling the Land 
I like to think of the fact that we have two creation stories this way: The first one was written by someone who was a science Geek – all that water and land creating and evolution and everything… the second one was written by a farmer.

Here we see our true connection to the land, we are a part of it, and every single thing in it is related to us in some way. The Lord God planted a Garden, it was filled with plants and animals and flowers and it was our home.

Now, the thing somehow we have come to forget is that it was also their home.

It was a connection we were supposed to maintain – but somewhere along the line humans got isolated, we started to build walls around cities, then we paved everything, then we started making machines to do most of the work for us… and now… well, very few of us are connected to the plants and animals around us in any real way.

Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods, or down by the river, and found yourself all alone with nothing but birdsong and sunlight? Was there ever a time that that did not seem magical, seem sort of soul restoring?
I don’t know about you, but when I do that I feel connected to everything in a way I cannot explain… it is like all of a sudden feeling that I am entering their world – the birds and trees, the animals and flowers… and knowing that somehow I belong.

I can also tell you, from owning a dog, that this idea of being equals, and companions, and helping each other and being there for each other is just as possible with animals as it is with humans.
We are all connected…

Romans 12:3-7                                              

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;

One Body
Ever have that feeling that it is all up to you? That no matter what, no one is going to help you and you are all alone in the world? I am talking about being at work, being at home, having a mid-life crisis, dealing with your family members… it happens everywhere.

The thing is, it’s just not true… It is what they like to call a “First World Problem” which is to say, it is not a real problem, but because of how we live our lives, we think it is a problem… like saying “OMG my electric toothbrush is broken, how am I going to brush my teeth?”

So – true story – you are never in this alone.

Sure, the people around you in that instant might have abandoned you to the task at hand… you might even be physically alone in the woods… but there is never a time in your life where there is no one who would help you, no one who cares… And I am not even talking about God… Think about it… no matter what you are going through there is someone in this church right now who is willing to help you out.  I completely believe that to be true. In fact, I know it to be true… I have never had to go very far to find someone who would be there for me no matter what has happened… and I have had a lot of bad things happen.

We are all connected. We all love each other. Heck, we even love and care about strangers. And that is not the end of it… we are just as connected to the world around us and to everything in it… and the truth is, no matter what we need, what we yearn for, or what we do… there is something, or someone out there with the gifts to help us.

That is what I hear when I read anything Paul writes about the one body but many members… and how we have all been given different gifts, different abilities….

Since I already mentioned my dog Jacob I might as well stay on the theme of our closest companions… We all know that dogs can become eyes for the blind and ears for the deaf. We also know that police dogs help sniff out bombs and drugs. But if you Google dog rescues human and search the internet you will come across thousands of stories about dogs dragging babies from fires, taking bullets from attackers, rescuing people caught in avalanches or earthquakes…  the list goes on and on…

My help cometh from the Lord says the 121st Psalm… but the truth is that help, from God, comes from everywhere.

Mark 4:30-32

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

God’s Gentle Care
All of what we have talked about has been a little one sided… how it all works out for us, how God put the world here for our amazement; how animals help us… it is a little arrogant to think we are the centre of the whole universe…

I like the hidden stuff in the Bible that shows God’s concern for each and every thing… like this passage which suggests that God takes a little seed and grows it into a home for nesting birds.

Then it says that life is meant to be like that… that God does that for us too.

Ever hear the expression “let go and let God”? I imagine there is not a single Moose out there, or Salmon, or Deer or Porcupine that has a problem with that… and yet, we often do… we do not trust in the general goodness of the world. We do not allow that there are forces in this universe that are looking out for our interests, wishing the best for us, caring for us even when we do not recognize them.

I like to believe that the animals know this… and that is why they live the way they do, one day at a time, in relative peace and harmony…

Back to the Forest

The reason that the Genesis story of Adam and Eve takes up so much of our imagination is that it was a vision of perfection. When Sigmund Freud and the psychology guys started to think about what goes on behind our thinking, they put it this way, we all long to get back to the garden…

We long to get back to a place where everything was good, where peace and harmony were the norm, and where we were all connected to each other and to our animal friends.

Truth is we are not that far away – we are never alone and we are loved and cared for by God. It is up to us to recognize that God’s great love for the whole of creation is also a love of us…

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Creation 3 B

The Artist's Way

Introduction: In the Beginning

The unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews says:

“In the beginning, God...founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of [God's] hands.” (Hebrews 1:10)
In the beginning, there was a blank canvas. The painter took her brush and dipped it into the rainbow of colours that was before her on the palette. As her hands danced over the stark white canvas, a masterpiece slowly emerged.

