Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent 4 - A



I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have looked for a sign. Some little signal from God to let me know that everything was going to be all right... I have prayed, I have hoped, I have bargained... I have even decided that the sign was there....

Sometimes I make it a 50/50 split with God. “Ok, God, if I drive around the corner and there is a tree still with leaves on it, I am going to take that as a sign that you want me to do this...”

Part of me knows full well that I am talking to myself – that a sign from God would not be leaves left on a tree randomly by the side of the road just when I wanted there to be leaves. I am talking to myself and justifying my decision.

But O for a sign. Some divine answer written across the sky in giant gold letters saying – THIS IS WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO! - I think there are times we all wish the answer was a little clearer, a little more obvious, a little more black and white.

Times when we knew what was the right thing to do.

We have been preparing for Christmas throughout the weeks of Advent by talking about ancient prophesies and bits of wisdom that people were hoping for with the Messiah. We even got nine months out and talked about what Mary was hoping this birth would be.

Well – lets move a little closer now to the due date. Lets advance to the point where Mary is showing, obviously, that she is pregnant – and let’s take a moment to consider this all from a different angle – that of the fiance. I am pretty sure Joseph was looking for a sign. He wanted God to tell him what to do...

Because let’s face it. This was a tough situation. He had not slept with Mary, she was claiming no one ever did, the family and crowds were talking, Mary’s life was on the line, maybe his too... at the very least their reputation was on the line...

The easiest thing and best thing for him would be to cast her out, let her take her own chances, forget about this and move on. After all, it was probably an arranged marriage, it was not really about love yet. He probably hardly knew this girl.

What is the right thing to do for his family? For his reputation? For his carpentry business? Or for that matter, how did he feel about all this?
This is part of the Christmas story too...

With the Kids

- cards and feelings – getting in touch with who we are and what we feel about the season...

Wrestling with the Texts

Have you ever seen a family coping with some stressful situation that seems beyond your own ability? Like a child getting cancer, or a child being born blind, or the death of a ten year old in a tragic car crash...

Almost every time I meet these people my first response is always to say, wow... they are coping with things with such grace, they are being so strong, look at how much love that family has for each other even when things are tough...

I see it every day in other relationships as well. Students looking out for each other, adults struggling with their aging parents, sickness and death taking one spouse... and for the most part what I see is that we are way stronger than we think.


The other side is true as well. Perhaps, sadly, even more true. We see marriages end, we see kids estranged from parents, we see abused runaways on the street. We see mental illness lead to drug addiction and prison. Just as often as I see people being strong, I see people being broken.

And I know there is a there but for the grace of God moment in all of this.
I have been broken. I have given up. I know what it feels like.


Ok, so I want you to see this as very human, I want you to understand that we are made of strong stuff but that any one of us could find ourselves broken by the weight of the world.
Now, look again at Joseph. He is not rich, he does not live in a city where there are hundreds of prospects, he does not come from a high society family, and yet, miracle of miracles, he gets engaged, to a young, seemingly happy and bright women. Her parents have the dowry, it is perfect.

Then she becomes pregnant.

Pregnant because she sleeps around? Pregnant because a Roman soldier raped her? There really is no good possibility here. Think about how a rape victim is treated today. Think about what society thinks of High School students who get pregnant. Think about the rumours when a wife gets pregnant after a man has a vasectomy.

Imagine how bad it was 2000 years ago? There were no women's rights, there were no divorce laws. This was a society where if a man says out loud three times that he is divorced, then he is. A woman is property. A woman exists to serve the man and bear him offspring. Which, by the way, in the thinking of the day do not even contain DNA of the woman – just little versions of the man growing up to carry on the name.

By law Mary must be put to death. By custom Joseph needed to move on and forget about this marriage. By the thoughts going on in the average persons head he needs to get angry and leave her. Why should he raise another mans son? Why should he be with an immoral and untrustworthy woman. Who, by the way, is probably a lair or insane ... saying she has never had sex...

But... we are told... and angel appears to Joseph. He has a vision. This child is going to grow up to change the world.

One night, one vision, one moment in time.... and Joseph marries his young bride and raises this child from another father as his son.

What we often gloss over in these stories is that so many amazing things had to happen for this to work out, including picking just the right step father for Jesus. A man who would believe the ramblings of a crazy young girl and show love and compassion despite all wisdom and tradition telling him not to. A man who would listen to the voice of the angel in his vision and see the possibility that perhaps Mary was telling the truth.


An angel talking to you at night is a pretty convincing sign from God. You could take the story to be telling us that. But I actually do not think that is true.

Scrooge saw a ghost talking to him and managed to convince himself, for a minute or two, that it was only some bad food he ate the night before playing havoc with his thinking.

