180916 – Co-Missioners

Stewardship Series 2 ~ Matthew 25:31-46

Today’s scripture reading is from near the end of the Gospel of Matthew, so it’s kind of like a summation, or a completion of all of Jesus’ teaching. In the past I’ve called this “graduate level Christianity” because it really requires us to leave behind all sorts of preconceived notions about how faith or religion are supposed to work and truly accept the vision of faithfulness that Jesus offers. He uses a lot of words, but essentially I think he’s saying “a transformed heart is faithful even when no one’s looking.”

In human interaction we find it completely natural and obvious that if I do something nice or helpful for you that you will think better of me or reward me. And if you have a lot of power then I’ll probably try to be even nicer to you, or curry even more favour with you because it will help me with my reward in the long run. That’s human nature – it’s a transactional economy – like buying goods for cash we like to buy favour with our positive actions toward someone.
A transactional economy certainly has its place, but it is even more certainly NOT God’s economy.

God fundamentally does NOT operate on transactions. God’s economy is about grace and love freely given, received by humans, internalized, and then channelled into loving action toward others.
BUT, and it’s a great big but, God is not on the other side keeping score of how well we do with our received gifts. God just keeps giving them.

And that’s confusing because that’s not how humans work. But that’s how God works.
That’s why it’s so hard for us to really understand God’s ‘grace and love’ economy. And what we’ve done as a religion is to try our best to force our human transactional economy onto Jesus’ lips, when in reality he says no such things. But because we’re looking for it we sometimes misread our stuff onto Jesus.

Take today’s scripture reading for example. It’s graduate level teaching because beginners can’t get past the first verses without getting it wrong.
Here’s how Matthew 25:31-33 starts:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

It sounds like Jesus is talking about some final judgement and ultimate damnation here but that’s just not true. Yes, he paints a metaphor that looks like judgement – and, of course, any time you say thing A is better than thing B you’re making a judgement – but it’s not an end of the world scenario he’s describing.

What do you think his purpose is here?

Well, it isn’t to scare you into worrying about your next-life address.
He’s trying to transform hearts and influence action right now.
The thing the sheep get is to receive the kingdom – and we know that the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God is not something that awaits us upon death – it’s something that’s already here, now, surrounding us and awaiting us but we don’t realize it.

So he’s cast us all as sheep and goats to get us thinking.
We know the sheep do it right and the goats get it wrong, so we’ll be listening hard for what we sheep should do!

The sheep get the kingdom because, Matthew 25:35-36

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

And instantly our human transactional brains go “Yes! I did it right! Jesus needed help and I helped him! I earned my way into the kingdom!”

And then it hits us.
“Wait a minute. I never saw Jesus hungry or thirsty, and I never invited him in, nor gave him clothes, and I certainly didn’t take care of a sick Jesus or a Jesus in prison.
Oh no! What if he has me confused with someone else?!?!? Maybe I’m a goat!?!”

And Jesus replies that it isn’t just about him, but anyone. And when no one was looking and you were helping someone who couldn’t give you anything in return, or help you back, that’s when you were living in love. read on

180909 – Let Thanksgiving Flow

Stewardship Series 1 – Luke 10:25-37

Source sermon by Rev. Trisha Elliot
Adapted and expanded by Rev. Dr. Larry Doyle
Preached by Jocelyn Doyle

What are you thankful for?

My list is likely as long as yours and I have a hunch we would put many of the same things on it: a trusted friend, a decent bed, a sunrise, terrific music, a warm, gooey, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie!…okay, maybe you’d prefer ice cream or something to a chocolate chip cookie (everyone’s allowed to be wrong!…)
Anyway, I could go on and on, especially in the gratitude for food department.

But thanksgiving isn’t enough. Let me show you what I mean.

(Hold up an empty glass in one hand and a pitcher of water in another. Hold the cup of water over the baptism font or a large bowl sitting on a table.)

Let’s say that every drop of water I pour into this glass represents something you are thankful for.
As I pour, I invite you to pour out your thanksgiving in the sacred silence.
Let your prayers of thanksgiving flow to God.
Let’s take a moment of quiet so that we can be focused as we pray.

(Pause then begin to pour from the pitcher slowly, filling the glass.)

We have filled the glass with thanksgiving.
But the truth is that there is no end to God’s abundance.
No end to God’s blessing. Just look around…We are deeply and richly blessed. We are filled with blessing.

(Lift up the cup to show that it is full.)

The question is: How do we let that sense of the abundant blessing overflow?

(Keep pouring so that the water overflows into the font/bowl.)

How do we let thanksgiving spill out of us so that we live out God’s abundant Spirit?
It’s one thing to be thankful. It’s another to live in the spirit of thanksgiving.

I’m sure that the Priest in Jesus’ Good Samaritan story who passed by the man beaten on the side of the road could have rhymed off things even in the exact moment when he was crossing over to the other side of the street, that he was grateful for.
So too the Levite.

Maybe both could have filled up a gratitude journal and expressed thanksgiving for their status in life.
If they were asked, they might have said that they appreciated a trusted friend, a decent bed, a sunrise, terrific music, a great chocolate chip cookie!

But their thanksgiving didn’t go anywhere beyond them. At least not in that moment. It didn’t flow into their lives.
It’s one thing to be thankful. It’s another to live in the spirit of thanksgiving, isn’t it?

What made the Samaritan compassionate, I wonder?
What made him bandage a stranger’s wounds?
What made him pour out his oil and wine and offer up his own donkey and book him into an inn and pay for it himself?

Jesus doesn’t give that part of the story away.
He just says “Go and do likewise.”
He says “Be that kind of neighbour.”

(Pick up the glass and pour more water into it so that it spills over the edge.)

“Let the love I pour into you pour out of you,” is what he’s saying in a nutshell.
At Faith United we hear talk about God’s overflowing love all the time – about how God’s love could even be called extravagant, or even wasteful.
God flings around and pours out love like God’s made of the stuff!

The question that catalyzed Jesus’ story was a pretty simple but shrewd one from a legal expert: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We’ve heard a lot about eternal life here at Faith – about how it doesn’t just mean the time that happens after you die but actually means that special kind of transformed, Spirit-filled-to-overflowing life that we can have starting anytime!

I’d actually say that the so-called legal expert asked a weird question – because eternal life isn’t something you inherit, and it certainly isn’t something you earn – it’s more a reflection of your relationship with God – and the kind of life actions that flow out of (or through) a person in that kind of deep, spiritual relationship with the Divine.

So let’s dig a little more into Jesus’ answer to this question.

Trials and extraordinary circumstances don’t build character – they reveal it!
Well, to be fair, if they reveal your faulty character they can still be valuable if you learn and grow from them and then the next time a better character emerges.