The painter created something new out of nothing-- something breathtaking out of something ordinary.
In the beginning, there was an empty page. The poet took his pen and began to write. Pretty soon, the page was filled with provocative words that stir the imagination.

The poet created wonderful poetry Where once there was nothing, now melodic verses sang out.
In the beginning, there was a lump of clay. The potter took the cold clay into her hands and worked it with strength and warmth. She created a beautiful, smooth vessel.

What once was unformed and empty, stood ready to be filled.

In the beginning, there was a vacant floor. The dancer took to its centre and he began to gently move his body. With delicate steps, the dancer created a vibrant dance.

What once was an empty space, he filled with life.
“In the beginning, God...founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of [God's] hands.” (Hebrews 1:10)

With the Kids…. Co-Creators

Art as artistic interpretation…
Make things is taking part in creation – we use the gifts that God gives us to help God make the world beautiful….

God and the Physical World

 Artists bring emotion to life. Their artwork is an expression of their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. They are creators of beauty and wonder.

And so it is with God.

We talk about God as “the Creator” all of the time. When we talk about the Holy Trinity, the first person we mention is God the Creator. Language of God as Creator is prevalent in our community worship times and it comes up in our personal prayers.

Perhaps we do not believe in God as a literal artist who crested the world in seven literal days. But we can appreciate that the work of creation is a work of art…

But we also know that God is at work in creation.  And I find that the language of an artist creating art really does help me to grasp how God works in the world.

These images of the potter at the wheel or the painter with brush in hand are conjured up when we hear scripture writers talk about God forming us with loving hands. And they give us a sense of a creative energy at play in the world. This beautiful creative energy works through the scientific world we are in.

And this work is quite beautiful to watch as it unfolds in processes like the reproduction of a baby, or a rabbit's fur changing colour to escape predators, or a sunflower turning around to face the sun.

When we see God as an artist, we can't help but see God as a scientist too. In God, the two are undeniably linked, working together to create.

God and the Spiritual World

So, step one is understanding God as the catalyst for creation in the material world.

Once we understand this, then we can begin to ponder God as Creator in the spiritual world.

If God creates all that we can see, imagine the works God creates that we don't see. Just like we might put together a tasty dish in our kitchens by following a recipe that has been handed down to us, God creates intangible things that we cannot taste, touch and smell, like love, wisdom and hope.

These are the qualities that Jesus brought to life and magnified. And they existed since the beginning.

There's that famous passage from John that we heard some from today that starts this way:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

It's telling us that the essence of Jesus existed since the very beginning.

Before there was night and before there was day, there was the divine energy of love, justice and healing. 

Before there was water and dry land, there was the divine energy of peace and joy.

And then one day, those qualities came to life in a way we can recognize.

One day, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:14)

One day, there was Jesus – the artwork that revealed to us the Artist.

Conclusion: We Need All of Creation

And just as this world needs air, water, fire, and wind to exist and to thrive, it needs the intangibles to survive too. And God created all these elements – each and every one. The same God that created huge powers like love, created me and created you.

The Letter to Hebrews reminds us that some day the physical world will no longer exist as we know it but God will remain.

The concrete items that we can see with our eyes will wear out and die.

But that creative energy and its spiritual creations will remain unchanged.

The Artist's inspiration is without limit. The Artist's work is never finished. The Artist will continue to create forever.

We need all of creation – the tangible, the intangible, the human, the nonhuman, the living, the inanimate. We need it all.

If we are to understand something about the Artist, we must consider and be amazed by the Artist's creations. If we are to understand our own lives, we must follow the Artist's way.

Creation 2 B

Home: Where Heaven and Earth Meet

note: I wrote this sermon and then really strayed from it... ad libbed more than most. I did not even write the conclusion; and it ended up different in each place I preached it. Not sure where my head was this week... guess I was beginning to get sick - I had the flu for over a week... anyway... here is the basis from which I spoke.


Did you ever come home from school to smell cookies baking in the oven? Or have you ever been sitting around on a Christmas Eve looking at the tree and felt really, really content? How about going away on vacation or for work and then first seeing the lights of home on your way back…

There is a feeling, I don’t know if it is nostalgia, or awe, or comfort… but there is a feeling associated with home. I have often moved away from the Maritimes; and any Maritimer who finds themselves in exile will tell you, when you stand on the rocks by the ocean and breathe in that salt air again – it is magical.

