Monday, April 29, 2013

Easter 5 C

Rolling Down the River


If you write stories, or tell stories, you know there is more than one character… if there is a good guy there has to be a bad guy… to oversimplify it.

But in most good stories there are many characters, and some of them are really unexpected. As an aside, you don’t have to be alive to be a character… ever read Huckleberry Finn… It is the story of a boy, a runaway slave, and a raft… the raft is as much a character of the story as Huck.

Moby Dick is as much about a whale as a sailor…

A more modern example would come from the movie Titanic… sure, there are the main and supporting actors and actresses…. But one of the characters, with its own personality and storyline, is a giant boat… the Titanic.

I’m just trying to say that sometimes we see the story from only one side… we don’t take the time to think about what it all means from the point of view of the minor characters, or the bystanders.

We have been talking about Disciples, about Apostles, about Followers of Jesus, be they the more famous like Peter and Paul, or the less known, like Dorcas… But throughout our storytelling we have not focused on the other side, on the crowds, on the people who were watching this all unfold before their very eyes.

What would it have been like to see the world through the eyes of a Jew in Palestine, or through the eyes of a Roman Gentile living in a foreign country, when there was a religious movement taking over… what would you notice first? What would draw your attention? What would it mean?

With the Kids

Passing Love (pennies) even the smallest thing can make a difference….

Fleshing Out the Pennies

One of the things that really got to people, and we cannot stress this enough, was Jesus’ message of love. Think of it this way, these people all went to church every day… whether they were Jew or Greek, Roman or Babylonian… and the main thing that they heard said over and over is… God is with you.

God loves Romans, God will help us conquer the world, God is Roman… God loves Jews, God rescued us from Egypt, God will rescue us again… The Gods love Greeks, the Gods have always been with us….

You get the idea… Religion was just like human nature… it was based on the idea that God loves me more than you, and if I do what God wants, God will reward me… plain and simple…

No one ever went out and said, you know what, God does love Romans, and Jews, and Greeks, and Samaritans, and Women, and… and… and… And what God really wants from you is not obedience, it is not national pride, it is love… go love each other, help each other, pray for each other, heal each other, comfort each other, feed each other…

Now, we have heard this for a few thousand years so we forget… I want you to just for a second, put yourself in the mindset of someone who has been told their whole life that they are better than everyone else and that God only loves them…

Can you see how interesting it would be if all of a sudden this stranger did something nice for you? Or someone from a different tribe or race all of a sudden helped you? You would want to say, why did you do that? And they would tell you…. And it would make you think!

The Banquet

So Peter is off cavorting with some Romans… well, maybe he is preaching to them, and healing them, and baptizing them… and he gets back to town and there is a session meeting; and the session says, what are you doing? How could you even talk to those people? Don’t you know what they have done?

But Peter has had a vision… he has all of a sudden been able to see it from the other side… he gets what the Romans are all about, why they are like they are, and, more importantly, he is finally convinced that Jesus is right… God loves everyone.

Ever have this happen in your life? I have… I have met someone who I find really annoying… I get angry at the way they do things, I cannot understand why they would do it that way… all kinds of things… and then all of a sudden something clicks… I start seeing it from their point of view… and everything changes… I get it….

I don’t really know what the Romans who were in Palestine thought, or the Greek traders that sailed the Mediterranean… but I do know that they had never thought about things the way Peter and the Gang were teaching… and the apostles had been hanging out with Jesus for so long they just took this stuff for granted….

And not everyone was on the same page… we see that in the fact that the other apostles are not really happy with Peter…

Sometimes it takes seeing things differently… sometimes we have to be able to get outside of ourselves… there is probably a lesson in here for us, eh?

Miramichi Presbytery meets on Saturday. How many 30 year olds want to give up a Saturday off and leave their kids and go to a day-long volunteer meeting? There is an example of the church not seeing the world through someone else’s eyes…

And there are a ton of them…. Like a million things we all do every day that we either take for granted or assume that everyone sees just like us… but it simply is not true.

This Jesus guy came and changed things so dramatically that it woke everyone up and made them pay attention. I wonder what we would have to shake up to get the same reaction.

Blessing by The Buddha

May every creature abound in well-being and peace.
May every living being, weak or strong, the long and the small
The short and the medium-sized, the mean and the great.

May every living being, seen or unseen, those dwelling far off,
Those nearby, those already born, those waiting to be born,
May all attain inward peace.