We all know this parable well. The Priest and the Levite were supposed to be men of great character – but their actions betrayed them – and you don’t really get the sense that they learned anything from the encounter so they come out looking really bad.

What you might not know is that there’s a subtext to featuring a Samaritan as the good guy. To say that the Samaritans and the Jews didn’t get along was an understatement. The racial feud had been going on for years. They were once one people but then things got terribly messed up and they never made up. To be blunt, Jews and Samaritans hated one another.

Now, imagine you’re the innkeeper that this Samaritan brought the beaten Jew to. Imagine the stories that innkeeper would tell about the Samaritan who went to great lengths for the Jewish victim.

I can imagine the gossip at the inn…
(Pretending to whisper)
“You’ll never believe what just happened. A Samaritan brought the Jew in and told me to look after him. Paid me for it. Gave me two denarii. It’s no joke!”

Now, an innkeeper probably sees a lot in their line of work but I bet this rattled his cage, cracked open his world so that more light could get in.
Maybe his life changed like yours and mine does when we are just going about our day and are suddenly astonished by love.

And for sure, the Jewish victim’s life changed profoundly the moment the Samaritan knelt in the dust in front of him.
And again the moment that the Samaritan so tenderly wrapped the clean bandages around him.
And again the moment that he poured out his own oil, his own wine, his donkey, and his wallet.
And again, each time he thought about those moments for the rest of his life.

How could that beaten Jewish man not help but be more kind to every Samaritan he came across?
How could he not care in turn?
How could the world not spin a little more gracefully on the axis of that experience?

Now think about this: do you think the Samaritan was trying to accomplish that?
Do you think the Samaritan helped this Jew because he was trying to score points, or impress somebody, or repair the racial divide, or profoundly change and influence lives?
No, of course not!

So why did he help? Because he couldn’t not help!
He was so filled with God’s Presence and love that he was overflowing with gratitude for it, and his gratitude needed an expression, and that expression was to help.

Love moved him into love!

And here’s the mind-blowing part of this story that we can miss if we’re not careful.
Jesus is saying that just because you’re a fine, upstanding religious person (like the Priest or the Levite – or maybe even you or me) doesn’t mean you necessarily live love.

In fact, it was only the Samaritan who was the one living out God’s love.

Jesus is literally saying to his followers that even the worst person you can imagine is capable of being so filled to overflowing with God’s love – and so teeming with thankfulness for that love – that they can’t help but live in that spirit of thanksgiving and love even their worst enemy!

Jesus was asked what one must do to have life eternal?
So he tells this story, and he simply wraps it up with: “Go and do likewise.”
The “go and do likewise” part is the key to life.
But that doesn’t just mean to rush out and look for troubled people on the street and help them (although, obviously, that’s not a bad thing to do).

Go and do likewise means as you go in the world let that holy love you feel filling you up – the love that grows through worship, and learning, and serving, and supporting one another – let that love flow out in whatever ways present themselves in your life.

And that love makes us feel great.
And that great feeling makes us feel grateful.
And that gratitude has to find expression – or, it fades.
Because just like a wonderful deep breath you can’t just take it in and hold it for yourself.

God’s love only really comes to completeness and fullness by being breathed back out!
It’s one thing to be thankful. It’s another to live in the spirit of thanksgiving.
Go and do likewise!

This is the beginning of a 5 week series about stewardship and loving our neighbours.
For the next few weeks, we are going to be talking about mission: our personal mission, our congregation’s mission, our denomination’s mission, and through it all, we are going to contemplate and celebrate God’s mission.

God’s mission is epitomized in this story. A story about the outpouring of gratitude and love on a dusty, nameless street between Jerusalem and Jericho that could really be anywhere. It could be the street in front of your home, or the street of your workplace, or the street near your hangouts, or the street that runs through the heart of your relationships.

There is “someone on a road” somewhere in your life waiting for your thanksgiving, your gratitude to overflow in love.

(Pick up the pitcher and the glass and start pouring. It should overflow again over the edge.)

Waiting for the abundant, overflowing grace of God.|
What are you waiting for?

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
Let thanksgiving flow!

(Scoop the water out of the font/bowl and let it drip between your fingers.)

This is what we are baptized and called to do.

Amen

180902 – Within Without

Yr B ~ Pentecost 15 ~ Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I hope you can picture the scene this reading paints. It doesn’t say precisely, but this early part of Mark’s gospel has Jesus travelling in the Judean countryside teaching, healing, and gathering crowds. He’s just fed thousands, and healed many, and when he gets out of a boat at a new town people recognize him and come running. In other words, he’s causing a stir and getting noticed.
What happens when an upstart itinerant preacher starts gathering followers?
Well, obviously, the powers that be need to go and check him out.

Here’s where we start:

Mark 7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him…

They’ve come all the way from Jerusalem to investigate. What do they do?
They gather around him and the disciples. It’s almost like they’re encircling them, surrounding them.
I read that as being pretty intimidating!
So they’ve come to judge but they don’t even bother to wait to hear what Jesus might have to say, because as soon as they arrive they see a clear violation.

v.2 …[They gathered around him and] they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.

And then the narrator conveniently fills us in on the reason why this is such a bad thing. Mark 7:3-4 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews [even, presumably, Jesus and the disciples!], do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

Unclean hands! Oh the horror!
Ok, it’s easy for me to mock, and it sounds ridiculous to our ears, but in their time and place this was a ceremonial no-no. I’m sure we can imagine all sorts of things that if someone came in here and did a certain thing that we’d be shocked and dismayed and cluck about how wrong it was. We’ve all got our stuff!

The religious powers-that-be are bent out of shape because some disciples didn’t wash their hands. They use the word defile. It’s used 4 times in this reading!
The Greek word is koinos (koy-nos) and it means to be stripped of sacredness – reducing what God calls special to something mundane. It happens when a person treats what is sacred (set apart to God) as ordinary (“not special”).

Think about that for a minute.
The underlying message here is that our hands, our bodies, are actually sacred things until we treat them otherwise.
Sure, it was a basic hygiene thing too. Humans ought to eat with clean hands so as not to thoughtlessly risk sickness.

But that’s not what the Pharisees are concerned with. Theirs is actually a very high religious concept.

Pharisees get the short end a lot in Christian circles when they probably shouldn’t – and they’re going to come out on the wrong side of Jesus’ teaching here too – but it isn’t because they’re thoughtless and don’t care – it’s because they’re so worried about the tiny little trees that they’re missing the forest. They are portrayed as thinking that if they take care of all the outward little ceremonial things that they’ve done enough.
Jesus, insightfully, cuts right through that and gets to the heart of it – all those little rules and regulations don’t matter a bit if your heart isn’t changed.