And we have all done that. Dismissed the sign as being a coincidence. Dismissed the vision as being a dream. Seen someone smile at us and thought to ourselves they really cannot be smiling at us. Had someone tell us they thought we could do it, and known in our heart that we could not.

Joseph could have woken up and forgot about the night before. He could have dismissed it as a dream of wishful thinking. He could have said that God is not real anyway or else why would I be in this situation. He could have done a million things to convince himself to put her away quietly, he even could have put her to death himself. It was within the law.

But he didn’t.

What Joseph did was look in his heart and realize that this person needed the love of God more than anyone in that moment, and he had it within himself to give it.

There are signs around us all day. God is speaking to you right now. And most of us have the ability to hear, if we just accept that life is never black and white and we move into the mystery of Christmas. God did the unexpected and it changed the world. Joseph did the unexpected and it changed the world.

So go out and do the unexpected. It just might change the world.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Advent 2-A

The Peaceable Kingdom


Peace, peace... peace... something hard to define, something hard to achieve, something we all long for... peace is something that seems to be desperately missing from our world, and curiously, I imagine it is hard to find in our personal lives around now too with all of Christmas weighing down on us in one way or another.
So what is it exactly that we long for? What do we mean when we talk about peace? The obvious answer is that it is the absence of violence... but when you stop and think about that for a second, we need to ask another question... what is violence...
It may sound like I am going to go all high brow on you and start to talk about philosophical ideas and theological faith responses... but what I am thinking about it actually far more mundane and practical.
I know a couple who just decided this week to end their marriage. Ali has an ex parishioner who is just a young and troubled man whose mother just died of a heart attack. The malls are so crowded that you cannot hear yourself think while you walk around them. Rush hour in this city... My daughter Rachael had the stomach flu. I could not sleep Friday night.... all of this is violence, is it not?
The noise, the busyness, the pain of life all hurts us. It is painful. And we wish we had a break from it. We wish we had peace, just for a moment...
Peace is also one of those things prophets foretold and Jesus came to offer... The Prince of Peace he became known as, the one who would usher in the prophecies of Old.
And so we gather and worship and wait.... but while we wait, we will take this opportunity to think about how to bring Peace into our lives.

Time for the Young at Heart

God's Dream - Nelson Mandela

Of Prophets and Presents

 I have always thought that in order to have true peace the world would have to be a different place - I started this whole ministry thing with the naive hope of changing the world... I guess I was a vey Old Testament prophet sort of guy in terms of my ministry.
The prophets believed people could change. You hear it all the time in the Old Testament; they preached, often fire and brimstone, trying to convince people that they should change… that the world would be a better place if only they could see that they were not living their lives like God wanted them to live.
Some times forget that this was a very practical and political world. Israel was a place where warfare and chaos reigned. When the prophets hoped for changed, when they preached about peace - it was not an abstract thought... how about people stop fighting... how about people grow enough food... how about we learn to conserve water in a drought.... stop focusing on the wrong things and focus on how to make life better.... that would be peace.
And maybe God would send someone to help us get on with it... someone like Elijah... someone like Moses... someone who would be a leader and help us change....
Sometimes we forget that this is the meaning of Christmas.... We have built up such nostalgia and sense of tradition that we think the holly and the ivy, the Christmas lights and turkey smells, the family and love is what it is all about.
Jesus born in a stable and gifts from unexpected sources. Stars and cattle lowing...
But that is not what it was about. Sometimes we forget that only two of the four gospels talk about the whole ‘birth – manger – shepherds in the fields’ part of the story… Only half of the writers thought it important to start with what we pretty much think is the core message of Christmas…
There is something that all four gospels to agree on, however, There is a concrete part that they all agree began the ministry of Jesus... and that is John the Baptist. "Christmas" ... the whole "Messiah" thing... It all starts with a political protestor. So as we consider peace in our time, let's start where he starts.
let’s start with the political and social situation of Jesus. Jesus was born into an awful world, filled with awful rulers… They were governed by the largest Empire ever known, an Empire that was already crumbling with decay and corruption. The Emperor Caesar is corrupt, so is the local governor, so is the Jewish king, and finally, so is the High Priest of God’s very own temple. Every single person of power seems corrupt.
And so God's spirit begins to work in that usual and unexpected way... a nobody appears on the scene... the son of a small time priest named Zechariah. And this man, John, becomes convinced that people need to change, that the prophets were right, that we are off track
So he is all about making the paths straight, all about preparing the way… and his message is one of repentance; of turning your life around and focusing on the things of God. Really, he thought it would be that simple… if we stopped thinking about the ways of the world and started thinking about the ways of God, everything would get better.
Do you know what I have observed in my 23 years of ministry? It is very hard to change the world! No, really.... It is almost impossible to change the world. I have come to see that there is a mathematical formula about change. Changing the minds of four billion people is impossible. Changing the minds of a million people is almost impossible. Changing the minds of a thousand people is impossibly hard. Changing the minds of 100 people is unlikely. Changing the mind of a person is possible.
Perhaps these prophetic dreams of peace were aiming too high?