Let no one deceive another, Let no one despise another in any situation,
Let no one, from antipathy or hatred, wish evil to anyone at all.
Just as a mother, with her own life, protects her only son from hurt,
So within yourself foster a limitless concern for every living creature.

Display a heart of boundless love for all the world,
In all its height and depth and broad extent,
Love unrestrained, without hate or enmity.
Then as you stand or walk, sit or lie, until overcome by drowsiness,
Devote your mind entirely to this, it is known as living here life divine.

Buddha Heart

Jesus lived at what has been called the Golden Age of Religion. He was not alone, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, all of them lived at a time when everything was changing… and they saw that God had always been different than most people understood… that God was bigger than any one nation, any one people… and that God wanted us to see the world from the point of view of love, acceptance, and understanding.

Now, as I have said before… this is not an easy path. Buddhist Monks give up everything, and go live in the ice covered mountains of the Himalayas so that they can focus on this stuff and get it right…

But it is the path we are all on. We are the ones who are supposed to move beyond lies beyond hurt, and see everything and everyone as loved by God.

The people in India, when Buddha came out with these things, didn’t get it any more than the Romans… I want you to know that… but there were still those who were surprised… who heard the message and saw the followers and knew there was something different going on here.

There is something different about us too…


So you want to know where we are? We are that small group of people who believe in the message of Jesus. We are the minority who think that God works through love and not through forceful power. We are the ones who the world looks at and is surprised by.

But if we are truly going to live out our role as followers of Jesus’ Way we do have to start realizing how different our way of thinking is, and we have to start seeing the other people out there for who they really are… they are not wrong, they are not the enemy, they are loved by God for exactly who they are…

So what do we have to say to them? How do they fit into our story? Where is our vision of the future leading us? These are the questions we all need to explore.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easter 4 C

Overlooking Dorcas


Throughout the Season of Easter, we've been talking about the stories we tell and why they are important. So far, we've focused on the popular stories within our families and within our church family too. When you take the time to look, it's easy to see how they have shaped and influenced us.

But what about the stories we don't hear time and again? What about the stories and the characters in our past and in our world that go overlooked, ignored, neglected?

I have always found that we can learn even more by looking at who or what it is we overlook.
Have you ever, for example, spent an hour watching a spider spin a web? You should do it sometime – not only is it beautiful, but it will make you feel pretty humble about your own abilities… what a spider can do is pretty amazing.

Or have you ever been in a place where the person you least expected to have anything to say says something really, really wise and changes everything?

Today we are going to think about some of the simpler ways we can be disciples. The question we need to ask is whose voice we should listen to, and where do we see people who are listening.

Children’s Story

Jesus said they would know he was connected by God by the way we care for people… People can see God in the way we care for other people and the planet.

Listening to the Voice

So what does it mean to be someone who is important to God? That is actually at the heart of this confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees… who is the most important person in the church? Who should we look up to? And Jesus answers in a really different way – he says, “…my sheep hear my voice”
What? What is this supposed to mean? Well, how about this, the people we should be listening to are the people who listen to God.

Now, here is the trick, those people are not always the obvious ones. They might be the people who seem crazy, or they might be the people who are outcasts… or… as we are going to see… they might even be women. *gasp*

This might sound like an obvious statement… but it was not the way the world of the Pharisees worked… and to be honest, it is not really the way our world works. What they said was that you should listen to the priest, who should listen to the High Priest. That you should listen to the people who are put in charge… and we think that too don’t we, the people who have the education, or the money, or the political office… those are the people we should be listening to…

But what if we made it simpler… listen to the people who seem connected to God.

The Underdogs

What we have to understand it that Bible is actually filled with stories of underdogs, it is filled with characters who are on the outside, who seem not to be important, or who people often overlooked… but the thing is, when we read these stories we come to see a simple truth – that in God’s eyes everyone is important; and these people were really worth paying attention to.

So I want to introduce you to Dorcas… a woman, a widow, someone who is not really too important it seems, since she is almost included in the story as an afterthought….

After all, this is a story about Peter… a story about one of Jesus apostles, the big guy…. And the focus of the story, at least for Luke as he wrote it, was on the miracle, on the idea that Peter could do just as good as Jesus, and bring Dorcas back to life… It would seem at first glance that Dorcas is just a random bystander… a woman who died, conveniently, to give Peter someone to heal…

But think of this – this was 2000 years ago when women had almost no importance, in fact, they were often seen as property and treated just a little better than animals.