Mark 7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

I bet you’ve heard yourself say, on more than one occasion, “Why can’t the younger generations live according to the traditions of their elders? Why does it seem like all the rules have gone out the window?”
Maybe we all have some Pharisee in us! read on

180826 – A Football Faith

Yr B ~ P12 ~ Ephesians 6:10-20

Let’s talk football today – because, obviously, football is a perfect metaphor for faith. There are many different kinds of football to talk about. There’s Canadian football with 3 downs – there’s American football with 4 downs – there’s Australian Rules football which is more like rugby – and there’s what we call soccer – which is really the only game in the bunch that should logically be called “foot”-ball at all, but that’s another conversation entirely.

Football – every variety – is a real team game. While there may be individual stars the success of the team depends on the play of the whole team working in concert toward a common goal. And in many games the individual stars may not be able to work their magic if the other members of the team don’t execute their roles well. Unlike individual sports like tennis or swimming or track and field, you really can’t play football without a team.
Faith is like football – you need a team.

Guess what the number one spectator sport in the world is? – football!
You can call yourself a fan without ever having even touched a ball. You can sit at home on your couch and be a knowledgeable, devoted, passionate follower of football without ever doing more than reading the sports page and watching the hi-light shows on TV – heck, you don’t even have to sit through a whole game.

You can watch TV shows analyzing the game, reliving the best moments via replay, and second-guessing the players and coaches. If your team wins you can celebrate by dancing around your living room, and if they lose you can stare blankly at the screen, shut it off in disgust and start pointing the finger of blame. Ever notice that it’s “Hurray, WE won!” – but it’s “I can’t believe THEY lost!”?

Being a football fan like this is a safe, clean, warm, easy way to be into football. But it’s amazing how even so it still has such power that it can engender so much heat and passion among even its most casual followers. The positive parts of all this are that at least you’re following the game – thinking about the game – being moved by the game.
Faith is like football – even the fringe people get something out of it.

Now, if you’re a really big football fan – a real fan – you can actually go to the games. You can pay the ticket price and hang out with other people who share your passion and cheer on your team. You can enjoy the camaraderie of the tailgate party and high-five-ing your fellow fans when good plays are made. Because you’re actually at the game you can really feel the energy and excitement that’s generated by football and you can get swept up in it, deepening your passion for the game and your enthusiasm for seeing more.

When your team loses you probably clap for them anyway, or you might boo them if they stunk the joint out – but when your team wins you can celebrate with all the other fans and really share in the joy of being there. You’ll scream out “Wha-hoo” at the top of your lungs. You’ll hug total strangers. You’ll feel more a part of football because you actually spent the time and energy to attend. You stood in the hot sun or cold wind – you sacrificed. And while you’re there you see so much more than you get at home on TV – it’s a much fuller, richer, more satisfying experience.

Millions upon millions of dollars are spent on football each year by the fans. There’s sports memorabilia – hats, jerseys, bumper stickers, beer mugs, key chains – you name it, if they can put the logo on it fans will buy it. There’s that awesome, healthy stadium food – $7 hot dogs and $12 beers. There’s the cost of the ticket to get in. You even get to pay for parking! It’s a serious investment to be a real football fan – but it’s worth it.
Faith is like football – the more you invest, the more you receive. read on

180715 – Thy Kingdom Come Forth

Topical Sermon ~ The Lord’s Prayer ~ Matthew 6:5-13, Luke 11:1-4

Everybody knows the Lord’s Prayer, right? Even in this modern, post-Christian, secular, Western, pluralistic culture there aren’t too many places where if I said “Our Father” I wouldn’t hear back “who art in heaven”! And for church people it’s absolutely automatic. In just about every Christian denomination you will find that people have this prayer deeply ingrained in their memories. There may be differences in some of the words but the prayer is one of the few common threads in Christianity.

Did you know there are two versions in scripture? You heard them both read this morning. The version in Matthew is longer and more familiar, and we’ll talk about all that in a few minutes, but first I want to ask you a question.

Why this prayer?
The simplest answer is probably found in the Luke version.

Luke 11:1-2 – Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say…

So, in Luke, Jesus was quietly praying, his disciples waited until he was done, and then they said ‘teach us how’.
It’s about as direct a teaching as Jesus ever gave. So we grab onto it and pray like he told us to.

I find it interesting that we have diligently memorized the prayer but we pretty much ignore the instructions. The preamble Jesus gives in the version in Matthew is also crystal clear. And yet, as I read it to you now, notice how we pretty much do the exact opposite to what he says – especially here in church!
We took his teaching on prayer so seriously that we memorized every word of it – except for the parts that told us HOW to do it. (And we even kinda messed up the WHAT to say part, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Here’s Matthew 6:5-8

5 Jesus said, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

We’re not so much street corner pray-ers in our tradition, but how many of you really go into a private place for prayer, and shut the door, and pray in secret? Or do you leave most of your praying for this place?

And as for heaping on empty words and phrases because we think we need to cover every possible topic and so that all our words will get heard? – Heck, you pay me to do that!
And from time to time preachers hear complaints that we didn’t include such-and-such in the prayers – like if we didn’t do it God might not know about it!

But Jesus says “don’t be like that”! So is he saying that we shouldn’t be praying together?
Not at all.
He’s saying to avoid a public show and not pile on words because to do so makes the prayer all about your head, and your desires, and your ego. The truth is you could pray just as badly on your own in secret. It’s not the location or the language that really matter – it’s your heart.

Interestingly, the language in the prayer Jesus teaches them is corporate “we” language. I guess he was worried that using “I” language might lead to that ego-based prayer I was just talking about, so he encourages corporate “we” language.

Ironically, I do the exact opposite. Our tradition is SO “we” based that I worry that people may think that personal faith is less important than our corporate faith. If we always say “we” we can pretend that the dude in the next row is really responsible for this or that, and since “we” are collectively doing it “I” don’t really have to. So I swing the pendulum back the other way and encourage “I” language. Again, it’s not the place or the language that’s ultimately important here – it’s the heart.

Ok, so let’s finally dig into Jesus’ prayer. Matthew 6:9 begins: read on

180708 – Hard to Be Humble

Yr B – Pentecost 7 – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

A little context right off the top. Paul is thought to be writing in response to some itinerant preachers who have gone through the Corinthian church and stirred up some trouble with their interpretations of faith. Paul calls them something like “super-apostles” but he doesn’t mean it kindly. They apparently preached about how you have to be strong and powerful and master your adversity to be faithful, like they themselves supposedly were, and that because of their high faithfulness they deserved high status.hard-to-be-humble

Have you ever met a super-apostle? Someone whose spiritual resume is so full that they can’t help but tell you all about it?
[sarcastically] They aren’t bragging, of course, they’re just showing you by their own awesome and amazing example how great a life of faith can be if you live it the right way – like they do!