The Imagination of a Messiah

Some people say John Lennon, from the Beatles, was a prophet. That he was one of those voices that God has spoken through to try and bring us a message about how the world should be.
It was 36 years ago, or will be four days, that John was killed… His song “Imagine” is actually a pretty good Advent Hymn when you think about it. In case you have not heard it this is the chorus...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one”
The verses have other sentiments about getting rid of the things that divide us, about no more countries or religion, no more politics or greed. It actually sounds really good, and it is really no different a message than when Isaiah and the other prophets were getting at with the whole lion will lie down with the lamb and we will all be at peace; or that someday God will come and restore the justice of the people….
Prophets had hope, they had a sense that the future was one in which peace reigned; and they believed that this was true because of the fact that there was a better way to live.
But what they needed was something Jesus knew all about... the one on one. Jesus did not minister to institutions or even churches. He talked to people. Mostly one at a time and where he met them.
He knew that to change the world you change it one person at a time. Just like Lennon said, I am going to do something differently... I hope you join me... and someday we will see the world begin to change.
This is how we build the peaceable Kingdom Isaiah spoke of and John preached about. This is how we find the peace we all long for, even if it begins with small changes..
So, two weeks into Advent and I am suggesting that we need to have Hope, and seek Peace. I am not telling you how to do it, some days I know that for my own life, and some days I have no idea….
But still, I believe that life is a journey in which we grow and learn and seek to be a better person.

As we approach Christmas, and think about the voices from our prophetic past, I think that they may have been on to something….

Advent 3 - A

Mother Mary 


I guess I am on a Beatles kick for some reason, each Sunday puts me in mind of another song... this week it was Let it Be... and particularly the part which goes:

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be

And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be

What is it about Mary that captures the attention of so many? Perhaps it is that she was so ordinary, and thrust into circumstances that seem so amazingly and mysteriously more than ordinary.

Imagine this unwed and too young mother of Jesus. Whom Angels spoke to and Joseph forgave. Who, if the story is right, accepted her fate and her position with grace and dignity.

This is not life as most of us experience it. It must have been incredibly hard.... her life must have been filled with emotions - fear, pain, even anger... I wonder if part of what we like and admire about Mary is that even in the midst of that she also found joy.

When Mary finds that she is pregnant she goes off to see her already pregnant cousin Elizabeth... perhaps for advice, perhaps to exchange stories, perhaps just to get some rest and let the men folk go off and be men folk.

And what they discover together is that they are happy to be mothers. And that they are happy that God has plans for their children.

Those plans involve helping to make the world a better place, and as we shall see it is totally in line with Gods promises as well as totally in keeping with what has taken place after their births.

The white Gifts

The tradition of White Gift Sunday has its roots in a small Methodist church in Ohio in 1904. What began as a humble way to reflect on the love and devotion of the giver and not the value of the gift has grown into today’s white gift services in many churches across several denominations. The story is told that a minister’s wife initiated the idea to solve the problem of inequity of gifts given at the Sunday school Christmas party. Instead of focusing on receiving gifts, the focus shifted to bringing gifts to Jesus that could in turn be shared with people around the world who did not have much. All the gifts would come wrapped in plain white paper, so that no one would know which was an expensive gift and which was a more modest one. No one would feel ashamed of their gift and everyone would share in the joy of giving to others.

Wrestling with the Texts

The Beatles believed that Mary would come and bring them wisdom. They are not alone in this. Monks worshiped her, poor peasants built shrines to her. Mary is at the heart of the emotional connection we all have for God.

Maybe because she is a mother, and a woman, and those qualities are rare in the Bible and yet important for most people. We all understand what it is to be a parent, and we all know what a perfect mother would be.... whether we are one, or even if we did not have one.

A mother is protective, a mother is fierce, a mother loves unconditionally, a mother has high hopes for her children. A mother gives beyond measure and yet, does it with a smile. Well, our perfect mother would do this.

And again, for many people Mary took on these feminine characteristics of God. Mary was the compassionate one, Mary was the caring one, Mary was the wise one... and became venerated so much that there have been times when the Catholic Church tried to ban praying to Mary - people were praying more to Mary than to God....

As the Beatles reiterate, it is Mary who is standing beside them in times of darkness.... and she is speaking words of wisdom.