And even if Jesus was clearly counter-cultural, he clearly cared about women and he had female followers and friends… there is still the truth that most of the women he dealt with never even get a name…

The woman at the well, the syro-phonecian woman, the little girl who Jesus raised from the dead, the woman who was bleeding… we know the stories… but what are their names? No one knows….

So, the fact that Dorcas' name is recorded in scripture is, of itself, a big feat.

But what do we know about Dorcas? Well, some things we know for sure; other details we have to imagine. What we know for sure is that her name Dorcas is the Greek version of Tabitha, which means "gazelle". And we know that she was a disciple who lived in a place called Joppa. What we can assume is that she was a widow. It says in Acts that when she died, she was mourned by "all the widows... crying and showing Peter the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made when she was still with them."

So, she was either a widow or she joined the widows in their works of charity. She likely wasn't just any average woman. The Bible rarely describes the average woman. It basically talks about people with exceptional personalities. Someone once said, the only women mentioned in the Bible are saints or prostitutes... and I don't think they're too far off. There's nothing to indicate that Dorcas was the least bit sinful so we can assume that she leaned more toward the saintly side of the spectrum.

Another good indicator of her importance was that Peter travelled from another town to come to mourn this death. He would have only come to the deathbed of someone of significance.

Unfortunately, this is all we know about Dorcas.

Putting it Together

But here is the thing… that is enough… even this little bit goes a long way in helping us to understand the role of women in the early Church; there were women who were out there, meeting together, helping each other… in fact, when you look at Paul’s writing you find that women often had house churches in their homes…

Dorcas was one of those women who made a real difference by living our Jesus’ legacy. She was spreading Jesus idea of love. She was caring for others. She was bringing God to life for those around her; and she was doing it in a way that was spreading the message of Christianity.

Not only that, but she was important to the church. Peter heard of her death and left, came to her funeral, resurrected her. She was important enough for him to change his plans.

Paul mentions women like this in his letters to the various churches, like Lydia, who ran a church.

See, right from the beginning there was a strong message that anyone, literally anyone who was listening to God’s voice and living in God’s way was important.


As people of God, we are called to love and cherish everyone - like a shepherd tends for each and every sheep - like a gardener looks after each and every plant. 

We are called to listen carefully so that we can hear every story - even the ones that are whispered or incomplete. All of our stories are important.

You might have to listen extra carefully to hear some of these stories - the stories of those losing their jobs right now, the stories of those suffering from mental illness, the stories of refugees and prisoners and those unjustly wronged, the stories of the earth. But listen to the whispered voices...because they are speaking to us.

What is Dorcas saying to you today?  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Easter 3 C

Encounters Along the Road


Once, a long, long time ago, there was a man named Saul… He was a holy man, a wise man, a Pharisee and he believed in his church. And what made him angrier than anything was people who were trying to ruin his church, trying to change things, trying to go behind the Pharisee’s backs…

In other words,… he hated Christians.

And Saul’s word held a lot of sway. He was a Roman Citizen, he was a teacher in the church, he was famous for doing the right thing… if Saul did not like Christians there must have been a good reason. Perhaps everyone should turn on them….

We all know people who have more influence on us than others. For me Rick Mercer, the Rick Mercer television show guy… what he says matters to me…

And there are writers I trust, Ministers whose opinions carry more weight for me, friends and family who seem to make a little more sense than the majority…. So I get it. Saul was an influential person; and he mattered.

Think of him as the church’s worst enemy.

See, this is what always fascinated me about Christianity… misfits and troublemakers… murderers and liars… these are the heroes. It makes it seem a lot more relevant to me. If all of the stories we told were about perfect people who God used to convince other people to be perfect… it would have nothing to do with me…

Cooking Fish

(KIDS)… campfire and goldfish… re-tell the story… God’s dinner conversation… you can do anything…

(ADULTS) God works through conversion. It can be a simple story or a complex one… but it is a story in which something happens which changes our minds.

In High School I was a problem kid. I could tell you lots of stories but suffice it to say that I was unhappy. I was unhappy for years… and I did not see much point in this life… one night I was walking home from a party and I saw my backyard… it was all trees and it was the middle of the night and off in the distance was a streetlight creating these odd glowing patterns in the trees… and I thought it was beautiful. Like… amazing…. In that moment I realized that even when things are going wrong, even when life is terrible, there can be beauty. It was the beginning of my conversion….

After the execution of Jesus, after the appearance in the upper room, after the crowds have died down the disciples got out of town… in fact, not knowing what else to do they made their way back to Galilee and back to the nets… fishing was simple, it was what they knew how to do, their careers as religious disciples seemed at an end… so you have to make a living… right.