Perhaps those kinds of obvious “holier than thou” people are less plentiful than the more subtle, but just as misguided, “humbler than thou” types?
Have you ever met one of those? I bet you have!
There’s even a new term that’s been coined to describe what they do – it’s called humblebragging.

Humblebragging is a superficially modest or self-deprecating statement that is actually intended to impress people – or to elicit compliments or recognition. And social media things like Twitter are the perfect vehicle to use to humblebrag to the world!

Here’s a few examples:

A woman tweets, “No makeup on, hair’s not done, pretty sure I’m not wearing deodorant – still get hit on. Sigh.”

A famous spirituality guy tweets, “Hope & despair are born of imagination. I am free of both.”

And my favourite, a megachurch pastor who epitomizes the humblebrag – “I’m truly humbled that you follow my tweets. I pray they enrich your life and strengthen your ministry. God bless all 200,000 of you!”

These are the modern-day version of the super-apostles like Paul was battling. So how would Paul take them on? Well, sadly, he starts with his own humblebrag.
He starts 2 Corinthians 12 with a story of a man he knows who has experienced indescribably remarkable spiritual ecstasies. Many scholars believe he’s actually talking about himself, but we’ll let that slide for now. Then he says this:

2 Corinthians 12:5
On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

But when you think about it, Paul had every reason to brag! I mean, he was da man! He was previously a Pharisee – learned, respected – and after coming to faith in Jesus he became a church-planter par excellence! Everywhere he went the word of God was shared, the name of Jesus was celebrated, and the body of Christ was expanded and strengthened. Paul had much to brag about! Heck, he’s got churches named after him all over the world! We’ve got one right next door in Bowmanville, and another in Ajax. Imagine how many followers he’d have on Twitter today!

But in the midst of that, despite a little irresistible humblebragging, he says something really, really profound.
Within verse 5 he says, I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

Paul sets himself up as equal to or better than those so-called super-apostles, but then turns the tables and comes at it from a very different interpretive lens. Weakness.
I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

That’s something of an oxymoron for us. Boasting in weakness.
It doesn’t compute at first. We need to wrestle with it.
Please note that when he says that he boasts in weaknesses it’s not a really a celebration of lacking strength, or resolve, or resources, or conviction – rather it’s about one’s inability to do it all on one’s own.
THAT is the big spiritual takeaway here. It’s not about boasting about how awesome a follower of Jesus I am, or how I’m some kind of shining beacon of virtue or whatever.
Like so much of Jesus’ teaching the insight comes when you turn that kind of thinking upside down.

Paul says,
I’m boasting that I’m not Super-person.
Boasting that I’m not perfect.
Boasting that I have blind spots.
Boasting that I will indeed fall short many times. read on

180701 – Outside the Box

Yr B ~ Pentecost 6 ~ 1 Sam 17

Q: Why was Goliath so surprised when David hit him with a slingshot?
A: The thought had never entered his head before.outside-box

David and Goliath is one of those stories that’s so well known that it’s completely transcended the confines of the scriptures and has become an icon – it gets trotted out every time a smaller force is pitted against a larger force, and the smaller force wins.
You hear it in business when an upstart little software company tries to take on the Goliath of Microsoft.
You hear it in sports when an unlikely, vastly over-performing team finds itself in a championship game against an overwhelming favourite.

But, as is often the case, when a Bible story gets extracted from its context we lose what the story is really about.
David and Goliath is not a story about a little guy defeating a big guy – yeah, that’s what happens in the course of the tale, but that’s not what the story’s about.
And it’s not a story about how we underestimate our youth – although we may well do that.
And it’s not even a story about how if God’s on your side you can overcome any obstacle – although that’s getting much closer to what the story is about.

What is it about then?
It’s a clash of paradigms – a clash that pits the belief that might is right – which was shared by both the Philistines and the Israelites – against a radically different understanding of power.
Both the Philistines and the Israelites operated under the same paradigm. They were standing face to face with their armies assembled ready to fight a war.

Of course a big army needed to fight another big army – that’s the way it works – that’s the way we’ve always done it! And in some places the idea that a single champion would fight for the entire army was common. Two opposing forces – toe to toe – locked into a mindset that dictated how they had to act in that situation. Trapped in a cycle that had no end – until…someone offers a different way to look at the world.

The message of the “David and Goliath” story isn’t that little guys can do big things – it’s that God’s paradigm is better than ours. David represents the new paradigm – God’s way. It wasn’t that the Israelites didn’t know about it – of course they knew about it – they found out the same way David did – it was taught through their religion. The difference was that for David it was a present reality. For David, God wasn’t just “out there” – God was “in here.” God wasn’t the all-powerful deity that you called on when your army needed a boost – God was the ever-present Spirit that lived inside of him.

That’s a paradigm shift. It’s a transformation.
Let me show you a couple of things from this story that indicate it’s a transformation story. read on

180610 – The State of the Union

Yr B ~ Pentecost 3 ~ UCCan 93rd Anniversary ~ 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Today is our anniversary. Exactly 93 years ago, on June 10, 1925 the United Church of Canada was born – in a hockey rink.
How utterly Canadian!state-of-union

It all began when formal talks started between the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists in 1902 – at the turn of a new century. It was a time of big dreams and endless possibilities. Canada as a country was only 35 years old – Oldsmobile pioneered the first assembly line for automobiles – the Wright brothers made their first airplane test flights.
The 20th century was filled with promise. Back then they bragged that it would be the “Christian Century”.

The United Church of Canada was formed in the cradle of what was called the Social Gospel movement which “applies Christian principles to social problems, especially poverty, inequality, liquor, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, poor schools, and the danger of war” [wiki]. It was a time when the dream was to establish a truly national church.

Several years ago the Very Rev. Peter Short – our Moderator at the time – wrote a letter to the first Moderator – the late Very Rev. George Pidgeon. It was a creative way to offer reflections and pose questions about the state of the union today compared to then. I’d like to read you edited portions of that letter as a way of inviting you into reflecting on our church and our faith.

“Dear George, I serve The United Church of Canada as the 38th of its moderators. You were the first. How odd that you were elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and a week later you were elected moderator of The United Church of Canada. Here in the Maritimes we would say that was some week.

“This is a precarious time for the church we love – not bereft of hope, but a time of great diminishment and a certain desolation… We are (now 93) years old and something in us is exhausted. …I believe you would want to know how things are with us now, and I hope you will understand.

“Sometimes I wonder what was going through your mind in (Toronto’s) Mutual Street Arena that day at the inaugural service. …Was it you who chose the processional hymn, ‘The Church’s One Foundation’? Did your spine tingle when you came to the line that says, “Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blessed?”
I wonder what vision glorious your heart was seeing as you sang with the great crowd.