I guess I am talking about moments in time where you “feel” at home. I think that means safe, warm, cozy, loved, content…. Sometimes that might be because of the place, sometimes because of what is happening, maybe even because of memories.

In ancient Celtic lore we call these, “thin places” the places where the dividing line between heaven and earth is very thin and you feel almost holy.

I guess if we go back to the beginning, this is what the story of Genesis is all about – there was a time when we felt so at home, so in tune with the world that everything was like this – but then we started turning inward, or getting greedy, or something… and we, over time, have lost that sense of being at home in the world.

Isaiah 55:10-13
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

With Kids – Liturgy of Covenanting

Singing in the Rain

There are many places in the Bible where our relationship to the natural world around us is highlighted. Think about Genesis and how we coexist with the animals – or how about the whole Jonah story – where a really big fish acts as his own personal submarine and then when he is too hot in the sun a plant grows up to offer shade. Abraham always had his formal meetings under a huge tree and life in the Kingdom of God is often compared to working in a vineyard.

But there are also passages where the world is alive… like our Isaiah passage. Where mountains and trees join us in dancing and song – where plants grow flowers just because of their love for creation…

I know, it sounds sort of silly from a modern scientific standpoint – we know that they are not alive in the sense that we are… but sitting here at my desk watching the trees rustle in the wind, and the birds play in the berry bush while the sun streams down, I can get, poetically, that the whole of creation is enjoying the beautiful day.

In Native spirituality there was an emphasis on how we were all connected – how the wolf and the deer were my brothers and sisters. Perhaps that was a better way to see it… everything is connected… and everything is “home”

Revelations 21:1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Love Come Down

We have strange conceptions about heaven. They come from thousands of thousands of years of hardship. Streets paved of gold comes from a sense that we live in poverty; sitting on clouds playing harps from a time when back breaking work was the thing we most wanted to escape from.

Vikings used to say that heaven would be a place where you could battle all day without dying… they loved to fight and hated to die…

For the most part there are very few clues about heaven – and most of what we have imagined is wishful thinking… the clues we do have are mostly about feelings – that it will be a place where there is no more crying, no more pain.

The other interesting thing is the location – Jesus was always convinced we could create heaven on earth… he said things like “the Kingdom of God is among you” and kept trying to teach by example how we might help make the earth what God intended.

I don’t know, human nature being what it is, I think that perhaps we feel it would be easier to “go to” heaven than to “create” heaven. But I also think the Bible is quite clear that the dividing line is not so easy as we would like to believe.

Remember, when God created the world, it was supposed to be perfect. We may have messed it up a bit as we have gone along – it is getting a little old now. But that does not mean there is not a chance for renovation.

So what would you do to make this world a better place? What would you change? I think that we need not look any further than our own lives and our own homes to answer this question – what do you do to make your home perfect? You put in things that make you happy – flowers and paintings and portraits. You create spaces that feel comfortable and inviting…

I’ll leave you to think about it for a minute; we will get back to it with the Gospel…

Luke 7:11-23
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. The disciples of John reported all these things to him.
So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Heaven on Earth

You might not recognize it at first, but Jesus is doing what any good preacher would do when asked a direct question, quoting scripture…  He is in fact quoting Isaiah… a few different passages of Isaiah but he is weaving all the prophecies together from the Old Testament when Isaiah talked about what it would be like when God restored the earth…

The blind seeing, the lame walking, the sick healed, the dead raised and the poor taken care of.

In a Biblical sense, that is it… that is the fulfillment of the question, what is life supposed to be like… 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Creation 1 B

Radical Amazement

(with a nod to the fabulous Rev. Ali Smith who did all the leg work for her sermon and let me pilfer it to create mine)


A few years back there was a movement to try and create a new church season – it would happen in the fall, and it would focus us on creation, on the world around us, and try to root us in the place where we all live.

And what better time than fall to remind us of our relationship to the earth… all the plants are being harvested, the leaves are falling, thanksgiving is just around the corner… as leaves and grass start to mould and the fields are tilled under there is just such an… earthy… feel to everything.

But there can also be such a sense of excitement. Like, when my girls first went apple picking and realized apples grow on trees, or how sweet they were… I remember when I was a kid I always used to go salamander hunting; turning over rocks and looking for the little lizards…. There were lots in point pleasant park in Halifax…

At different times along the way I have lost that sense of wonder. Bits and pieces creep back in, like when I see a beautiful sunset, or a fabulous waterfall… then I am reminded that I really should be amazed by the world around me…

So as we begin not only the fall, but the season of creation, I invite you to try, for the next five weeks, to look at the world around us, the plants and the animals, with a sense of wonder and awe…

Try to think about how it was when you first noticed things… like how a grasshopper actually flies when it jumps…

Yesterday my youngest daughter spent half an hour looking for a four leaf clover…

We need that back.