But God had bigger plans for them.

So we get this scene on the seashore where Jesus cooks them breakfast, reminds them of a few things, forgives them for a few things, and calls them to task. You have bigger fish to fry, is essentially what he is trying to say here….

Falling From Horses

Back to Saul though, remember, the bad boy of the Bible…

Saul was on his way to Damascus in order to arrest some more of these upstart Christians when his life was changed forever…. We are told he had a revelation that knocked him off his feet. Something happened to him that turned his world upside down... and in a good way... It says that in an instant, his life was transformed.

Now in truth, that transformation was probably no more “instant" than was the conversion of the disciples at 
their fish fry breakfast… Sure, this was a moment where everything changed… a moment that changed his mind… but remember who this was… This was Saul, who had studied literature and the law and, when he was still young, he went to Jerusalem to study in the great Rabbinical schools. He was a religious man through and through…

He already spent all his waking hours thinking about how to serve God, about what the right and wrong things to do were… he had been guided by religious convictions his whole life… it was just that, in this moment, he realized that he had got some things wrong.

Now no doubt, even when Saul was a nasty guy, causing much suffering and pain, God was at work in him. So, I'm sure that what he did and what he witnessed contributed to him becoming a better person. But it is true that on that Road to Damascus, Saul finally made a commitment to turning his life around.

Last week when we talked about Peter we talked about someone who was unsure of himself, and found inner strength. But Paul is totally different. Here we encounter someone who is confident, sure of himself, and powerful; and yet realizes that there are things he does not know, there are ways of seeing the world he has not considered, that God is always at work in new ways…

And so he takes on a new role of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, and he adopts new name to go with it…. Paul…

What he does as the apostle Paul is a story for another day though…

Of Promises

So we have two stories of call, two stories of conversion in our text today. The disciples on the seashore find out there is more work to be done. Paul on his way to Damascus discovers that he has been doing things wrong and there is more to be done…

You know, once upon a time, to say a Creed like we just did was to swear allegiance. It was a statement of faith which declared for the world to know that you intended to stand with God, with Jesus, no matter what happened.

Think of it, when we read it in church, as a reminder… A reminder of who and what we are… we are followers of Jesus and that means something.

We all have conversion moments, we all have aha moments when we realize things are a little more complicated than perhaps we first assumed, or that there is more work to be done, or that we are happier with the outcome than we thought we would be.

I wonder if we need to take more time to do less… if we need to go fishing, or walk along a road on the way somewhere just taking the time to think… is that something that is missing in most of our lives? Is that where we would hear the voice of God more clearly? Just wondering…

But I have had those moments. I went from wanting to be a soldier to wanting to be a minister in what seemed like the blink of an eye… it wasn’t really. And, even though you might not think so, the motivations for each were the same… I wanted to help people and make a difference. I wanted people to be happier than I was at the time…. I just thought I had it figured out… I would go and fight for a better world… when all of a sudden it seemed to change… but it really hadn’t I had been going to youth group, and talking to ministers, and taking religious studies in school… and… in the twinkling of an eye….


So what is at the edges of your vision? What is gnawing at you?

How about we spend this week thinking about Paul, about what he has to say to us. Can you relate to Paul in any way?  Did you ever realize that you have been really really wrong about something?  Have you ever changed your course completely?  Have you ever had an experience that shook you to your very core? 

Perhaps you've had a Road to Damascus experience or maybe you have slowly grown and changed over the course of your life.

The characters in our Christian story don't always act as fine upstanding citizens. I'm sure that each of us that have had members of our own families that haven't always done the right things. But, in all of that, in each and every person, we can hear God speaking.

What is it that you hear Paul saying to you today? 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Easter 2 - C

Peter and the Boys

Story Telling

My great, great, great grandfather was a ships surgeon in the British Navy who jumped overboard on his way to the battle of Quebec City, swam to shore in the Gaspe, and started farming in the woods.

My great great great great great great grandfather was a Viking who went across the northern seas to the Isle of Britain and liked it so much he stayed.

I am not convinced either of those stories are the gods honest truth. But when I was growing up, they were the characters that helped define who I was… they formed an identity that said, this was who it was to be an Anningson.

Who are those characters for you?