“…My grandmother was in her 20s when her congregation joined the new United Church. All her life she used to say, “We were Methodist, you know.” My father, born in 1924, grew up in a congregation that was learning how to become a United Church. I was born the month after you retired. I have read accounts of the struggle for church union — how it was so hopeful in one place, so bitter in another. I have seen the scars, but I have no direct memory of it. My children don’t really care much about that struggle. The wounds have healed too well.

“After all these years we still encounter the old fault line though, the one between the socialists and the moralists (as they were called in your time).
Even today, some of us understand evangelism as calling people to participate in building God’s reign of social justice on earth.
Some of us (me!), on the other hand, understand evangelism as calling people to new birth in faith, thus building a better society one human life at a time.
You will recognize that long-standing division. It hasn’t changed much, but for the most part we don’t use the word evangelism at all any more. There’s something about it that embarrasses us.

“I guess I am still wanting to know about the vision glorious. read on

180603 – I’m Listening

Yr B ~ Pentecost 2 ~ 1 Samuel 3:1-10

To give you some context for this story – Samuel was just a young boy learning about faith from Eli who was a Temple priest – and they both slept in the temple with the Ark of the Covenant – where the 10 Commandments were kept. God called Samuel’s name, but Samuel didn’t realize it was God talking and instead responds to his mentor, Eli, “Here I am, for you called me.” i-listening

After a little comedy act of repeating the call and conversation 3 times – “You called” “No I didn’t” (back to bed), “You called” “No I didn’t” (back to bed), “You called” “No I didn’t” – Eli finally figures out that Samuel is hearing God’s voice.
I wonder how many times we’ve been called by God but didn’t recognize God’s voice – and we didn’t have an Eli to explain it to us.

So, how does one listen to God?
How does God speak to us?
Sometimes God calls to us in extraordinary ways – in the big events of our lives – or in the silence of the night.
But I worry that as great as these stories are they might be “too good” for us to be able to relate to.

Honestly, have you ever heard God’s voice like Samuel did? I mean have you ever actually, audibly heard God’s voice speaking to you out loud such that if you had a device handy you could record it and play it back later for your friends? Some say they have. But I sure haven’t!

So why tell these stories if they’re so far out that we can’t really relate? Well, because I think they point us to a really important truth about God – the truth that God communicates with us in many ways – but we don’t always know how to listen. Sometimes we’re expecting something big from God – but get a whisper. Samuel wasn’t expecting anything – and was confused because he didn’t understand at first.
Ah, now that’s something I can relate to!

The Samuel story began with the sentence “the word of the Lord was rare/precious in those days, and visions were quite uncommon.”
I think this is true today too. Our Bible is a closed book and we can mistakenly get the sense that God has finished revealing all God is going to reveal and it’s all in the book.
I don’t think that’s even a little bit true! God is still speaking!
As you’ve probably heard it said, “God is not silent, we are not listening!”

And did you notice that it says that “the lamp of God had not yet gone out”? – This is a reference to the custom of a lamp being lit with just enough oil to stay bright all night beside the Ark.
The inference here is that the lamp was close to going out – which meant that the scene took place just before dawn.
So many religious experiences seem to happen in that time of night.
Could it be because that’s the quietest time, a time in which we’re usually not distracted by any tasks or busyness so that we can hear God, or sense God?

I’d like to suggest that there are 2 primary ways God communicates with us – and they both require us to be quiet. read on

180527 – Lip Service

Yr B ~ Pentecost 1 ~ Isaiah 6:1-8

In case you missed it in the first hearing, or just to paint the picture even more vividly, let me start by retelling the passage from Isaiah 6.

It begins with an overwhelming image of the profound greatness of God. Isaiah has a vision in which he can only really see the hem of God’s robe which utterly fills Temple. Surrounding God’s throne in this vision are some Seraphim. Contrary to how many translations of the bible and artists depict them, a Seraph is not an angel – well, at least not a humanoid angel. The word Seraph in Hebrew literally means a serpent – a fiery, multi-winged creature. lip-service
What does that sound like? A dragon!
A dragon with six wings who sings out praise for God singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” A dragon that sings so loudly that it shakes the very foundations of the Temple. It’s a fantastic and mind-boggling vision establishing God’s awesomeness and glory – God’s beyond-ness, God’s transcendence.

Then in verses 5-8 there is an interaction with this otherworldly vision that is so this-worldly that there is even physical contact.

In verse 5 Isaiah says, “Woe is me! I am lost [undone, brought to silence], for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Think about unclean lips for a minute. Your lips have no agency. They can’t do anything on their own. They do and say what your mind and heart tell them. So if you have unclean lips then by extension it means unclean speech, but it’s really revealing that you have an impure heart. Remember Jesus makes a big deal about how it’s not the stuff that goes in your mouth that’s impure it’s the stuff that comes out of your mouth that shows what you really think. You can follow all the rules and still be impure – in here [heart].

I’ll leave it to you to wrestle with this at home: what do your lips reveal about your heart?

Isaiah is undone because God’s awesomeness made Isaiah’s exceedingly less-than-awesomeness seem foul.

The Seraphim’s lips reveal “Holy, Holy, Holy!”
Ours? Not so much!
Well, we certainly try, but I worry that too often the best we can manage is to pay lip service to that holiness.

And even as Isaiah realizes the depth of his fallen-short-ed-ness he notices that his eyes have seen God’s holiness, God’s presence! It’s a profound, transformative moment of awareness, and conviction, and awestruck wonder. And it changes him!

A Seraph brings a live hot coal (burning stone) from the altar – a gift from the table! – A gift of the fire of the Spirit of God direct from the Presence of God. The symbolism is a connection – a communion – with God that is as direct as a human could possibly imagine. That the coal is hot is also symbolic of its power and its holiness.

With that ultimate holy power the Seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth and says, (paraphrasing v.7),
“Behold! The power and presence of God has touched the deepest parts of you that make you think you’re not worthy of God’s love, and all that self-condemnation, and guilt, and whatnot is wiped out, it’s gone, it’s forgotten, it’s set aside, it’s not in play.”

And then, having had the scales fall from his eyes, having had the barrier smashed through, having had that which he thought was separating him from God removed, having been redeemed, renewed, reanimated, reawakened, and reoriented – our hero is finally able to hear God’s voice. Not just the Seraphim’s voices. God’s voice! He couldn’t hear it before.

And what does God say once we can hear God’s voice?
v.8 “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

And how does a reborn heart respond when the very voice of God asks such a question?
Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!”