In the Beginning

(with kids?)

What is your favourite part of the planet we live on? What is your favourite fruit? What about vegetable? Animal?

In the activity of creation, we can see God at work. In the jumping of the fish, in the blooming of the flowers, in the call of a deer, in the taste of a crisp apple, in the kindness of a person's eyes, God is there.

When we closely witness these things, we are truly amazed.

Think of how it feels to watch the bright yellows and rich oranges of the sun as it dips below the horizon on a warm summer's evening.

Have you ever watched a spider spin a web? Isn't it amazing to see this little creature create this beautiful, functional work of art with great speed and determination?

What about smelling a flower? How does it feel to breathe in the intoxicating scent of a rose-- a natural, pure fragrance that brings such pleasure.

There is a reason that in our story about God creating the world each day ends with God saying, “It is good!”

It truly is, good and magical and beautiful and everything that gives us joy…

Birth Pangs

Did you ever hear that the earth was ending? You realize since the very beginning when someone lit a campfire some other caveman said, “This will be the end of everything” I honestly think sometimes that we thrive off doom and gloom… I grew up on the tail end of the nuclear arms race, and at any moment we were all going to die from a missile bombardment.

Now I can’t go a day without hearing about how we will be underwater when the ice caps melt.

Don’t get me wrong, both things could probably still happen any day now… it is just, why do we not live in hope of something better? Why are we focusing on the doom and gloom?

Paul gives me hope when he compares creation to a pregnant woman. He says that we must remember that the best is yet to come. Creation is merely experiencing the pangs of labour right now.

The creation we experience today isn't a finished product.

Through the principles of science, God is always creating. The world is always preparing to birth something new and incredible.

That's not to say that we stick our heads in the sand and don't recognize the real problems that plague this earth and our lives. It means that we change our approach, we change the lens through which we look at those problems.

I am suggesting radical amazement. I am suggesting joy. I am suggesting looking around at the world and seeing God.

Creation is God at Work

In today’s parable Jesus gives us the example of the fig tree to make this point. He says that as soon as the branches on the tree become green and tender and shoot forth leaves, you know that great change is about to happen; you know that God is at work. A new season is about to unfold.

Jesus said that all of these little bits of creation that we see around us are signs of God's presence; they are signs that change and growth continually happen in the world. Whether we are talking about the sprouts of new life in the spring or the falling leaves as the weather turns colder, God is visible in the world around us.

We can look for these same signs in our lives, to prepare for the transformations that constantly take place. When we look at creation, we begin to understand more about our own lives and about how God works in them. But first we have to appreciate creation and recognize in every moment that we are immersed in it.

Abraham J. Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi. He became one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century.  And although he died in 1972, his work still fills bookshelves… he is someone that a lot of people read as they study religion… and the reason is that it is filled with wisdom.

He made many insightful observations about God and the world but there's one little gem that speaks to the theme of Creation Time perfectly. And I want to share that with you today.

Heschel said:

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. . . [G]et up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

It's the term “radical amazement” that I love – the thought that if you take the time and open yourself up God's world will knock your socks off.

Unfortunately, it seems easier to embody “radical fear” than “radical amazement.”

Human beings are worriers by nature. We worry about what we don't know; we worry about what we do know; we worry about what we see; we worry about what we don't see.  At least I know I do.

Heschel talks, though, about how real knowledge and deep wisdom come not from fear or doubt but from awe and wonder of creation.

So radical amazement can move us forward. Thoughts like this give me hope. They help me to know what I can do. I can get up every morning and walk through my day amazed. And that will change the way I interact with creation. If everyone was radically amazed, the problems would disappear.

Heck, they wouldn't have existed in the first place.


So, if we live in radical amazement for what we have already seen, smelled, heard, felt, and tasted, then we can joyfully expect what is to come.

And that's helpful for our own lives too. We are a piece of creation after all, and incredible things are waiting to be born into our lives. Our lives are always full of possibility for wonderful transformation. We always await springtime for when our flowers and a sea of colour will burst forth.

Embrace radical amazement… be curious… enjoy the world and all it has to offer… and you will find God in the midst of it.