So what were the words of Wisdom Mary had to offer in the first place? Surprisingly there were very few of them captured, or imagined, by the folks that wrote the story of Jesus... But there is one place, one poem, one song, that got included.

My soul Magnifies the Lord, sang Mary when the pregnancy became real and the baby kicked for the first time...

And then, like any mother, she goes on to speak of the hope she has for her child.... of the way God will be at work through Jesus. There are some wonderfully high hopes I this song, the powerful being overthrown, the proud being humbled, the starving get food and the rich go away empty handed.

Again, we are talking about a vision of the Kingdom of God ... of what it "could" be like if we finally listen to the wisdom and compassion of God. It sets Jesus up with a huge and impossible seeming task; a lot of pressure on an unborn baby....

But you have to see how this set the stage. This really was the expectation that people had of the Messiah, this really is what people were praying for.

Mary was overcome with Joy because God was finally answering her prayers.... not only her prayers, but everyone's prayers. Could it be that the hope Mary feels is part of the reason that so many people look to her for guidance?


And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be

And though the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,
Shine until tomorrow, Let it be...

Whisper words of wisdom.... Let it be...

Who knew the Beatles were so into Christmas? Well, okay, that is a stretch... but they were religious in their own way and they were part of the movement of people who believed at the world could become a better place.

And they saw in Mary, the same as we can, a person who sees the joy of life, who sees the simplicity of faith, and who is there to offer us wisdom....

As we approach Christmas we do so with a sense of joy that allows us to see the goodness of the world around us, even as we know there is pain and sorrow. There is so much joy and love, so much hope and peace.... let's celebrate that this year.... knowing that we are helping to birth Gods love into the world once more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pictures of God


What is your favourite image of Jesus?

In the 1960s someone did a portrait called the laughing Jesus which I kind of like… The only problem being I cannot get over the fact that he sort of looks like a white hippy from the 1960s. The is Leonardo's version from the last supper, Rembrandt has famous paintings, we have probably seen a movie or two with Jesus in them…

But there are other possibilities. We have made him pretty much like us over the years. What if Jesus was black? What if he was Arabic? What if he was fat? What if he shaved? None of us really knows….

But how we picture something really does affect how we think about it. The picture in our mind affects our beliefs. If you do not believe me go home and google the Korek mountain ski resort in Iraq – tell me if it does not totally blow your conception of what Iraq is like out of the water.

First Reading

So here is Paul describing Jesus to the church in Colossae. I wish just once he would have acted like a modern novelist and said, “then Jesus turned his green eyes towards the crowd, brushed back his Chestnut hair from in front of his eyes and said…” But Paul never so much as gives a glimmer of the physical Jesus…. Here is what he says in Colossians 1:15-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

With the Kids

Close your eyes…. No seriously, humour me a second and close your eyes. Now. I am going to say a word and I want you to think of the first image that comes to mind. I’ll do a practice one first… everyone ready…. Doctor. If you are like me, you probably pictured a guy in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck…. Or something close.

Ok, keep your eyes closed or close them again… Ready for another one? I would like you to think of an image of… God.

Ok, open your eyes… What did you think of? I mean, I did do it this way because I was trying to get at the emotional brain. Not when you reason it out, not when you think about it, but spur of the moment what comes to mind. I always find it weird that for me it is the old white guy in the clouds with the white robe.

Don't get me wrong, that is not what I think God is. It is just the first thing that comes to mind when I try to think of God. So seriously, some people think of other things, but it is hard to find an image to capture God.

Second Reading

So I want to read you another story – one you are probably familiar with. It is about a visit of Jesus to Mary and Martha… Now, normally we hear this story and think about the two women, who is Mary, who is Martha… But I want you to listen today from another angle… Who is Jesus? What does this story say about Jesus personality and character? What do we learn about him?

Luke 10: 38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Engaging the Text

One of the things I really thought was funny in the art world came about when I learned about the medieval and renaissance religious painting movement. You know, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and the boys… there was a period when they all began painting religious scenes. Maybe because churches would actually pay them for their art…

Now, here is the thing that blew me away. When they painted they usually sat down in front of something and painted it. People posed for portraits, or they went into the countryside and painted the landscape.
The thing is, they had to make up what they thought Jesus and the disciples looked like – which is fair enough – but what they did not make up was the background. And so we have paintings of Jesus knocking at the door of a house in Venice. Or Jesus preaching from a mountain just outside of Paris. Even the last supper takes place in an Italian living room.

But that is what we came to believe the Jerusalem of Jesus day looked like… it forever coloured how we saw things.

The same is true for me of the Charlton Heston movie The Ten Commandments. I have in my head what ancient Egypt, Israel, and even Moses looked like because I always picture that movie….