But wait a minute. read on

180520 – They Can

Yr B ~ Pentecost ~ Ezekiel 37:1-14

I love this passage of scripture. It’s one of my favourites. I just find it so incredibly powerful and profound. It was written by the prophet Ezekiel who was tapped by God to call the wayward people of Israel back to faithfulness. I’m going to take a few liberties with it and re-imagine it as a contemporary 21st century message to the mainline Christian church in North America. In other words, us. It’s about a vision of the power of the Holy Spirit – a perfect text for Pentecost Sunday. I hope we can catch the vision too. I will play the part of Ezekiel, and the Church (not you fine folks here at Faith United necessarily, more the denomination) will play the part of the people of Israel (and we’ll let God play Godself!).pentecost-they-can

The spirit of the LORD caught my imagination and showed me a valley full of bones. God led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. [Ezekiel 37:1-2]
God said to me, “Minister, can this church live?” I answered, “God only knows – I mean, only you know.” [37:3]

Then God said to me, “Preach to these bones, and say to them: Hey church, listen up. The Lord God says to you: ‘Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!'” [37:4-6]

That sounded good, so I preached as I had been commanded; and as I preached, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them; but there was no breath in them. [37:7-8]

Then God said to me, “Preach to the breath, preach boldly, minister, and say to the breath: God says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain. Breathe life!” [37:9]
I preached as God commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. [37:10]

Then God said to me, “Minister, these bones are the whole body of Christ. They say, ‘Our bones and churches are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely – we’ve been marginalized, they call us quaint, we’ve gone from mainline to sideline to offline to flatline – we’re dying, or maybe already dead.’ [37:11]

Therefore preach, and say to them, Listen, God says: I am going to open your graves (churches?), and bring you up from your graves (churches), O my people; and I will bring you back to the body of Christ. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your churches, and bring you up from your churches, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, I’ll breathe my life into you, and you’ll live. [37:12-14]

It’s such a pertinent text for us in the United Church in the 21st century. A spirit-filled person (like a minister – we hope) is set apart and given a fresh perspective of the reality of church health. Perhaps it’s harsh to say the people are lifeless, or maybe not (and again, I’d say that Faith United is a rare exception).  The leader wonders “is there hope?” and responds with “God only knows!”

The leader is challenged to preach a message of breath (spirit) which will enliven and renew. So they preach it, and it’s heard, but it’s only marginally successful. There’s still something missing. The people aren’t dead dry bones anymore, but they aren’t generally vitally alive either.
What’s missing? read on

180513 – Now

Yr B ~ Easter 7 ~ 1 John 5:9-13

My task today is to take a theological concept that’s probably embedded in most of our memory’s and help us see that the way it’s talked about most of the time is not just unhelpful but actually theologically incorrect and contrary to how Jesus saw the world and led his followers to be. I’ve taken a run at this before but it is a persistent challenge that needs talking about because our culture is so steeped in the error. And yes, I’m calling it an error.now

Here we go:
Christianity is not about getting to heaven when you die. It’s about a new way of living now.
Christianity is not a hope for everything being better in the future. It’s about awakening to God’s kingdom that already surrounds us and working to reveal it now.
Christianity is not about what can be someday. It’s about what ought to be now, and what our role is in helping make that happen.
Christianity is not about eternal life. It’s about eternal life!!! (that’ll make more sense in a few minutes – I hope!)

We are at the end of the liturgical season called Easter. Remember, it’s not just a single Sunday, it’s a whole season. Easter as a season is about the core theological truth and necessity of dying and rising. It’s about the end of what was and the beginning of what can be. It’s about turning from a former way and embracing a new way. It’s about old life being renewed and replaced by a new kind of life.

But what does that new life look like?  What is its character? What makes the new life better than what was?
In a word, it is eternal.

1 John 5:11 And this is what God has testified: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in Jesus.

This is one of those examples where how you interpret a word or two makes all the difference in the world.
What has God given us? Eternal life!
Ok, so what does that mean? What do you mean when you say the words “eternal life”? We use those words all the time. Everybody knows what eternal life means, right?

Unfortunately, it is far too often used incorrectly. Let’s look at each word.

Eternal does not mean the afterlife. Eternal certainly includes the afterlife – in fact, it literally means age-long, unending, everlasting time – but that means a kind of time that has no beginning either! Not just no ending, but no beginning. It’s a timeless time. To be eternal absolutely does NOT mean that when you die you start living forever in a new way. Well, ok, I guess it does in a way but that’s such a tiny fraction of the concept.

Eternal time stands in direct opposition to ordinary, brief, workaday, temporary, limited, fleeting, counting the days until you retire (or the hours until the sermon’s over) time. We’ve talked before about the difference between the Greek words chronos which is measureable clock time and kairos which is a special holy moment in time. Now this is another kind of time – it’s called aiónios which is about the quality or character of the time. It’s eternal time which has no beginning and no end, and in which every moment is connected to every other, and in which God’s Presence is sensed and savoured more fully because it functions in deeper ways than limited clock time is experienced.

Maybe this will help: in English we say “love” but in Greek they have several different words for different aspects of love. Agape is the spiritual, God-centred love that is far deeper and higher than any of the other aspects of love.
So, aiónios (or eternal) is to time as agape is to love – God-centred, holy, on a whole other plane of experience.

Now let’s add in the other word, because eternal is usually paired with the word life. The Greek word here is zoe which means life as in vitality, animation and not just the biological sense of having breath and a heartbeat – it’s not the opposite of death. Zoe means the life we live in both physical and spiritual ways! So again, it’s about a spiritual quality to life.

Put the two words together and what is eternal life? It’s a quality of existence that involves your whole being and spirit, and has no beginning and no end, and is marked by an all-encompassing sense of being God-centred and God-immersed.

Another way to say all this is to call it the kingdom of God.
What does life lived in the kingdom of God feel like?
What character does life lived in the kingdom of God have?
It has the character and feel of eternal life. Eternal life and the kingdom of God are absolutely synonymous.

1 John 5:11 And this is what God has testified: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in Jesus. read on

180506 – This

Yr B ~ Easter 6 ~ 1 John 5:1-6

This! If you’re into social media at all you’ve probably encountered “This!” It indicates importance and emphasis and authority! Often it appears with an arrow pointing either at another post or comment. It’s saying “Hey! Look at this! This is really important. This is, IMHO (in my humble opinion) worth reading again. This comment really ‘gets’ it. This says it better than I could. Out of all the other noise here ‘This’ is the best insight. This is truth! This is what it’s all about!”this

A few years ago we would’ve said “Word!” or “Truth!” In the book of psalms they said “This!” by using the word “Selah!”
Selah! Truth! Word!
This!

So, now that I’ve set that all up, what is the “This!” in this scripture passage? Well, in just 6 verses we actually get 4 “This”-es. And I think “This” will help us in tackling this passage which is generally accepted as being really tricky, and dense, and circular, and confusing, and hard to understand. So let’s see what “This” is all about! Hopefully, “This” helps.