What are the stories you would tell to your kids around a campfire… about great uncle Billy the pirate, or old old grandma Sarah who was capable of forecasting weather…

There are characters in our faith story as well… you have probably heard some of their names, like Noah or Moses, King David or John the Baptist…

For the next little while I want to tell you some campfire tales about the Apostles… about the people who started the early church… who met together in basements, who prayed together when it was illegal, who shared with each other even when no one understood it…

The church of today is not the church of yesterday. This should go without saying but it is definitely true… when it all started out there were no buildings, there were no ministers, there were no committees…. There were a few people who were on fire with the message… evangelists…. And they believed beyond a doubt that they had to get the word out.

One of those believers was Peter…

Peter would eventually be known as the head of the church. He would become the first pope, in a sense, and the biggest church in the land would be St Peter’s Basilica. He was at the centre of the group of disciples who began the church… but it was not always that way…

Peter, whose real name was Simon, was a fisherman in Bethsaida… actually an owner of a family fishing business… where most of the fishermen in his region were poor and probably owned nothing but a net, he owned boats, and along with his brother Andrew were among the first disciples called by Jesus.

Along the way Jesus keeps testing Peter, and he kept failing… terribly actually, from the whole refusing to see who Jesus really was, right through to the denial of Jesus in the courtyard on the night of the crucifixion, 

Peter made mistakes… but Jesus saw something in him. So much so that he nicknamed him the Rock… the Rock upon which the future would be built… upon which the church would be built… that is Peter.

With the Kids

The disciples fear…. Our own fear… God showing up when we are afraid…

The First Days

Let’s take a step back from Peter as the head of the church to those first days after Jesus hung from a cross. Almost every story we hear from that first week is a story based on fear….

So here he is, with the disciples, locked in a room afraid…. Peter knows he has denied being a disciple; he is probably embarrassed and worried and does not know what to do next….

He certainly does not seem very Rock like at this very moment. And to be fair, he has good reason. There is a lot to worry about and things are not going the way anyone could have planned.

But the thing is, that is part of his story, right… he was a guy who made mistakes and he was a guy who 
somehow found a way through.

Here he is the week after Easter starting from a place of hopelessness and fear… a place where Peter cannot imagine what the future will hold or what the world outside the walls of his locked room will look like.

Have you ever been there yourself? Ever been afraid of the future? In a very real sense that is where Peter is now….

The Acts of the Apostles

For the season of Easter I am going to be telling campfire stories about the heroes of our faith. I guess you can guess that today is about Peter… throughout this season we read from the book of Acts, a book of history about the Apostles and the early church.

People often say that Acts is the second part of the Gospel of Luke, it continues the story of what Jesus was trying to do, but it focuses on the time after his death and on those who took over for him…. So beginning from the day Jesus is taken up into heaven, through the story of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples, what we read are the stories of people who stood up and made a difference.

So flash forward a few months in the life of Peter, those fearful moments in Jerusalem are over, he has left the locked room and begun to teach and preach… but… now Peter is once more confined, but this time he has been arrested and is on trial...

Brought before the high priest and the whole council; he is asked point blank… did we not tell you never to talk about Jesus again! Didn’t we tell you not to preach this stuff to the people?

And Peter boldly stands up and says, God has commanded we do this… it is the truth… how could we not speak up!

Well, this really doesn’t seem like the guy who was afraid to admit he was a follower of Jesus, does it?
Something has changed him, something has restored him, and something has given him the power to do more than he imagined he could…

I wonder if we sometimes forget about how fast things were happening, about what the followers of Jesus had to go through and what they had to wrap their minds around… I mean, from meeting Jesus to losing him, to starting the church is just a little more than three months.

They head to Jerusalem sure Jesus is going to change everything, watch him die, run away, then start the church up in a matter of months. I guess when I think about that I really do think that perhaps Peter deserved his nickname, he was pretty resilient.


There is no doubt that we can all relate to Peter…  There are times when we feel fear and doubt and confusion; it is in those moments that we find ourselves in a locked room, blinded by walls on every side.

There are times when we feel confident and free, able to speak our truth about our thoughts and beliefs; able to hope and dream and see the big picture.

And still yet, there are times when we feel persecuted, having to explain ourselves and work extra hard to be who we want to be.


The point I am trying to make is not where you should find yourself or what you should be doing, the point is that through Peter’s story we see God. We can ehard God speaking through the stories of the lives of the faithful who have gone before us – stories rich with faith and response to God’s love.

It is up to each of us to find our own purpose in these epic stories. But we must always remember that the people of our past still have so much left to say… and that what they say is very relevant to us today…

So I hope you are left thinking about what it is that Peter is saying to you. How does his character and his story relate to yours? For just like the earliest flowers of the faith, you are a Christian too, filled with the same spirit of possibility.