I guess the thing I am trying to say is that our mental pictures can have a profound impact on the way that we see and understand the world. They influence the value and importance that we place on certain people, activities, and things.

If God, and Jesus, basically look like me and behave like me… then that means I am made in the image of God, right? And if I dress in the white linen robe and put a rope around my waste, it gives me even more authority, right?

Just like if I put on a white coat, draped a stethoscope around my neck and walked into your room in the hospital and told you to start drinking more tomato juice in order to make you better… would you question me?

No, because we have a mental image and when things fit that image we are content.

It is always a problem when they do not fit though, isn’t it? When I was in Whitehorse I went to the emergency department in the hospital and the doctor on call was a 20-year-old surfer from France. He had blond spiky beach hair and a great tan. And it was honestly hard to imagine he was a doctor.

You have probably had that happen… like getting pulled over by an RCMP officer who seems to be a little shy kid….

And the religious writers of the ancient church only made this worse.

Paul’s letter invites us to picture Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” and as “the head of the body, the church.” Well, think about it. How does our own mental image of Jesus affect the way we see God and the church? Clearly, it did. God is really just a grown old Jesus in most of the images, right. And certainly a man with a beard…. Not a woman, not black, certainly not a Mediterranean Jew.


It is something to think about, isn’t it? How does our image of Jesus, our image of God, affect how we see others? How does it impact our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus right here in Marysville or Penniac? How does it shape our ministry?

Because trust me it does… even the stories we tell affect us. I read the story of Mary and Martha to you…. How has this affected us over the years? I know I was always told, by my grandparents and preachers that Mary was the one who was doing what God wanted. That we should sit and listen. That being faithful means basically to listen and pay attention to the words of Jesus…

Never mind that Martha was the one actually doing the work of hospitality and caring for the people around her.

But God forbid that we are “worried and distracted by many things” like that old Martha…

Maybe if we stop and think about how the images affect us. Maybe if we realize that we are always making judgements based on what we see… maybe we will be able to see the world they way Jesus actually saw it and be freed from the judgements that we all make. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

LENT 4 - C


The idea of Lent is to explore aspects of life, aspects of ourselves that both help and hinder our ability to be faithful. Perhaps I should say that a different way. Being human means that we have certain feelings and ideas… take love for example… we all feel it in one way or another, we can love people or we can love chocolate. But because we love we also hate – and that can be anything from our neighbour to Brussel sprouts.

But how is that feeling – love – helping our faith? And how is our love of things making it difficult to live the way Jesus taught.

That is the idea behind Lent – take something familiar and examine it more deeply with the hope of understanding it better. The more we understand it, the more we can make sure it is not interfering with the way God would have us live.

By doing this, we are seeking to become even more faithful.
So today, the idea I want us to focus on is forgiveness. And its opposite, which for lack of a better way of expressing it, I am going to call holding a grudge.

Now I think we can all agree on why holding a grudge could be a bad thing… it takes up emotional space, it forces us to remain angry or at least to have negative feelings, and if you stop and think about it… or if it gets too bad, it could even give you an ulcer.

Most importantly though – it keeps two people apart.

And I would argue this is the furthest thing from what God wants. To keep people apart.

The point of life is in fact relationships, right. Getting a job, building a house, buying a car, these are all just things that make life more or less liveable. What life is really about is who we love and how we love. It is about the love we share with God, with family and friends…. The relationships.

Forgiveness and Relationships… hmmm… That is not an easy topic is it?


Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable:

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

2 Corinthians 5:16–21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


We have probably all heard the story of the prodigal son at one time or another I our travels. One of two sons comes of age and instead of staying on the family farm decides to take his share and set out on his own. He spends the money way too fast, probably on a new sports car and some electronics, and then realizes he cannot repay his debts… after living on the streets for a while he realizes that the farmhands back home had it way better than this and decides to go back, hat in hand, to ask his dad for a job.

This is how we have heard the story. This is what we often focus on. The son. Youth. Bad decisions… and second chances.
You know, it was hundreds of years after it was written that someone decided to put subtitles and called it the prodigal son. In truth, this story is not about the kids at all – it is about the father. It is a story about love and forgiveness.

So let’s look at it from the other side… This is the story of a father who works hard, who has built something up for his family and his sons, and whose son just does not care. In fact, the son thinks he knows better and essentially says, I would be happier if you were dead – so give me my inheritance now and I will have nothing to do with you.

And the father does. He loves the son so much he is willing to let him go and make his own mistakes. He hopes for the best but fears the worst. And while the son is gone, he continues to live a good life which he shares with his other son.