1 John 5:1-2 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
By this we know
that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey God’s commandments.

To paraphrase – Everyone who trusts in Jesus and makes some sort of confession of faith like “I believe” or “Jesus is Lord” has been born of God, is a child of God.

And how do we know whether we love those children of God? By THIS – by loving God and keeping God’s commandments!

Ok, which commandments?
There’s the big 10 that Moses did with the tablets and the mountain thing, there’s the 613 laws of Torah, and there’s our big 3 that we find in Mark 12 and John 13 – to love God, love people, and love one another.
That’s what we mean around here whenever we say love, love, love (like we will in the offering prayer today).

And who are God’s children again? Those who’ve made an affirmation of faith of some kind.

In other words, us.
Look around. You’re surrounded by children of God – by people who have claimed the love of God and claimed God as parent, or father, or even Holy Mystery.

And THIS is how we know we love these people according to verse 2 – by loving God and keeping the commandments.
In other words, by love, love, love.

Then the writer of John says it again, just to make sure we don’t miss it. In addition to loving God’s children we learn how to love God too.
1 John 5:3

For the love of God is this, that we obey God’s commandments. And God’s commandments are not burdensome.

THIS! To love God is to obey God’s commandment to love, love, love.

Is that burdensome?
No, it’s not burdensome, but it’s not easy either.

What’s the measure of knowing if you love God or not?
That you love others and love one another!

But be careful here. You may have encountered people who think that Christianity’s all about being a do-gooder. It’s so much more than that. read on

180422 – Shepherd and Sheep

Yr B ~ Easter 4 ~ John 10:11-18

The majority of this morning’s sermon is borrowed from a lovely extended illustration called “Led From Behind” by Methodist minister Rev. Laura Mendenhall. (edited)shepherd-sheep

“Tom is a real shepherd. Tom herds sheep in West Texas and has a dog named Shep and everyday Tom and Shep are with the sheep. Every day. Tom doesn’t take time off from his sheep to go out to dinner or to a movie. I don’t think Tom even leaves the sheep to go to church.

Maybe he holds his own services for the sheep. I don’t know. What I do know is that he stays with his sheep. Tom’s father bought these sheep years ago and Tom treats them like family, seeming to enjoy their company. Once somebody told Tom that God created sheep in order to make chickens look smart, but Tom didn’t laugh. While he knows that sheep aren’t smart enough for a game of fetch or a frisbee toss; nevertheless, sheep can generally figure out where food and water are. That’s pretty smart.

In order to encourage the sheep not to overgraze but to move on to other pastures, Tom cannot go charging out in front of the sheep shouting orders to them, “Here, sheep, sheep, sheep, come this way. Follow me, sheep, turn here.” If Tom were to try to direct his sheep in this way, they’d probably just turn and go in the opposite direction. So, Tom doesn’t usually shout to his sheep about anything.

Sometimes Tom talks out loud to himself and the sheep probably overhear. Sometimes he may speak to them in the same way we speak to babies never really expecting them to understand. And sometimes he sings to them because he likes to sing and because the sheep don’t seem to be disturbed by his singing, but I’ve never heard Tom raise his voice to his sheep, never heard him be angry or disparaging about his sheep. And so, they follow him, not because of his authoritative directions, but because they trust his voice.

While his sheep probably couldn’t distinguish Tom’s face from that of any other shepherd, that doesn’t mean that they’re stupid. The truth is they seldom see Tom’s face for Tom is not usually out in front of them but rather behind them. They know Tom’s voice and are reassured as he sings along behind them–encouraging those who are straggling, assisting those who are injured or sick, directing those who can’t find food, helping the unfortunate, the weak, the lame.

I doubt seriously, however, that the sheep are aware of how Tom works to keep them from danger. Tom transforms the wilderness into security and safety for them, guiding them around danger to green grass and cool water. Tom will not permit the wolves and coyotes of the hill country to be a threat to his sheep. He defends them from predators. Tom is always on the lookout because sheep are such vulnerable creatures.

Of course, on occasion when Tom has been ill or had a family emergency, he’s had to hire someone to look after the sheep. But hired hands want time off and at the slightest danger hired hands will abandon the sheep and run. A shepherd, on the other hand, will put his own life at risk in order to protect his sheep. Tom has, in fact, sustained wounds from wild animals he’s had to fight off his sheep.

Tom loves his sheep. That’s why, day after day, over rocks and crevices, through shadows and storms, Tom is with the sheep. They know his voice and Tom leads them, though most of the time it’s from behind.

The Bible tells us that the Lord is our Shepherd, which makes me wonder–is Jesus like Tom? Does Jesus seldom get a haircut and bathe only once a week? I don’t know about that.

I hope it means that Jesus refuses to laugh when the angels tell jokes about how stupid we are.
I hope it means that Jesus doesn’t wring his hands over us but is content to be with us even though we regularly do stupid things.
I know that like a shepherd Jesus picks us up when we fall down, mends our broken spirits, feeds our famished lives, supports us when we are limping along, sings to comfort our spirits.

Of course, if we look for Jesus to be out in front of us showing us the way, we may be frustrated at not being able to see him. It may be, however, that Jesus is leading us from behind, the way Tom leads the sheep. Maybe it’s because Jesus is a shepherd that he doesn’t shout directions to us. Jesus knows what we can do and wants to encourage us to go ahead and act on our good judgment. Sometimes we may wish Jesus would be out in front of us giving us explicit signals.

We wish Jesus would be that direct with us.
We’d rather not have to think for ourselves.
We’d prefer to have Jesus to make decisions for us so that we might have someone to blame when things go wrong.
But most of the time, Jesus is leading from behind, picking us up when we get into trouble, encouraging us to go ahead and trust what we know – just like a shepherd.

read on

180401 – April Fools

Yr B ~ Easter Sunday ~ Mark 16:1-8

It only happens 3 or 4 times in a century. The last time it happened was in 1956. The next time it’s going to happen is just 11 years from now in 2029, and then 11 years after that in 2040. And I won’t but some of the kids here today will likely see it after that in 2108. It’s too bad that it doesn’t happen more often because the tie-in is so perfect! And the sermon practically writes itself. Surely you’ve figured out what I’m talking about – Easter Sunday falling on April Fool’s Day.april-fools

Now, I know you’re expecting me to preach about the resurrection of Jesus today but because this is such a serious and significant topic, and because the calendar unfortunately happened to have Easter Sunday fall on April 1st, there was a decision made by the church to honour the sanctity and solemnity of the day and cancel preaching about the resurrection this year.
“April Fool!!!!”

No one knows exactly when it started, but over time April 1st emerged as a day for playing practical jokes on people and for spreading hoaxes. There have been some really funny ones over the years, like the harvesting of spaghetti trees in 1957, the invention of smell-o-vision in 1965, the discovery of flying penguins in 2008, and one of my favourites, in 2014 Kings College, Cambridge (famous for its boys choirs) put out a video detailing their decision to discontinue the use of boy sopranos and instead use grown men who have inhaled helium gas!

The spirit of the day is to play these harmless and fun (never hurtful or mean) pranks on people and when they fall for the joke you shout out “April Fool!” Maybe you had some experience with that this morning before you got here! Someone gets surprised and everyone has a great laugh.

Here’s another one. The bulletin says my sermon title is Surprise Symphony. I was going to use Haydn’s Symphony No.94 which features in the slow and quiet second movement a super-loud full orchestra chord that crashes through out of nowhere and then it immediately goes back to quiet. [play clip]. Then I was going to talk about how the gospels are like a symphony – which literally means harmonious sound – that tell a beautiful story and move us. But then I decided it would be more fun to do April Fool’s jokes so I changed the title. Surprise!!!

So I’m thinking about the reason we’re here this morning.
It’s Easter Sunday – and no matter what the church says I’m gonna preach about the resurrection – kinda!
Mark’s gospel tells the story this way: (Mark 16:1-8)

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “April Fools!”

Ok, obviously he didn’t – but he may as well have! Jesus risen is like the ultimate April Fools prank.
What’s missing from the text is the part about the disciple who got to the tomb even earlier than the women and climbed up to the top of the rock that was covering the tomb…and very carefully placed on its edge a big bucket of cold water – so just in case Jesus really did rise from the dead when he came out he’d get soaked!
Hilarious! (Ok, just in case, I just made that up!)

No, the mysterious young man in the tomb – maybe an angel, who knows – didn’t say April Fools – he said:

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

[laughing] Isn’t that great?! It’s another April Fool’s joke!
Did you catch it?
That’s the end of Mark’s gospel.
That’s it. Nothing more.

If your bible has verses beyond Mark 16:8 it should also have a footnote saying that those verses were added many, many years later. Folks didn’t like Mark’s ending so they tried to change it! Mark’s gospel ends exactly like I just said it does. The messenger says Jesus has been raised and isn’t here – instead he’s going back to Galilee, and so should you.
And that’s it.

So did you catch the April Fool’s joke Mark has played on us?
Jesus isn’t there.
The women don’t see Jesus, they just hear that he’s risen. And then it says they fled the tomb and didn’t say anything.
And that’s the end of the story.
No one sees or experiences the risen Christ at the end of Mark’s gospel.
No one!

We’re expecting a holy visitation.
We’re expecting Jesus to appear with angelic choirs floating overhead.
We’re expecting for him to comfort the women.
We’re expecting to hear about how he appears to the disciples and inspires them to carry on.
April Fool! There’s none of that in Mark.

Instead, Mark tells you if you want to see Jesus you have to go back to Galilee.
That means going back to the beginning – as in back to the beginning of the gospel – and read it again!
Because, my friends, that’s how you see Jesus – he’s revealed in the telling of the story.
He’s been hiding in plain sight the whole time.
He is risen indeed!
He’s here right now! See?

Mark 16:8 says the women hurriedly left the tomb because “terror and amazement had seized them”. Terror and amazement sound like a bad thing – but the actual Greek words are tromos and ekstasis – that means trembling and ecstasy.
Trembling and ecstasy!
Why?
Because they thought Jesus was dead and gone, but now they know he’s still with them!
Because once they were blind, but now they could see!
Even though they couldn’t see Jesus they could “see” Jesus – see?

He’s not dead and buried.
He’s alive. He’s present.
And if you can’t see him then go back to Galilee – go back to the beginning of the story – and read it all again and again until you can see!

I love that Mark’s gospel ends this way.
It just stops.
It totally leaves us hanging. Waiting. Wondering.
It’s like an unfinished symphony! (See how I was going to tie that whole symphony thing together?!)
Mark doesn’t give us answers – he sends us on a journey – a journey that we have to make on our own.

You can’t have faith handed to you. You can’t just show up at church and receive all the answers and go on your merry way. Instead, you get an invitation to join the journey and encouragement to keep travelling.
Easter comes at the end of each gospel but isn’t the end of the story – it’s the beginning!
It’s the beginning of everything.
It’s the beginning of a journey of rebirth, of new life.

Whatever may be going on in your life the promise of Easter is that a new season of abundant life awaits.
It doesn’t mean a magic wand is going to pop out and make your troubles disappear – but it does promise that darkness is not the final word – light and love are.
Death doesn’t have the final say – life does.

And when it seems like Jesus isn’t around, like maybe he’s trapped behind some giant rock somewhere, we remember that he didn’t stay there.
He was raised up.
Just like we can be raised up from our tombs.
Right here, right now. That’s the promise of Easter!

Another reason I love Mark’s unfinished symphony is that it leaves us with more questions than answers.
And frankly, that’s refreshing compared to what often happens at Easter with people getting into arguments about this detail or that in the resurrection story, and whether it was a literal event or a metaphorical one, and whether Jesus’ physical body was raised or his spiritual body, and whether there are 4267 angels on the head of a pin or 4268.

Mark avoids all that by leaving us guessing.
Where’s Jesus?
Go back to the start and see for yourself! He is risen – but you still have to learn to see him.

April Fool’s Day is a day for practical jokes and hoaxes. Interesting!
Was the resurrection of Jesus an elaborate hoax?
Did the disciples just make up the story?
Is Easter a scam?

Absolutely not!
And I don’t say that because I have some incontrovertible proof about the resurrection – all I have is logic.
And logic says that if you’re going to create an elaborate hoax that you wouldn’t formulate it in such a way that you and your fellow hoaxers would be persecuted, beaten, jailed, and killed for championing it.
You make a hoax that turns you into a millionaire, not a martyr.

That those confused and bewildered duh-sciples were transformed into passionate evangelizers who started a movement that eventually overtook the Roman Empire is all the proof I need that the resurrection really happened!

And nowadays, in today’s culture of cynicism and scepticism, society doesn’t think that Easter is a hoax, but they do think we’re fools for trusting in the Jesus story and trying to live the Jesus way – and since Easter usually happens in April I guess we’re all April fools.
I’m ok with that.
I get it. It must seem entirely foolish to them.

I can’t deny that I have given my life to something that cannot be scientifically proven,
that I’m moved to trembling and ecstasy by a Presence that I can’t put into words,
and that I pray to someone

that only those who can ‘see’ can see. Of course they can’t see.
They haven’t made the journey back to Galilee yet.
There you will see him, just as he told you!

Amen.

 

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