But then the son comes back – having failed, having lost everything, brought as low as he could be. And instead of saying, I told you so. Instead of coldly turning his back. The father welcomes the son back like the long lost love he is.

We are called to follow Jesus… there is a hymn about that I think…

And Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and said essentially the same thing – that Jesus showed us a new and different way to be – and that way, as the Psalm suggests, is a way of grace and love.

It is not natural. We naturally hold grudges. We naturally feel hurt. We naturally want revenge. But to walk a mile in Jesus’ footsteps we need to let that all go. We need to be like the father who just loves – and lets the son make his own mistakes – and still loves him no matter what goes wrong.

If we can manage to pull that off… we are getting closer to what Jesus was trying to teach us.


Jesus told parables so that the people who listened to him could relate. He used ideas that everyone would get – like the difficult relationships between father and sons.

Faith, he wanted to let people know – was not something out there, different, only on Sundays… Faith was about how we live our lives. And I guess that it what I have been about during Lent – trying to bring it back close to home and helping us to understand that our faith is not mystical and different – it is about the basics – about the seemingly simple things – and choosing to do them the way Jesus would.

And like I said earlier, faith really comes down to relationships. To paraphrase Jesus explaining this to someone else… it is all about Love; love of yourself, love of God and love of Neighbor. And really, the main thing we have to do to make relationships work is forgive.

There is never going to be a moment when someone does not disappoint or hurt you – there is never going to be a time when we do everything out of love. We are always making mistakes. So to be like Jesus we have to be able to say – I love you anyway.

As we will see as the story unfolds; Jesus takes this as far as possible, actually praying for God’s forgiveness of his executioners. And sure, that is where we hope to get in life, but for now… we need to make forgiveness more a part of our day to day… don’t expect people not to make mistakes, don’t expect perfection, and allow people to love you back… when we do that we are living faithfully.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

LENT 3 - C


Second Chances… They are wonderful things.

I grew up believing in them. My parents got angry about the things I did, but they always gave me a chance to make up for it. Don’t get me wrong, I never got third chances. But a mistake was just a mistake – and then you try to correct it.

You know, when you think about it this was the message that Jesus began with – that we all have a second chance to get right with God; and it was the message that he in turn had heard from his cousin, John the Baptist. John said it a different way – Repent! But basically to repent is to start over, to turn around, and to choose a different, and better path.

I am not sure if you have heard the story behind Amazing Grace… The author was John Newton, born in London in the summer of 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. Later he was forced into the Navy, then started working on a slave ship, and finally he became captain of his own ship.

Newton had given up religion as a child – but on one homeward journey, while attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm he had what we might call a “come to Jesus movement.” And gave it all up to become an Anglican Priest.

For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, and later he would write the hymn which for him was all about the second chance he was given.


Luke 13:1–9
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”


Ask the children to pretend that they have been given the important job of looking after a fruit tree. It could be an apple tree, a peach tree, or a pear tree—something that is appropriate for your climate and area. Ask the children how they would look after the tree. Ask them if they think it would produce fruit if they ignored it and didn’t provide any water or care. Explain that God looks after the people of the world, including the children, just as a good gardener looks after a fruit tree. God provides people to care for the children and supports in the community, such as churches and schools, so that the children can be productive members of society and produce fruit in the community.

Isaiah 55:1–9

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.


   Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a
broom beneath
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the silk
of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator
the light catches
the veins in her hands
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says 
as much as
you can
help me

so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
wasps sugar
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
it was hot his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls
c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sunbaked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe
never again.


When I was growing up it seemed to me that my life was set out in front of me. At least, when I got to Jr High and High School. My father wanted me to be a doctor. He wanted me to go to Acadia where he went to school, where my grandparents had gone to school, where most of my aunts, uncles, and eventually my brothers went to school.
I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be different. And I ran… I went to Mt Allison intending to study art but getting lost in religion and political philosophy. I left Sackville and headed to Montreal in an attempt to get even further away from my family. Boy, did I ever think I knew it all.

If I could just be different from them. If I could just define myself somehow as not Baptist, as not a New Brunswicker, as not the “good obedient son.” And I did. I did that in spades. I was a rebellious teenager who was never far from trouble, I hung out on the streets of Montreal and idled away time and money and reputation…

I got in trouble with the law, lost friends, and went years without seeing my family.

Someday I will work the rest of my life into the sermons you hear. I think it is a pretty interesting story. But my point here is just to point out how far I veered from the plans of my family, and for that matter, from the gifts that I was probably intended to use by God.

I spent a lot of my life on the wrong path.

Now – your life may not have seemed so dramatic as this – or perhaps it is even more dramatic. I have a friend who is a minister in Ontario who actually joined the US Navy to get away from his parents and his past…

But we all do it. In some way we set out to find ourselves, we set out to be different from our parents. We set out to be original… And I would wager that all of us have made mistakes along the way.

But – here is the thing – no matter how far off of the route we are, God provides on ramps…

This is what struck me in the meandering poem I read to you… Here is this guy wandering through the city lost in his own thoughts, feeling negative about everything when all of a sudden he sees a fig tree, and he eats some figs, and so do others, and all of a sudden he remembers not only that life is good, but that he is not alone.

Give it a second chance, says the gardener, and I bet it will grow. We just need to be reminded that the second chance is out there. Perhaps it is as easy as seeing a fig tree where we didn’t expect it.


Some 4000 years ago the prophet Isaiah spoke to a bunch of people who had lost hope – have nothing to drink? He said, come and drink with me. Are you hungry? God has provided milk and honey. Leave behind your wicked ways and turn to God and you will be welcomed…

There is always a second chance.
This is another truth of Lent that we need to wrap our heads around – no matter how far gone and no matter what we think we have done, no matter if we think we are too young, too old, too stubborn or too weak, there is a second chance.

No one has sinned too much – no one is so far gone that they are not loved by God.

But we have to take the time to work the soil, to add a little water, to accept that love and start once more to bear fruit. That is the journey of Lent.

Sunday, February 21, 2016



There is a line I love in the book The Colour Purple, Alice Walker has one of her characters say, “I think it makes God mad when you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere.”

Lent is a time for purple. It is a time for looking around. It is a time to engage God, to look for God, to be open to finding God… Even if you have to look at a flower in a field, or the leaves on a tree, or the pinks and purples of a sun set.

We might even find God in the hymns we sing, or the readings we listen to – peering through the stained glass on a Sunday morning…

But I want to talk about some of the less well known ways we encounter God. We all know about the big ones, Seeing God in a Rainbow ever since the flood, or the voice of God speaking to you, even an angel at the foot of the bed… but if we are always focusing on these traditional ways – we might miss some of the smaller ones; or some of the less familiar ways.

Have you seen the commercials for Buicks lately? They play on the idea of “This isn’t your father’s Buick” but essentially it shows different people saying, I’ll be driving the Buick or some such line, and then not being able to find them because they are driving a cool looking car…. And we all know Buicks are not cool.

So this is the same sort of thing – we all have an understanding of God. We all look for God in certain ways – whether it is the answer to a prayer, a message from a sermon, or a feeling from a sunset. But what if God is out there, right there, like the colour purple… and we are walking by.


Jesus talks about God in a way we do not expect. In the story I read earlier he talks about wanting to be like a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wing to keep them safe. God is both a mother and a chicken. Not what we are expecting.

Also the sentiment is not quite what we usually hear – God is not the warrior, God is not the teacher, God is not the creator… God is a loving parent who wishes to protect us from harm. Knowing that this is one of the ways Jesus understood God does it change your perception at all?

Or how about our story from Abraham, Where God appears in a vision as the one who will fulfill the promise of children. Do we think of God that way very often… I need kids, so God will provide? What about at a more basic level – God is the one who fulfills promises… who is faithful in all things…God is the “quality” of faithfulness… God is the “quality” of caring.

I am not the first person to say this – it comes from the Jewish practice of Kabbalah, an ancient mysticism… who first asked the question, what if God is not a noun… what if God is a verb?

Jesus said it first, God is love. But what if this is really, really true at a deeper level than we thought. What if God is not a person on a cloud, but is the actual act of loving? What if God is not an angel in the sky but is the actual verb, the action, of taking care of people? What if God is faithfulness?

So what if the reason we miss seeing God is that we miss experiencing God. When a stranger smiles at us, or a store owner says to forget about the fact you are a dime short for your coffee. What if waking up with a day that has no plans, or lying on the beach in the sunshine is experiencing God?

Does that change anything? This is our Lenten question for today… How do WE experience God, and when we do, are we letting it seep into our souls and empower us to be the people who help others to see God too?


A few years ago my car broke down on the side of the road. I was stranded right on the edge of the city of Moncton. I managed to coast down onto the exit ramp for the major road into town… As I sat there, a lot of cars drove by. And I was thinking to myself how people in Moncton spend too much money on cars – there were BMW’s and Mercedes, Cadillacs and Audis. I kid you not, it seemed like everyone was driving a luxury car. And there I sat in an old Toyota with the four ways on while they drove right on by.

I started to have another thought about these people. One I cannot share. And I sat and sat and sat…

Finally a car pulled up behind me, a beat up old Honda civic – you know the type, a wannabe street racer. And out of it hopped two guys who looked like drug dealers. I was a little worried – but they came up and asked if I needed help, they got me to open the hood and found the problem, and fixed it… I offered them money but they would not take it…

It sure was a good lesson in humility and in judging people. And in where we might find God in our world.

And I guess this is what I am saying – during these 40 days while we are preparing ourselves, while we are looking at how we live, and how we interact with God. Let’s not just look in the places we have already searched, but let’s be open to the mysterious, the unexplained, the unexpected… after all, isn’t that where God usually shows up?

Sunday, February 14, 2016



When I was young my grandmother always used to warn me about taking the easy way. “Don’t take the easy way,” she would say, “it will never get you where you want to be.”

It was good advice. I did not always listen. But as I grew older and wiser I seemed to get it more and more. When we skip steps to make it easier, the end result is worse – and it often ends up being harder in the end.

I wonder if Jesus’ had a grandmother around to pass on this wisdom. Perhaps his mother did. But he certainly seems to take it to heart when he makes a huge life choice and leaves behind carpentry to become a preacher, teacher and healer.

I can picture him, lying in bed at night, going for walks, thinking about how to tell his mother that he is leaving. Wondering if he is making the right choice. And in the end, being tempted to take the easy way out.

As soon as he makes a decision, and gets baptized by his cousin John, he goes off into the desert to spend the next 40 days preparing for his ministry. And it is while he is alone in the desert, confronted with all his hopes and fears that he has to make some hard decisions.

This is the story of Lent…


40 days in the desert. 40 days is a long, long time to be alone with nothing but a campfire to keep you warm at night. And remember, Jesus has basically left behind every single thing he knows, carpentry, family, Nazareth, and safety. He is taking some huge risks and his first step is to confront his inner demons and figure out who he really is.

So there is Jesus, out there trying to figure out his life, trying to figure out his calling, trying to figure out what it is exactly that God wants of him.

And he is tempted… as the story goes the “devil” comes to him, the tempter comes to him and points out three very obvious truths:

“You are hungry and depriving yourself,” says the devil. “You don’t need to be, it is easy, make some bread and get on with it. Why deprive yourself of anything?”

“Just become the king,” says the devil, “you have the power to conquer everything and everyone – just use it. If you were the king of the world you could get everyone to do whatever you want…”

“Use your powers…” the devil finally says, “you can do miracles, you can command angels, you can be immortal – just use your powers and everyone will believe.”

At its simplest these temptations are one and the same – the devil comes to him and whispers in Jesus ear, take the easy way.

Take the easy way. Be rich, be famous, be powerful, use miracles and force everyone to believe.

You don’t need to suffer, says the devil, you don’t need to wait, and you certainly don’t have to waste time convincing people – you have the power of God to change the world in a heartbeat… would that not be better? And, as a bonus, you will not die horribly after being tortured and hung on a cross.

You don’t even have to be out here, the devil basically says, just go and get started, what is to think about…


Doing the easy thing can even be risking your life… Take the story of Alexander Severus, a Roman emperor who none of us really remember because in 235 AD he chose the easy way. Here is what happened:

Germanic tribes invaded the Roman Empire during the time Severus was emperor. This was the so called Barbarian Invasion and the emperor marched out his troops to meet the invaders. The troops were ready to fight and defend their land…  But what happened? When they were near the enemy, the emperor chose to bribe the enemy instead. He tried to buy them off using the empire’s wealth. Instead of facing the challenge, the emperor chose the easy way.

The troops didn’t like it. In fact, they were angered by it. They looked down on him and eventually decided to kill him.

It’s tragic, but it also contains a profound lesson: don’t take the easy way. Don’t take shortcuts when you face a problem. It may look easy and attractive, but it’s not without its danger. What you should do instead is face the challenge and do the right thing. It might be painful and take a long time, but the reward makes it worth it.

Jesus knows this… He needed to convince people, he needed to walk with people, and he needed to earn their trust and show by example just how powerful the love of God is.


Lent is our 40 days in the desert. Lent is our 40 days of soul searching. Lent is the time when we face our own temptations, and in doing so, we prepare ourselves to follow Jesus no matter where it may lead.

Since the days of the early church this has been a time when we are more sombre, when we look inward, and when we ask the hard questions that Jesus had to answer before he could follow God…

What would be your easy way out? What tempts you? What demons do you need to confront?

It can really change us if we take this seriously. Lent is not an easy time, but it is a powerful one.  

We have those same choices that plagued Jesus in the first place – the temptation to put ourselves first, the temptation to use our power to force others, the temptation to play it safe… It is in fact because of the reality of these temptations that we repeat Lent each and every year.

God is calling. We have already chosen to be here. But now we renew that vow by following in Jesus footsteps and preparing ourselves for the road ahead.